The True Story Behind We Own This City
This City We Own HBO Max’s April 25 miniseries, about a Baltimore Police Department task force unit gone rogue (BPD), highlights the most serious concerns in modern American policing. This is an adaptation of an original Baltimore episode. Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s 2021 book This is Our City: The True Story about Crime, Cops and Corruption, the show chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most shocking instances of police corruption in Baltimore’s history.
Miniseries co-created with The Wire‘s David Simon and George Pelecanos, follows a special unit, known as the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), which was assembled in 2007 to remove guns and violent criminals from the streets of Baltimore. The GTTF’s police officers engaged in crime against the communities that they were meant to protect. The Drug Enforcement Administration began an investigation into the unit in 2015 Momodu Gondo was the one they specifically targeted. He was suspected to have worked with drug dealers, possibly helping them avoid criminal charges.
The extent of the GTTF’s reign of terror on the city of Baltimore became more widely known in 2017, when eight members of the unit were indicted on charges of extortion, robbery, racketeering, and overtime fraud. Gondo was caught by the DEA selling drug on tape. Once Gondo was arrested and authorities began investigating the entire unit, the GTTF’s scale of corruption became apparent.
This City Is OursIt shows the officers being robbed of drugs and money by authorities, as well as their eventual fall and turning on each other. Here’s what to know about the true story behind the miniseries.
Baltimore’s terrorization by the GTTF
The wide array of crimes the GTTF’s officers engaged in is staggering. The officers targeted drug dealers and carried out fake guns in the event they were shot by an unarmed individual to place the weapon. They also resold the drugs and weapons they had stolen to criminals.
In one instance, revealed in court, officers took someone’s house keys, found out where that person lived and stole $100,000 from a safe in the house. Officers stopped and apprehended a couple leaving Home Depot in 2016. However, there wasn’t any evidence the couple had committed a crime. The officers discovered the couple was living in an apartment outside of the city and arrested them. They then went to the residence and stole $20,000.
One GTTF officer allegedly stopped looting at a pharmacy during protests after the 2015 murder of Freddie Gray. However, after clearing the scene, the officer stole drugs from the pharmacy, gave them to a drug dealer, and split the profits from the dealer’s sale of them.
In court, some GTTF officers confessed that they drove fast towards street people and would slam the brakes. They would follow the runners and take them into custody. They could do this anywhere from 10-20 times per night to as many as 50 times in some cases. Officers admitted that they had installed illegal tracking devices onto the vehicles of suspected drug dealers to help them rob and sell guns and drugs.
The GTTF is suspected to have taken at least $300,000. 43 pounds of pot, 800 grams heroin and hundreds of thousands worth of jewellery.
Jon Bernthal, “We Own This City”
Continue reading: David Simon and George Pelecanos discuss How America has Changed between The Wire and their New Police. We Own This City
Baltimore’s history of police corruption
This scandal broke during a period of high tension and struggle between Baltimore residents and police officers. The Department of Justice (DOJ), in a 2016 investigation, found significant corruption and abuse within the BPD. The report also revealed “racial disparities” in who was impacted by the corruption and abuse.
“BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African-American residents,” the report says. “Racially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions, from the initial decision to stop individuals on Baltimore streets to searches, arrests, and uses of force.”
The DOJ report came shortly after Gray’s killing sparked an uprising in the city and throughout the U.S. decrying police brutality and racial discrimination. And when the GTTF’s actions were publicized a year later, trust between the BPD and the communities they policed was already severely fractured.
In January 2022, a law firm’s independent investigation into the GTTF found institutional failure in supervision of the officers. “These guys had engaged in so much misconduct previously. Some was known by the police department and the department was incapable of taking care of its own business,” said Michael Bromwich, who led the independent investigation.
A number of recommendations were made in the report to the BPD. They mainly focused on increased oversight of the officers of the department and greater accountability.
“The aftershocks of the GTTF scandal continue to be felt to this day. Officers not directly associated with the GTTF have been charged and convicted in connection with events that occurred more than a decade ago,” the report says. “It took decades for the cancer of corruption revealed in the GTTF scandal to spread as widely as it did and to sink its roots so deeply into BPD; it will take years for BPD to demonstrate, in both words and deeds, that it has zero tolerance for corruption and misconduct.”
Tray Chaney, ‘We Own This City’
Learn more: America’s Policing System Is Broken. It’s Time to Radically Rethink Public Safety
This City Is OursShows what actually happened to the GTTF
As depicted in the series, six of eight GTTF members—Thomas Allers, Wayne Jenkins, Momodu Gondo, Evodio Hendrix, Jemell Rayam, and Maurice Ward—pleaded guilty to a number of charges and were convicted. The two others — Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor—pleaded not guilty and were convicted in 2018.
Gondo, Ward, Hendrix. Rayam and Ward all agreed to cooperate (DOJ) with Taylor and Hersl. Sergeant Wayne Jenkins (the leader of the team) pleaded guilty in multiple cases to racketeering robbery and falsification records. The sentence was 25 years, the most severe of all. Taylor and Hersl received 18 year sentences. Rest of the officers in question received sentences that ranged from 7 to 12 years. Eric Snell from Philadelphia, a former officer of the BPD with ties to GTTF, was among those involved.
After serving seven years in federal prison, Ward and Hendrix were freed from federal jail on February 20, 2022. It’s unclear why they were granted early release.
“This is not about aggressive policing, it is a criminal conspiracy,” Rod Rosenstein, the former US Attorney for Maryland said in 2017 when the officers were charged. “These are really simply robberies by people wearing police uniforms.”
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