8 Jun 2018

'I've tarnished the badge' - US cop sentenced to 25 years in jail

7:38 pm on 8 June 2018

The leader of a rogue Baltimore police unit sobbed as he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in a corruption scandal prosecutors called "breath-taking".

A seal of the Baltimore Police Department is seen at Police Headquarters in Baltimore.

A seal of the Baltimore Police Department is seen at Police Headquarters in Baltimore. Photo: AFP

Ex-police sergeant Wayne Earl Jenkins apologised in court for the crimes he committed while heading an elite squad called the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF).

"I'm wrong, God knows I'm wrong," the 37-year-old said. "I'm so sorry to the citizens of Baltimore."

He was arrested along with almost every member of the unit in March 2017.

Mr Jenkins must serve three years of supervised release after his custodial sentence.

He was convicted on multiple counts including racketeering, robbery and falsification of records.

Jenkins pleaded guilty in January and admitted taking part in at least 10 robberies of Baltimore citizens, planting drugs on innocent people and re-selling drugs he stole from suspects on an almost daily basis, including heroin, cocaine and prescription painkillers.

He walked into the court wearing a maroon prison uniform. It was his first public appearance since he was arrested along with six other officers last year.

Prosecutors urged the judge to sentence him to the maximum 30 years, adding that the unit's corruption resulted in 1700 criminal cases being thrown out.

"The largest share of the blame, the largest share of those crimes belongs to him," US attorney Leo Wise told the court.

"He perverted the criminal justice system."

The GTTF was made up of eight officers, all but one of whom were indicted.

Detectives Maurice Ward, Evodio Hendrix, Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam all pleaded guilty.

Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor went forward to trial and a jury found them guilty of robbery, extortion and fraud in February. Both men have requested new trials.

A former member of the unit, Sergeant Thomas Allers, also pleaded guilty.

Although the indicted officers committed many robberies individually before joining the Gun Trace Task Force, prosecutors charge that they grew bolder and more prolific after Mr Jenkins took over the unit in June 2016.

According to testimony from Mr Ward and Mr Hendrix, Mr Jenkins played an outsized role in the schemes.

They said he prepared an arsenal of weapons and tools to begin carrying out burglaries.

The jury was shown axes, machetes and pry bars, as well as black masks that were found in Jenkins' van after his arrest.

Prosecutors pointed to the fact that Jenkins fabricated evidence, like producing a bogus iPhone video of his officers cracking a drug dealer's safe, when they had in fact already broken into it and stolen $200,000 ($NZ285,007) in cash.

"It shows what a committed, sophisticated, devious person can do," Mr Wise said.

"What chance do we have when you have people like Jenkins and his co-defendants fabricating evidence?"

His actions led to the death and imprisonment of innocent people

The daughters of 86-year-old Elbert Davis also told the court about the 2010 car crash Jenkins caused while he was pursuing a man named Umar Burley.

Burley's vehicle struck another, killing Mr Davis.

In his plea deal, Mr Jenkins admitted he planted heroin on Mr Burley to try to justify the fatal collision.

Mr Burley was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which he was serving until federal prosecutors uncovered the task force's corruption and freed him.

"He is no more than a common criminal," Davis' daughter, Shirley, said of Jenkins.

"My dad would be alive today would it not be for his actions that day. We'll never be the same again."

The courtroom was also packed with Mr Jenkins' family and friends.

Although she did not address the court, in a letter to Judge Catherine Blake, Mr Jenkins' wife Kristy asked for leniency.

"This is not the man I know," she wrote. "Wayne is truly sorry for his actions. He is very remorseful."

Jenkins' lawyer mentioned that he has been a target in prison, and has been assaulted at least once by another inmate who was targeting him for being a former police officer.

When Jenkins was allowed to speak, he turned first to face the Davis family and apologised repeatedly.

"I'm so sorry for what you're going through. I wish I would never have stopped that vehicle," he said.

He also apologised to Burley, who was not in the court, to his wife and to his father, and begged the judge for the opportunity to get out in time to be a grandfather.

"I've tarnished the badge," he said through tears. "I deserve to be punished. I deserve to go to jail."

Judge Blake ultimately decided to sentence him to 25 years, saying she was taking into consideration the fact that he pleaded guilty and co-operated to some extent with the prosecutors.

"This was a great abuse of the public trust," said Judge Blake. "It strikes at the foundation of our entire criminal justice system."