17:26 GMT12 July 2020
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    The trial of two officers with the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force began on Monday for widespread corruption.

    They are accused of stealing cash from innocent citizens, reselling drugs on the streets, misusing overtime allowances, conducting unlawful searches, invading private homes, planting replica guns to incriminate innocents and engaging in reprobate high-speed chases.

    ​But news of police corruption isn't surprising to activist Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, a 44-year old man who was arrested and allegedly killed by Baltimore police on July 18, 2014, for backing down a street into an intersection. Although his death was initially attributed to a heart condition, a forensic pathologist and medical examiner claimed in November 2016 that West died after being "restrained in such a way that he was unable to breathe," the Baltimore Sun reported.

    ​"It's what me and my family have been saying. You can't wrap your mind [around the corruption] unless you experience it first-hand. I'm glad it's finally at the forefront and everyone can see it. They can see that it's real, that the whole police force is broken. You got to see things for what they are," Jones told Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon, hosts of Radio Sputnik's By Any Means Necessary.

    The shocking investigation into Baltimore police corruption started when a 19-year-old died from a drug overdose in Harford County, Maryland, in 2011. Authorities traced the case to a northeast Baltimore drug crew that was active in Harford and Baltimore counties — and then discovered that at least one officer was part of that crew..

    During the investigation, federal task force officers learned that a Baltimore police officer was a primary participant in the crew's illegal drug activities. The realization eventually led to the indictment of eight members of Baltimore's nine-member Gun Trace Task Force for racketeering conspiracy, robbery and possession of a firearm in a crime of violence.

    Detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor are the two indicted members of the unit who have pleaded not guilty and are currently facing trial. Six other indicted officers, who were also arrested in March with Hersl and Taylor, have pleaded guilty in recent months and four of them will testify as witnesses for the trial.

    On Tuesday, indicted ex-detective Jemell Rayam, who pleaded guilty to police corruption, broke down in tears during his testimony about an August 2016 car crash involving a police chase in Baltimore. He cried as he admitted that the detectives didn't even check to make sure passengers in the other car were alive after the crash.

    "It could have been any one of you guys. It could have been my mother," he said on the stand, addressing the jury.

    Earlier this month, ex-Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was fired by then-Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh after a record-setting homicide rate in 2017. Deputy Commissioner Darryl D. De Sousa assumed Davis' position. 

    However, according to Jones, the firing of Davis is just an example of how the government is "changing the faces without addressing the serious corruption problems."

    "Instead of them dealing with the problem, they'd rather clean a filthy house with a filthy mop," Jones told Radio Sputnik.

    "You can keep changing the opponents but the issues are still going to be the same unless you deal with them head-on. At the end of the day, I do agree that Davis did deserve to be fired because he was justifying the corruption," Jones said. Davis had previously defended drug arrests made by officers accused of planting drugs.

    When Jones was asked if she felt hopeful about De Sousa as Davis' replacement, she responded: "I am not going to feel anything until I see direct actions, until I see police being held accountable to the same rules and regulations that I am as a citizen. The Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force is the same force that pulled over my brother over for no reason and then brutalized and murdered him."

    "They're still getting away with crimes and no one is being held accountable. Those seven or eight that were indicted are just the ones that we know of. They are the faces representing many other corrupt officers that we don't know about," she said.

    "The whole [Baltimore] police force needs to be dismantled and built up all over again."

    On November 15, Baltimore Detective Sean Suiter was shot and killed, just a day before he was scheduled to testify before a federal grand jury in a corruption case against police officers. Police officials say there is no evidence that the detective's killing was linked to the testimony.


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