Cops and robbers

Part One: The Rise Wayne Jenkins

Ignoring warning signs of misconduct, Baltimore Police praised — and promoted — Gun Trace Task Force leader
More in the series

the dim light of the Baltimore Police Department’s downtown nerve center, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins’ eyes darted from screen to screen, taking in the surveillance images. Seething frustration was spilling into the streets that afternoon in 2015. On the city’s west side, officers were being pelted with bricks; some were hurt.

Jenkins rushed off to join them. Near Druid Hill Park, amid the shouting, sirens and buzzing choppers overhead, he commandeered a state prison department van and helped pull injured officers inside. He ordered a detective to drive them to the hospital and joined the front lines.

Hours later, in a quiet waterfront neighborhood 15 miles east of downtown, a drug-dealing bail bondsman was roused from his sleep. His supplier needed to offload two garbage bags of pharmaceutical drugs — stolen from people who had themselves looted pharmacies.

It was Jenkins, fresh off his heroics in West Baltimore. He popped the trunk and carried the drugs into the garage. The bondsman would take care of selling them, then split the profits with the police sergeant.

Wayne Jenkins was living a double life.

Then 34, he was already an admired leader of aggressive street squads and would go on to head the elite Gun Trace Task Force, one of the Baltimore Police Department’s go-to assets in the fight against violent crime.

He was also the ringleader of a criminal enterprise of police officers who were robbing people and dealing drugs.

The indictment of Jenkins and six of his gun task force officers on federal racketeering charges rocked Baltimore when the announcement came in March 2017. A squad of veteran police officers stood accused of committing numerous robberies, as well as extortion and overtime fraud. Many Baltimore residents had long distrusted the police, and more so after the death of Freddie Gray. But the scope and breadth of these allegations were staggering.

Jenkins and members of his squad were praised for their work getting guns off the streets in an October 2016 police department newsletter. Credit: Baltimore Police

Inside the police department, the Gun Trace Task Force was known for its success in capturing suspected drug dealers, their stashes and their illegal firearms.

And Jenkins, who’d been identified as a rising talent early in his career, was celebrated among department brass and rank and file officers as a leader with an uncanny knack for delivering the goods.

One officer recalled Jenkins taunting colleagues waiting in line to submit evidence at police headquarters, bragging about how many guns he was getting off the street. “He was like King Kong,” the officer, who still works for the police department, recalled. “I thought, ‘How is he doing it? Why can’t I be like this guy?’”

When Jenkins was on paternity leave, commanders groused that his squad’s productivity dropped. They urged his supervisors to “get him back to work and focused,” according to an internal police department investigation conducted after the indictments.

Maurice Ward, a former detective now serving a seven-year prison term for committing crimes with Jenkins, said he and other officers jockeyed to get on his team.

“If Wayne Jenkins asked you to come work for him, you felt honored,” Ward said.

Jenkins earned praise outside the department, too. Then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake held a news conference to tout one of Jenkins’ big drug busts. The Parkville American Legion Post named him its Officer of the Year.

If his arrest was stunning, the depiction of his civil rights violations, robberies and more wasn’t news to everyone — certainly not to people who had been in Jenkins’ sights, fairly or not, over the years.

Some drug dealers told their lawyers that Jenkins made stuff up to arrest them — and had kept a good chunk of their money and drugs before taking them in. For the most part, these defendants decided it wasn’t in their interest to tell government authorities that. They might not have been believed anyhow.

Still, a yearlong investigation by The Baltimore Sun found warning signs that Wayne Jenkins wasn’t such a good cop. His supervisors and others either failed to see the red flags — or chose to ignore them.

These misconduct allegations came as Jenkins was serving in various plainclothes units — well before his appointment in 2016 to head the Gun Trace Task Force, one of the department’s most celebrated plainclothes squads.

While Jenkins’ most serious crimes — the drug dealing, the robberies — appear to have been well hidden, it is not surprising they flourished within Baltimore’s permissive plainclothes culture.

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These units often operated with little supervision. They had the autonomy to catch and release suspects and develop informants. They employed tactics that straddled — and sometimes clearly crossed — the line that divides aggressive policing and trampling on civil rights.

Amid controversies over the years, police brass would publicly disband the units, then reconstitute them with the same personnel under a different name. The department valued their work too much to end this style of police work.

Plainclothes officers “made the most arrests, they seized the most drugs and money, assets,” former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis told The Sun.

“That creates a culture — it’s not unique to Baltimore, but it’s pronounced here — that those guys should be given a pass,” Davis said.

Just how long ago Jenkins began stealing isn’t clear. His earliest admitted theft was in 2011. By the time his criminal streak was in full swing, it entailed high-stakes robberies and breaking and entering — even as he was bringing in paychecks totaling over $170,000 in a year, in part because of overtime fraud.

According to Jenkins’ convicted partner in the drug dealing, the police sergeant had been stealing drugs off the street for years and profiting from their illegal sale. Some of his men also have acknowledged stealing well before they came together on the Gun Trace Task Force in 2016. One member of the task force during Jenkins’ leadership, Detective John Clewell, was not charged with any crimes.

Turmoil has continued at the Baltimore Police Department, an agency that saw four commissioners in little more than a year — among them De Sousa, now in prison for tax fraud. Just in recent weeks, two officers have been criminally charged with misconduct.

But the scope of the corruption of Jenkins and his men remains a singular stain on the force.

Federal prosecutors displayed the contents of a bag found in the trunk of Sgt. Wayne Jenkins' police vehicle when he was arrested in 2017. The bag contained masks and other gear he used while stealing drugs and cash from people he and his team targeted. Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office.

To learn more about their behavior, The Sun obtained several thousand pages of court records, dozens of body camera videos and hundreds of police department emails and restricted internal files. A reporter also reviewed videos of judicial proceedings stemming from the officers’ arrests.

More than 50 people — including current and former police officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and victims — were interviewed.

Jenkins, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a federal prison in South Carolina, declined to speak with The Sun.

Some defense attorneys say their clients told them Jenkins had robbed them. But most people who worked with him — police and prosecutors — asserted to The Sun they had no idea he and his officers were involved in criminal behavior.

After the indictments, one of Jenkins’ supervisors told Internal Affairs investigators she had believed he was “the best gun cop this department has ever seen.”

Reflecting on the revelations of his misconduct, Lt. Marjorie German concluded that department leaders gave Jenkins too much leeway — because they were enamored of his results.

Jenkins gave “150 percent on the street. … And that is what they want,” German said, according to an Internal Affairs report.

“Command created the monster,” she said, “and allowed it to go unchecked.”


Wayne Jenkins’ fist felt like a hammer to Tim O’Connor’s face.

O’Connor had spent much of the day tossing back beers at the Brewer’s Hill Pub & Grill in Southeast Baltimore when the manager asked him to leave. Outside on the sidewalk, he saw a bunch of cops and yelled an expletive at one he knew — who happened to be Jenkins’ supervisor.

Suddenly O’Connor was on the ground.

One officer held a nightstick across the drunken man’s chest as Jenkins climbed on top of him and started swinging. His punches came fast — Jenkins was a trained boxer — and O’Connor soon felt the warmth of blood spilling down his cheek. His eye socket was fractured.

That October evening in 2005, Jenkins had been a Baltimore police officer for just two years. But already he was working in a plainclothes “flex unit” that rewarded dynamic officers and gave them freedom to roam.

Jenkins had joined the force at 23 after serving three years in the Marines, where he took up boxing. His drill sergeant described him as having the “utmost flawless character I’ve seen” in two decades of service. Jenkins was stationed in North Carolina but often made the long trip back home to Middle River. He’d grown up in the working class suburb, where his father worked two jobs, including at Bethlehem Steel. Relatives say he liked to visit his high school sweetheart, Kristy, who would become his wife.

Wayne Jenkins grew up in Middle River and is a graduate of Eastern Technical High School. This is his senior portrait from 1998.

In the police academy, his peers saw a leader. Gillian Whitfield recalled Jenkins as “sweet” and always willing to lend a hand. Dan Horgan said his “mentality was your typical Marine — camaraderie, teamwork. ‘Let’s get this done, but we’re going to do it 100 percent.’ Nothing was 10 percent.”

Jenkins entered a department steeped in “zero tolerance” — a war on crime fueled by arrests for even minor infractions. But that’s likely not what triggered the unprovoked beating of O’Connor. Jenkins idolized his sergeant, Michael Fries, the target of the expletive.

O’Connor, a house painter who missed weeks of work because of his injuries, sued Jenkins and put forward witnesses who backed his account: After O’Connor yelled at Fries, officers had pulled him to the ground, and Jenkins walloped him.

At trial, Jenkins and his boss denied any knowledge of who attacked O’Connor. They said that while they had their backs turned, someone had clocked O’Connor and taken off. They claimed they didn’t see who did it.

They also didn’t give chase. They didn’t call for an ambulance or even write a report. O’Connor had been “sloppy drunk,” they testified, and his friends said they would get him home.

Jenkins, indignant, aggressively shot back at questions from O’Connor’s attorney.

“You tried catching me all day, and you can’t, because I’m telling the truth,” Jenkins told the lawyer. “You didn’t catch me in nothing.”

Despite Jenkins’ bravado, the jury found in favor of O’Connor and awarded $75,000. Taxpayers footed the bill.

His police department personnel file shows no punishment related to the case.

A few months after the O’Connor incident, Jenkins was involved in another run-in where his sworn account was contradicted.

On an oddly balmy January night, Jenkins and Fries were working the McElderry Park neighborhood in East Baltimore when they noticed two brothers drinking Steel Reserve beers on the sidewalk outside their rowhouse.

No one had called police to complain, but Jenkins and Fries told the men to go inside. When the officers circled back later, the two were still outside holding beers. Jenkins said he’d tried to be “nice,” but now they were going to jail.

When one of the men darted into his home, Jenkins rushed in after him. Then they spilled out of the house and onto the sidewalk, struggling.

“All this happened over nothing,” one of the brothers, Charles Lee, recalled recently. The two police officers “came over because they had nothing else to do.”

As backup arrived, Jenkins spotted a man named George Sneed across the street. Arrest him, too, Jenkins yelled at the responding officers.

Jenkins and Fries would later say in sworn depositions that Sneed had been yelling expletives about police and throwing glass bottles at them. The bottles were “winged at us. I mean, it had velocity,” Jenkins said.

Sneed was chased and caught, and his jaw was broken in the process.

“They ordered us to f--- them up; we f---ed them up,” one of the responding officers, Robert Cirello, now retired, said later in an interview with The Sun.

Sneed hired an attorney, who obtained footage from a city surveillance camera on the corner. It showed Sneed calmly standing across the street looking on, never even raising his arms.

The tape disputed Jenkins’ sworn account. But there was just enough room for doubt — Sneed had been off camera briefly — that Jenkins could argue the video didn’t show the full story.

The jury found against the officer who broke Sneed’s jaw but cleared Jenkins.

But overall, plaintiffs prevailed in at least three lawsuits accusing Jenkins of beatings or other misconduct from 2006 to 2009, resulting in $90,000 in taxpayer payouts. None of the cases led to any police department discipline for Jenkins, his personnel records show.

In fact, Fries went on to promote Jenkins in June 2006 into a high-profile plainclothes unit called the Organized Crime Division. The sergeant took no one else from the flex squad. At O’Connor’s trial, Fries remarked that the others were “worthless” and “didn’t meet the standards” of the organized crime unit.

Jenkins, meanwhile, was “the best officer I had working under my command,” Fries said.

Not all the allegations against Jenkins came from lawsuits. Others were raised by defense attorneys and their clients, who said an overzealous Jenkins skirted legal standards in making arrests.

One such warning came in 2010 from a Baltimore man caught drug dealing. In federal court, Mickey Oakley argued that the officers who arrested him — including Jenkins and future Gun Trace Task Force member Daniel Hersl — had lied about the circumstances leading up to the arrest and had illegally searched his home.

About the series

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton spent a year delving into the operations of Wayne Jenkins and his officers, both as members of the Gun Trace Task Force and before.

He reviewed hours of body camera footage from their arrests, watched tapes of their courtroom appearances, reviewed several thousand pages of documents, including internal police department files, and interviewed dozens of people — including two of the convicted officers, some of the gun unit's victims, other current and former Baltimore police officers and commanders, defense attorneys and prosecutors.

Fenton joined The Sun as a suburban reporter in 2005. He has covered the Baltimore Police Department and crime in Baltimore since 2008. He is working on a book about the Gun Trace Task Force, to be published by Random House.

Oakley took the rare step of getting onto the witness stand to rebut the officers, as did an independent witness who backed his account. “What Detective Wayne Jenkins wrote in his affidavit for the search warrant was a complete fabrication,” Oakley said. “It is simply not true.”

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake denied Oakley’s motion to suppress the evidence. Blake — who in 2017 would wind up presiding over the Gun Trace Task Force corruption case — noted that the other officers present backed Jenkins’ account. She said she found Hersl in particular to be “very credible.”

“All of the other officers would have to be inaccurate in their testimony if it is to be believed that Detective Jenkins was manufacturing information for the affidavit,” she said.

No one believed Oakley. So he gave up and entered a guilty plea.

“I’m feeling a lot of remorse for my actions I have led through my life,” Oakley said at his sentencing.

But, he added, “I think that if I am held responsible for my actions, then the same should be with the officers for their wrongdoing.”

In the annals of the Baltimore Police Department, Wayne Jenkins’ name was not being associated with wrongdoing. Far from it.

A star

Jenkins was developing a reputation within the department as a cop whose aggressive style brought results. Current and former officers said he was generally regarded favorably as a “cowboy” type who found big cases through a frenetic pace of citizen stops, which sometimes yielded information leading the way up a chain of drug dealers.

“Wayne was a cop’s cop, local hero kind of guy,” said Cirello, the retired officer.

Jenkins got a bronze star for his part in the 2009 recovery of 41 kilograms of cocaine — $1 million worth — in a man’s truck. It was billed at the time as the largest cocaine seizure in department history, one of Jenkins’ many large-scale seizures.

Jenkins, shown here with then-Commissioner Kevin Davis, was awarded a bronze star in April 2016 for his efforts to save injured officers during the unrest a year earlier. Credit: Baltimore Police Department

In 2010, when Deputy Commissioner Anthony Barksdale wanted a special squad to go after elusive suspects, Jenkins was picked for the group. Later that year, the mayor held a news conference for another of Jenkins’ busts. He and other officers had raided a car wash, recovering more than a kilogram of drugs and $4,000 from a hidden desk compartment — which could be opened only using magnets within a fish tank.

While it may seem incongruous that an officer would be hailed as a hero while racking up complaints, in the Baltimore Police Department it was not. Wayne Jenkins and his plainclothes colleagues operated in a world where success and misconduct were not mutually exclusive — and sometimes seemed to go hand in hand.


Officers in plainclothes units often operate in the shadows of a police department.

Their work is not to be confused with undercover operations, in which police officers assume a different identity and worm their way into a criminal organization. Plainclothes officers, as the description suggests, just work in street clothes — usually casual — rather than uniforms. The outfit change is designed to allow them to blend in.

They drive unmarked vehicles. They are not typically tethered to specific posts, or burdened by responding to 911 calls. Instead, they go out looking for illegal activity — people exchanging drugs or displaying bulges under clothing that could be guns. These officers often operate with a great deal of independence. They can let a suspect go, if they can lead to bigger fish.

In Baltimore, they’re often referred to as “knockers,” a reference to their historically aggressive tactics.

Across the country, these plainclothes squads have often been where scandals are born. In Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Chicago, plainclothes teams have been charged with corruption.

It’s a Viking mentality: You go out into the field among the bad guys, and you bring back a bounty
Kevin Davis, former police commissioner

But Davis, Baltimore’s police commissioner from 2015 to 2018 and a veteran of two other departments, calls plainclothes units “necessary and critical to the crime fight.” They go looking for guns and drugs, he said, and often are successful.

“It’s a Viking mentality: You go out into the field among the bad guys, and you bring back a bounty,” Davis said.

In Baltimore’s recent history, the police department has consistently relied on such units, even though the conduct of many of their officers would draw criticism from city residents.

Jerry Rodriguez, a career Los Angeles police officer who was a deputy commissioner in Baltimore from 2013 to 2015, said the department was resistant to change. Homegrown commanders “took pride in being known as having knockers. Any attempts to make the force become less of a warrior and more of a guardian was looked at terribly,” he said.

Many plainclothes units would work out of a satellite office inside a trailer in Northwest Baltimore. It was nicknamed “The Barn” — an apparent homage to the offices of a corrupt police unit on the television series “The Shield.” The show, modeled after a 1990s Los Angeles Police Department scandal, featured a strike team that roughed up suspects, lied about their investigations and took a cut of their drug busts.

Barksdale, the former deputy commissioner who crafted department strategies from 2007 to 2012, leaned heavily on plainclothes units. Critics argue Barksdale was among police leaders who fostered a “warrior” culture, to the city’s detriment. He counters that the units helped bring down crime, and says he made it a point to scrutinize their conduct.

Plainclothes officers must constantly be checked by leadership, Barksdale said, with commanders inquiring about irregularities in their work and excessive overtime pay. “You’ve got to be willing to dig into their s--- and confront them,” Barksdale said.

In November 2012, Wayne Jenkins was promoted to the rank of sergeant — giving him new authority and freedom. Sergeants are the eyes and ears of the command, the front-line supervisors trusted to keep close tabs on their officers. They direct their work, approve overtime pay and provide reports to higher-ranking supervisors.

His promotion required him to return to uniformed patrol for a time, and he was assigned to the Northeastern District.

But in less than a year, Sergeant Jenkins was put in charge of the new plainclothes squad in West Baltimore.

In crosshairs

In May 2014, three Baltimore prosecutors convened a meeting. The topic: Can we get Wayne Jenkins?

As in the past, a video had surfaced that conflicted with the written account of a drug arrest by Jenkins and another officer. The two said Jenkins had found drugs in the ceiling of a man’s vehicle. But the video — captured by closed-circuit TV — showed the officers searching the car extensively and never appearing to make a discovery.

A line prosecutor, Molly Webb, had been notified by a defense attorney of the footage — footage that the police department hadn’t submitted to her. It was a red flag.

“When I saw the video,” Webb later told The Sun, “it didn’t corroborate what was in the statement of probable cause at all.”

The matter was referred to the police integrity unit of the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office for investigation. Prosecutors went as far as having witnesses appear before a grand jury, according to records obtained by The Sun.

But they needed more information. Attorneys in the integrity unit had approached another officer involved in the arrest, asking him pointed questions about whether Jenkins had lied about the drugs.

Now, the lawyers were sitting with Paul Pineau, chief of staff to then Baltimore State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, according to an account of the meeting obtained by The Sun.

“Have we raised the possibility of a wire?” Pineau asked.

The officer they talked to didn’t seem like a candidate for that, the lawyers said.

“He goes on and on gushing about Sergeant Jenkins,” Assistant State’s Attorney Jenifer Layman said.

“Oh, yeah. He idolizes this guy,” said Shelley Glenn, another prosecutor.

She described how the unnamed officer talked about Jenkins: “He’s probably the best drug detective in the city. There’s been plenty of times where the suspect has said, ‘The drugs are in the car,’ and I go and I can’t find them. And Jenkins says, ‘Did you look in the console?’ And he pulls the rug back and boom. Plenty of times he's gone behind me and found them.”

The three prosecutors concluded the officer admired Jenkins’ work even as he may have been trying to protect the sergeant.

“He’s given us all he’s going to give us,” Glenn said. “And we’re not getting Jenkins.”

Within days, prosecutors issued a letter to police saying they were declining to charge Jenkins with a crime.

Jenkins, who had been suspended during the investigation, went back to work, making no fewer than three dozen arrests over the rest of the year, most of them gun cases.

But the police department’s Internal Affairs office still had an open file on the case.

And in the midst of that investigation, another arose. Then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had created a Force Investigation Team to inspire public trust that police leaders were keeping an eye on officers’ use of force.

The unit began looking into a case involving Jenkins, in which he had run down a young man with his unmarked Dodge Avenger early in 2014.

Jenkins, along with Detective Ben Frieman, had followed an African American man driving a nice car through Northeast Baltimore. When the man stopped his car and started to run away, Jenkins drove after him and into someone’s front yard, where he struck him.

The man, Demetric Simon, 31, said he did have drugs on him and knew someone was following. He was scared. He thought Jenkins and Frieman might have been impersonating police.

“At that time, I didn’t think they were officers,” Simon said.

Jenkins later alleged in official paperwork that Simon had pointed a weapon at Frieman — and that he ran Simon down to stop the threat.

And while searching the area, Jenkins claimed, he found a BB gun under a nearby car.

But during the subsequent investigation, Frieman told detectives that he never saw a gun in Simon’s hand and that — rather than being in imminent danger — he was around a corner and out of sight when Jenkins ran down Simon.

In a recent interview, Simon told The Sun, “I never had no BB gun. I never aimed nothing at him … . He ran me over because I was getting away.”

His account — and Jenkins’ claim that he’d found the gun — is evocative of testimony by two of Jenkins’ officers in the 2018 Gun Trace Task Force trial. They said Jenkins instructed them to carry BB guns to plant on suspects to justify their actions if they made a mistake.

Five years later, Simon’s claims were confirmed. An officer who sometimes worked with Jenkins, Keith Gladstone, pleaded guilty last month to going to the scene of Simon’s arrest to plant the BB gun — a response, Gladstone admitted, to a phone call from a frantic Jenkins asking for the help.

Back then, Jenkins escaped scrutiny again. Though Simon says he reported the incident to the police department’s Internal Affairs office, he ultimately stopped cooperating on advice from his defense lawyer.

He had a criminal case to fight, and his freedom was more important.

Internal affairs, a deal

But Internal Affairs was still working on the case that the State’s Attorney’s Office had decided it could not pursue: the suspicion that Jenkins might have planted drugs in a car to justify an arrest.

Finally, in March 2015, Internal Affairs chief Rodney Hill informed Jenkins that he was being charged internally with misconduct, neglect of duty and failure to supervise the officer in his charge, according to a leaked copy of the case file obtained by The Sun.

According to the Internal Affairs file, the only times Jenkins had been disciplined by the department was for twice failing to appear in court.

Now, the recommended punishment was significant: a demotion, a transfer and suspension for 15 to 20 days, including a period without pay, Hill told the television network Al-Jazeera.

But none of that happened.

The leaked case file doesn’t say why. Hill told Al-Jazeera it was because then-Deputy Commissioner De Sousa got involved.

De Sousa “handled the discipline, and they had worked a deal,” Hill said, according to a transcript of the interview. “I don’t know the nuances, what was said, what wasn’t. I wasn’t privy. Once it left my shop… they had reduced the punishment.”

Hill said in the interview that De Sousa reduced the punishment to verbal counseling — in effect, no punishment at all. Hill could not be reached by The Sun for comment.

At that time, it was within De Sousa’s purview as the deputy commissioner in charge of administrative matters to intervene to resolve a discipline case, according to another former deputy commissioner, Jason Johnson.

Maurice Ward, the former detective now in prison, also remembers De Sousa “coming to the rescue” and reducing the punishment, though he believes Jenkins was still suspended.

De Sousa, who is now serving a federal sentence for tax evasion, said through his attorney that he does not remember the Jenkins case. But he added, “All disciplinary decisions were put through the proper consideration by command staff and BPD legal department. No single person was in a position to make unilateral discipline decisions.”

Such questions over integrity have in the past prompted prosecutors to stop calling an officer as a witness, forcing the department’s hand to take him off the streets. But the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office continued to use Jenkins.

Cash in woods

With the investigations behind him, Jenkins seemed emboldened.

Later in 2015, he took over a new squad of plainclothes officers within the latest rebranding, the Special Enforcement Section. Ward, now working with Jenkins for the first time, recalled the officers pulling over a car in East Baltimore that had two trash bags full of money. No one took anything, but Jenkins later mused about the possibilities.

Jenkins explained that he’d already tracked the man to Essex, so he thought they could stake out the home, go through the man’s trash and find something to parlay into a search warrant. Then they could enter the house and take the money, only later calling county officers to say they were executing the warrant.

After outlining this, Ward said, Jenkins reconsidered. He suggested another option.

“You guys willing to go kick in the dude’s door and take the money?” Jenkins said.

The officers with him hesitated, Ward said. Nobody said yes or no, instead expressing ambivalence.

Later, Jenkins did more than talk about such a theft.

Jenkins had told his squad he’d heard over wiretaps that Belvedere Towers, a high-rise apartment complex in North Roland Park, was the scene of “large drug deals.” One afternoon, he took two officers there and they wound up stopping a drug deal in progress.

You guys willing to go kick in the dude’s door and take the money?
Wayne Jenkins, Gun Trace Task Force officer

In an incident to which Jenkins would later plead guilty, the officers handcuffed two men. Jenkins lied to them, saying he was a federal agent. He said they were confiscating the cash and 20 pounds of marijuana. Jenkins released the men and told them he’d follow up with them later.

Ward wasn’t sure what to make of it. In an interview from prison, he said it wasn’t uncommon for the officers to take contraband and submit it to evidence control without arresting someone. Having taken money before with previous squads, he expected the officers might skim some and submit the rest as cover.

But that day, Jenkins drove toward the edge of town, bobbing in and out of traffic and running red lights, until he pulled over near a wooded area off Liberty Heights Avenue. He told the other officers to leave their cell phones and police vests in the car.

Ward and the other cop followed Jenkins into the woods. They walked far enough so they couldn’t be seen from the street.

The woods of Powder Mill Park, where Det. Maurice Ward says he, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and former Det. Marcus Taylor split up $20,000 in cash they stole in 2015. Credit: Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun

It was still daylight, and Jenkins opened a black and red duffel bag. Inside was a stack of bills. He started counting the money, $20,000 in all. Jenkins doled out $5,000 to each of the two officers and instructed them not to make any big purchases. He kept $10,000 for himself, saying he planned to install a front-end crash bar so his department-issued vehicle wouldn’t get damaged in his frequent collisions.

Then he said something that struck Ward as bizarre: He said he was going to take the marijuana to his home, and burn it all.

“I just knew it was a lie,” Ward recalls.

He started to worry. The apartment complex had a camera in the parking lot. What if a complaint was made? What if one of the men who was robbed turned out to be a federal informant? What was Jenkins really going to do with the drugs? What had he gotten himself into?

Had the officers done things by the book, the cash and drugs would be registered with evidence control. The dealers would be sitting in a jail cell.

Instead, while their cash and drugs were gone, the dealers were free men. Would they report the incident? Not likely, Ward thought.

Sure enough, no report was ever made. It was the perfect crime.

It would by no means be the last.