US 'robber' cops guilty in explosive corruption case

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

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Two US police officers, described by the prosecution as "both cops and robbers," were convicted on Monday in one of the country's most explosive recent cases of law enforcement corruption.

A jury convicted Baltimore detectives Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.

They will be sentenced later and could face life in prison if convicted.

The trial revealed widespread illegal practices among officers immersed in a slum environment overrun by criminal gangs.

At the heart of the case was the Gun Trace Task Force, a supposedly elite plainclothes unit responsible for tracking down and seizing illegal weapons in the crime-ridden port city with a population of around 600,000, nearly 60 per cent of whom are African American.

All of their victims were black men, many of them drug dealers who the corrupt police officers knew could not go to the authorities to complain.

Six officers pleaded guilty to various charges and four of them delivered gripping testimony at the trial of Hersl and Marcus.

Several avowed drug dealers received immunity to allow them to testify about their encounters with the tainted unit.

Testimony shed a harsh light on racketeering, burglary, false statements and armed robbery by the officers.

Their job was to take illegal guns off the street in a city rife with murders. Instead, the Task Force added to the problem by reselling weapons they stole.

The corrupt detectives also trafficked in drugs, planted false evidence on suspects and lied about their overtime hours.

Baltimore's homicide rate last year was the nation's second-worst, and led to the replacement of the city's police chief in January.

With more than 340 killings in 2017, Baltimore is still recovering from riots that broke out in 2015 after the death in police custody of a young black man, Freddie Gray.

According to experts, overcoming the distrust between police and the community in Baltimore, to which the Gun Trace Task Force case contributed, will be a lengthy process.

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