The real story behind we own this town


We own this town, an HBO Max miniseries released on April 25, about a Baltimore Police Department (BPD) task force unit that went rogue, highlights some of the biggest concerns about modern policing in America. Adapted from Old Baltimore Sun 2021 book by journalist Justin Fenton We Own This Town: A True Story of Crime, Cops and Corruptionthe show chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most shocking cases of police corruption in Baltimore history.

The miniseries, co-created by Threadby David Simon and George Pelecanos, follows a special unit, known as the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), which was formed in 2007 to remove guns and violent criminals from the streets of Baltimore. Instead of getting rid of crime, the police officers of the GTTF engaged in it, against the communities they were meant to serve. In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) began investigating the unit. They specifically tracked a member, Momodu Gondo, who worked with drug dealers and possibly helped them get around drug charges.

The extent of the GTTF’s reign of terror over the city of Baltimore became more widely known in 2017, when eight members of the unit were charged with extortion, theft, racketeering and overtime fraud. The case was brought after the DEA heard Gondo admit to selling drugs on tape. Once Gondo was arrested and authorities began to investigate the entire unit, the extent of GTTF corruption became apparent.

We own this town depicts the officers stealing drugs and money, the authorities investigating their actions, their eventual downfall, and when the officers began to turn on each other. Here’s what to know about the real story behind the miniseries.

How the GTTF terrorized the city of Baltimore

The wide range of crimes committed by GTTF officers is staggering. They targeted suspected drug dealers, carried fake guns in case they shot an unarmed person to plant the gun, and sold the guns and drugs they stole to criminals.

In one case, 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. In one incident in 2016, officers stopped and arrested a couple leaving a Home Depot, even though there was no evidence the couple had committed a crime. When they discovered the couple had $40,000 in a home out of town, they went to the house and took $20,000.

Amid protests following the murder of Freddie Gray in 2015, a GTTF officer reportedly prevented looting taking place at a pharmacy. 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.

Some GTTF officers admitted in court that they drove quickly towards groups of people on the street and snapped on breaks. They saw who was escaping from the group, chased them and arrested them. This can happen 10 to 20 times a night or in some cases 50 times a night. During their testimony, officers also admitted to placing illegal tracking devices on the cars of suspected drug traffickers so they could break into their homes and sell any guns or drugs they found.

In total, the GTTF allegedly stole at least $300,000, 43 pounds of marijuana, 800 grams of heroin, three kilograms of cocaine, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry.

Read more: David Simon and George Pelecanos explain how America changed between The Wire and their new detective show We Own This City

The History of Police Corruption in Baltimore

The scandal erupted at a time of struggle and high tension between members of the Baltimore community and the police department. A 2016 Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into the BPD found that significant levels of abuse and corruption within the department had been going on for years. The report also revealed “racial disparities” regarding those affected by corruption and abuse.

“The BPD’s targeted policing of certain Baltimore neighborhoods with minimal oversight or accountability disproportionately harms African American residents,” the report said. “The racially disparate impact is present at every step of the BPD’s law enforcement actions, from the initial decision to arrest individuals on the streets of Baltimore to searches, arrests and the use of force.”

The DOJ report came shortly after Gray’s murder sparked an uprising in the city and across the United States denouncing police brutality and racial discrimination. And when the actions of the GTTF were made public a year later, the trust between the BPD and the communities it monitored was already badly fractured.

In January 2022, a law firm’s independent investigation into the GTTF revealed an institutional failure in the oversight of agents. “These guys had done so much misconduct before. Some were known to the police department and the department was unable to mind its own business,” said Michael Bromwich, who led the independent investigation.

The report contained a number of recommendations for the BPD, most of them focusing on increased oversight and accountability for officers in the department.

“The fallout from the GTTF scandal continues to be felt to this day. Officers not directly associated with the GTTF have been charged and convicted for events that occurred more than a decade ago,” the report said. “It took decades for the cancer of corruption revealed in the GTTF scandal to spread as widely as it did and sink its roots so deep into the BPD; it will take years for the BPD to demonstrate, in word and deed, that it has zero tolerance for corruption and misconduct.

Read more: The American police system is broken. It’s time to radically rethink public safety

We own this town shows what happened with the GTTF

As the series shows, six of the eight members of the GTTF – Thomas Allers, Wayne Jenkins, Momodu Gondo, Evodio Hendrix, Jemell Rayam and Maurice Ward – pleaded guilty to a number of charges and were sentenced. The other two – Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor – pleaded not guilty and were sentenced in 2018.

Gondo, Ward, Hendrix. and Rayam all agreed to cooperate with the (DOJ) and testified against Hersl and Taylor. Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, who was the unit’s leader, pleaded guilty to several charges including racketeering, robbery and tampering with records, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison, the most severe of all sorrows. Hersl and Taylor were both sentenced to 18 years in prison. The other officers involved were sentenced to between seven and 12 years. This includes a Philadelphia police officer, Eric Snell, who was formerly with the BPD and had ties to the GTTF.

In February 2022, Hendrix and Ward were released from federal prison after being sentenced to seven years. It is unclear why they were granted early release.

“This is not aggressive policing, this is a criminal conspiracy,” said Rod Rosenstein, the former US attorney for Maryland in 2017 when the officers were charged. “These are simply thefts committed by people wearing police uniforms.”

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Write to Josiah Bates at josiah.bates@time.com.


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