Ivan Bates stood in a Baltimore courtroom, conflicted. For years, the defense attorney had heard stories from clients who said they were robbed by the vaunted Baltimore Police Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. The defendant Bates was representing on this day in October 2016 was just the latest.
But affirming that the man had drugs and the attendant cash when Jenkins arrested him — and actually far more of both than the sergeant had written in his report — was not going to help Bates’ client.
Nor was a judge likely to believe that the leader of the elite Baltimore Gun Trace Task Force had robbed accused drug dealer O’Reese Stevenson.
The details of Jenkins’ arrest of Stevenson — and what happened next — would have stretched credulity even more.
After pulling Stevenson over in Northwest Baltimore and sizing him up as a big-time dealer, Jenkins had phoned his drug-dealing partner, a bail bondsman.
“I need you to come here as quick as you can," Jenkins told him. “I’ve got a ‘monster.’”
He was not making a moral judgment. “Monster” was Jenkins' term for those higher-level players in Baltimore’s black-market economy who stacked bricks of packaged drugs and cash. Finding such dealers had become a principal focus of Jenkins’ work — so he could rob them. Arresting them was optional.
They searched for hours and found a heat-sealed bag containing $50,000. In a closet, they found $20,000 more. No drugs or guns were located.
Jenkins tried to get Hamilton to cooperate with other investigations, suggesting he might even provide Hamilton with drugs to keep the information flowing.
“You take care of us, we’ll take care of you,” Jenkins said, Hamilton would later testify. “You might even wake up one day with 10 kilos in your backyard.”
The gun task force officers pocketed the $20,000. To cover their tracks, they called Maryland State Police to the home to document seizing the other $50,000. Although nothing illegal had been found and Hamilton was not charged with any crime, under civil asset forfeiture laws his money could be seized if he couldn’t account for how it was earned.
Hamilton fought back, hoping to retrieve at least the $50,000 the cops had admitted seizing. During forfeiture proceedings, he won the return of the portion he could document earning — $30,000. But he had to forfeit the remainder to the government.
Of course, the $20,000 Jenkins’ squad had taken for themselves was gone, too.
WITHOUT A WARRANT
It’s not clear when Jenkins, who joined the police department in 2003, began stealing. In his plea agreement, the earliest admitted robbery was in 2011, after a high-speed chase and a crash. The victim in that case, like many contacted by The Sun for this report, declined to speak about the circumstances. Some cited a desire to move on with their lives, while others said they feared retribution.
Videos, interviews and testimony suggest a pattern that began earlier for Jenkins, including entering homes without a warrant. He and other officers would say they were merely seeing whether the keys worked, which is allowed to confirm someone’s link to a property.
But according to some defense attorneys, officers would go on to enter the house and secretly search. If they found something worthwhile, they might return with a warrant.
Bates had flagged the issue at a client’s trial in 2014.
“What police are telling you, which is mind boggling, is we’re going to take a person’s keys, and we’re just going to go to their house, and we’re going to go ahead and put them in the door, and if it opens, it opens,” Bates told the judge. “That’s mind boggling because as citizens we have rights, and it’s obvious the police don’t believe these rights apply to these citizens.”
One of the clearest examples Bates came across was back in 2010. Jenkins was an officer in a different plainclothes unit then, and he and a sergeant spotted a man named Jamal Walker sitting in his car in East Baltimore.
They asked Walker to get out of the vehicle. They said they smelled marijuana. Walker said he didn’t smoke and didn’t have any marijuana.
Jenkins “asked if I had guns, drugs or large amounts of money,” Walker recalled in an interview. He said he replied he had $40,000 in cash destined for the bank.
The sergeant, Keith Gladstone — whom Jenkins has described as a mentor — dangled a bag of marijuana that Walker says did not belong to him. “Now we get to keep your money,” Gladstone told him, according to Walker. He alleges that the cops pocketed $20,000 of his money.
Walker told all that to his lawyer Bates, who defended Walker against the drug and gun charges that resulted from his arrest. It was what reportedly happened next that really alarmed Bates.
Walker’s wife, Jovonne, said the officers came to their home that night and entered without a warrant. Terrified to discover strange men entering her home, she triggered the alarm system, which summoned uniformed patrol officers to the scene.
Neither Jenkins nor Gladstone were charged in Walker’s case.
But Gladstone, now retired from the police department, pleaded guilty May 31 to a federal conspiracy charge for planting a BB gun on a man after Jenkins ran him down with his car in 2014. Gladstone faces up to 10 years at sentencing in September.
Gladstone, like Jenkins, declined to comment for this article.
Staci Pipkin, now a Baltimore defense lawyer, was the prosecutor on the charges against Walker and on other cases involving Jenkins’ arrests around that time.
Other defendants made claims against officers when she worked in the state’s attorney’s office, Pipkin said. “We’d start investigations,” she said. She knew of no such allegations about Jenkins.
Pipkin remembers Jenkins as a cop who seemed like he wanted to do everything right. He wasn’t afraid to call in the middle of the night to ask a question about the law.
“If you would’ve asked me, before the indictments came down, who the best narcotics cop was in Baltimore, he would’ve been top three,” Pipkin said.
In September 2015, a woman remembers being home when she heard someone quietly come in the front door of her Southwest Baltimore apartment. Andrea Crawford assumed it was her husband and was startled to find Jenkins standing in her foyer. It turned out Jenkins and his officers had arrested her husband. Now they’d come to the home to see what they could find.
Crawford began to object, but Jenkins told her she could either let him search without a warrant or he could go get one. He told her that would mean her landlord, and child protective services, would be notified.
“I knew I had nothing, so I let them search,” Crawford said in an interview. “I didn’t want the trouble.”
Jenkins and his Gun Trace Task Force officers would go into a robbery together — but some would emerge with a different haul. They were double-crossing each other.
On Aug. 8, 2016, Jenkins and several officers were lying in wait outside a Sinclair Lane storage facility, believing they could find a drug dealer leaving a stash. When they saw him, some of the men pulled up alongside Dennis Armstrong, a city maintenance worker and dealer.
Roll your window down, an officer said. Where you coming from?
The post office, Armstrong said.
“Sarge, we got the suspect,” one said into a radio to Jenkins.
Armstrong floored it. He had cocaine in the car and a prior conviction for which he’d recently completed probation. As he fled, he unloaded drugs, throwing handfuls of cocaine out the window like snowballs. He eventually hit a dead-end street, tried to flee on foot and was caught.
Armstrong says some of the officers climbed into his car and drove it back to the storage facility. He had $8,000 in the glove box. Detective Daniel Hersl broke it open and got the cash.
Jenkins huddled with his officers, then confronted Armstrong.
“Anything else you want to tell us? We know you got a storage spot,” Jenkins told Armstrong. “Tell us what's going on.”
Armstrong stayed silent. Officers took him to Central Booking, where he spent 20 hours being processed. In the charging paperwork, police said they’d seized $2,800 from Armstrong — far less than he says he had.
Unbeknownst to the others, Hersl and Rayam were cutting a side deal. The two said they were going to 7-Eleven but went instead to the parking lot of Archbishop Curley High School and split $1,000.
Meanwhile, Jenkins was cutting the others out of what he suspected was a bigger prize: a possible bounty in the storage unit. He called Donald Stepp, the bail bondsman who was his drug-dealing partner, while the officers waited to obtain a search warrant.
Jenkins told Stepp to hurry to the storage place, break into Armstrong’s unit, and clean it out before the others could arrive with the warrant to enter.
Jenkins directed Stepp to the rear of the facility, where he said there was a fence but no cameras. Stepp scaled the fence and slipped on his way down, falling and rolling his ankle. But, motivated to get what was inside, he used a drill-like tool and then a crowbar to break in.
Stepp tore the unit apart, he would later testify, searching the walls and ceiling for cash or drugs. He found just under a kilogram of cocaine, but no cash. He took the drugs.
Armstrong had been caught, but because of the dishonest officers, caught with less than he really had.
He was charged with having a small amount of cocaine that was left in his car. He never complained about the officers taking his money or the drugs from the storage unit. Getting charged with the true amount of drugs would have led to “a lot more time,” Armstrong testified later.
He pleaded guilty to simple possession and got two years probation.
According to Stepp, the partnership with Jenkins began in late 2012 when the pair were traveling to Delaware Park Casino. Jenkins, a recently minted sergeant, started talking about how he often seized large amounts of drugs. As the conversation wore on, he asked whether Stepp would begin selling products for him.
On the job, Jenkins came across plenty of drugs — and he and his squad had a lax attitude about them, according to Leo Wise, a federal prosecutor who helped bring them down. The assistant U.S. attorney said that after arresting the officers, federal agents discovered drugs in their their office, their vehicles and their police vests.
“We found drugs in all sorts of surprising places,” Wise said in an interview. “One thing that was a shock, these officers just throw drugs away all the time.” Cooperating officers told him they would drive down Interstate 83 and toss seized drugs out the window rather than complete the paperwork.
Stepp had done prison time — once addicted to cocaine and alcohol, he amassed a lengthy criminal rap sheet by breaking into vehicles and businesses to steal things to support his addiction. He emerged from prison clean and sober, and got a job in the mortgage industry. When the housing market crashed, new regulations prevented someone with Stepp’s record from participating. He turned back to drug dealing, eventually connecting with Colombian and Dominican suppliers, he said.
For his day job, he decided to become a bail bondsman. He needed to get a waiver because of his record. In applying for his bail bonds license, he attached three character letters. One came from his attorney. Another was from his boss in the mortgage industry.
The third was on Baltimore Police Department letterhead from Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, lending his credibility as an officer to convince the Maryland Insurance Administration that Stepp had changed his life. It was dated January 2013.
“Fifteen years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to say this, but Donny Stepp is now one of the good guys,” Jenkins’ two-page letter began. “I hope you will consider granting Donny his license. He is truly a changed man, clean and sober going on 16 years. I trust him with my children. I would trust him with my money. I trust him in my house. I don’t even think in terms of whether he is trustworthy any more. He is just Donny, my friend, and a good guy.”
At this time, Stepp says Jenkins was dropping off dope to him nearly every day.
Sometimes they’d meet up for lunch or breakfast. Late at night, Jenkins would deposit the drugs in a shed outside Stepp’s home or ask him to open the garage. Stepp had a client base for cocaine, but Jenkins was dropping off a wide array of narcotics — more than Stepp could handle.
“It was just over the top. Everything and anything that could be imagined,” Stepp later testified. “It was coming in such an abundance that I didn't even know what it was.”
The night of the riots in April 2015, Jenkins showed up with two garbage bags full of pharmaceutical drugs. He told Stepp he had grabbed people running out of looted pharmacies. “‘I’ve got an entire pharmacy,’” Jenkins said, according to Stepp.
Notably, when Wayne Jenkins’ house in Middle River was searched after his arrest, authorities did not report finding any drugs or large sums of money. His family never moved from the modest split-level home he and his wife bought in 2005.
DECEPTION UPON DECEPTION
When Ivan Bates stood in Judge Barry Williams’ courtroom, he knew Jenkins and his men had stolen drugs and money from his client. But he didn’t know how far they’d gone to cover it up.
Evidence would later show that after arresting Stevenson, the officers had gone to his home, entered without a warrant and broke open a safe containing $200,000. They took half the money out — then sealed up the safe and filmed a cell phone video that appeared to show the officers opening it for the very first time.
Their deception went further. Jenkins didn’t want a high-profile defense lawyer looking into the case, his officers would later testify. He had been listening to Stevenson’s calls from jail, in which he asked his wife to hire Bates as his defense attorney.
A plan was hatched to discourage her from helping her husband.
The officers wrote a fake note purporting to be a woman claiming she was pregnant with Stevenson’s child, and they left the message at the couple’s front door. It didn’t work. Stevenson’s wife hired Bates.
The Stevenson heist was the single largest robbery documented by federal prosecutors in the Gun Trace Task Force investigation. But allegations of a much larger theft involving Jenkins emerged from the continuing probes, The Sun has learned.
In late 2013, Jenkins and two other officers he worked with then began investigating a Baltimore County man named Thomas L. Jones. When they moved in for an arrest a few months later, the officers reported they found about $650,000 throughout the home, as well as drugs, court records show.
But Jones told federal investigators they took an additional $300,000 and didn’t report it. And last year, one of the other officers told the FBI he stole money and used illegal tactics. While that officer has not been charged with a crime, federal prosecutors asked for a closed court hearing in January, after which Jones was freed from his prison sentence.
“I told my lawyer, ‘Man, they robbed me. They stole my money,” Jones told The Sun. “Day one, I said, ‘They robbed me.’”
In the last few months before Jenkins was arrested, he seemed torn. He wanted out of the GTTF. But he didn’t seem to want to give up his crimes.
Jenkins went on leave for three months starting in November 2016, as he and his wife welcomed their third son. While Jenkins was gone, his unit’s productivity plummeted.
Two lieutenants who supervised Jenkins would later tell internal investigators that top commanders were upset by the unit’s lack of performance.
“Upper command” felt that Jenkins’ officers were “laying down” and not getting the job done, Lt. Marjorie German told Internal Affairs, which after the indictments launched an investigation into the “supervisory oversight” of Jenkins and his men.
Lt. Chris O’Ree said commanders urged supervisors to get Jenkins “back to work and focused,” according to the Internal Affairs report, reviewed by The Sun.
Jenkins’ colleagues say that over the years, he always seemed to be working. They recall he would sometimes sleep at the office. But as his family and friends would recount later, he also seemed omnipresent in their lives. He engaged his sons’ teachers about their progress. He volunteered to chaperone field trips and stepped in to coach their football and baseball teams. He made sure his own father didn’t have to do yard work. When his brother’s wife opened a beauty salon, he was there at night helping to renovate.
A year before his third son was born, he and his wife lost a son. Jenkins had been at work when his wife called to say she was going into labor. The child died. Later, Jenkins asked his sister if she would go with him to see the baby. He sat in a rocker, singing songs to the child. “Wayne started asking me about God, and why bad things happen,” his sister would later tell the court.
Now a father again, Jenkins seemed to have a new outlook when he returned from paternity leave in February 2017. He asked to leave the Gun Trace Task Force and start working in a unit serving warrants.
“Lt. Oree advised that Sgt. Jenkins had expressed that ‘his family was more important’ and he didn’t want to continue taking the same chances,” the Internal Affairs report said. It didn’t explain what “taking chances” meant. German said Jenkins became “very disgruntled, and very vocal about getting all these guns for command and being underappreciated.” He had handed her a form seeking a transfer into the warrant unit.
It’s unclear how sincere the sentiment was. The warrant work would involve less pressure from higher-ups since the job was to find and arrest people, without having to build cases and testify.
But it would still take Jenkins into people’s homes and vehicles.
Around this time, Jenkins told Gondo that he heard Gondo might be under investigation by federal authorities. Gondo said he doubted the claim, but Jenkins seemed to be spooked.
In a recorded phone call, Rayam told Gondo that Jenkins wanted to distance himself from their everyday work. Jenkins no longer wanted to “put his name on s---,” Rayam said, suggesting he didn’t want to write charging documents and be responsible for explaining cases in court.
But that didn’t mean Jenkins was ready to stop stealing. In the same conversation with Gondo, Rayam said Jenkins had gone on to identify someone to rob. “Then he was like, ‘Yo, this dude’s easy for two hundred. We could get ‘em.’ He was like, ‘If we do it, it’ll be me and you.’”
Jenkins even seemed to be looking to bring a new conspirator into the fold. Jenkins had tapped Detective James Kostoplis for the Gun Trace Task Force in October 2016, just before he went on leave. They’d worked together briefly a few years earlier, and Kostoplis remembered Jenkins telling him there were two rules: Don’t steal money and don’t plant anything.
When Jenkins returned from leave, he asked the young detective to go for a ride with him and Hersl. They parked on a side street, and Jenkins told them to leave their radios and cell phones inside his van. Outside, he asked Kostoplis what he thought about tracking high-value drug dealers, and taking their money for themselves.
“No, that’s a terrible [expletive] idea,” Kostoplis responded. “You can’t have a badge on your chest and do that.”
He thought Jenkins was testing his integrity and whether he could be trusted around money, he said later. But he was soon transferred out of the unit.
After Jenkins’ arrest, he realized the sergeant had been asking if he was willing to join the crew.
Within weeks of returning from leave, Jenkins and six other members of Baltimore’s Gun Trace Task Force were in handcuffs.The reckoning wasn’t the result of a citizen complaint or a tip from a concerned cop. It began when a member of the squad was talking on the phone with a drug-slinging childhood friend. He was picked up on a wiretap investigation of a drug crew by police in Harford and Baltimore counties.
Those wiretap recordings, and the subsequent criminal charges that caused officers to flip and tell all, finally allowed the police department’s dark underbelly to be exposed.
On Feb. 23, 2017, a federal grand jury indicted the seven men, but it was kept quiet for a few days. On March 1, they were lured by ruse to the Internal Affairs office in East Baltimore — where Commissioner Kevin Davis met them. He wanted to look each officer in the eyes and convey the disgrace they’d brought to the badge.
Davis recalled that most of the officers dropped their heads or looked away when they saw him. But Jenkins stared back defiantly.
“He didn’t look away, he didn’t blink, he didn’t show any signs of remorse or regret or embarrassment — all the things everyone else did,” Davis recalled. “I have to believe he knew this fate was eventually going to meet him. I guess he was at peace with it.”
It was under Davis and his command that Jenkins had been put at the helm of the elite unit, which they had charged with taking on the rampant violence roiling the city since 2015.
Why hadn’t Jenkins and his unit been found out earlier? A mix of reasons likely played a role: Victims who weren’t willing to come forward or weren’t believed. A police department at best focused on near-term results, at worst enabling certain units that “got the job done.” Prosecutors and judges who gave great deference to the word of a police officer, particularly in the he-said, she-said scenarios inherent in the work.
In 2011, an attorney in one of the civil suits against Jenkins told a jury that a message needed to be sent to cops like him.
“Let these officers know that [just] because we give them a gun and a badge doesn’t mean they can disobey the law,” Richard Woods had argued.
The jury went on to affirm the plaintiff’s claim that Jenkins had wrongly detained a man. But then it awarded just $1 in damages. No disciplinary action was taken by the police department.
Six years later, in June 2018, Jenkins appeared in U.S. District Court a convicted criminal. He had pleaded guilty to a sweeping racketeering charge and civil rights violations, admitting among other things to years of stealing drugs and spearheading robberies.
He had run his two plainclothes squads “like a criminal gang,” a prosecutor said. “They were, simply put, both cops and robbers at the same time.”
Jenkins wept. He said only that he had made “so many mistakes” and was remorseful.
His mother told the court in a letter, “I promise you, he is not a ‘monster.’”
Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Jenkins to 25 years in prison, a few years less than the maximum.
Jenkins was a Baltimore police officer from 2003 to 2017. Had he been groomed over time by a broken police department that tolerated corruption?
His misconduct spanned the administrations of four police commissioners. The Sun asked them and their deputies how they could explain what took place on their watch. Those who responded — some key figures did not — said they hadn’t been told about Jenkins. They said they acted firmly against misconduct when such information was brought to them. They said they otherwise relied on commanders beneath them to respond to complaints and impose discipline. And they cautioned that any system of justice must act on evidence, not rumors.
“You get exposed to individual puzzle pieces, and eventually the whole thing comes together and people say, ‘How did you not recognize that was a picture of dogs playing poker?’” said former Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who led the department from 2007 to 2012 and was a deputy before then.
“It’s just not that clear,” Bealefeld said.
One commander served in the police department during all four administrations. Dean Palmere led the plainclothes division under Bealefeld. Then he rose to serve as a deputy under Commissioner Anthony Batts (2012-2015) and under Davis (2015-2018).
Palmere, now retired, declined to be interviewed for this article, saying he’d been advised by his lawyer not to. A man who served prison time after having drugs planted on him has sued Palmere, alleging he failed to supervise Jenkins. No one has accused Palmere of being aware of the unit’s criminal activity.
Another commander who supervised the gun task force, Sean Miller, was demoted from lieutenant colonel to lieutenant after the indictments. He remains with the police department. Miller declined to comment for this article, citing rules against speaking to the media. He has not been accused of knowledge of the unit’s crimes.
More than two years after the indictments, the Baltimore Police Department has never said what it learned from its Internal Affairs investigation of what went wrong. Like prior internal investigations of Jenkins and the other convicted officers, the results will likely stay secret, per state law.
A commission created by the Maryland General Assembly is still looking into what happened and says it will issue a public report.
Many people who worked with Jenkins say they have wrestled with the question of how they failed to see.
“Wayne didn't do what he did because ‘everybody knew,’" said defense attorney Jeremy Eldridge, who as a former city prosecutor recalls questioning Jenkins about one of his cases. "The reality of the situation was, he did an amazing job of toeing the line.”
But Eldridge thinks he and others should have known.
“As much as we want to blame Wayne for what he did, prosecutors are guilty of not figuring it out, the cops around him are guilty for not figuring it out, and the supervisors,” he said.
“No one's hands are clean."