A former Baltimore police sergeant admitted to on-the-job misconduct and crime stretching back decades Tuesday as he testified in federal court against an ex-colleague on trial for conspiracy and falsifying records.
This week’s trial against the defendant, Detective Robert Hankard, will focus on allegations that Hankard helped plant a BB gun on a drug suspect and, on other occasions, lied in order to secure search warrants and to a grand jury.
It also offers yet another glimpse at the widespread corruption within the Baltimore Police Department that came to light amid revelations about the Gun Trace Task Force, a specialized law enforcement unit that ultimately became more like a criminal enterprise.
Former Sgt. Keith Gladstone, who previously pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in the 2014 gun-planting incident involving Hankard, agreed to work with federal prosecutors and took the stand during the first day of testimony at Hankard’s trial. Gladstone said he hopes to receive a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation.
Gladstone joined the Baltimore Police Department in 1992 and said he soon began misusing money by holding a small amount of seized cash to pay off informants — a step he said was necessary because the department’s drug unit at the time refused to give money to other officers for informants out of a sense of competition.
He also testified that he began keeping seized money for himself around 2003 and went on to do so on multiple occasions, including two or three times with disgraced former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, who is serving 25 years in federal prison.
Gladstone acknowledged agreeing with other officers to sell 3 kilograms of cocaine after a drug bust in 2010. His share of the profit was $20,000.
“We were actually becoming what we were fighting,” Gladstone testified. “I’m so ashamed that I did that.”
The incident that is central to Hankard’s trial, however, took place in March 2014, when Jenkins ran over an East Baltimore man who was fleeing police on foot. Jenkins asked Gladstone for help because he needed to justify the use of force, and Gladstone worked with another officer, Carmine Vignola, to find a realistic-looking BB gun that they could plant on the man Jenkins had struck, Demetric Simon.
Federal prosecutors allege that the officers contacted Hankard, who provided a BB gun.
Simon was arrested and spent 10 months in jail before his charges were dropped. He testified Tuesday that he couldn’t move his legs after Jenkins ran him over.
“I was twisted all up,” Simon said. Though he regained the use of his legs, Simon said he still has lingering injuries.
Hankard is also accused of lying in order to obtain search warrants in two drug cases and, in 2019, lying to a federal grand jury about his involvement in the gun-planting scheme.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said during his opening statement that Hankard abused the “enormous power” entrusted to police officers.
“He violated the trust that our society had placed in him,” Wise said.
Hankard’s defense lawyer, Rammy Barbari, told jurors that the prosecution’s case came down to the word of several untrustworthy witnesses, including the former police officers who were set to testify.
“The only evidence you’re going to hear are from witnesses who have every single reason in the book to be less than truthful with you,” Barbari said.