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Baltimore Police Department faces 2 new lawsuits tied to discredited officers

Baltimore is facing two new federal lawsuits alleging evidence planting by discredited police officers, including a former detective who is serving 18 years in prison for crimes committed on the job.

The suits illustrate the continuing fallout from the widespread police corruption that came to light amid revelations about the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force, a specialized unit that had become more akin to a criminal enterprise when federal prosecutors brought charges against key officers in 2017.

The new complaints, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, were each brought by men who had criminal convictions vacated because of the involvement of discredited police officers. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby sought to have nearly 800 convictions vacated in late 2019 because they relied on the testimony of corrupt police officers.

One of the plaintiffs, Jamar Bowles, 38, claims that police officers falsely accused him of possessing narcotics twice: once in August 2013, when he was arrested after officers claimed they saw him drop suspected marijuana in the 2300 block of Aisquith Street, and again in March 2014, when Bowles was stopped and frisked while out on bail from the first arrest.

During the 2014 incident, Bowles alleges in the complaint, Baltimore Police Detective Daniel Hersl escorted him into an alley and planted cocaine in Bowles’ sock. Another officer then “found” the cocaine during a subsequent search.

Bowles was held pending trial because the new offense took place while he was free on bail. He entered guilty pleas in both cases in September 2014, according to the complaint, and received a six-year prison sentence, according to the complaint. He was released on parole in early 2016.

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office moved to vacate Bowles’ criminal convictions in October 2019. A judge granted the request later that year, and Bowles was released from parole.

Hersl is now serving 18 years in federal prison for his role in the Gun Trace Task Force’s extensive crimes.

The complaint also names as defendants Sgt. John Burns, Officer Stephen Romey, Officer Peter Iacovo, Officer Jordan Moore, Officer Timothy Romeo and Officer Howard Ilgenfritz, who are all accused of being involved in one or both of the illegal arrests.

The other lawsuit, brought by Alex Holden, 31, alleges that two Baltimore Police officers fabricated evidence in order to arrest Holden in May 2012. The officers, Jason Giordano and Jimmy Shetterly, approached Holden in an unmarked vehicle and chased him, according to the complaint, before arresting him on the grounds that they had seen him throw suspected cocaine on the ground during the chase.

Holden ultimately pleaded guilty in the case and received a four-year prison sentence, which he served, according to the complaint. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office moved to vacate the conviction in October 2019.

Giordano was implicated in alleged corruption by a Gun Trace Task Force officer who cooperated with federal prosecutors, The Baltimore Sun reported. He is included on Mosby’s list of police officers with serious enough credibility issues that they will not be called to testify in court.

Both lawsuits request $10 million in damages and allege malicious prosecution and violations of the plaintiffs’ rights under Maryland law. They also accuse the Baltimore Police Department of failing to supervise its officers and engaging in a pattern or practice of letting officers fabricate evidence and conduct illegal stops.

There has been some dispute over when the statute of limitations for claims related to the Gun Trace Task Force would run out.

The lawyer for Bowles and Holden, Hannah M. Ernstberger, said the lawsuits are within the three-year statute of limitations for malicious prosecution claims, which starts after the criminal case ends in favor of the plaintiff.

“There are a lot of individuals that were harmed by the Gun Trace Task Force and other corrupt officers within the Baltimore City Police Department, and though the (department) is hoping that there’s a tough deadline to cut off these claims, the plaintiffs should have the ability to bring those claims if the statute of limitations is still available to them,” Ernstberger said.

“The hard deadline the police department was hoping for is not as clear a line as they think it is,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Baltimore Police Department declined to comment on pending litigation.