US: Ex-cop Pleads Guilty in Police Corruption Scandal

A Philadelphia police officer pleaded guilty Thursday to selling drugs with corrupt members of a Baltimore police task force in what is considered to be one the worst U.S. police corruption scandals in recent decades, the Associated Press reported. 

Baltimore riot police VOABaltimore riot police during the Freddie Gray protests, April 2015 (Photo: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0)Prosecutors said that Eric Snell “abused his power as a police officer by engaging in an interstate drug trafficking scheme where drugs were seized by officers in Baltimore and redistributed back on the streets of Philadelphia,” according to the Baltimore Sun

Snell initially pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine but changed his mind three days into his trial.

He was fired shortly after his arrest, and in November last year became the ninth law enforcement officer charged in a federal investigation that has disgraced the Philadelphia and Baltimore police. 

Eight out of nine officers working in the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force were charged in the scandal. Six have pleaded guilty and two have been convicted of multiple federal charges and sentenced to 18 years in prison each, according to the Baltimore Sun

Snell was a Baltimore officer from 2005 to 2008 before joining the Philadelphia Police Department. His training was supervised by Det. Jemell Rayam, one of the six officers who pleaded guilty and who now faces up to 20 years in prison. 

Rayam testified that the Task Force unit broke into homes, stole cash, resold confiscated narcotics, and lied under oath. Snell is suspected of conspiring with his brother and a police academy classmate to “obtain and sell heroin and cocaine” that had been “obtained or seized by members” of the Baltimore Police Department.

Court documents say that in October 2016, Rayam and other officers were chasing a suspect who suddenly threw nine ounces of cocaine out of his car window. Instead of placing the drugs in the police evidence room, Rayam suggested selling them.

Authorities say Rayam, Snell, and Snell’s brother met later in Snell’s Philadelphia home to devise a plan to sell the cocaine. Snell told authorities last year that the money deposited in Rayam’s bank account was actually just a gambling loan Snell had given Rayam.

Rayam and his longtime partner, Det. Momodu Gondo, who also pleaded guilty, are set to testify at Snell’s trial. Gondo faces 40 years in prison, the longest maximum penalty of the indicted officers. 

The Baltimore Police Department has long been plagued by allegations of corruption, and community distrust of police runs deep.

“In many of my minority communities, there is a visceral hatred for the people who wear this uniform,” former Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts said in 2015 in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who succumbed to injuries he sustained while in police custody.

Gray’s death was ruled a homicide, but the Justice Department decided not to file charges against the officers believed to be involved. 

Batts was fired as commissioner in July 2015 after a spike in homicides following Gray’s death. 

In a blistering critique of the Baltimore Police Department and its handling of the Gun Trace Task Force Unit scandal published in the Final Call, the official newspaper of the Nation of Islam, Bryan Crawford complained that the scandal has received only “intermittent national attention and has generally managed to fly under the public radar. 

He called the case “another stain on the Baltimore Police Department” that reflects poorly “especially in Black communities where residents have screamed from the mountaintops about police corruption.”

Corey Pegues, a retired New York Police Department commander and now an author and community activist, seemed to agree with Crawford.

“If there is a police department in the country that should be disbanded, it’s Baltimore. It’s definitely Baltimore,” Pegues told Final Call.