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Convicted officer testifies against ex-partner in corruption trial

By Mike Hellgren

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    BALTIMORE, Maryland (WJZ) — A disgraced former Baltimore detective has testified against his ex-partner in his corruption trial.

Former Detective Robert Hankard is fighting charges that he lied on police reports and provided a BB gun used to frame a man for crimes he never committed.

Former Baltimore Detective Carmine Vignola took the witness stand Wednesday morning.

Vignola is out of prison after serving a COVID-shortened six months of an 18-month sentence.

It is the latest police corruption trial with ties to the disgraced Gun Trace Task Force.

Hankard is fighting charges that he provided the BB gun used to frame Demetric Simon, a man who wrongly spent almost a year in jail and is now suing the city for $17 million.

Deborah Katz Levi with the public defender’s office listened to some of the testimony about falsifying reports and supervisors signing them while knowing they contained lies.

“When I was sitting in the courtroom and I’m listening to Mr. Vignola say that they would sign them as a matter of course without reading them, I mean, my head was in my hands and I’m looking around the room,” Levi told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “Does everybody else feel the same sense of shock and really deep dissatisfaction about the fact that people’s lives are ruined by a statement of probable cause?”

Levi described the impact that an arrest can have on a person.

“When you are arrested in Maryland, it can take 30 days to decide if your case is indicted. In that time, people lose their jobs. They lose their apartments. They lose their clothes,” she said. “A life can be ruined for any kind of arrest let alone certainly a fraudulent arrest. It’s just deeply sad that this goes without real repercussions for human beings.”

The case has revealed a web of lies that entangled several officers. Former GTTF boss Wayne Jenkins—now in prison—requested the BB gun as part of a cover-up after he ran over the victim off Bel Air Road in 2014.

Another disgraced member of the force, former Sgt. Keith Gladstone, testified Tuesday that he and Vignola agreed to lie about the whole thing, and they were so worried about being caught, they would only discuss the case while inside a swimming pool so they could be sure no one was wearing a wire.

Vignola said he never wanted to testify against Hankard. “I lied . . . so he wouldn’t get in trouble.”

He testified Jenkins called Gladstone and asked for a BB gun. Vignola said he then contacted Hankard who said he had one.

Gladstone drove Vignola to Hankard’s home where they picked up the gun.

Vignola said Gladstone then raced to Anntana Avenue and Bel Air Road where prosecutors said Gladstone gave the BB gun to Jenkins to plant at the scene.

Hankard’s attorney described Gladstone as “cunning” and Vignola agreed. He also spoke of getting the feeling he was “not welcome” at an apartment on Water Street where GTTF members had opened a safe with $250,000.

Vignola also described Gladstone as being present at an Oakley Avenue house where more than $1 million had reportedly been found.

Hankard is also accused of falsifying records and other improprieties related to a drug arrest at a Southwest Baltimore motel.

Hellgren asked Levi whether she believes this kind of corruption is still going on in the BPD.

“I wish that the prosecution would ask that question today: ‘Is it still a common practice?’” she said. “Adopting false statements to protect more superior officers was widespread. Mr. Vignola testified today that this was a routine practice for him. That was not that long ago.”

Levi said there is “no reason to believe those practices have changed.”

“Officers in that particular jurisdiction should not be given the benefit of the doubt because he’s adopted it today as a routine practice, and really, he did so without any shock or awe,” she said. “He just said as matter of fact we would sign these without ever looking at them. That’s shocking because human beings are arrested on the other side of those documents.”

BPD remains under a consent decree, and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has said the culture is changing as he implements reforms.

Hankard is maintaining his innocence, and his lawyers have worked to poke holes in the credibility of the disgraced officers testifying against him.

He faces a maximum sentence of 55 years in prison.

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