BALTIMORE — An indicted ex-detective broke down in tears in a Baltimore courtroom while testifying about a car wreck he said was set in motion by a corrupt police unit initiating a chase despite a policy against high-speed pursuits.
Jemell Rayam, who has pleaded guilty to federal racketeering, is one of four ex-policemen cooperating with the government in hopes of a reduced sentence amid a trial of two Baltimore detectives fighting racketeering and robbery charges.
He’s testified to selling seized drugs and guns, committing armed home invasions, conspiring with drug dealers, and aggressively scouring the city with corrupt Gun Trace Task Force colleagues to find robbery targets — all while working for the Baltimore Police Department.
On the stand Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Rayam cried while describing a crash involving two cars. He initially had a hard time recalling which incident prosecutors were referring to, saying “there were so many car accidents” and “chases” during his time on the rogue squad.
The Aug. 31, 2016, high-speed chase started when Gun Trace Task Force supervisor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, tried to stop a car he suspected of having some kind of contraband. When the motorist sped off from a gas station, the detectives’ two unmarked cars followed in fast pursuit on rain-slicked streets.
After running a red light, the target’s car was T-boned at an intersection by another motorist, the totaled vehicles coming to rest partly on a sidewalk, according to Rayam.
“It was real bad. And none of us stopped. I mean, none of us stopped to render aid or see if anyone was hurt,” he said through tears.
Addressing jurors, Rayam said: “It could have been any of us. It could’ve been you.”
What the Baltimore detectives didn’t know was that federal agents had concealed a microphone in one of the police vehicles. Prosecutors on Tuesday played the recording for jurors, the sound of falling rain and accelerating car engines in the background.
After the wreck, officers can be heard telling each other that Jenkins didn’t want anybody to “call it in” or get involved in providing help. One indicted detective, Momodu Gondo, talks about whether or not the crash was captured on “City Watch” surveillance cameras in the area.
Discussing what kind of response they could feasibly have if they get linked to the accident, Detective Daniel Hersl, one of two task force members who have pleaded not guilty, can be heard saying: “Hey, I was in this car, just driving home.” He then chuckles.
Rayam on Tuesday also testified to routine overtime fraud, alleging that everyone on the Gun Trace Task Force filled out payroll slips with hours they never worked.
“It was just a way of life. We all filled out slips for each other,” he testified.
Defense lawyers for Hersl and Detective Marcus Taylor attacked his credibility, noting that Rayam acknowledges he’s been lying to investigators, juries, and police colleagues for many years.
They noted that Rayam allegedly got a cousin in New Jersey involved in selling drugs seized in Baltimore, as well as Philadelphia Police Officer Eric Troy Snell, who was arrested at his home in November and indicted in the federal corruption probe. They talked about a home invasion and robbery he’s admitted to where he menaced a woman, pointing a pistol at her.
But Rayam, who also broke down on the stand when he heard his young children chattering in the background of a phone call recorded by the FBI, asserted that his lying days are done.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” he said, clad in an orange jail jumpsuit.
During Tuesday’s testimony, Rayam revealed that he told federal authorities that Gondo, his indicted ex-partner who testified at a separate trial last year that he ran interference for a childhood buddy who dealt heroin, once took a friend named “Nate G” to purchase a gun that was later used in a killing.
Rayam, a Baltimore police officer since 2005, was suspended for two years after admitting to receiving money from an $11,000 theft involving a corrupt friend on the force. When his police powers were reinstated in 2012, he was somehow bumped up to the force’s elite gun recovery unit.
The ongoing trial is one of the largest scandals in the city police force’s history. It comes as a monitoring team is overseeing court-ordered reforms as part of a federal consent decree reached last January between Baltimore and the U.S. Justice Department due to discriminatory and unconstitutional policing.
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