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Baynard Woods (Photo by J.M. Giordano)

416. The story of America’s most corrupt police squad

“I’m always at the front line of news! I gotta get there before everyone else!” 

He says this jokingly, but there’s a kernel of truth to Baynard Woods’ statement. 

In 2015, he covered the Freddie Gray “uprising” in Baltimore, following the death of a man in police custody, from the time of Gray’s death through the riots and the trial that followed. 

But that ordeal, which gained national attention as the city burned, is only part of the story of Woods’ work covering police corruption, missteps and controversy in his home city. 

Woods has co-authored a book, with Brandon Soderberg, exploring a long-standing and incredibly corrupt unit within the Baltimore Police Department. An elite group of detectives and cops, the Gun Trace Task Force, adopted some mafia-like tactics to profit from both illegal guns and drugs in the city, sometimes stealing drugs from dealers in order to sell them to other dealers and dirty cops. The book, “I Got A Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad,” comes out July 21. 

“This elite squad of Baltimore police officers were the kind who go around looking for trouble,” Woods says. “Originally, they were supposed to track guns back to people selling guns illegally.”

The team was ultimately found out and indicted in March 2017, just two years after the uprisings. 

“What made this the most corrupt squad was they’d all been committing crimes separately (from each other) for years,” Woods says. The book starts in 2016 with the theft of $100,000 from someone’s house along with “two kilos from his house that a white bail bondsman was selling. … He’s stealing large amounts of cocaine and money from dealers. We follow through and one of the other guys is protecting a group of drug dealers he grew up with. … The dealers are selling to white kids in the suburbs and they’re overdosing. They get a tap on a phone and they hear (the dealer) calling the cop.”

The book is paced like a crime novel — because it is — without editorializing, Woods says. They didn’t need to dramatize anything, as this is one of those “truth is stranger than fiction” scenarios. 

There’s a documentary of the same name in the works that was originally supposed to premiere this summer at the Maryland Film Festival but that’s been sidelined for the time being. 

“We were simultaneously doing long video interviews while doing other reporting,” he says.” It was almost like a confessional.” 

They also had the benefit of being in court for various trials from which they were eventually, later, able to piece together previous crimes in which this crime unit was implicated. “We can see all these police officers lying on the stand. Regularly. We were able to piece together scenes,” he says. 

Friend of the podcast Baynard Woods talks to It’s All Journalism host Michael O’Connell about his new book, coming out next month, exploring an incredibly corrupt special unit within the Baltimore Police Department that led a cover crime spree, undetected, for years.

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