Baynard Woods (Photo by J.M. Giordano)

560. Documentary exposes police corruption in Baltimore

One of the biggest police scandals in U.S. history is the subject of a new documentary currently streaming on Amazon Prime and AppleTV. “I Got a Monster” examines the true-life story of the Baltimore City Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force.

“It was one of the most elite squads and most successful squads in the Baltimore City Police that was bringing in huge numbers of arrests, specifically for guns,” said Baynard Woods, a former reporter for the Baltimore City Paper.

n March 2017, all eight members of the gun task force were federally indicted on charges designed to bring down gangsters, including racketeering, conspiracy and extortion. The tactics the squad employed involved stealing drugs from drug dealers and reselling them.

“One of the reasons they’re so corrupt is they all had their own sort of fences that they were handing drugs off to,” Woods said. “They were also breaking into people’s houses, stealing as much as $100,000 at a time, while also claiming tons of false overtime.”

The documentary is based on the book Woods wrote with Brandon Soderberg, “I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad.

What the documentary succeeds at is showing just how brazen members of the gun task force were. In one scene, they’re shown breaking into a drug dealer’s safe and stealing $100,000. They then closed the safe and filmed themselves breaking into it again, so they’d have evidence to show when they arrested the drug dealer.

As the task force made more arrests and took more guns off the street, the police department praised them and even presented awards to the squad’s leader, Wayne Jenkins.

“Wayne Jenkins was this crazy, criminal mastermind triple-crossing people,” Woods said. “He was sloppy and wild and insane.”

Before Woods and Soderberg had even written their book, they signed a deal with the documentary’s producers. This turned out to be mutually beneficial arrangement.

“That’s the only way we could really afford to do the book as well,” Woods said. “It was so helpful. Kevin Casanova Abrams, the director, immediately came to town and we sat there with film crews interviewing just tons and tons of people.”

Some sources, however, either declined to be interviewed by the City Paper reporters or the source’s lawyer advised them not to. 

“But they would talk to this Hollywood film crew, so we just would stay out on that, and they would do the interviews with the official talking head types,” Woods said. “Then we got the more street level stuff.”

After finishing their reporting, Woods and Soderberg agreed that they wanted the book to read like a thriller.

“The biggest compliment and probably the most common comment that we got was people would read it in a day,” he said. “They wouldn’t be able to put it down.”

Once they established the tone, the writing came easily because the book rejected anything that didn’t belong, according to Woods. 

“We were free to allow the other one to explore any tangent, because if they tried to put it in and it didn’t work, it felt like the book itself would just eject it,” he said.

Baynard Woods discusses reporting on police corruption in Baltimore and the new documentary based on the book he coauthored with Brandon Soderberg, “I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad.

Allison Taylor-Levine

625. Community collaboration key to evolving local journalism

Allison Taylor Levine, CEO of Local Journalism Initiative, discusses how LJI’s Delaware Journalism Collaborative, which has brought more than 25 partners throughout the state together to report on polarization and possible solutions, strengthens local journalism in Delaware and our democracy.

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