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Feds bring new allegation against Baltimore cop in Gun Trace Task Force case

Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in News & Features

BALTIMORE -- Federal prosecutors have obtained another indictment against a Baltimore police detective charged in the fallout of the Gun Trace Task Force case, adding an allegation that he searched a North Baltimore apartment without a warrant in 2015.

The new charges against Robert Hankard depict another example of what was referred to during the Gun Trace Task Force trial as "sneak and peek" searches -- in which officers enter and search a home without a warrant, claiming they are merely "securing" the dwelling to make sure no one is destroying evidence. Such searches can be legally permissible but are ripe for abuse, according to one prominent defense attorney.

Federal charges have been pending against Hankard since January, when he was charged with participating in a BB gun planting incident in 2014 as well as entering a motel room without a warrant and taking out drugs to justify a search a year later.

Hankard has previously pleaded not guilty to those charges. Reached for comment, his defense attorney David Benowitz said: "We look forward to a trial in this matter when all the facts are aired out."

In the new indictment, federal prosecutors say that on March 2, 2015, Hankard and other officers from his anti-gun Cease Fire squad arrested a man on Falls Road and took keys that were connected to an apartment in nearby Cross Keys.

According to the indictment, they entered the apartment, which belonged to a woman who lived there with her daughter. The officers did not have a warrant, prosecutors say; Hankard searched a bag inside a closet and found gel caps of drugs.

 

Hankard then went to the unit's offices and prepared a search warrant, according to the indictment. In his affidavit, Hankard wrote that the officers had only tried the key to see if it matched the apartment. "The key fit and turned the locks. The exterior of (the apartment) was then secured by Cease Fire detectives," the search warrant application said.

"In addition to the false statement that the 'exterior' of Apartment A was secured, nowhere in his affidavit did Hankard disclose that he and other detectives had entered Apartment A prior to obtaining a search warrant, nor did Hankard disclose that he had opened a bag containing gel caps with heroin, scales, sifters and other paraphernalia prior to preparing a search warrant," prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors say that the signature of Hankard's supervisor appears forged on the document. The indictment identifies him as Sergeant "J.L.," who court records show was Joseph Landsman. The indictment says the sergeant was among the officers who entered the home without a warrant, but Landsman has not been charged.

The Baltimore Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Landsman or make him available to speak.

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