Media Watch Holiday Edition: On Whistleblowers
Earlier this week, on November 19th, a Baltimore Sun article credited one Sergeant Ryan Guinn, who teaches in the academy, with blowing the whistle on the Gun Trace Task Force (GTTF), helping to launch the case that brought them down. As the article notes, Guinn approached the feds about future GTTF officers Jemell Rayam and Momodu Gondo in 2013 stealing from civilians. It would seem, if true, that Guinn was definitely a whistleblower in 2013.
The Sun article also notes that Guinn helped the feds again, after they reached out to him him in December 2015 for information about a “drug crew led by Antonio Shropshire.” Guinn helped "draw a link between Gondo and both Shropshire and another drug dealer." This lead to the wiretap that brought down GTTF, the Sun implies. It might be a stretch to include the 2015 cooperation under “whistleblowing,” as anyone who is approached by the federal government is expected to share knowledge, or else. But clearly Guinn was helpful.
And yet, the article touches upon other aspects of Guinn's history, which do not portray him favorably. The new information in the article does not change that history. It might, in fact, darken it. Most importantly, while Guinn may have told the feds in 2013 about Rayam and Gondo, he appears to have left out what he knew about other dirty cops. He left out, for instance, future GTTF Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, whose behavior was so evil that even Rayam could be shocked by it.
In November 2017, news reports disclosed Guinn's appearance in a federal indictment against Jenkins, involving a 2010 drug planting case. Guinn clearly cooperated with the feds on this case, as some of the story was told from his point-of-view. Here is how he first appears in the indictment, where he is referred to as "Officer #2":
So Guinn was in a car with Jenkins. They were chasing a car driven by a civilian, Umar Burley, which hit someone fatally. Jenkins then told Guinn to call a Sergeant to get the “stuff” or “shit,” meaning drugs that Jenkins planted in the car:
The feds acknowledged that “Officer #1” was Sean Suiter, who was used unwittingly by Jenkins to discover the drugs and create a false narrative of probable cause, in this account:
Burley and his passenger, Brent Matthews, were later found guilty on federal drug charges; Burley was also found guilty of manslaughter. They were recently exonerated after seven years in prison. There's only one possible interpretation here: Guinn was knowledgeable about the commission of a felony by fellow officer that cost two men their freedom. This becomes abundantly clear later in the indictment:
Guinn seems to have been a sounding board for Jenkins after the commission of this crime. Was he also a participant in the crime itself? He did call the sergeant with the “stuff,” though an attorney could possibly argue that he didn’t know what “shit” or “stuff” meant.
After this came out in November 2017, then-Commissioner Kevin Davis stated that Guinn had been internally investigated. He sustained no administrative or criminal charges. He was put back into his leadership position in the police academy, where hopefully he is teaching cadets that drug planting is wrong.
According to the Sun, Guinn told the feds about Rayam and Gondo in 2013. He appears to have left off what happened in 2010 with Jenkins. It was an incident he knew enough about that, seven years later, he could describe it in detail. The only other possible explanation is that Guinn did tell the feds about Jenkins, and they kept it a secret, though their affidavit sounds specific, and they wouldn't have let Burley and Matthews rot in jail on false charges. (One hopes.)
The second time Guinn appeared in recent news was in February 2018. Maurice Ward, one of the GTTF officers, appeared on the stand in the trials of GTTF officers Daniel Hersl and Marcus Taylor as part of his plea agreement. He stated that Guinn had leaked the federal investigation to them. The new Sun article mentions this:
Convicted Det. Maurice Ward testified that Jenkins had bumped into Guinn at an in-service training session, and that Guinn told Jenkins that federal investigators had approached Guinn about an investigation into Gondo and Rayam.
So around the time that Guinn cooperated with the federal government’s request for information in 2015, he leaked their investigation to Jenkins, putting entire federal investigation at risk. The Sun story tries to give the leaking charge a possible positive twist:
The conversation was portrayed then as a leak, though the revelations about Guinn’s cooperation suggest he also could have been warning Jenkins that officers in his new unit were trouble.
This is odd. If Guinn “warned” Jenkins that the cops were dirty by referring to a federal investigation, he was still leaking a federal investigation.
But the reporter takes it further: He assumes there could have been anything kosher about Guinn sharing this information with Jenkins! Guinn knew by then that Jenkins planted drugs on innocent men. (I wish I could triple underline that last sentence.) Also, the reporter has nothing whatsoever to back up this speculative “both sides” take. It’s almost as if he were trying to support the positive headline.
The source for the Sun story on Guinn’s federal cooperation comes primarily comes from a “newly unsealed affidavit,” drafted by federal prosecutor Leo Wise in 2016. The reporter does not disclose how it landed in his inbox.
It may be a coincidence, but days before this article came out, Guinn’s defense team requested an extension in a lawsuit related to the 2010 case, brought on by Burley and Matthews. Guinn (with others) is also being sued by the family of the man who died in that incident. An extension was also filed earlier this month in that case. Additionally, the federal government seems to be renewing its activity around its investigation into BPD. Correlation does not imply causality, but this article may be very helpful to Guinn, timing-wise.
Making all of the pieces of Guinn's history fit into one good or bad guy story, with what we know now, seems impossible. It's hard to imagine what can undo the damage of a car chase and drug planting that wrongfully imprisoned two men and killed another... or the leaking of a federal investigation to a cop Guinn knew to be dirty. Does "he helped get Gondo and Rayam on a wiretap" really reverse all of that?
The Pantheon of BPD Whistleblowers
Until recently, if you Google searched “Whistleblower Baltimore Police,” you would get two results: Detective Joe Crystal, who reported his sergeant for excessive force in 2014; and Michael A Wood, Jr., a retired cop, who tweeted after Freddie Gray’s death in 2015 about misconduct he had seen on the job.
Crystal spoke out and was rewarded by being harassed by fellow officers, abandoned by the union, pressured by then-Commissioner Anthony Batts to drop his claim, and pushed out of the department. After his case, speaking out in BPD meant putting oneself at risk of being “Joe Crystalled.”
In the years that followed Crystal’s departure, GTTF coalesced into a super-gang of dirty cops, led by Jenkins, who had the friendship and support of top brass. Some of GTTF’s misconduct was an open secret, especially the planting of guns and overtime fraud. Who knows if what happened to Joe Crystal affected the silence around GTTF?
Meanwhile, at the other end of the famous BPD whistleblower pantheon is Michael A. Wood Jr., who risked nothing and gained a lot. Following his 2015 tweetstorm about bad cop behavior, which did not name any specific names, Wood gained a significant following on social media. He translated this into a brief media career, followed by a career harassing women online and defrauding veterans and Dakota Pipeline activists out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In retrospect, it’s reasonable to wonder if Wood’s 2015 tweets were all entirely accurate and/or if he was describing his own behavior, too. If you haven’t seen his social media posts lately, he now defines race as a “construct” and insists that there are no bad apples in policing. The entire system is bad, so whatever happened, it wasn’t his fault. Truly, Baltimore cops had always been dubious about Wood’s “whistleblowing” claims.
(Disclaimer: I have my own special history of experiencing Wood’s sexist, racist, entitled, and fraudulent behavior first-hand. I urge you to go out and find people that support him for a fuller perception. Good luck!)
Looking for Heroes
Whistleblowing is a real thing, deserving of acclaim. It also can be a marketing term. These days, the public is especially vulnerable to overblown claims of whistleblowing. As BPD lacks stable leadership and is under an ever-widening federal investigation,
1) The department is leaking a lot of information. Not all leaks are true, brave, and/or can effect change.
2) The public may be looking for heroes in all of this.
In the last year, the public learned that a commander threw a chair in a meeting; he then went on record with the Baltimore Sun and called the organization a shitshow. Likewise, the public saw leaked memos showing that an incoming commander had an atrocious personnel file, only for others to claim that the document was fraudulent. Who is blowing the whistle on whom here?
Depending on whom you ask, Sean Suiter’s death created brave whistleblowers who exposed that his death was a suicide disguised as a homicide... or the exact opposite. This level of “whistleblowing” largely involves people in power pointing fingers at other people in power, while covering their own asses.