Granted immunity, former Baltimore police sergeant admits to decades worth of crimes

Baltimore Sun/TNS

Money. Cocaine. A gun.

Former Baltimore Police Sgt. Keith Gladstone admitted Tuesday to stealing all of that, and more, during his testimony as a witness for the U.S. government in an ongoing trial against one of his previous subordinates.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise had Gladstone take the stand to testify against former police Detective Robert Hankard. Prosecutors are accusing Hankard of depriving people of their civil rights, helping to plant evidence and lying to a grand jury, all of which they say occurred while he was a member of the Cease Fire Squad commanded by Gladstone.

Hankard has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him. Prosecutors expect the trial to continue into early next week with a possible Monday conclusion.

Gladstone pleaded guilty in 2019 to one charge of conspiracy to violate civil rights for planting a BB gun at the scene where one of his friends, former Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, ran a man over with his car. He has not been sentenced yet.

The gun planting scheme is at the center of the government’s case against Hankard — prosecutors and Gladstone claim Hankard gave the gun to another officer who gave it to Gladstone to plant.

Former Baltimore Police Detective Carmine Vignola testified Wednesday against Hankard, saying he and Gladstone got the BB gun from Hankard for Gladstone to plant for Jenkins. Vignola pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury in 2020 about where he got the BB gun and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He was released in October, after serving six months, because of COVID-19.

Vignola was subpoenaed for his testimony and said on the witness stand he originally lied to the grand jury because he wanted to limit Hankard’s exposure.

“He was a close friend of mine,” Vignola said Wednesday. “I didn’t want to testify against Robert Hankard.”

Gladstone however willingly gave his testimony, which lasted nearly seven hours and was wide-ranging, touching on incidents like stealing fireworks, violating Baltimoreans’ rights and how he broke police protocol to help Hankard and Vignola get their stories straight after shooting someone in 2016.

As part of his plea agreement, prosecutors granted Gladstone immunity, meaning his words cannot be used against him, provided he testify truthfully in court and cooperate with the feds during their investigation.

“I would like to have some reduction in my sentence,” Gladstone said when prosecutors asked about his candor and cooperation.

A Baltimore police officer since 1992, Gladstone said in court that he started stealing money from drug dealers he was arresting in the mid-1990s to pay confidential informants, and that doing so was common practice inside the department.

A few years later, maybe in 2003, Gladstone said, he started stealing money for himself. Gladstone testified that Hankard also stole money with Jenkins, the former head of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force unit who was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2018. He estimated the pair probably stole money during raids and searches three to five times.

“Wayne Jenkins was a friend of mine,” Gladstone said.

Protected by his prosecutor-granted immunity, Gladstone detailed the time he and two other officers decided to deliver 3 kilograms of cocaine they found inside a backpack in a police van to a confidential informant to sell on their behalf. Armed with a gun, Gladstone personally drove the officer to deliver the drugs.

“So you were an armed cocaine trafficker?” asked David Benowitz, Hankard’s attorney.

“I was,” Gladstone said.

The three officers made $20,000 each from the sale, said Gladstone, adding that he spent most of it on veterinary bills after a fire alarm went off in his house and his German shepherd ripped teeth out unhinging a sliding-glass door.

Sometimes, he said, he stole objects instead of money. Once, a suspect traded him an AR-15 rifle in exchange for being set free. Another time, when raiding an auto repair shop, Gladstone said, he stole tools and fireworks. He and his squad used the tools, he testified.

The fireworks?

The fireworks he stole were old mortars, and when he lit them they burned through the bottom of their packaging. One shot off into the woods at his Pennsylvania home and caught some trees on fire, Gladstone said. Another hit his son in the back and exploded.

“The fireworks didn’t work out,” he said.

For all his self-admissions, Gladstone’s sole purpose in the trial was to help prosecutors persuade a jury to convict Hankard.

Gladstone said he is the one who planted the BB gun, and that he got it from Vignola, Hankard’s former partner, who testified Wednesday that he got it from Hankard.

Hankard told a grand jury in 2019 that he never gave Vignola a gun.

Also at stake is whether Hankard willingly falsified affidavits for search warrants and police reports. In 2015, Hankard, Vignola and Gladstone were running an investigation at a motel when Hankard and Vignola arrested a suspected drug dealer, but when they arrested him he didn’t have any drugs on his person or in his truck, Vigonla testified.

Gladstone, their supervisor at the time, took the man’s motel key and went to his room, without a search warrant, where he found a large amount of what appeared to be either heroin or cocaine. After realizing they arrested the man without enough probable cause, Gladstone said, he planted some drugs in the suspect’s truck to cover their tracks.

Hankard, in his affidavit for a search warrant, made it sound as if the motel room had not been searched to finish the cover-up, according to prosecutors. Vignola confirmed in his testimony the room had been searched and evidence was processed before the search warrant was testified.

Gladstone never singled out Hankard as being solely responsible for anything, and often made it a point to name everyone involved in each incident. In fact, Gladstone said he never wanted to involve Hankard in the gun planting incident, describing him as a “blabbermouth.”

While his testimony was wide-ranging, he did show some remorse with his wife sitting in the back of the courtroom.

“I’m so ashamed I did that, but those choices were my choices,” he said about selling drugs and stealing money. “We would become what we were fighting.”