Police Corruption

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Law Enforcement: Federal Judge Slams NYPD for Widespread Lying in Drug Cases

The federal judge hearing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NYPD by two men who claim they were busted on bogus drug charges has blasted the department as plagued by "widespread falsification by arresting officers."

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Judge Weinstein
The comments from Brooklyn Federal Judge Jack Weinstein came in his decision refusing to throw out the lawsuit by Maximo and Jose Colon, who claim that Queens narcs arrested them last year on false cocaine sales charges. A surveillance tape of the bust exonerated the brothers and led to the charges against them being dropped and the indictment of arresting Detectives Henry Tavarez and Stephen Anderson.

"Informal inquiry by [myself] and among the judges of this court, as well as knowledge of cases in other federal and state courts... has revealed anecdotal evidence of repeated, widespread falsification by arresting officers of the New York City Police Department," Weinstein wrote. "There is some evidence of an attitude among officers that is sufficiently widespread to constitute a custom or policy by the city approving illegal conduct."

Weinstein's attack came after he gave Afsaan Saleem, the attorney representing the city, a chance to document steps the department and prosecutors have taken to address false testimony -- often called "testilying" -- and fabrication of criminal charges by NYPD officers. Saleem couldn't come up with enough to satisfy the judge.

The Colon case is only the most recent of a number of scandals that have left the department's credibility tattered. This year alone, hundreds of drug cases have been dismissed because of corruption in the Brooklyn South narc squad, three officers have been arresting for covering up the sodomizing of a pot smoker in a Brooklyn subway station, and a Bronx detective was convicted of perjury.

As New York Civil Liberties Union president Donna Lieberman told the New York Daily News: "The NYPD has a serious credibility issue if federal judges are convinced the department puts officers on the stand who lie."

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered North Carolina deputy gets busted, so does a Florida sheriff's evidence tech, and a home-invading, drug dealer-robbing Philly cop gets sent away for a long, long time. Let's get to it:

In Whiteville, North Carolina, a local police officer was arrested Monday on drug trafficking charges. Gregory Campbell, 40, is accused of breaking into Fair Bluff Discount Drugs and stealing prescription opiates. He is charged with burglary, larceny of opium-based prescription medications, three counts of drug trafficking, and possession with intent to distribute the drugs. He was a Tabor City police officer from May until September, when he resigned to join the Fair Bluff Police Department. He was fired from that gig after being arrested Monday.

In St. Augustine, Florida, a St. Johns County Sheriff's Office evidence tech was fired and arrested Wednesday for stealing drugs. Paul Robinson, 38, went down after a departmental supervisor began investigating his paperwork and was told he was taking home pain relievers for his own use. He is charged with grand theft and official misconduct.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was sentenced Monday to 30 years in federal prison for an attempted home-invasion robbery in Pottstown and the robbery of a major Philadelphia drug dealer. Former officer Malik Snell, 37, was convicted in June of robbery, attempted robbery, conspiracy to commit robbery, and using and carrying a firearm during the commission of a crime.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

One New Jersey prison guard gets indicted and another gets sentenced. There's also another Customs officer lured by lucre, a meth-slinging Indiana cop, and a Colorado cop turned pill provider. Let's get to it:

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If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In Trenton, New Jersey, a suspended prison guard was indicted Tuesday for leading a cocaine ring. Eugene Braswell, 30, who had been suspended from his job at Northern State Prison after he was arrested last year for shooting and killing a former inmate, is now charged with leading a narcotics trafficking network, which carries a maximum life sentence. He and five other members of his crew are charged with first degree intent to distribute cocaine, second degree conspiracy and third degree cocaine possession. They allegedly bought large amounts of cocaine in Texas than transported it for sale in New Jersey.

In Trenton, New Jersey, a Southern State Correctional Facility guard was sentenced last Friday to five years in prison for smuggling drugs and a syringe into the prison for an inmate. Guard Roy Solomon, 33, had earlier pleaded guilty to second-degree official misconduct. He admitted that he smuggled cocaine and a syringe into the prison in 2008. The eight-year veteran was suspended without pay in April. His employment status should be changing soon.

In McAllen, Texas, a former US Customs officer pleaded guilty Monday to bribery, cocaine trafficking, and immigrant smuggling. Raul Montano had been arrested in April. Prosecutors said he made tens of thousands of dollars by letting designated vehicles carrying drugs or undocumented immigrants through his inspection lane in Brownsville. Montano told the judge he had been strung out on coke.

In Topeka, Indiana, a Topeka police officer was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of dealing methamphetamine. Deputy Marshal Zachary Miller, 28, was arrested by the IMAGE Drug Task Force and LaGrange County sheriff's deputies. He faces three counts of official misconduct, and one count of conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

In Longmont, Colorado, a Longmont police officer was arrested November 12 for providing pills to a woman he had once arrested. Officer Jack Kimmett, 54, went down after a parolee complained that Kimmett was regularly providing Vicodin pills to his wife. The wife eventually admitted that Kimmett stole his wife's Vicodins to give to her when she needed them, that he had been paying the rent and utilities for her apartment, and that he admitted stealing tea bags, trash bags, and hot chocolate mix from a local business where he worked security. The woman agreed to do a drug transaction with Kimmett while police watched, and after it went down, he was arrested. He is charged with felony drug distribution, misdemeanor official conduct, and theft of less than $1,000.

As Long as the Drug War Continues, So Will the Corruption

Stories like this one about the endemic drug war corruption gripping Mexican law enforcement are a dime a dozen. But I don't get bored reading them, because there's always a new and compelling example of what a mess all of this is:

Reporting from San Luis Potosi, Mexico -  The lie-detector team brought in by Mexico's top cop was supposed to help clean up the country's long-troubled police. There was just one problem: Most of its members themselves didn't pass, and a supervisor was rigging results to make sure others did. [LA Times]

Yeah, it's awfully hard to purge corruption when the people in charge of investigating it are corrupt themselves. It's insane to spend a billion dollars trying to fix Mexican law enforcement, when the cartels can just spend more to make sure it stays broken.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A dirty Philly cop gets smacked hard, a dirty St. Louis cop gets his hands slapped, and two more jail and prison guards get caught. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was sentenced Monday to 30 years in federal prison for robbing a drug dealer while in uniform. Former officer Malik Snell got 10 more years than pre-sentence investigators recommended. Perhaps it's because while being chased by police after the robbery, he hit another car and left the young driver for dead.

In St. Louis, a former St. Louis police officer was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for stealing money during drug raids and lying about it to superior officers and federal investigators. Bobby Leo Garrett also has to pay restitution. He is the third officer from the department's crime suppression unit to be sentenced in the case. The three bad cops ripped off a drug courier in September 2007 and failed to report stopping him and taking his money. They also stole money during drug raids on June 6 and June 11, 2008, and falsely arrested a man during the June 6 raid in an attempt to further cover up their crimes.

In Sacramento, California, a California Department of Corrections guard was arrested November 2 for allegedly smuggling weapons and drugs into Folsom prison. Officer Domingo Garcia, 39, had worked at Folsom for nearly a decade. At least one loaded weapon was found in Garcia's car on prison property. He is also being charged with conspiracy to bring drugs into the prison. Garcia bailed out on November 4.

In Selma, Alabama, a former Bibb County Correctional Facility guard was sentenced November 5 to a year in jail and three year's probation for smuggling drugs into the prison where he worked. Woodrow Richardson was caught with four bags of marijuana wrapped in duct tape during a routine employee search in April 2008. He said he had been paid $800 by an inmate to bring the pot into the prison. Richardson pleaded guilty to felony charges of promoting prison contraband, marijuana possession, and attempted distribution of a controlled substance.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

The drug war corrodes the integrity of law enforcement in multiple ways, as we see this week: Testilying, sexual extortion, thievery, and the usual just plain old corrupt practices. Let's get to it:

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hands in the cash
In Atlanta, federal prosecutors recently dropped charges accusing a felon of possessing a handgun after a US magistrate testimony from the Atlanta narcotics squad "less than candid." Members of the Atlanta police Red Dog drug unit testified that they pulled the man over after driving past his car and smelling marijuana. They said after the stop that they found a gun in the car. But US Magistrate Linda Walker suppressed the evidence, saying she could not believe the officers had actually smelled marijuana coming from the passing vehicle and thus had no legal reason to stop his vehicle. That's what's known as testilying.

In Medina, Washington, a Medina police officer was arrested October 29 for having sex with a woman he arrested in return for arranging to get her marijuana possession charges dropped. Officer Ismael Garcia Ramirez is charged with official misconduct in the incident, which began when he pulled over the woman for driving on a suspended license. Garcia Ramirez then found marijuana in the car and said he arranged to meet with the woman later for sex. He promised to have her charged dropped, prosecutors said. The woman said the sex was not consensual.

In Lawrenceville, Georgia, two former Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office narcotics investigators were arrested for unrelated offenses October 29. Major David Butler, head of the narcotics and vice units until he resigned under pressure earlier this year, is charged with using a county credit card to buy unspecified items at an adult novelty store and to pay for a motel room. He is also charged with stealing $4,000 from the department's dope buy cash stash. He's out on $20,000 bail. Former narc Vennie Harden is charged with three counts of first-degree forgery and one count of violation of oath of office for forging a supervisor's name on a form authorizing payment of county funds between February and April of this year. He's out on $11,800 bail.

In Philadelphia, a former Philadelphia police officer was hit with more federal charges Wednesday. He had earlier been charged in an alleged violent plot to steal $1.5 million from a cocaine dealer. Former officer Alhinde Weems, 34, was charged Wednesday with conspiracy to commit robbery, drug distribution, and more. According to prosecutors, Weems twice distributed crack cocaine between December 2008 and January 2009, and attempted to peddle a kilogram of cocaine. Weems has behind bars since March, when he was charged in a plot to dress as a detective, enter a drug dealer's home, rob him, and shoot him if necessary. He is being held without bail.

In Miami, a former Miami Dade police officer was sentenced last Friday to two years in federal prison for participating in a drug smuggling conspiracy that was actually an FBI sting. Former officer Jorge Delgado, 31, admitted using his patrol car to protect what he thought was a shipment of Ecstasy in exchange for $2500. He pleaded guilty in July to aiding and abetting an attempt to possess Ecstasy with the intent to distribute. He could have gotten up to 20 years.

In Brownsville, Texas, a former US Customs and Border Protection officer was sentenced Wednesday to more than 11 years in federal prison for taking bribes to allow illegal immigrants and illicit drugs to pass into the country. Sergio Lopez Hernandez, 41, pleaded guilty in April to taking more than $150,000 in bribes to let car loads of people and drugs pass through his lane on the B&M International bridge between Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico.

Drug War Chronicle Book Review: "Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juarez," by Howard Campbell (2009, University of Texas Press, 310 pp., $24.95 PB)

Phillip S. Smith, Writer Editor

Howard Campbell's "Drug War Zone" couldn't be more timely. Ciudad Juárez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, is awash in blood as the competing Juárez and Sinaloa cartels wage a deadly war over who will control the city's lucrative drug trafficking franchise. More than 2,000 people have been killed in Juárez this year in the drug wars, making the early days of Juárez Cartel dominance, when the annual narco-death toll was around 200 a year, seem downright bucolic by comparison.

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The violence in Mexico, of which Juárez is the current epicenter, has been setting off alarm bells in Washington, and the US has responded with thousands more law enforcement agents on the border and more than a billion dollars in aid to the Mexican government. In other words, what we've been doing hasn't worked, so let's do even more of it, even more intensely.

We've all seen the horrific headlines; we've all seen the grim and garish displays of exemplary violence; we've read the statistics about the immense size of the illegal drug business in Mexico and the insatiable appetites of drug consumers in El Norte ("the north," e.g. the US). What we haven't had -- up until now -- is a portrayal of the El Paso-Juárez drug trade and drug culture that gets beneath the headlines, the politicians' platitudes, and law enforcement's self-justifying pronouncements. With "Drug War Zone," Campbell provides just that.

He's the right guy in the right place at the right time. A professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Texas-El Paso who has two decades in the area, Campbell is able to do his fieldwork when he walks out his front door and has been able to develop relationships with all sorts of people involved in the drug trade and its repression, from low-level street dealers in Juárez to middle class dabblers in dealing in El Paso, from El Paso barrio boys to Mexican smugglers, from journalists to Juárez cops, from relatives of cartel victims to highly-placed US drug fight bureaucrats.

Using an extended interview format, Campbell lets his informants paint a detailed picture of the social realities of the El Paso-Juárez "drug war zone." The overall portrait that emerges is of a desert metropolis (about a half million people on the US side, a million and a half across the river), distant both geographically and culturally from either Washington or Mexico City, with a long tradition of smuggling and a dense binational social network where families and relationships span two nations. This intricately imbricated web of social relations and historical factors -- the rise of a US drug culture, NAFTA and globalization -- have given rise to a border narco-culture deeply embedded in the social fabric of both cities.

(One thing that strikes me as I ponder Campbell's work, with its description of binational barrio gangs working for the Juárez Cartel, and narcos working both sides of the border, is how surprising it is that the violence plaguing Mexico has not crossed the border in any measurable degree. It's almost as if the warring factions have an unwritten agreement that the killings stay south of the Rio Grande. I'd wager they don't want to incite even more attention from the gringos.)

Campbell compares the so-called cartels to terrorists like Al Qaeda. With their terroristic violence, their use of both high tech (YouTube postings) and low tech (bodies hanging from bridges, warning banners adorning buildings) communications strategies, their existence as non-state actors acting both in conflict and complicity with various state elements, the comparison holds some water. Ultimately, going to battle against the tens of thousands of people employed by the cartels in the name of an abstraction called "the war on drugs" is likely to be as fruitless and self-defeating as going to battle against Pashtun tribesmen in the name of an abstraction called "the war on terror."

But that doesn't mean US drug war efforts are going to stop, or that the true believers in law enforcement are going to stop believing -- at least most of them. One of the virtues of "Drug War Zone" is that it studies not only the border narco-culture, but also the border policing culture. Again, Campbell lets his informants speak for him, and those interviews are fascinating and informative.

Having seen its result close-up and firsthand, Campbell has been a critic of drug prohibition. He still is, although he doesn't devote a lot of space to it in the book. Perhaps, like (and through) his informants, he lets prohibition speak for itself. The last interview in the book may echo Campbell's sentiments. It's with former Customs and Border Patrol agent Terry Nelson. In the view of his former colleagues, Nelson has gone over to the dark side. He's a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

If you're interested in the border or drug culture or the drug economy or drug prohibition, you need to read "Drug War Zone." This is a major contribution to the literature.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More crooked jail guards, and a trooper who must have had a whopper of a habit. Let's get to it:

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If we can't keep drugs out of the prisons, how can we keep them out of the country?
In Newark, New Jersey, a New Jersey state trooper was indicted Tuesday on heroin possession charges. Trooper Jason Hanrahan had been arrested January 15 after he was observed buying heroin from a Newark man, who has also been indicted. Hanrahan was allegedly in possession of "less than a half ounce" of heroin when he was detained. Although Hanrahan was not charged with a drug trafficking or intent or conspiracy charge, a half ounce of heroin is much, much more than the typical personal dose. Since New Jersey law separates heroin possession offenses by weight, and less than half an ounce is the offense for which small-time possessors are charged, Hanrahan could have been popped with only a personal dose or two. Or he could have been popped with nearly a half ounce. If the former, Hanrahan doesn't belong in the corrupt cop crowd -- he's just another user who got caught. Either way he is looking at up to five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

In Raleigh, North Carolina, a former Wake County Jail guard was arrested last weekend for selling drugs and providing a weapon to an inmate. Former guard Timothy Bullock, 26, faces six counts each of selling or delivering marijuana, conspiring to sell or deliver marijuana, and possession of marijuana with intent to sell or distribute. He will also face eight counts of providing drugs to an inmate. The offenses allegedly took place in April and May. Bullock quit his job in May. The inmate has also been arrested. Bullock was jailed on a $100,000 secured bond.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a Silverdale Detention Center guard was arrested Monday on charges of possessing drugs in a jail and inappropriate contact with inmates. Guard Sifrona Cotton, 31, was arrested by Hamilton County sheriff's deputies. Silverdale is a privately owned prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Pretty quiet on the corrupt cops front this week. There's the daily litany of cops get busted for assaults, sex crimes, drunk driving, and the like, but we could only find one cop in trouble for drug-related corruption. Not to worry -- we're quite sure this is an anomaly. Let's get to it:

In Boston, a retired state trooper was sentenced Tuesday to 25 months in prison and two years supervised release for tipping off dealers to an ongoing investigation and threatening people who owed drug debts. Former Trooper Joseph Catanese earlier pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit extortion and obstruction of justice. He was originally arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute Oxycontin along with another state trooper, Mark Lemieu. Lemieu is already doing a 70-month prison sentence.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sheriff shaking down motorists under the guise of asset forfeiture gets a slap on the wrist, and so does a narc who stole the cash from a drug raid. A drug investigation nets two New Jersey cops -- among others -- and another Florida deputy goes down for extorting a pot grower. And sometimes, a cop may not be as corrupt as she first seems. Let's get to it:

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cash in the evidence room -- who's counting?
In Rochester, Minnesota, two of five charges against a Rochester police officer charged with drug corruption were dismissed on October 8. Officer Vanessa Mason was accused in April of tipping off drug dealers and taking money to deliver drugs, and was put on administrative leave then. The two charges were dismissed after a jailed Rochester man said he lied when he told investigators he helped Mason transport drugs last year -- he said he felt pressured by investigators. She still faces one felony count of warning a subject of a surveillance operation and two misdemeanor counts of misconduct by a police officer.

In Jersey City, New Jersey, a Hoboken police officer and a Jersey City police officer were among 17 arrested over the past month in a year-and-a-half long joint operation by the DEA and Jersey City police against a local cocaine trafficking organization. Jersey City Police Officer Mark Medal, 52, who was already suspended for problems with a drug test, was charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine, as was a ranking Hoboken Fire Department official, Battalion Chief Henry Setkiewicz, 59. Both were described as regular customers of the network, although it is not clear if it was for personal use or to resell. Hoboken Police Officer Ralph Gallo, 25, was charged with computer theft -- criminal computer activity -- and official misconduct for allegedly checking a license plate against a law enforcement database for one of the network members. A Hoboken Parking Utility employee, Monica Thorpe, 42, faces similar charges for doing the same thing.

In Miami, another Broward County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday in a drug extortion scheme against a marijuana grower that saw Deputy Manuel Silva arrested Oct 2. This week, it was Deputy Fausto "TJ" Tejero's turn. He is accused of acting as Silva's accomplice in offering to ignore the grow in return for cash payments. Tejero was at the scene with Silva when Silva searched the grower's home, found the pot, and offered silence for cash. He is charged with extortion, attempted bribery, burglary and unlawful compensation and is being held without bail.

In St. Louis, a former St. Louis police detective was sentenced last Friday to one year and one day in prison for stealing money seized during a June 2008 drug raid along with two other officers. Vincent Carr, 47, also has to pay back $28,000. He pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy, wire fraud, making false statements, and obstruction of justice. The two other police detectives involved in the theft have also pleaded guilty. Leo Listen was sentenced in September; Bobby Lee Garrett will be sentenced next month.

In Muskogee, Oklahoma, the former McIntosh County sheriff and undersheriff were sentenced September 23 to 27 months in federal prison for stealing money from motorists under the guise of asset forfeiture and keeping it for themselves. Former Sheriff Terry Jones, 36, and Undersheriff Mykol Brookshire, 38, pleaded guilty to "conspiracy under color of law to interfere with interstate commerce" for repeatedly seizing money from drivers under threat of arrest and then keeping either all or part of it for themselves. They went down in May of this year when the driver they pulled over and shook down turned out to be a federal agent in a sting directed at them. They found six bundles of cash, but when they called in the "bust," they only reported five.

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