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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A quiet week -- perhaps it's the holidays -- yields a Carolina two-fer of corrupt cops. Let's get to it:

In Darlington, North Carolina, a Darlington police officer was arrested Monday on drug trafficking charges. Officer Dominique Robinson is charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Robinson had been serving as a school resource officer for the police department. At last word, Robinson was in jail awaiting a bond hearing.

In Chesterfield, South Carolina, a Chesterfield County Sheriff's deputy was arrested December 3 on federal drug charges. Deputy Albert Surratt III went down after a joint local-state-federal investigation. He and one other man are charged with conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine. He is also charged with possession of a firearm during a drug crime.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

More problems in the NYPD, "Starsky and Hutch" are being investigated in Camden, and a Florida cop heads to prison for tipping off drug traffickers. Let's get to it:

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In New York City, an NYPD officer from the Bronx was arrested last Friday for robbing a drug dealer of hundreds of thousands of dollars and acting as a courier for a long-time friend's cocaine distribution network. Officer Juan Acosta, 34, allegedly took $15,000 in payment for his courier work as recently as two months ago. Acosta and his buddy had been working together for at least four years. Both are charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and face up to life in prison if convicted. Acosta was being held without bail at last report.

In Camden, New Jersey, a pair of hot dog Camden police officers -- Patrolmen Kevin Parry and Jason Stetser -- have been suspended without pay as the FBI investigates allegations that they stole from drug dealers and made false arrests. Some suspects jailed after being arrested by the pair have been released on order of the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, while at least one person already convicted and serving a sentence after being arrested by them accuses them of roughing him up and planting drugs in his residence.

In Lake Wales, Florida, a former Lake Wales police officer was sentenced December 3 to two years in state prison for tipping off a drug operation member about the identity of an undercover narc working for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Keenan Colson ran license plate numbers and screened names for outstanding warrants, then passed that information on to a "known drug ring leader." One of the license plates belonged to the undercover sheriff's deputy. Colson was arrested in February and pleaded no contest in September to two counts misuse of confidential information, one count disclosure of confidential criminal justice information, and three unlawful uses of a two way communication device.

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's an odd mix this week: A cop with a gambling jones doing petty bribery, a pair of narcs misbehaving, and a Customs officer and a small town cop heading for prison are just the half of it. Let's get to it:

In Bridgeton, New Jersey, a state prison guard was arrested November 25 for allegedly smuggling marijuana into the South Woods State Prison, where he worked. Aikeem Williams, 24, is charged with a second-degree count of official misconduct, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and possession of drug paraphernalia. Williams went down when he was searched upon reporting to work and coworkers found 4.2 ounces of marijuana divided into 16 individually wrapped baggies. He faces between 10 and 20 years in prison if convicted and is sitting in jail on a $250,000 bond.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a Catawba County sheriff's deputy was charged Tuesday with conspiring to distribute cocaine. Brandon Lee Evans, 27, was a part-time courthouse bailiff from October 2008 until Monday, when he was interrogated and then arrested. According to the federal complaint, Evans accompanied another man on drug runs where they cooked ounces of cocaine into crack and he sold cocaine to some of a third man's drug clients, sometimes in uniform. He is charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute at least five kilograms of cocaine. Evans went down after one his partners was raided and arrested in September. He gets a bail hearing today.

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US Customs border crossing sign (courtesy portland.indymedia.org)
In Cape Girardeau, Missouri, a former Cape Girardeau police officer was charged Monday with official misconduct and filing a false report for falsely reporting one of her checks stolen and for passing on information about a third party to a wanted drug offender. Michelle Gary, who resigned from the force three weeks ago under a cloud of suspicion, allegedly took $100 to help a wanted drug fugitive see whether there was an active warrant on the third party. Under interrogation, Gary claimed she only got $40, and it was intended for gambling, not payment for sensitive information. The other count involved an $800 check she wrote to pay off gambling debts. When it bounced, she falsely reported that the person who cashed the check had stolen it. Both charges are misdemeanors.

In Tampa, a former high-ranking Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent has agreed to plead guilty to charges he trafficked in cocaine and supplied drug traffickers with law enforcement information. Richard Padilla Cramer, once head of the Nogales, Arizona, ICE office, was arrested in Tucson in September. A federal criminal complaint alleged that he aided a Mexican drug trafficking organization move cocaine through the US. He was also accused of investing $25,000 with a cartel in a 300-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Panama to Spain that was seized by police. Cramer eventually quit his job to work directly for the cartel, for whom he supplied information on the workings of US law enforcement.

In Newark, New York, two Wayne County Sheriff's Department narcs are facing charges for forcing their way into a private residence. Sgts. Joe Ayotte and John Hall allegedly drove in an undercover vehicle to a residence to confront a man who had contact with Hall's girlfriend. They allegedly burst through the door without permission, saying they wanted to fight people. The resident called Newark Police, and the sheriff's narcs told the townie cops they were there to discuss an undercover operation. But the resident went to the State Police barracks in Lyon to file a complaint, and now Ayotte and Hall have been suspended. It is expected that they will be charged with second degree criminal trespass and harassment.

In Phoenix, a former US Customs and Border Protection officer and his wife were sentenced last Friday to 37 months in federal prison for arranging to allow vehicles loaded with Ecstasy pass through his inspection lane at the Yuma port of entry. They admitted earning $33,000 in the scheme. Henry Gauani, 41, and his wife, Flora, 46, earlier pleaded guilty to federal Ecstasy distribution charges.

In Weston, Kansas, a former Weston police officer was sentenced Monday to 15 months in state prison for selling prescription drugs in Atchinson. Former Officer Kyle Zumbrunn earlier pleaded guilty to distribution of a controlled substance and illegal use of a telephone. He was arrested in September after he sold 80 pills to a Kansas Bureau of Investigation undercover officer. Prosecutors agreed with defense requests for probation, but Judge Martin Asher wasn't buying. Asher said he could not disregard the fact that Zumbrunn was a police officer when he committed the crime and that he deserved to go to prison.

In Craig, Colorado, a former Craig police officer was sentenced Tuesday to a one-year deferred jail term for stealing $500 in drug buy money from the All Crimes Enforcement (ACET) drug task force. Former Officer Bob Brabo pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor theft and was sentenced to serve 48 hours community service and pay $484.50 in fines. Ironically, Brabo was appointed to ACET in March after his predecessor was arrested for giving a department laptop computer to a woman with whom he was having a sexual relationship.

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.

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