Police Corruption

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Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Tarnished badges abound this week. We've got a cop who got too high on his own brownies, missing drug evidence, a head narc busted for ripping-off drug dealers, a cop busted for taking bribes from drug dealers, a couple more cops pleading guilty to protecting drug shipments, and the requisite jail guard dealing drugs. Let's get to it:

In Dearborn, Michigan, a Dearborn police officer resigned after admitting taking marijuana from a suspect and cooking it up into pot brownies with his wife. Former Cpl. Edward Sanchez went down after he got too high on his creation and called 911 to report he was afraid he and his wife were in danger of a fatal overdose. "I think we're dying," he said in the call. "We made brownies and I think we're dead, I really do," Sanchez continued. (Listen to the call here.) During a departmental investigation after that call, Sanchez admitted taking marijuana from suspects on previous occasions. Sanchez's wife, Stacy, admitted that on another occasion she had removed enough cocaine from her husband's patrol car to go on a three-week binge. The cocaine was purportedly in the car for drug dog training. Neither has been charged with a crime.

In Schenectady, New York, a Schenectady County grand jury is looking into missing drug evidence at the Schenectady Police Department. The probe into the city's vice squad comes after a State Police investigation found crack cocaine and marijuana evidence missing in 16 drug cases. The grand jury will reportedly look at departmental procedures for storing and tracking drug evidence. In the wake of the discovery of missing drug evidence, the department has already instituted some changes, including requiring that two officers be present whenever an officer enters the drug storage area.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, the head of the narcotics division and one other officer are accused of ripping-off a drug dealer for thousands of dollars. The head narc, Sgt. Steve Altonji, and Officer Danny Ramirez were arrested by FBI agents May 11 and face a combined 24 federal counts. The FBI alleges that Altonji and Ramirez arrested a drug dealer in May 2006 and discovered marijuana, cocaine, and $180,000 cash. They are accused of taking $5,000 for themselves. Altonji faces additional charges that he stole money from another dealer and beat up a third man, while Ramirez continues to be investigated for several large cash bank deposits. Suspicions about Altonji have been going on for months, earlier prompting Santa Fe Police Chief Eric Johnson to shut down drug investigations while the city does an internal review.

In Lake City, Florida, a Lake City police officer was charged Tuesday with taking money from a drug dealer. Lake City Police Investigator Debra Williams, a seven-year veteran of the department, has been under investigation since December for allegedly taking the cash and telling the dealer she would have drug charges against him dismissed. She has been suspended since March. Now she faces one count of misconduct in office.

In Boston, a Suffolk County jail guard was arrested May 11 for selling drugs to inmates. Kenneth Nobile, 39, was arrested as he arrived at work at the South Bay Correctional Facility, and police allegedly found seven grams of heroin and 21 grams of marijuana packaged for sale in his car. He faces various drug charges, including possession of heroin with intent to distribute. Bail was set at $25,000.

In Hollywood, Florida, two more Hollywood police officers pleaded guilty last week to protecting heroin shipments. Officer Thomas Simcox pleaded guilty May 9 and Sgt. Jeffrey Courtney pleaded guilty May 11 to a single charge of conspiracy to possess heroin with the intent to distribute for their roles in protecting heroin shipments in what was actually an FBI sting. Two other officers have already pleaded guilty in the sting, known as Operation Tarnished Badge, in which the four also provided protection for shipments of stolen guns and jewelry. All four face mandatory minimum 10-year sentences, but all are seeking reductions for cooperating with investigators investigating who leaked the fact that there was an investigation.

"We made brownies and I think we're dead."

TalkLeft drew attention this evening to a report in the Dearborn, Michigan, Mail & Guardian of a now-former police officer who confiscated a suspect's marijuana and wound up calling 9-1-1 over it. He and his wife baked some of it into brownies, and then (apparently) freaked out. Officer Edward Sanchez resigned, and the department decided not to press charges, which irritated city councillor Doug Thomas. TalkLeft's Jeralyn Merritt is glad he wasn't charged:
Yes, it's bad to take a suspect's pot. But I don't think it warrants criminal charges. Disciplinary charges, to be sure, but the cop resigned first. And, in the grand scheme of things, it's better that someone who overdoses on drugs like heroin not to be afraid to seek medical attention. Some things are better confined to the realm of the doctor-patient privilege.
I agree with the overdose prevention angle. In fact, we have a whole category devoted to that idea on this web site. But I'm not sure how I feel about just having disciplinary action in most cases. It's one thing to slip up, especially when it comes to an activity like drug use that shouldn't be a crime at all. It's another thing to arrest a person, take his drugs (his property), send him to jail for the drugs and then commit the same crime that you took the first guy to jail for. That makes me wonder about the officer's moral fiber (even though I don't call for sanctions of officers for mere drug use -- because I don't call for such sanctions for anyone). The Mail & Guardian article did not discuss the fate of the original possessor of the marijuana. I would like to know whether Sanchez arrested him or her, and if so what the outcome was. That said, losing his job is probably enough (even if by resignation), and as I said I agree that 9-1-1 calls over drug overdose scares should not lead to criminal prosecution, for reasons of public health policy. Update: Mark Hemingway commented on this story guest blogging for The Agitator too. In descending order of harshness toward the officer: Hemingway, me, Merritt. Another update: Orin Kerr of the Volokh Conspiracy found audio of the 9-1-1- call.
Location: 
Dearborn, MI
United States

Law Enforcement: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Boston cop gets busted, a Tacoma probation officer peddles meth, two former Memphis cops cop pleas, so does a former NYPD officer, and a small-town Texas lawman heads for federal prison. Let's get to it:

In Boston, a Boston police officer was arrested May 2 for acting as a debt collector for major drug dealers. Jose Ortiz, a 21-year veteran of the force, faces federal attempted extortion and cocaine conspiracy charges for allegedly showing up in uniform at the workplace of his target and threatening to kill him and his family if he did not pay a pair of drug dealers $260,000 for a deal gone bad. Ortiz accepted partial payments and agreed to take cocaine in payment, although he did not want to touch it himself. Ortiz was arrested in Revere as he met with his target, who was cooperating with authorities. He was fired last week.

In Tacoma, Washington, a Washington Department of Corrections probation officer was arrested May 5 for selling meth. Cheri Lynn Cantrell, 38, went down after a former neighbor reported to Tacoma police that the pair used to do meth together and she bought meth from Cantrell. The former neighbor and speed sharer turned informant then set up a recorded buy from Cantrell. After the drugs tested positive for meth, Cantrell was arrested at the Department of Corrections office where she worked.

In Memphis, two former Memphis police officers pleaded guilty May 3 to conspiring with other officers to shake down drug dealers. Former officers Harold McCall, 35, and Trennis Swims, 34, acknowledged targeting drivers of older cars with expensive hubcaps and taking money from them during traffic stops. McCall pleaded to violating civil rights and faces up to 10 years in prison. Swims pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts and faces up to two years behind bars. At least four other Memphis police officers have been charged or convicted in the conspiracy, which continues to be investigated by the FBI and the Memphis Police Department Security Squad.

In New York City, a former NYPD officer pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal cocaine from drug houses. Former officer Kirsix De La Cruz admitted introducing two co-conspirators in a scheme to hit stash houses while she was an active NYPD officer in April 2005. De La Cruz pleaded to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to commit robbery. She was set to take the NYPD sergeant's exam when arrested, but now she is looking at a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

In McAllen, Texas, a former Elsa police officer was sentenced to eight years in federal prison May 2 for taking bribes to protect drug shipments. Ismael Gomez, 27, pleaded guilty in December to pocketing $2,500 in return for protecting a vehicle he believed contained 22 kilograms of cocaine. It was actually an FBI sting. Gomez is the second Elsa police officer to go down for taking bribes to protect drug traffickers. Last August, Herman Carr pleaded guilty to taking a $5,000 bribe to protect a vehicle. He will be sentenced May 31. Gomez, meanwhile, is already in prison and serving his sentence.

Is It Bad Cop vs. Bad Cop, or Bad Cop vs. Good Cop?

Jeralyn Merritt linked in TalkLeft today to a Chicago Tribune article covering what sounds like a fairly spectacular police corruption trial. A police ring allegedly engaged in armed robbery of drug dealers, and as part of that engaging in home invasions, falsifying police reports and lying to judges and juries. The prosecutors, not surprisingly, have gotten one cop -- Corey Flagg, who has pleaded guilty -- to testify against another -- Eural Black, who took it to trial -- in order to get a "deal," e.g., a lighter sentence. And Merritt aptly points out that in such a circumstance -- a known criminal providing testimony, in exchange for the compensation of spending less time in prison -- it's really hard to know whom to believe. There is incredibly strong incentive for the guy making the deal to say anything that will get him off more easily, and by definition the guy making the deal is someone we believe to be a criminal in the true sense of the word. Should such a person's testimony really be the basis for handing out hard-time in prison? Defense are pointing this out, and Merritt asks what the jury is likely to make of it:
What does a jury glean from all this? That all the cops were dirty, or that one cop who got caught is trying to save himself by selling out a clean cop who worked with him?... Does a dirty cop really sell out a clean cop? Or does he, caught in the headlights, just spread the blame to others as dirty as him, in hopes of a shorter sentence?
This sort of deal is made all the time, of course, on countless routine cases. I consider it to be a fundamental corruption of the administration of justice -- it is just too obviously true that one cannot trust testimony given under such a circumstance. The older type of practice is that deals would be offered to informants who provide useful information that investigators can use to then find actual evidence. Instead, drug war prosecutors, with the complicity of judges, have shed their morality and instead use the informants' mere testimony. Hmm, maybe that's one of the reasons some people don't like snitching.
Location: 
Chicago, IL
United States

Weekly: This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

It's a real motley crew this week: a small-town police chief gone bad, cops escorting drug shipments, and, of course, more crooked prison guards.

First, a brief note about this weekly feature and what we are and are not trying to accomplish with it. Our purpose in publishing the corrupt cops stories is to make the points about how vast the problem of police corruption really is, how drug prohibition is a major cause of police corruption, and how much hypocrisy there is in the system.

What we're not doing is "gloating" over cops getting a taste of their own medicine or calling for harsh punishments for them. Some of the police officers mentioned here undoubtedly were unethical people when they took the job. Others either bent to temptations or pressures existing in their individual situations or gradually strayed down the wrong path. How harshly they deserve to be punished is an individual matter. Most of all want to end the drug war so that none of this happens at all.

Now, let's get to it:

In Cabot, Arkansas, the former Lonoke police chief and his wife were sentenced Tuesday for running a criminal organization dealing in drugs and jewelry. Former Chief Jay Campbell had been convicted on 23 counts, including conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and running a continuing criminal enterprise. His wife, Kelly Campbell, was convicted of 26 counts, including residential burglary and obtaining a controlled substance through theft or fraud. The ex-chief is going down for 40 years, while his wife got a 20-year sentence. Trials are pending for the former mayor and two others in this tale of small-town corruption writ large.

In Hollywood, Florida, two Hollywood police officers pleaded guilty April 25 on heroin trafficking charges. Detective Kevin Companion and Officer Stephen Harrison admitted running a protection racket and using police vehicles to escort heroin shipments for people they thought were traffickers, but who were really undercover FBI agents. According to court documents, they also transported stolen diamonds from New Jersey, protected an illegal card game on a yacht, and trafficked in stolen bearer bonds. The pair face 10 years in federal prison when they are sentenced on July 20. Two other Hollywood police officers involved in the racket, Sgt. Jeffrey Courtney and Detective Thomas Simcox, are expected to plead guilty as well, but no hearing dates have been set in their cases.

In Hartford, Connecticut, the New Haven Police Department's recently-fired head narc was formally indicted on corruption charges on April 25. William White, 63, chief of the New Haven drug squad, narcotics detective Justen Kasperzyk, 34, and three bail bondsmen were arrested a month ago after an eight-month investigation by state and federal authorities. Now, White is charged in the indictment with two counts of theft of government funds and bribery conspiracy after he was videotaped stealing money planted by the FBI in what he thought was a drug dealer's car. Kasperzyk was not mentioned in the indictments. The bail bondsmen were indicted for paying White and other officers bribes of up to $15,000 to track down clients who had become fugitives. They face up to 20 years in prison.

In Clovis, New Mexico, a Curry County jail guard was arrested April 24 for smuggling marijuana and tobacco into the jail. Curry County Adult Center Officer Raul Lopez, 23, told investigators he needed cash when an inmate offered to pay him to bring in the goodies. He now faces three counts of bringing contraband into a place of imprisonment and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance. All the charges are felonies. He has now been fired and is being held on $30,000 bond in neighboring Pecos County. Lopez is the fifth Curry County jail guard to be arrested in the past year, on charges ranging from contraband to assaulting prisoners.

In Rutland, Vermont, a state prison community corrections officer was arrested April 27 for selling cocaine. Sheri Fitzgerald, 43, went down after selling coke to a confidential informant that same day and is accused of selling it to offenders she oversaw in the community corrections program. She faces felony charges of cocaine possession, cocaine distribution, distribution of narcotics, and a misdemeanor count of illegal possession of a narcotic. That could get her up to 19 years in prison. The 18-year veteran of the Vermont Department of Corrections employee is now jailed on a $250,000 bond.

Wrongful death suit to be filed in fatal police shooting of woman, 92

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Telegraph (GA)
URL: 
http://www.macon.com/220/story/32395.html

Futile drug war ignores target: Safety

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/opinion/content/opinion/tucker/stories/2007/05/01/0502edtuck.html

What Do Cops Think About the Atlanta Indictments?

What do police officers have to say about the indictment of three Atlanta police officers -- two of whom have now pled guilty -- in the murder of Kathryn Johnston? Well, not much.

Officer.com has a thread on this topic, which consists primarily of debate over the facts of the case. There are a few factually incorrect statements, and several corrections, but what you won't find is any substantive discussion of the systemic drug war corruption that made this tragedy inevitable.

The only exception is this comment from the ubiquitous Howard Wooldridge of LEAP:
The 'facts' will probably always remain murky. I blame the Drug War for the entire incident and grandma was simply more collateral damage. This is far f/ the first oops which caused death and won't be the last. Until we become as wise as our grandparents and end this New Prohibition, our profession will continue to suffer, as does the community we protect. Someone tell me one advantage, one good outcome of this policy after we have spent a trillion taxpayer dollars and arrested some 36 million people...Hiway Howie
Sadly, no one even responds to Howard. It is really quite disappointing to find that one of the most shocking revelations of police misconduct in recent years provokes such shallow discussion from law-enforcement officers.

Until police take interest in the numerous lessons to be learned from such tragedies, the list will just continue to grow.
Location: 
United States

Pleas won't end probe of Atlanta police

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
URL: 
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/atlanta/stories/2007/04/27/0427metjohnston.html

2 Plead Guilty In Police Drug Raid Death

Location: 
Atlanta, GA
United States
Publication/Source: 
CBS News
URL: 
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/04/26/ap/national/main2731851.shtml

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