Police Corruption

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This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A dope-slinging Michigan detective gets popped, a Tennessee constable was seizing drugs and training his drug dogs with it instead of turning it in, and more. Let's get to it:

In Highland Park, Michigan, a Highland Park detective was arrested last Wednesday on federal charges for allegedly selling fentanyl-laced heroin while on duty and in uniform. Detective Tiffany Lipkovitch, 45, went down after the FBI used an informant wearing a wire to record drug transactions with her. She is charged with distributing a controlled substance and conspiring to distribute controlled substances, and is looking at up to 20 years in prison.

In Rogersville, Tennessee, the Hawkins County Constable was indicted last Thursday for using drugs seized during traffic stops to train drug detection dogs. Constable William Creasy went down after the local DA sicced the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on him, and agents found that he had taken drugs from people during traffic stops, but didn't turn them in, instead using them to train drug dogs. He is charged with official misconduct and drug possession.

In Brownsville, Texas, a Cameron County jail guard was arrested Monday for allegedly trying to smuggle drugs into the jail. Guard Juliet Gallardo went down after the state Criminal Investigation Department was called in. She is charged with attempted smuggling of contraband.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

An Oregon cop is in trouble for getting too wasted on drugs he stole from the evidence locker and wrecking his cruiser, a Philadelphia prison guard goes down for acting as a dope DoorDash for inmates, and more.

In Albany, New York, a New York State Patrol trooper was arrested May 26 in the bust of "large-scale narcotics operation." Trooper Robert Coleman, 46, a 20-year veteran, was "abusing narcotics" and was caught in possession of heroin and cocaine, prosecutors said. He's facing one count of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance 7th, a class A misdemeanor.

In Brownsville, Texas, a now-former Brownsville police officer was arrested last Tuesday for using his residence to store and distribute methamphetamine and cocaine. Jose Salinas, 52, faces federal drug trafficking conspiracy charges.

In Klamath Falls, Oregon, a now-former Klamath Falls police officer was indicted last Wednesday after of stealing methamphetamine and fentanyl from an evidence locker and then overdosing on the drugs in his police cruiser. Then-Officer Thomas Reif's cruiser jumped the median and veered into oncoming traffic, causing a multi-car crash back in November. After the crash, he was revived at a local hospital, and toxicology results came back positive for meth and fentanyl. Police also found a bag of meth in his locker at the police station. He's accused of using an unauthorized key to remove the drug from another officer's evidence locker, and faces two federal counts of possessing a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, forgery, deception or subterfuge.

In Pell City, Alabama, a Pell City police officer was arrested last Thursday on drug charges. Officer Barry Wathen faces two counts of distribution of a controlled substance and one count of possession of a controlled substance. And that's all the information we have.

In Philadelphia, a state prison guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly taking more than $11,000 in bribes to smuggle drugs, cell phones, and other contraband into the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center. Guard Haneef Lawson, a 23-year veteran, took the contraband and cash from a relative of one of the prisoners, delivering roughly $69,000 in phones and Suboxone to inmates between last fall and April of this year. He faces an unspecified conspiracy charge.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A Minnesota deputy cops a plea for being on fentanyl during a deadly high-speed pursuit, a small town Maine police offcer's problems just got much worse, and more. Let's get to it:

In Muleshoe, Texas, a former Bailey County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday on unspecified drug charges. Ex-Deputy Jorge Torres was arrested along with two other people. All three are charged with possession of a controlled substance between 3 and 400 grams. The charge is a first-degree felony. Torres was a deputy until he was fired upon arrest.

In Bangor, Maine, a former Calais police officer arrested in February was indicted last Friday on 35 counts, including multiple counts of stealing drugs and guns from the police department. Jeffrey Bishop, 53, was originally arrested for providing drugs to a teenage girl in a high school parking lot, but now is in much deeper trouble. He now faces five counts of stealing drugs from the department and 24 counts related to 16 stolen guns police found in his home in February. He also was indicted on four charges of aggravated furnishing of drugs and one charge of unlawful trafficking in drugs.

In Fergus Falls, Minnesota, an Otter Tail County sheriff's deputy signed a plea agreement Sunday after being found to be under the influence of fentanyl during a police pursuit that resulted in the deaths of two innocent people. Deputy Kelly Douglas Backman, 43, went down after the post-crash investigation revealed he had fentanyl in his system and had failed to submit evidence in narcotics cases. He will plead guilty to official misconduct and serve 30 days of electronic home monitoring. A misdemeanor DUI charge was dismissed. Prosecutors dismissed several drug cases Backman investigated because he would be considered an unreliable witness in court.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A New Jersey cop gets caught with a meth lab in his basement, a Florida deputy gets nailed for planting dope on drivers, and more. Let's get to it:

In Long Branch, New Jersey, a Long Branch police officer was arrested on Sunday after a domestic disturbance call at his residence with another resident telling police he was involved in drug activity and the State Police Hazmat Unit responding and finding chemicals and equipment consistent with a meth lab, as well as meth residue in some glassware. Officer Christopher Walls, a 19-year veteran of the department, is now charged with first-degree maintaining or operating a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) production facility, as well as second-degree counts of possession of a firearm during the course of a CDS offense, risking widespread injury and endangering the welfare of a child. He also faces third degree charges of manufacturing and possession of meth. He has now been suspended without pay.

In Ridgeland, South Carolina, a former state prison guard was arrested Monday for smuggling lollipops laced with methamphetamine into the Ridgeland Correctional Institution. Ex-Sergeant Dana Fisher, 39, went down after she brought a bag of Blow Pop suckers into the prison and a contraband officer noticed that the wrappers appeared to have been altered with glue. The lollipops then tested positive for methamphetamine. Fisher is facing charges of distribution of methamphetamines, providing contraband to an inmate and misconduct in office.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a former Baton Rouge Police Department detective was arrested for a third time Tuesday amid an ongoing investigation of corruption within the entire narcotics division. Ex-Detective Jason Acree had resigned from the department earlier this month after his second arrest. His first arrest, for allegedly stealing marijuana from the evidence room came in February. He was then hit with obstruction of justice charges earlier this month. And he's now hit with new charges of making false statements in an affidavit, maintaining false public records and malfeasance in office. 

In Marianna, Florida, a former Wakulla County sheriff's deputy was convicted Tuesday of planting drugs on innocent drivers during traffic stops. Ex-Deputy Zachary Wester went down after internal affairs investigators found a stash of drugs in his patrol car that he would use to plant during traffic stops. He was charged in a dozen traffic stops where he arrested drivers and passengers on bogus charges and ended up being convicted on 19 counts. Prosecutors had to drop charges in nearly 120 cases involving Wester.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A trio of North Carolina deputies get nailed for unlawfully seized a suspected drug dealer's car, a sticky-fingered Arkansas sheriff's lieutenant gets stung, and more. Let's get to it:

In Nashville, North Carolina, a Nash County jail guard was arrested Monday after being caught trying to smuggle suboxone into the jail. Guard Chaka Johnson was found with Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid dependence, on him as he arrived at work. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance in a prison/jail premises.

In North Port, Florida, a North Port Police civilian employee was arrested Tuesday after being found in possession of numerous controlled substances. Former Forensic Supervisor Tracy Gold, 48, got caught with 17.8 grams of hydromorphone, 35 grams of oxycodone, and 19.2 grams of hydrocodone, as well as small amounts of alprazolam, triazolam and tramadol. She is facing six felony counts, four for illegal possession of prescription pills and two for having enough pills to traffic drugs.

In Henderson, North Carolina, three Vance County sheriff's deputies were indicted Tuesday on charges they illegally seized a suspected drug dealer's vehicle and then tried to cover it up. Deputies Stephen O'Neal Staton Sr., 52, Purav Jitendrakuma Patel, 25, and Mitch Taybron Pittman, 47, are each charged with embezzlement by a government employee, accessing a government computer to defraud, motor vehicle title fraud and four counts of criminal conspiracy. Staton and Patel also were charged with obstruction of justice, while Pittman also was charged with extortion. The trio stopped a 2007 Cadillac last year and seized the vehicle even though the driver wasn't even charged with a drug crime. All three deputies have been suspended until the case is resolved.

In Port Angeles, Washington, a former state prison guard was sentenced last Thursday to 3 ½ years in state prison for smuggling methamphetamine and other drugs into the Clallam Bay Corrections Center. Alfonso Estriba Cofone, 38, had earlier pleaded guilty to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance. His sentence includes 24 months for committing the crime while living within 1,000 feet of a preschool. He had received $5,000 for smuggling meth, suboxone strips, and marijuana oil into the prison, and he told the court he did it because his mother was sick with cancer and the family needed money for her care.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, a former Greene County sheriff's lieutenant was sentenced last Friday to two years in federal prison for stealing more than $30,000 in a drug sting operation. Allen Scott Pillow, 56, went down after FBI agents received a tip that he might be crooked and then set up a fake drug scene with $76,000 in cash in a backpack inside a vehicle. The FBI then asked Pillow to investigate and reported only finding $45,600 inside the backpack. The rest of the money was found at Pillow's home. He pleaded guilty to theft of government property.

Chronicle Book Review: "We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption"

We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption by Justin Fenton (2021, Random House, 335 pp., $28.00 HB)

The thuggish, racially-charged reality of the war on drugs sometimes leaps dramatically into the national spotlight, as when gung-ho drug cops in Louisville gunned down Breonna Taylor in her own apartment last year or when a North Carolina SWAT team sent to execute a routine drug warrant managed to shoot Andrew Brown in the back of the head as he fled in his car. Both were African-American, both collateral damage in the endless drug war.

Such outrages inevitably -- and deservedly -- shock the conscience of the nation and garner lots of headlines. And they sometimes lead to reforms, with Taylor's death resulting in a Louisville ban on no-knock raids and a statewide partial ban on them, as well as propelling legislation both in other states and in Congress.

But most of the time, the drug war just grinds on, chewing up its victims and turning them into raw inputs for the criminal justice industrial complex, but also engendering both crime related to black market activities and deep mistrust if not outright loathing in the communities of color most ground down by the heavy hand of prohibition policing.

It also has a way of chewing through the integrity of too many cops. Corruption and drug law enforcement have gone hand in hand from the days of Harry Anslinger's crooked federal narcs all the way through the war on drugs. The litany of drug-related police corruption scandals is long and sordid, from Serpico's NYPD to the LAPD's Ramparts scandal, the Oakland Riders, Philadelphia's Tarnished Badge scandal and lesser, but equally corrupt groups of officers in places such as Miami, Memphis, Tulsa, and Baton Rouge.

And now we can add Baltimore's Gun Trace Task Force scandal. The name should ring a bell among regular readers of the Chronicle's This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories, where task force members made regular appearances among our listings of officers arrested, convicted, and sentenced for their criminal misdeeds in the past few years. But now, Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton, who covered the whole thing as it unfolded, wraps it all up in an ugly little package in We Own This City, the title taken from the arrogant braggadocio of one of the miscreants.

In the 2010s, Baltimore was a city battered by decades of deindustrialization and declining population, hammered hard by heroin, and with surging crime and a murder count reaching record highs. Mayors came into office with new anti-crime plans and appointed new police chiefs with new strategies, but nothing was working. And then came the death of Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old Black man who died in the back of a police paddy wagon under suspicious circumstances.

As the city and the police department reeled in the face of furious outbreaks of rioting and mass protests, they turned to one of the department's stars, a self-promoting hot dog of a cop who managed to make more gun busts than anyone -- and made sure his supervisors knew it -- Sgt. Wayne Jenkins and his squad of elite plainclothes "jump out boys" in the Gun Trace Task Force.

But Jenkins and his boys were less about addressing the drugs and guns problem than exploiting it for their own ends. For years, the crew went on a rampage of unlawful traffic stops, break-ins, robberies, evidence-planting, and drug dealing as they preyed on the citizens of Baltimore -- mostly the Black citizens of Baltimore. They specialized in identifying and ripping off drug dealers and used their networks of informants to peddle the dope right back onto the same streets they took in from. Their false testimonies sent people to prison, and their reckless behavior led to the death of at least one innocent bystander.

That the Gun Trace Task Force got away with its out-of-control crime spree for years is an indictment not only of the amoral men involved, but also the public officials and police administrators who should have caught on but remained clueless until it all exploded in their faces thanks to a federal investigation that eventually cracked the case wide open. It's also a reminder that enforcing drug prohibition generates such scandals on a predictably regular basis.

Fenton does an admirable job of tying this multi-tentacled story into a neat, if disturbing little package. As a local crime reporter, he has the background and extensive contacts to provide a thorough understanding of city and state politics, the intricacies of the Baltimore Police Department, and the people of the city, both folks involved in the trade and just regular folks swept up in the task force crime wave. In so doing, he becomes the voice of the city, appalled and disgusted by the moral rot within the Gun Trace Task Force.

Drug war police corruption is an old story, but this time with a new locale and a new cast of characters, brought to life by a seasoned journalist. We Own This City is a gripping and disturbing read, carrying a lesson we still have not learned.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A sticky-fingered, pill-popping North Carolina police chief goes down, a Baton Rouge narcotics cop already under indictment for corruption gets another charge, and more. Let's get to it:

In Philadelphia, a Philadelphia police officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly lying under oath about observing two Latino men engaging in a drug deal and arresting one of them with no legal justification. Officer James Saxton, 34, now faces charges of perjury, unsworn falsification (for lying on the arrest report), and official oppression.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a Baton Rouge police officer was arrested last Wednesday for the second time in two months. Corporal Jason Acree, a 12-year veteran of the force, was first arrested in February on charges of possession with intent to distribute Schedule I narcotics and official malfeasance as part of a broader takedown of corrupt Baton Rouge narcotics cops. He is now charged also with obstruction of justice.

In Phenix City, Alabama, a Russell County jail guard was arrested last Friday for allegedly smuggling marijuana and other contraband into the jail. Guard Alicia Laury went down after the sheriff's office got information that one of the jailers was in an inappropriate relationship with an inmate and smuggling contraband for him. After being confronted, Laury admitted smuggling a pair of cell phone on one occasion and marijuana, tobacco, and rolling papers on another. She is charged with promoting prison contraband in the second degree, which is a class C felony.

In Chadbourn, North Carolina, the recently-resigned former chief of police was arrested Monday for allegedly stealing drugs, cash, and firearms from the department evidence locker. Former Chief William Anthony Spivey, 35, had resigned two weeks ago amid an investigation into the missing evidence. Spivey went down after the district attorney notified that town manager that the department had not submitted any drug evidence for months, and the ensuing investigation pointed toward him. Among the items reported missing from the evidence room were more than $32,000 in cash, two handguns and a rifle, 367 doses of Xanax and varying amounts of hydrocodone, Oxycontin and methadone. Spivey faces 73 charges, including 31 counts each of stealing or destroying evidence and embezzlement by a public official, as well as trafficking heroin or opium and three counts of trafficking by fraudulent or forging prescriptions.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

Busy, busy, busy. Crooked pot-robbing California deputies, a pervy Pennsylvania DARE officer, a gun-stealing heroin addict Connecticut cop, and more. Let's get to it:

In Columbia, South Carolina, a jail guard at the MacDougall Institution was arrested March 24 for allegedly conspiring with inmates to smuggle cellphone, cigarettes, and marijuana into the jail. Guard Jatuane Malik Huggins, 24, supposedly got $1,500 for his efforts, but now faces a charge of furnishing contraband to inmates. And he's been fired.

In Houston, a Harris County deputy constable was arrested last Tuesday for allegedly laundering more than $300,000 in drug money. Deputy Constable Alexander Reyes faces charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He's looking at 10 years to life in prison.

In Doylestown, Pennsylvania, a former Warrington Township DARE officer was arrested last Wednesday for allegedly molesting at least four boys who were in the DARE program between 1996 and 2009. James Carey, 52, is accused of molesting the boys during camping trips and at a local recreation center. He's been charged with 122 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, unlawful contact with a minor, statutory sexual assault, official oppression and related offenses.

In Fort Myers, Florida, a guard at the Charlotte Correctional Institution was arrested last Thursday for plotting to smuggle drugs into the jail. Guard Leslie Spencer, 48, allegedly agreed to smuggle three ounces of methamphetamine, three ounces of MDMA, a small amount of synthetic marijuana, and two cellphones into the prison and provide it to an inmate in exchange for a payment of $400. It was a sting operation by the FBI, and now Spencer faces a charge of attempted possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances. If convicted, he's looking at up to 20 years in federal prison.

In New York City, an NYPD officer was arrested Monday for selling weed and another, unspecified drug. Officer Catherine Soto, 31, is charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance, criminal sale of marijuana, official misconduct, criminal possession of a controlled substance and unlawful possession of marijuana, police said.

In Pensacola, Florida, an Escambia Road Prison guard was arrested Monday for allegedly smuggling drugs into the jail. Guard Byron Jermaine Banks, 29, was a camera operator at the prison and allegedly used his knowledge of the surveillance system to find blind spots where he could pass drugs to inmates. He went down after the inmate he gave drugs to got caught and gave him up. He's facing two felony counts of smuggling contraband into a detention facility.

In Greenwich, Connecticut, a former Greenwich police officer pleaded guilty Monday to stealing guns from another police department to help feed his heroin habit. In two separate incidents, Joseph Ryan, 57, stole five guns from one department and three guns from another and gave them to his dealer. He pleaded guilty to once count of possession of firearms by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

In Houston, a former Houston police officer was sentenced March 25 to 87 months in federal prison for stealing drugs during a traffic stop. Julissa Diaz, 41, went down during an internal affairs sting in 2017. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

In Los Angeles, a former LA County sheriff's deputy was sentenced Monday to seven years in federal prison for staging a fake drug raid of a warehouse and stealing more than 1,200 pounds of marijuana and $600,00 in cash. Marc Antrim, 43,pleaded guilty two years ago to five felonies, including conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and deprivation of rights under color of law. He also agreed to forfeit a Mercedes-Benz sedan, and cash and money orders taken in the October 2018 robbery. He is the last of six people charged in the scheme. All of the others have been sentenced to various prison sentences of up to 14 years.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A pair of northern California cops preyed like vultures on traffic coming from the state's marijuana producing regions, a trio of South Carolina head for federal prison over their dirty doings, and more. Let's get to it:

In St. Louis, a former St. Louis police officer was arrested November 2 (but the charges remained unpublicized until this week) with illegally searching a man, accusing him of dealing drugs, and stealing more than $200 in cash from his backpack -- all while off duty. Kevin Baroni, 35, is charged with theft and misdemeanor kidnapping for chasing the victim down, cornering him in an alley, and then taking his money. The criminal charges only came to light after the victim filed a civil lawsuit last month.

In San Francisco, two former Rohnert Park police officers were arrested last Friday on charges they engaged in a years-long scheme to pull over travelers on Highway 101 and steal their cash and marijuana. Brendon Jacy Tatum and Joseph Huffaker were assigned to Rohnert Park's drug interdiction team at various times between 2015 and 2017, but a number of drivers they stopped had paperwork to document that they were transporting legal marijuana and Tatum and Huffaker seized their marijuana or cash anyway, without reporting the seizures or turning in the seized items. They are now facing federal corruption charges of conspiracy, extortion, falsification of records and tax evasion.

In Columbia, South Carolina, three former Orangeburg County sheriff's deputies were sentenced Monday to multi-year federal prison terms for their role in a narcotics conspiracy. Former deputies Carolyn Colter Franklin, 64; Allan Hunter, 52; and Nathaniel Miller Shazier, III, 29, went down for conspiring with people they believed to be members of a Mexican drug cartel but were actually undercover FBI agents. The three agreed to help protect trucks containing what they believed were drug proceeds derived from narcotics distribution and they agreed to help protect trucks containing kilogram quantities of mefthamphetamine and cocaine in the future. The three are the last of six Orangeburg County law enforcement officers to be sentenced to prison in the FBI sting, dubbed "Operation Iceberg," which also snared a security guard.

This Week's Corrupt Cops Stories

A narc goes rogue in Baton Rouge, a pervy former Michigan deputy gets nailed for kiddy porn and stolen pain pills, and more. Let's get to it:

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a Baton Rouge Police narcotics officer was arrested February 26 for stealing drugs seized as evidence and giving them to a friend. Corporal Jason Acree, 34, went down after another officer ratted him out for stealing marijuana that had been seized in a recent drug investigation and admitting that he planned to give it to a friend. He is charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and malfeasance in office.

In Eureka, California, a Humboldt County Sheriff's Office correctional deputy was arrested last Tuesday after being caught with drugs at work. Deputy Ricardo Tranquilino Aguirre went down after a witness reported he was smuggling drugs into the jail, which led to a Humboldt County Drug Task Force investigation, and his subsequent arrest. He is charged with possession of a controlled substance while armed, smuggling contraband into a jail, possession of a controlled substance for sales, and transportation/sale of a controlled substance. And he is now a former deputy.

In Chehalis, Washington, a former state reform school guard was arrested last Thursday for smuggling marijuana, narcotics, and mobile phones to youth offenders at the states maximum-security lockup for juveniles. Julio Hayes, 40, allegedly accepted $11,170 in payments from inmates at the Green Hill School before he was fired after an FBI raid in February 2020. Inmates would use a phone app to send money to Hayes, who would spend some of it on drugs and pocket the rest. He faces seven counts of extortion, two counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. He will be arraigned on March 16.

In Louisburg, North Carolina, a Franklin County Sheriff's Office detention officer was arrested Monday for his role in a scheme to provide drugs and other contraband to inmates. Officer Chase Garnett Strickland, 28, and three inmates were rolled up after jail staff developed information that he was providing marijuana, marijuana edibles, cigarettes, and other contraband. He is charged with one count of providing contraband to an inmate.

In Lansing, Michigan, a former Osceola County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty February 26 to multiple child sex and drug charges. Andrew Wernette, 39, went down after a tip led to a raid of his home, where authorities images and videos of child sexually abusive material and drugs that he had pilfered from the department's drug takeback program, which he supervised. Wernette pleaded guilty to three different kiddie porn counts, as well as one count of larceny (for stealing pills), one count each of possession of morphine and OxyContin, and one count of maintaining a drug house. If give the maximum on all counts, he's looking at up to 72 years in prison.

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