Four Texas cops get indicted for cocaine, a former Utah narc has a pill problem, a sticky-fingered former Baltimore cop heads for federal prison, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Houston, four current or former law enforcement officers were indicted last Wednesday as part of a broad-ranging cocaine trafficking conspiracy. The four include Border Patrol Agent Daniel Polanco, Edinburg Police Officer Hector Beltran, former Houston police officer Marcos Esteban Carrion, and an as yet unnamed former Houston deputy constable. Another 11 people were also indicted. The four current or former officers all face charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute, as well as varying numbers of charges of possession with intent to distribute. They're all looking at up to life in prison.
In Ogden, Utah, a former Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force member was charged last Wednesday with using an informant to score prescription opioid pills for him. Don Henry Johnson, 29, had already been hit with similar charges in January, but they were expanded after an informant read about the original charges and went to authorities with information about Johnson asking him to get pills for him. Johnson was originally charged with two counts of distribution of a controlled substance; now he has two more. The charges against Johnson, who was a member of the Ogden Police, have resulted in several drug distribution cases he was involved with being dropped.
In Goose Creek, Alaska, a Goose Creek prison guard was arrested Monday after being caught trying to smuggle heroin and marijuana into the jail for an inmate. Guard Adam Jason Spindler went down after the Department of Corrections alerted the FBI that it had received information Spindler was toting dope. Agents watched Spindler interact with a known drug dealer immediately before heading to work at the prison, but were unable to find anything when they searched his vehicle. Another guard then told them Spindler had handed off a package to him that contained marijuana and heroin, and Spindler was then arrested. No word yet on the exact charges.
In Baltimore, a former Baltimore police officer was sentenced last Friday to a year in federal prison for stealing money during a drug raid that was actually a sting operation. Maurice Lamar Jeffers, 47, earlier pleaded guilty to stealing government funds after he was caught conducting an illegal search and stealing $3,000 in cash planted in the room by the FBI, which was recording the whole thing. He was a 12-year veteran of the force.
A sticky-fingered Wisconsin cop gets nailed, a truth-challenged Washington state cop gets canned, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:right]In Vancouver, Washington, a Vancouver police officer was fired last week for lying about an affair he carried on with a woman and for smoking and distributing marijuana. Leonard Gabriel, a 12-year veteran, lied when confronted about the affair, violating departmental policy, smoked cannabis oil, and provided marijuana to at least three people. While pot is legal in Washington state, it remains illegal under federal law. Vancouver police are required to obey all state and federal laws.
In Madison, Wisconsin, a former Madison police officer pleaded guilty Monday to stealing nearly $4,000 in what he thought was a drug bust, but was in reality a sting. Andrew Pullman, 31, went down after authorities got a tip that he might be planning a robbery. An undercover agent posing as an informant then told Pullman she was mad at her boyfriend dealing drugs and there might be money and cocaine in the car. Pullman went for the bait, stole the money, and was arrested. He's looking at up to 10 years in prison when sentenced in August.
In New London, Connecticut, a former Ansonia police officer was sentenced last Wednesday to probation for stealing drugs from the evidence room. Matt Macero, a 15-year veteran, admitted to stealing an Oxycontin pill from the department in one incident and to falsely telling his superiors he had been exposed to cocaine during an investigation and as a result he would test positive. He copped to one count of fourth degree larceny, one count of making a false statement to police, and one count of falsely reporting an incident.
A Georgia cop gets nailed for running with the Gangster Disciples, a New Jersey cop gets busted for peddling pot, an Indiana cop gets popped for peddling pills, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Atlanta, a former DeKalb County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Wednesday as part of a mass indictment of Gangster Disciples gang members. Deputy Vancito Gumbs is accused of tipping off gang members to police activity, including an October raid on a bar he knew a gang member frequented. The 48 people indicted are charged with a variety of offenses including murder, drug trafficking, extortion, and fraud. Gumbs resigned from the department in October after he was reported to be using drugs.
In Linden, New Jersey, a Linden police sergeant was arrested last Thursday on charges he was peddling pot. Officer William Turbett III, 30, is charged with fourth-degree distribution of marijuana, as well as pot possession. Turbett had already been suspended without pay for an unrelated matter. He's now looking at up to 18 months in prison.
In York, Pennsylvania, a York County sheriff's deputy was arrested last Friday on charges he stole drug money from the departmental evidence room. Sgt. Troy Senft is accused of pilfering $760. He is charged with theft, destroying evidence, tampering with evidence, obstruction, and receiving stolen property. He is out on his own recognizance. The cash was set to be seized, but Senft seized it for himself.
In Indianapolis, a former Anderson police officer pleaded guilty last Wednesday to federal drug possession and distribution charges. Donald Jordan, 52, went down after a confidential informant told police he Jordan had approached him to sell marijuana, then provided him with hydrocodone tablets. That sparked an audit of the department evidence room, where pills and $5,000 in cash turned up missing. He copped to one count of possession with intent to distribute and to distribute Xanax, a Schedule IV controlled substance and one count of distribution and intent to distribute hydrocodone. He's looking at up to 15 years in federal prison.
Two cops get their hands slapped for stealing the drug evidence and a former NYPD officer goes down for slinging Oxycontin. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Reynoldsburg, Ohio, a former Reynoldsburg police lieutenant pleaded guilty last Thursday to stealing drugs and cash from the departmental evidence room. Shane Mauger was accused of stealing at least $150,000 in cash and property and of filing false search warrant affidavits in order to go on drug raids, which he used as an opportunity to steal cash and property. Mauger agreed to cop to conspiracy to deprive persons of civil rights and federal program theft.
In New York City, a former NYPD officer pleaded guilty Tuesday to supplying Oxycontin to a Long Island drug dealer. Andre Clarke, 37, a 20-year veteran, went down weeks after the dealer was caught hiding the pills in bags of Skittles that he mailed to his infant niece. Clarke copped to one count of drug conspiracy and is looking at up to 20 years in prison when sentenced.
In Colchester, Connecticut, a former Colchester police officer was sentenced Monday to four years in prison for stealing drugs and a gun from the police evidence locker. Tyler Kinney stole drugs to feed his own drug habit, prosecutors said. His thefts forced prosecutors to drop some 30 drug cases. The exact charge on which he was convicted was not specified.
It was just another marijuana bust by Chicago's crack dope squad and should have resulted in an easy conviction, but thanks to a forgotten camera, things didn't exactly work out the way the cops planned. Now, the pot dealer is free, he has a bunch of cash in pocket, and it's the cops who are facing justice.
[image:1 align:right]It went down on June 6, 2013, when three Chicago Police narcotics officer and a pair of suburban Glenview police officers pulled over Joseph Sperling on the pretext that he had failed to properly use his turn signal, then claimed Sperling told them there were drugs in his vehicle. The cops said they found marijuana in plain view and arrested Sperling on marijuana possession and distribution charges. Business as usual, so far.
But when it came time to go to court the following March, things went south for the cops. Prosecutors had been questioning Chicago PD narcotics officer William Pruente, who said in sworn testimony that when police pulled over Sperling they immediately smelled marijuana and ordered him to exit the vehicle and stand at the rear of the car.
Then, defense attorney Steven Goldman asked the veteran narc if Sperling was handcuffed after he got out of the car.
"No, he was not handcuffed," Pruente replied. "He was not under arrest at that time."
Chicago narcotic officers Sergeant James Padar and Vince Morgan and Glenview Police officers James Horn and Sergeant Theresa Urbanowski backed up Pruente's story.
Then, as Urbanowski was testifying, defense attorney Goldman dropped a bombshell. He interrupted the testimony to inform Judge Catherine Haberkorn that he needed to offer a videotape into evidence.
In a moment of courtroom drama like something out of "Law and Order," Goldman revealed that the video came from Urbanowski's police cruiser and that it flatly contradicted the sworn testimony of the police officers. The police had been lying to the court and to the judge and the video would prove it, Goldman said.
As Goldman patiently took Urbanowski back over the events she'd testified about, he played the recording and asked her to describe the difference between her original testimony and what was happening on the tape.
The footage contradicted the testimony of the police officers. Pruente had testified that Sperling had not been arrested or handcuffed until the cops had found the dope in plain view, but the video showed Pruente walking up to Sperling's car, reaching in the open window, unlocking the door, pulling Sperling out, handcuffing him, and placing him in the back seat of a patrol car. Only then did the officers move to search the car.
The video clearly showed the officers spending minutes thoroughly searching Sperling's car before finding weed and a small amount of psychedelic mushrooms in a black duffel bag.
As defense attorney Goldman noted during questioning, if the drugs had really been in plain view on the front seat of the vehicle, the officers had no need or reason to search it because they already had the drugs.
The brazen distance between the officers' testimony and what the video revealed infuriated Judge Haberkorn, who immediately granted Goldman's motion to suppress the evidence because the video showed police had neither probable cause to arrest Sperling nor a warrant to search his vehicle.
"This is very outrageous conduct," Haberkorn said from the bench. "All the officers lied on the stand today. All their testimony is a lie. There is strong evidence it was a conspiracy to lie in this case, for everyone to come up with the same lie."
Haberkorn then dismissed the criminal charges against Sperling.
"If this could happen to me, it could happen to anyone," said Sperling, then 23, during a press conference with reporters after the release of his videotaped arrest. "I just happen to be one of the lucky few that had a video that proved the officers were wrong."
The Cook County criminal justice system may have been done with Sperling, but he wasn't done with it. Shortly after the charges were dismissed, he filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging illegal search and seizure against the Chicago and Glenview police departments. And he won. The two cities involved settled the suit, paying Sperling $195,000 for his troubles.
Others who have been similarly victimized could do the same. Under the US Code Section 1983, citizens are allowed to sue police in federal court as a result of an illegal search and arrest if the officer acted with malice "under color of law."
In Sperling's case, attorney John Loevy argued in the lawsuit that there was insufficient legal justification for officers to stop and arrest Sperling and search his vehicle, which was done without probable cause. Those illegal actions violated Sperling's civil rights under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth amendments, as prescribed under Section 18 US Code 242. The argument was strong enough to force the cities to settle.
[image:2 align:left caption:true]Former Houston Police homicide and narcotic gang investigator Rick Moreno told Drug War Chronicle the officers lied to protect an informant when they could simply have gone by the book and done their bust right.
"Once those officers had all the information about this guy having dope in his car they needed a warrant," Moreno explained.
But the narcs plotted a scheme disguised as a routine traffic stop to avoid having to obtain one.
"What they've done in this case was a 'wall off' technique." Moreno said, referring to a strategy most narcotic officers use to put a wall between the officer and the information provided by a snitch. And if everything goes as planned, the officer gets the dope without a warrant, they got the dope dealer and the snitch is protected."
"The biggest casualty in the war on drugs is the truth," said Chicago civil attorney Jon Loevy, who represented Sperling in his civil rights lawsuit.
"The ends justify the means," said criminal defense attorney Goldman, explaining the attitudes that drove the cops to lie on the stand. "So because they get the bad guy off the street or the drugs out of their hands, everybody's happy."
Well, not everybody, not when the lies are so blatant they cannot be ignored. The Cook County criminal justice system wasn't done with the cops caught lying on the witness stand. Sgt. Urbanowski's camera had caught them red-handed, and four of them were indicted by a Cook County grand jury on perjury, obstruction of justice, and official misconduct charges in June 2015. They all face up to five years in prison on each count. The three Chicago police officers were immediately suspended, and the Glenview police officer was later fired. Their trials got underway this week.
"The foundation of our criminal justice system rests on the concept of truthful testimony," said Cook County States' Attorney Anita Alvarez in a press statement announcing the indictments. "We expect it from our witnesses and we demand it from our police officers."
The criminal charges filed against the officers made headlines across the state and constituted another black mark against the much criticized Chicago Police Department. But the buzz around the courthouse was not just over the charges, but whether they would lead to the dismissal of other drug cases in which the charged cops were involved.
Calls to the Cook County prosecutor's office regarding whether the four indicted officers would be investigated for perjury or illegal tactics in previous drug cases have not been returned.
While Sperling won $195,000 in damages from his illegal search and seizure lawsuit, legal experts say such victories are rare. Defendants usually don't pursue such suits due to lack of funds, and if a case involving a bad search is dismissed, most defendants are just relieved the case is over and they no longer face charges, said Penn State University law professor David Rudovsky, a leading civil rights and criminal defense attorney and author of The Law of Arrest, Search, and Seizure.
[image:3 align:right caption:true]Rudovsky told Drug War Chronicle there is also another reason such lawsuits are rare.
"Why would a jury award money for damages to a criminal already proven to have committed a crime?" he asked rhetorically.
Police perjury is nothing new -- the practice has even generated its own nickname, "testilying" -- but the Sperling case has renewed debate over why law enforcers resort to breaking the law.
"Police perjury in court to justify illegal dope searches is commonplace," wrote former San Francisco police commissioner Peter Keane in a much-cited article on the topic.
"I've heard some police officers say in a social setting, 'If [the defendant] is going to lie to beat the case, why can't I lie too?" Cook County Public Defender, and former prosecutor Abishi Cunningham Jr. related.
"When police lie to make a case on someone they are saying the criminal justice system doesn't work... so I'm going to do it my way," Houston civil and criminal attorney Annie Briscoe told the Chronicle.
Briscoe recalled a drug case involving police illegal search where police recovered a sizeable amount of drugs from a client of hers. Houston police claimed he resembled a fugitive they were looking for. With her client facing up to life in prison, Briscoe convinced the trial judge to throw out the charge because of illegal search and seizure through the simple expedient of showing the judge a photo of the fugitive, who looked nothing like her client.
While the judge called Briscoe's client "one lucky guy," Briscoe had a slightly different take.
"The law should be enforceable by way of truth," she said.
Police are also incentivized by the war on drugs to cut corners so they can reap monetary rewards, whether through asset forfeiture or by earning federal anti-drug grants through aggressive enforcement actions. And each bust makes their numbers look better.
As NYPD Officer Adil Polanco once revealed through a surfeit of honesty, "Our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them. You have to write somebody, arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number is there."
Yes, there are numerous reasons cops lie. But none of them justify the lying, or the corrosive effect such behavior has on public trust and respect for law enforcement. These Chicago police officers are about to find out just how seriously the system takes such dishonesty, especially when it is so blatant the system can't pretend it doesn't see it.
Another jail guard in trouble, an Ohio narc heads to prison, and so does a veteran Alabama cop. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Live Oak, Florida, a county jail guard was arrested last Wednesday on charges he was selling smuggled cigarettes, synthetic cannabinoids, and cellphones to inmates at the Suwannee Correctional Institution. Michael Dale Lindblade, 28, is charged with official misconduct, unlawful compensation, and removal of contraband. At last report, he was being booked into his now former place of employment.
In Akron, Ohio, a former East Cleveland narcotics detective was sentenced last Wednesday to nearly six years in federal prison after he admitted being part of scheme to rip off thousands of dollars from suspected drug dealers. Antonio Malone, 34, is the third former East Cleveland officer to go down in the corruption case in the street crimes unit. The officers conducted illegal searches and falsified search warrants while stealing from suspects. Malone pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.
In Huntsville, Alabama, a former Huntsville police officer was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for bribing a rookie cop to drop drug trafficking charges against an accused dealer. Lewis Bernard Hall went down after the rookie reported the bribe, starting a city and FBI investigation. The rookie also got shorted on the bribe money by Hall and the drug dealer. Hall copped to one count of conspiracy and must report to prison next month.
Detroit's dope squad scandal continues to fester, a Louisiana head narc gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Houma, Louisiana, the head of the Terrebonne Parish Sheriff's Office narcotics division resigned Monday, just days before he faces a federal court hearing. Major Darryl Stewart is accused of stealing more than $1,000 in federal money between April 2011 and December 2012. The money was for an underage youth drinking prevention program. Stewart appears in federal court on those charges Friday.
three Detroit police officers were indicted Wednesday on federal charges they conspired to bust drug dealers, steal their stashes, and even sell the stolen drugs themselves. Lt. David Hansberry, Officer Bryan Watson and Officer Arthur Leavells are part of a larger group of 11 Detroit Police Narcotics Unit officers named in civil cases alleging similar misconduct. These indictments supersede April 2015 indictments and add more charges. The federal government says the men surveilled big drug deals, then struck, "using their police authority to extort drugs, money and personal property." Hansberry faces 18 felony charges, Watson faces 16, and Leavells faces two, even though he's already copped to conspiracy to distribute drugs and is looking at a four-year mandatory minimum.
In Easton, Pennsylvania, a former East Stroudsburg University police officer pleaded guilty last Thursday to what are essentially "doctor shopping" charges. Matthew Bill, 42, had faced more than a dozen felony charges for obtaining hundreds of prescription pain pills by visiting at least 19 doctors. He copped to three counts of procurement of a controlled substance by fraud and was sentenced to three years' probation.
An Oklahoma sheriff and his deputy went a bit too far with asset forfeiture efforts, a Louisiana sheriff and his narcs went a bit too far in mistreating prisoners, and more. Let's get to it:
[image:1 align:left]In Abingdon, Virginia, a Washington County jail guard was arrested March 22 on charges he was smuggling drugs into the jail. Guard Justin Andrew Brown, 22, went down after officials were tipped that a guard was smuggling contraband. Brown now faces charges of intent to distribute an imitation controlled substance, conspiracy to distribute a Schedule II drugs, and attempt to deliver drugs to a jail. He was jailed at the same place he worked until he made bail days later.
In Berkeley Township, New Jersey, an Ocean County juvenile justice officer was arrested last Tuesday as she allegedly prepared to make a heroin sale in parking lot near an elementary school. Erica Kotelnicki, 35, is charged with heroin distribution. A search of her home yielded more heroin, cocaine, scales, and cash. She has been suspended without pay.
In Columbus, Indiana, a former Columbus police narcotics supervisor was arrested last Wednesday on charges he stole drugs from the evidence room. Jeremy Coomes, 38, supervised the Columbus Police Narcotics Unit until October 2015, when an audit turned up various discrepancies, including missing drugs. An Indiana State Police investigation pointed to Coomes, who they said took drugs and sometimes replaced them with different items. He faces a number of charges, including possession of methamphetamine, possession of cocaine, theft, and official misconduct.
In Wagoner, Oklahoma, the Wagoner County sheriff and a deputy were arrested last Thursday over their efforts to use civil asset forfeiture to take $10,000 from a motorist. Sheriff Bob Colbert and Deputy Jeffrey Gragg claimed they were going by the book in seizing what they claimed were drug proceeds, but a grand jury disagreed, indicting them on conspiracy, bribery, and extortion charges. Colbert and Gragg pulled over a driver and his passenger, then arrested them for "possession of drug proceeds" when they declared they owned the cash. The driver then asked what he could do to stay out of jail and Gragg told him that the only way he was "going to go home was to disclaim his ownership in the $10,000." The sheriff and his deputy then released the pair and deleted records of their arrests. The money was placed in the sheriff's asset forfeiture fund.
In Edcouch, Texas, a former Edcouch police officer was arrested last Friday on charges he took cocaine from a March 2013 drug seizure. Vicente Salinas allegedly switched out four of 15 bundles of cocaine that had been turned over to the Hidalgo County Task force. No word on what the official charges are.
In New Orleans, a ninth Iberia Parish sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty last Thursday in a growing investigation into the sheriff's office. Deputy Jeremy Hatley pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights and making false statements in a case that centers around the repeated beating of inmates by deputies, including six former department narcotics agents. The deputies who copped pleas are expected to testify against Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal and Lt. Gerald Savoy, who had initial court appearances last week.
In Leesburg, Virginia,a former Loudon County sheriff's deputy was found guilty last Thursday of stealing $229,000 from the department's asset forfeiture program. Frank Pearson, 45, was found to have been sticking his hand in the cookie jar for more than a decade, even though he bizarrely claimed to have no memory of doing so. He's looking at up to 10 years in prison.
In Miami, a former Miami Police officer was sentenced last Friday to nearly four years in state prison for taking money for offering protection during drug deals. Jose Maldonaldo Dick, a seven-year veteran of the force, had been charged with two counts of armed cocaine trafficking, which is punishable by up to life in prison, but copped to a single count of providing protection for a drug dealer and being paid to do so. Dick has already spent 18 months behind bars awaiting trial.