Saturday, August 30, 2008

Probation Officer Russell Springs Accused of Sexual Misconduct with Client

Gonzales County probation officer Russell Springs has been accused of an inappropriate relationship and sexual conduct with a client.

“On Aug. 13, I was contacted by the Gonzales County District Attorney’s office about allegations against Mr. Springs,” Department of Public Safety agent Dwayne Goll said. Goll is in charge of the investigation in cooperation with the Texas Rangers.

“That day I also spoke with Linda Smith, the chief probation officer of the 25th district,” he said.

As director of the Second 25th Judicial District, including the probation department, which covers Gonzales, Lavaca and Colorado counties, Smith is Springs’ supervisor. Her office is in Hallettsville.

“The buck stops here at my desk, unfortunately,” said Smith during a telephone interview, Aug. 22. The Inquirer contacted Smith to ask for comment on the position of her department in this situation, but she declined offering an explanation of the allegations or any information on the status of the alleged victim’s claim.

“I am not going to comment on this issue,” she said. “Not now, not ever.”

Goll is moving forward with the investigation to determine if formal charges will be filed.

“I have spoken with both he (Springs) and the alleged victim,” said Goll. “It is too early to say when and what charges may be filed against him.”

Goll said the name of the victim is being withheld from the public to protect her identity.

Gonzales attorney Houston Munson is representing Springs in this case. Munson told Inquirer that on Friday afternoon (Aug. 22), Springs met with Linda Smith in her office to discuss the situation.

“After considering his seniority with the probation department, she decided to allow him to retire in lieu of termination, due to the allegations,” said Munson.

According to the Lavaca County Auditor’s office, which manages the district’s payroll, Spring’s has been an employee of the second 25th district since July, 15, 1995.

“During the course of the investigation, he submitted his application to retire,” said Smith during a second interview Tuesday. “He’s been an employee with us for a long time, and he elected to retire instead of being terminated.”

Smith said Springs’ retirement is effective immediately, and that although the paperwork will not be finalized until Aug. 30, he is no longer a probation officer or employee of the Second 25th Judicial District.

"As a county employee, he has been paying into his retirement fund, and can request to withdraw that money at any time," Smith said. "We are not writing him a check to retire, the County matches the amount deposited into the account by each individual."

Munson said no charges have been filed against his client, and he does not know when or if there will be any, now that Springs is retired from the probation department.

“I am not sure if they will take his retirement and service into consideration or what part it will play in this,” said Munson.

When asked when the case against Springs may become official and go to court, Munson reiterated that official charges have not been filed.

“Since the Grand Jury just met in Gonzales last Friday, it may be a while before anything moves forward on this case,” said Munson.

NYPD Detective Charged with Bank Robbery


A highly respected former NYPD detective with inoperable liver cancer was charged with bank robbery Friday after authorities identified him as the so-called Bling Bandit suspected of pulling off nine heists while wearing a flashy watch and ring.

Athelson Kelson, 59, was arraigned Friday afternoon in connection to a robbery at a Queens bank on July 10. He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted of the one charge. Judge Elisa Koenderman ordered Kelson be held and undergo a psychiatric evaluation. His next scheduled court appearance is Sept. 12.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who described the case as "sad and shocking," said Kelson _ a former member of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force _ was terminally ill with cancer. Kelly said he was awarded a Purple Heart for his service during the Vietnam War.

The police commissioner said Kelson had been implicated in four of the string of robberies in Queens and Long Island over the past 2 1/2 months by bank employees who picked him out of a police lineup.

He had an "excellent reputation," Kelly said. "He was very well thought of in the department."

Kelly said he didn't know why Kelson apparently turned to a life of crime. Asked if the ex-detective might have been trying to commit "suicide by cop," Kelly told reporters: "We can't exclude that."

Kelson surrendered Thursday to authorities and hasn't made any statements to police, Kelly said. A message left with Kelson's lawyer wasn't immediately returned.

The bank robber was dubbed the Bling Bandit because of surveillance videotape showing him wearing a gold watch and a flashy ring. In some of the robberies, which began on June 12, the bandit displayed a black, semiautomatic handgun. The most recent one was Tuesday.

Police said the ring appeared to be the type given to detectives when they retire, with a replica of a detective's shield on it. Kelson retired in 2005 after 33 years with the NYPD.

In the Queens robbery on July 10, prosecutors said Kelson walked into the bank and handed a note to the teller that read, "Do not press the alarm, give me all the large bills in your drawer, I have a gun, I do not want to hurt anyone, no dye, no bait money, you have 10 seconds."

The teller gave him $600 and he fled the bank, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said.

Police said the Bling Bandit did little to disguise his identity. The robber wore only a baseball cap and sunglasses when he entered the banks and was easily identifiable in bank surveillance tapes.

Kelson has not been charged in the Long Island robberies but remains an "active suspect," Nassau County police said.

Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association, said Kelson had been a member of the police union. Palladino said he spoke to him in June at the annual union picnic and described him as "very happy."

"I am shocked by these developments," Palladino said. "He served in some of the most sensitive and dangerous undercover assignments in the NYPD. It's very disheartening."

In a separate case in March, a rookie police officer was charged with robbing banks in Manhattan and Pennsylvania.

Veteran Officer Jim Crowley Drunk on the Job

The Aspen Police Department fired an 18-year veteran of its force Friday after another officer suspected he had been under the influence of alcohol on the job. A breath test allegedly confirmed it.

Jim Crowley, a patrol officer and former detective, was arrested for suspicion of driving while ability impaired (DWAI) and prohibited use of a weapon, both of which are misdemeanor charges, at 9:45 a.m. Thursday — just a little over two hours after he had reported to duty at the police station.

“It’s my responsibility to keep people safe, and to have an intoxicated officer come to work in uniform and drive a police car is not acceptable,” Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor said.

Crowley is suspected of driving to work in his own vehicle, although the chief noted that he is not aware of anyone who actually saw him driving. Crowley lives on Water Place near Aspen Valley Hospital, not too far from downtown.

Crowley arrived at work at about 7:30 a.m. He was wearing his uniform and had a holstered gun.

“We happened to be in small room together having a conversation with one of his supervisors and I smelled what I believed to be alcohol,” said Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn, who is also the department’s spokesman. “We excused ourselves from Jim’s presence and I asked his supervisor what he had noticed. He was sitting next to a fan blowing in the room and said he didn’t notice anything. I said, ‘Well, we need to conduct a little further investigation.’”

Linn informed Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor, who said he elected to bring in the Snowmass Village Police Department to ensure the investigation remained impartial. Pryor said there is a two-hour window to obtain evidence in alcohol-related cases like this one and he had to make decisions fast.

“I felt I had to move as quickly as possible to preserve the integrity of any possible criminal issues. That’s why I called Snowmass," Pryor said.

Crowley submitted to a Breathalyzer test, which reportedly showed his blood-alcohol content was just over .06 percent. Snowmass Village Police Sgt. Brian Olson placed Crowley under arrest at about 9:45 a.m. and took him to the Pitkin County Jail, where he was later released.

It is unclear whether Crowley, who is in his early 40s, was drinking while on the job or if he might have shown up to work hungover.

“There’s a pretty big difference between the intentional act of consuming alcohol before work and the unintentional act of having drank before and coming to work when perhaps you may have been carrying alcohol in your system,” Linn said. “I wasn’t party to what was going on in his life but I know that Jim is an honorable, very good guy. I don’t believe this was an intentional act.”

Needless to say, the past two days have been extremely difficult ones for the Aspen Police Department.

“It is an incredibly painful experience for a bunch of people who are perceived as tough guys. There have been an awful lot of tears flowing around here there’s no way to feel good about it. The fact is Jim is someone I’ve worked with for the 15 years of my career here. I respect him and think very highly of him. I am so sad to have any role in this at all,” Linn said. “Ultimately we’re held to a very high standard as police officers. We’re not above the laws that we enforce. He’s held numerous positions in the department, investigator positions of very high responsibility because he was been a very good police officer in his career.”

Crowley has no other criminal history. It is unclear whether he has been suspected of being under the influence of alcohol at work in the past. Pryor said he was unaware of any prior issues while Linn said there has “never been any other incident like this that we felt we could have acted upon.”

Pryor, who took over as police chief earlier this year after his predecessor resigned amid accusations of sexual harassment, said terminating Crowley was a difficult decision that he considered for two days. Building trust between Aspen police and the community has been the theme of Pryor’s administration.

“I want to apologize to the community for another incident like this cropping up at the police department,” the chief said. “It’s an incredibly difficult situation. I feel like things are going really well to date and part of me feels like we’ve let people down. I feel really sorry about that and I will do everything I can to make sure this sort of incident doesn’t happen again in the future.”

Other troubles the department has suffered through in recent years include an officer who was fired for using a Taser on an elderly woman who was never charged with a crime, and its assistance with a Drug Enforcement Agency raid on downtown restaurants that divided many in the community.