Saturday, July 19, 2008

Police Sergeant Arrested for Racketeering and Forgery Charges

A former Gwinnett County police sergeant has been arrested on racketeering and forgery charges related to a used-car selling scheme, authorities announced Friday.

Michael James Saunders, who resigned from the department last month after 18 years of service, was allegedly buying and selling used vehicles without a dealer's license, said Cpl. Illana Spellman, spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County Police Department. Georgia allows a maximum of five vehicles to be sold privately each year without a license.

Saunders, 48, is also accused of forging signatures on documents involving the ownership of his vehicles.

Police said a citizen complaint to the internal affairs unit prompted an investigation which lasted two months, culminating in Saunders' arrest Thursday at his home in Duluth.

Saunders is charged with one count of first-degree forgery, two counts of violation of oath of office, one count of racketeering, one count of false statement in application and three counts of illegally selling used vehicles.

Saunders was a shift supervisor for the South precinct in Lilburn. The South Precinct serves a 116 square mile area in the the southwest corner of Gwinnett, which includes the city of Grayson as well as unincorporated areas of Tucker, Lilburn, Stone Mountain, Centerville, Snellville, Loganville, and Lawrenceville.

He is being held on $103,900 bond at the Gwinnett jail.

Probe Finds Violations at Sandy Springs Police Department

An investigation into wrongdoing in the Sandy Springs Police Department turned up numerous violations of policies and has resulted in the police chief's resignation and the departure of three other supervisors.

Sandy Springs released the investigative report Friday, which details officers working off-duty jobs when they were assigned to work city shifts. It also criticized the chief and another commander for accepting guns as a gift.

The report was prepared at the city's request by a private investigator, and it concludes a culture developed within the department in which some supervisors condoned the rule violations and failed to report inappropriate behavior. City officials received the report on July 10.

Since the report was released, Chief Gene Wilson and Maj. James Moore, who oversaw the special operations unit, have resigned. Two supervisors, Sgt. Tanya Smith and Lieutenant Trudi Vaughan, have been fired.

Wilson said this week he did nothing wrong. But in his resignation letter, which the city quoted in its documents, he said: "It has become apparent recently that I no longer have the confidence of the Mayor and the Council."

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos said Friday she didn't believe the investigation represented a wide-spread problem with the department, and she felt the city could move past the issue.

"We've got 120 (police) positions, and we've got about three people in trouble," Galambos said. "We have isolated the problem, we have identified the culprits and we have cleaned house."

City Attorney Wendell Willard could not be reached for comment Friday night. The city's acting police chief, David Bertrand, declined to comment.

According to the nearly 900-page report - prepared for the city attorney by James Walker, an investigator for the Charlotte-based U.S. ISS Agency - both Wilson and Moore had accepted gifts from Bruce Weiner, a Sandy Springs businessman, who is chairman of a non-profit organization that provides financial support for the police department.

Although neither Wilson nor Moore violated city policy in accepting firearms and knives from Weiner, a federally licensed firearms dealer, the investigator found Wilson "should have exercised better judgment, when he accepted the gifts." Wilson later returned the handguns and a rifle he had received, the city report indicates.

Moore, who acknowledged receiving two handguns and a knife, "should have recognized" the perception of receiving the gifts, the report says.

When asked about any perceived wrong-doing on the part of chief Wilson, Mayor Galambos demurred.

"I'm going by what the investigator put in his report that [Wilson] did not specifically break the rules," Galambos said. "We appreciate what he did to build up the department." But she acknowledged that by accepting the gifts, Wilson may have cast a pall around himself within the department.

"I think a lot of other police felt uncomfortable about it," Galambos said.

The report concludes the department, which was led since 2006 by Wilson, had numerous incidents in which officers violated city policy relating to how they could perform privately paid assignments in their off hours.

Smith, who was fired Friday, was found to have violated city policy by adjusting her regular schedule as a patrol supervisor at least twice to work an off-duty job, according to a termination letter released by the city.

On Friday, Smith said she had received permission to adjust her schedule from a supervisor, because otherwise she would have exceeded her city hours.

" I was given permission to come in late," she said. "I got permission from my lieutenant. They said I did not have approval."

According to her dismissal letter, Vaughan, who was fired Wednesday, was found by the city to have violated policy in numerous decisions, including directing officers on duty to fill off-duty jobs in traffic detail, which she coordinated.

Among the criticisms leveled at Vaughan was that she made poor decisions as the senior officer at a training session April 10 at which officers fired weapons they had not been trained to use, and rode all-terrain vehicles without helmets.

The report describes 20 officers participating in a training exercise at Weiner's property in Madison. The officers were allowed to select weapons from his collection, with his permission, the documents state. They later fired them on a private range.

In a dismissal letter released by the city Friday, Acting Police Chief David Bertrand said Vaughan "should have recognized the magnitude of danger the officers were placed in," and the liability for the city.

Vaughan is challenging her firing, and said it is politically motivated. Her attorney, Edwin Marger, said the incident has been exaggerated and that the officers were not injured. The independent review by Walker began with an internal police investigation initiated in mid-June.

This is the second internal investigation that has been made public by the 2-year-old department.

In January, Roberto Alvarado was fired and charged after being accused of sexual assault against a woman he pulled over. He fled the state and was arrested by U.S. Marshals in Mobile, Ala.

Trial Starts for Officer Accused of Soliciting a Minor

The trial of a San Jose police officer accused of soliciting nude photos from a Scotts Valley High girl he mentored and coached began Friday, more than 2 1/2 years after the allegations surfaced.

Kenneth Williams Sr., 50, exploited and victimized the girl, who was 15 and 16 at the time, prosecutor Jeff Rosell told jurors during his opening statements.

"He convinced her to take naked photographs and send them to him," Rosell said. "(He) was entrusted to take care of her and help her but instead he betrayed her and he had her betray her own dignity."

He is charged with four felony counts of soliciting lewd matter from a minor and two misdemeanors: possessing the lewd matter and destroying evidence.

Williams met the victim when he helped his wife, Yolanda, coach the Scotts Valley High girls' basketball team. The girl, who was on the team, was having trouble at home and her parents asked Williams to counsel her. They admired him because of his strong Christian beliefs and because the girl's father is also in law enforcement, Rosell said.

Williams and the girl talked a lot, texted each other thousands of messages, went to lunch and sometimes spent time alone without her parents knowing, Rosell said.

Defense attorney Paul Meltzer said helping youth was what Williams, a police officer for 27 years, devoted his life to and his interactions with the girl were not unlike what he'd done for thousands of other children - talking to them, taking them



on trips, making sure they had food and clothing - and had never been accused of inappropriate conduct until the girl's allegations came to light in December 2005.
"We've all heard the statement 'Let no good deed go unpunished,' " Meltzer said. "Well I think that's really what this case is all about."

Williams and the girl had words about her sneaking out and drinking with members of the football team - an interaction that Rosell described as inappropriate and that Meltzer said fell within the bounds of mentoring - the girl's parents began to suspect Williams' relationship with their daughter had crossed a line. In mid-December they contacted Scotts Valley High administrators, then Scotts Valley police, Rosell said.

That's when the girl revealed to Scotts Valley police detective Mark Lopez that Williams had asked for inappropriate photos of her and, when shots taken on her cell phone camera were too fuzzy, he bought her a digital camera and several memory cards so she could pass the photos to him, Rosell told jurors.

The photos went from an "innocuous" shot of the girl's tan lines to semi-nude and nude photos - Williams allegedly told the girl he intended to use them as models for sketching - to explicit images, according to Rosell. He said nude photos of the girl were mixed with nude photos of Williams' wife, shots of the basketball team and commercial pornography in files on Williams' computers.

"Why do good people do bad things? Sex. Sex," Rosell said.

However, Meltzer pointed out that there was never an allegation that Williams had any sexual contact with the girl, despite the amount of time they spent together.

"This good man didn't do any bad thing," Meltzer told jurors. "If this was all done by Ken Williams for sex, there's no evidence it ever happened."

The defense attorney said Williams is "a very spiritual, deeply religious man," and listed Williams' many awards and accomplishments, including a proclamation from the mayor of San Jose commending his work with kids. Meltzer said Williams, who has three children and has been married for 30 years, was active in his church, the president of the Black Peace Officers Association and established the Operation Jump Start, which gives at-risk kids tutoring, counseling and scholarships to help them get to college.

"He gets close to kids, that's what he does," Meltzer said.

The case largely hangs on the testimony of the victim, who is now 19. Meltzer told jurors that she is the only person who has seen the text message that reportedly requested nude photos.

Several computer forensic specialists also will provide key information about how the photos, many of which were deleted before police recovered Williams' PDA, iPod, iMac and Toshiba laptop. Meltzer said that many people had access to Williams' electronics, including the girl and her basketball team, and that there's no evidence Williams uploaded or ever viewed the photos that were recovered.

But Rosell said Williams' efforts to delete the photos - he allegedly purchased file-destroying software for the iMac and physically broke the hard drive of the laptop - point to his guilt.

Both the victim and Williams are expected to testify during the trial, which will last two to three weeks. He could be sentenced to state prison and would have to register as a sex offender.

Officer Suspended for Not Arresting Woman


A Greenfield police officer is serving a 45-day unpaid suspension resulting from his handling of a traffic stop and narcotics investigation.

Policeman William Phillips decided not to arrest a Greenfield woman on a charge of impaired driving, even though she had failed field sobriety tests, according to a Greenfield Police Department report of the incident that began about 3:45 a.m. June 19.

Greenfield city officials have refused to release documents or other information relating to the disciplinary action, saying only that the reason is failure to follow standard operating procedures.
But authorities have confirmed the suspension is connected to that incident.

The woman involved in the traffic stop, Jessica Bewley-Johnson, was fatally injured in a traffic accident June 21, two days after she was stopped and released. According to a Greenfield police report, Bewley-Johnson was driving south on Broadway Street in Greenfield when her vehicle crossed the center line and struck a northbound dump truck.

Authorities discount the connection between Phillips' actions and Bewley- Johnson's death, saying she was not impaired at the time of the accident and would have been free on bond at the time of the accident even had she been arrested.

Greenfield Police Chief John Jester forwarded information about the traffic stop to Hancock County Prosecutor Dean Dobbins in case the prosecutor wanted to pursue criminal charges. Dobbins, however, said he has seen no evidence indicating to him the police officer broke any laws.

Both Jester and Greenfield Mayor Brad DeReamer defended their decision not to release details on the specific reasons for Phillips' suspension.

"I believe in openness, and I campaigned on it," DeReamer said. "But our attorney (Gregg Morelock) advises me that I have been wrong since I took office in discussing personnel matters so freely. If we open up (certain details), the employee has a right to sue us."

Bewley-Johnson, 26, Greenfield, had left a party where police believed drugs and alcohol were being used, and the homeowner was a passenger in her car.

According to the police report, another officer performed field-sobriety tests in which Bewley-Johnson showed evidence of intoxication. Phillips then took Bewley-Johnson to the Greenfield police station for additional tests and questioning.

"Ms. Johnson was asked several questions (about) the residence she left and did not wish to answer the questions," the report states. "Ms. Johnson requested to have a lawyer with her during questioning. Ms. Johnson was given a ride back to her residence with no further incidents that occurred."

Dobbins said Phillips might have a valid reason for not making an arrest, suggesting that he might have wanted to get back to the residence on the west side of Greenfield where the party was occurring in order to pursue possibly more serious criminal activity.

Police eventually did confiscate drugs found at the home and arrested the homeowner, Christina Helsley, 28, on a charge of possession of illegal drugs.

To judge whether Phillips' suspension was proper, the public needs more information, said Steve Key, legal counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

"Public policy calls for information to be made available as a protection to the public so they know disciplinary actions are being handled correctly and also as a protection for the employee to make sure they're not being made a victim of political retribution," Key said.

Phillips, 30, joined the department in 2006. He began serving the suspension July 12.

Officer Pleads Guilty to Attempted Kidnapping of 13-year-old


Prosecutors say a New York City police detective accused of forcing a 13-year-old runaway into prostitution has resigned from the force and pleaded guilty to attempted kidnapping.

Wayne Taylor initially said he was "100 percent innocent" of keeping the teen as a captive and compelling her to sell herself at parties last winter.

But Queens prosecutors say the 35-year-old officer and 29-year-old accomplice Zelika Brown pleaded guilty to the same charge Thursday. They face 3 1/2-year prison terms.

Brown also originally contested the charges. Her lawyer challenged statements authorities said she made to them.

Prosecutors say about 20 men paid Taylor and Brown $40 to $80 for sex with the girl.

Taylor was an officer for about 14 years.

Sgt. Allen Wallace, Officer John LeGrand Fired After Being Accused of Sexual Assault


Two of the three Greensboro police officers who were accused of sexual assault by a female officer have been fired.

City Manager Mitchell Johnson said the department fired Sgt. Allen Wallace and Officer John LeGrand.

Wallace, LeGrand and Officer Calvin Stevens were all suspended with pay December 18 after the off-duty officer accused them of sexually assaulting her. All three were members of the Tactical Special Enforcement Team.

On May 9, Guilford County District Attorney Doug Henderson announced in a press release that no criminal charges would be brought against the three officers. He cited a lack of evidence.

The department's professional standards division then continued an investigation into whether any officers violated department rules.

The off-duty officer alleged that the three officers picked her and a friend up at the Four Seasons Town Centre on Dec. 14 and sexually assaulted her.

Wallace was a vice and narcotics detective who had been with the department for eight years. He was promoted to sergeant on March 1, 2007. LeGrand joined the department in 2001.

Officer Michael King Charged with Bookmaking and Racketerring

Authorities around the country have not only been targeting slot machines, but also illegal sports gambling rings. Their latest investigation has led them to one of their own.

A warrant has been issued for Miami-Dade police officer Michael King, 42. He is being charged with Bookmaking, Racketeering, and Conspiracy to Racketeer. He has been an officer since 1989.

Forty individuals will be arrested in the drug and gambling sting. A second police officer will also be arrested, although his name has not yet been released. The gambling activity took place sometimes while in police cars.

The arrest warrant claims that April 2nd of this year, King was videotaped paying a client his winnings while sitting in his patrol car. The amount of the transaction was not released.

King was caught on tape after a routine stop in which he pulled over a car that was marked as an undercover vehicle. The officer inside was Sgt. Trujillo. When he approached the car, King was told that Trujillo was doing surveillance on a heroin drug hole.

Once Trujillo pulled away, King called fellow accomplice Ricardo Munoz, who is also known to be a bookmaker. "I just stopped one of my lieutenants at the corner watching ya'lls s**t, man," he told Munoz. Wire taps have confirmed that King took illegal bets on basketball games.

Officer Charged with Assaulting Inmate


A Springfield police officer lost his job and is charged with assault for the way that he handled an arrested man at the Greene County jail on May 29. Investigators and the police chief think Officer Morris Taylor used excessive force against an inmate whom he was booking into jail.

Police Chief Lynn Rowe fired Taylor on July 11. Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Moore charged him with third-degree assault on Thursday.

"I can understand the officer being upset because booking took longer than usual, because this guy lied to him originally about who he was and the booking had to be done again, but that is no excuse to go around hitting on people," said Moore.

Before being fired, Taylor had been with the department for 11 years.

"No law enforcement officer, especially anyone with any experience, should look at this and say this is okay," said Moore.

Rowe agrees.

"By policy and law, officers use force necessary to overcome force being presented. That's very clear but we also ask: don't go beyond what's necessary to overcome that force,” said Rowe.

Rowe says Taylor crossed the line in how he treated the inmate.

According to a detective’s probable cause statement filed in court with the charge, jail employees say they saw Taylor hit inmate John Sedersten with a closed fist, use his knee to strike Sedersten in the side, knocked the inmate to the floor, hitting Sedersten’s head on the floor, and then “had his knee on the side of Sedersten’s face/head and then struck him on the right side of his face/head after he (Sedersten) responded to several questions.”

The prosecutor says this was all caught on tape.

"Most of the jail staff was just horrified,” said Moore.

In the probable cause statement, there are witness accounts from four jail employees but none of them stepped in.

"One of my concerns is why would an officer ask for a special cell to take someone. If that is granted, then why, in the middle of the beating, why isn't there immediate intervention?" Moore asks.

Related to that, Moore says he recommended the sheriff take a look at one jailer's behavior, adding it wasn't criminal but it was questionable.

Sheriff Jack Merritt refused to comment.

Taylor is scheduled to be in court in a couple months.

When asked why the officer was fired before he went through the court process, Rowe said he looked at the video of the incident, thought it was unnecessary force, and fired him. Now, he says, the burden of proof for the criminal side lies with the prosecutor.

Former Officer Charged with Arson

A former Olanta police officer was arrested after deputies said he set fire to his mother’s car because he didn’t want to repair it, Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone said.

Robert Brendon Smith, 28, of 428 Chester Road is charged with third-degree arson and filing a false report, Boone said.

Deputies said Smith and his neighbor, 40-year-old James David Morris of 439 Chester Road, set fire July 8 to a 2001 Dodge Dakota on Johnnie Lee Road in Coward, Boone said.

Investigators said the next day, Smith called central dispatch and reported the car stolen. When deputies arrived, Smith filed an incident report and signed an affidavit stating that he didn’t have anything to do with the vehicle disappearance, Boone said.

Arson investigators later found the truck and discovered that it had intentionally been set on fire by someone using an accelerant, the sheriff said.

The car was registered to Smith’s mother, but was routinely used by Smith and his wife.

Deputies think the suspects destroyed the vehicle because it needed some repairs to its transmission, Boone said.

Olanta Police Chief Mark Strickland said Smith resigned from the department Wednesday.

Smith was employed at the department for about 10 months, Strickland said.

Smith was released from the jail in Effingham on Thursday after posting a $5,000 person recognizance bond.

Morris, who also is charged with third-degree arson, remains custody awaiting a bond hearing.

The Olanta Police Department now has two officers, excluding the chief.

Dallas Officer Fired

A Dallas police officer was fired today, two months after being accused of demanding money from a woman in exchange for not reporting gambling violations.

Senior Cpl. Minh Tran, 54, was arrested May 21 and has been indicted on a bribery charge.

Chief David Kunkle fired him for engaging in adverse conduct and failing to cooperate with an internal investigation, according to a news release.

Cpl. Tran is accused of receiving money from the woman on at least three occasions. His arrest came after a sting conducted by Dallas police.

He had worked for the agency since 2001.

Officer Charged with Burglary and Assault

A Northam police officer has been charged with aggravated burglary, assault and unlawful damage.

Police will allege the woman, from the Wheatbelt District police office, committed the offences at a Northam home on Sunday.

She was not on duty at the time of the alleged incident and was charged with the offences by Internal Affairs Unit officers on Tuesday.

The charged officer, who has been stood down from operational duties, will appear in the Northam Magistrates Court on Monday.