Sunday, February 21, 2010

Trial Begins for Sgt. Michael Tindall Charged with Bank Robbery

A Conroe police officer robbed a local bank two years ago because he had mounting financial problems and used his knowledge about the inner workings of the bank to pull off the crime, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Former Conroe police Sgt. Michael Tindall had maxed out all four of his credit cards and had two overdrawn bank accounts when he allegedly robbed the First Bank of Conroe, where he worked as a security guard for 17 years on his off days, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kebharu Smith during opening statements of Tindall's trial in Houston federal court.

A road map of the evidence will show “he prepared for this crime,” Smith said.

Defense attorney Robert Scardino acknowledged Tindall was a bad money manager, but told jurors that the evidence is mostly circumstantial and that investigators failed to look at a suspect known to have robbed several banks in Montgomery County.

Tindall, a 22-year veteran police officer, is accused of robbing the bank on Aug. 11, 2008, stealing more than $28,000. He was arrested by FBI officials March 24, 2009.

Bank employees recognized Tindall as the robber from the video surveillance and the bank senior vice president notified authorities the next day, investigators said.

The video captured the suspect entering the bank shortly before 9:30 a.m., wearing a white motorcycle helmet with a clear visor, aviator-style sunglasses, gloves, a dark jacket or shirt, blue jeans and carrying a black bag. Employees said the suspect had physical characteristics similar to Tindall. A bank teller said the suspect's voice sounded similar to Tindall's voice.
Prosecution evidence

Conroe police officers, after reviewing the video, also said that the suspect walked and used gestures similar to Tindall, investigators said.

Smith said the evidence will show that two days before the crime Tindall rented a Chevrolet Malibu. The vehicle's odometer showed he drove 10 miles, about the same miles it took to drive from the rental car lot to his apartment, then to the bank and back to the rental car lot.

Police records will show that he also used his police radio to monitor traffic to wait for the opportune moment to rob the bank. He turned on the radio 30 minutes before he robbed the bank and turned it off about 30 minutes after the crime, Smith said.

Investigators found a white helmet in Tindall's garage, Smith said.

He also used his inside knowledge of the bank. He demanded the teller open the “bottom drawer” because he knew that's where the bank kept the large bills, the prosecutor said.

Scardino said there were explanations for many of the coincidences described by Smith. He said his evidence will show that Tindall rented the car because his girlfriend was using his car to visit relatives. He used the radio on Aug. 11, his day off, because he wanted to keep tabs on his district, he said.
Explaining details

Scardino acknowledged the evidence will show that Tindall deposited a hot $1,500 check from another account into his account at First Bank of Conroe on Aug. 10 to cover overdrafts. He also acknowledged that Tindall made a $5,000 cash deposit in his account at another bank near his home on the day of the robbery, but that money was a loan from Tindall's parents, not a bank robbery. Besides, Tindall had $150,000 in a retirement account, he said.

He also said that all five tellers at the bank during the robbery each gave different descriptions of the suspect.

In addition, FBI investigators never looked into another potential suspect until two weeks ago.

The man in question is known to have robbed banks in the area and had similar physical characteristics as the robbery suspect.

Homeland Security Officers Have Lost Nearly 200 Weapons

In the first such accounting, Homeland Security officers lost nearly 200 weapons in bowling alleys, restrooms, unlocked cars and other unsecure areas from fall 2005 through 2008, USA TODAY's Thomas Frank reports. At least 15 guns ended up in the hands of gang members, criminals, drug users and teenagers.

The report, by Inspector General Richard Skinner, said most weapons were never found. They included hand guns, shotguns and military rifles.

He documented 289 missing firearms, though some were lost after Hurricane Katrina and others were stolen from safes.

DHS has disciplined some offenders and beefed up training.

CNN writes that 179 guns -- 74% of the total -- were lost "because officers did not properly secure them," the report said.

DHS had nearly 190,000 weapons in its inventory as of last summer, the report said. Most are assigned to Customs and Border Protection and ICE officers.

Though the number of lost guns is a tiny fraction, any lost weapon "is a very serious matter," said Hubert Williams, president of the Police Foundation, a think tank on law enforcement issues. "It reflects the competence of the officer."

Read the full report here.

Former Officer Tommy Swint Kills Self

Montgomery County Tree trimmers were working in Jefferson Township when a worker noticed something strange in a trash heap.

Amid the broken furniture and other junk, he saw "a blanket that was formed as a body," he later told Montgomery County sheriff's detectives.

It was Dec. 17, 1991. What he saw was actually a quilt, which had been taped around a woman's body. The woman was nude from the waist down. Under the quilt were two plastic trash bags, one over her legs and one over her head and torso. Those bags were taped together.

The woman had no identification, but wore several pieces of jewelry. Her panties, pants, jacket and shoes were inside the bag over her legs.

Coroner's investigators identified Tina Marie Ivery through her fingerprints. Ivery, 33, a known drug user and prostitute, was strangled. A family member last reported seeing her three days earlier.

There were no suspects. For 16 years, there were no good leads. Then Tommy Swint entered the case.

A review of the Ivery case file reveals that Swint was not the only suspect authorities looked at, but he became the best one. He committed suicide Feb. 3, the same day he was indicted in Ivery's murder.

Swint always wanted to be a police officer. Sworn in as a Trotwood officer on July 16, 2007, he resigned six weeks later after Richmond, Ind., police informed Trotwood officials that Swint was a suspect in the disappearance of Marilyn "Niqui" McCown.

The two had worked together at the Dayton's Montgomery Education and Pre-Release Center, a state prison. McCown was last seen at a Richmond Laundromat in July 2001. Her SUV was found four months later at a Harrison Township apartment complex.

The Dayton Daily News reported Swint's resignation in October 2007. A month later, a confidential informant told Dayton police they should look at Swint as a suspect in Ivery's death.

Detectives soon learned that Swint was born in 1966 and raised in Alabama. He joined the Marine Corps in 1986 and was stationed in Japan and Panama. Swint would later admit to having sex with prostitutes in both countries.

In December 1989, he went absent without leave and fled to Dayton, where he had relatives. Swint was arrested and returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in June 1990.

In a letter requesting a discharge after his return, Swint wrote that his father never told him that he loved him, that he had experienced significant racism growing up in the South, and that he was the only of his siblings to graduate high school.

"I became a very big celebrity in high school because I was very good in sports," Swint wrote. "My high school loved me and so did my whole town and city."

He also wrote that while he was thankful for the discipline the corps gave him, "I really wanted to be a military police but ended up as a grunt."

The Marines discharged Swint "under other than honorable conditions," according to records. Swint moved back to Dayton.

For the rest of his life, Swint would pursue jobs in security and law enforcement. He applied to the sheriff's office in 2007, but was turned down. He told interviewers he had tried to join the Ohio State Highway Patrol in 1995.

He also told Trotwood interviewers he had applied with Beavercreek, Wright State University, Butler Township and Sinclair Community College police departments. He also admitted to Trotwood that he had pleaded guilty to passing bad checks in 1992.

Several former co-workers of Swint wrote glowing recommendation letters for him. But Trotwood also knew about a 2006 incident in which he received a written reprimand for threatening a female captain at the pre-release center.

"If I have anything to say to you, I will say it in the parking lot," Swint reportedly said. "You don't know who you are missing with. I'm Officer Swint."

But there's no record of Swint telling Trotwood about his AWOL incident or Niqui McCown.

Dayton cold case detectives investigating Swint interviewed his friends and relatives. They shared stories about prostitutes and Swint's visit to a gay club, even though Swint said he hated prostitutes and gays.

Interviewed by police in May 2008, a former girlfriend said Swint had dated Ivery. She also said the blanket Ivery was wrapped in looked familiar to one Swint carried in his car.

Her nephew, who lived with her when Swint was there, told police in April 2009 he remembered seeing a blood trail from the basement window through the grass to the trunk of Swint's car.

The nephew also mentioned a blanket missing from his bed in the basement. Shown a picture of the quilt Ivery was wrapped in, the nephew said it was very similar to the missing blanket.

The Miami Valley Regional Crime Laboratory had been analyzing DNA evidence long before Swint came to investigators' attention. Records show the lab was running tests by November 2005.

There were four semen stains on the back of Ivery's jacket, and one on the front, but they came from different men. There was also a blood stain on the quilt.

The lab did not have a DNA sample for Swint. But Richmond police had an oral swab from him. In April 2008, they agreed to share the sample with the lab.

In May, the lab matched Swint's DNA to the semen on back of the jacket. Swint also could not be excluded as the source of the blood stain on the quilt. On October 21, 2008, detectives visited Swint at the Harrison Township home he shared with his wife. They showed him a picture of Ivery and the blanket. He denied knowing her or ever seeing the blanket.

Then a lab worker found a partial fingerprint onthe adhesive side of the tape that had been wrapped around Ivery's body. The original investigators missed that in 1992.

By this time, Swint had moved to Alabama. Dayton detectives, working with local law enforcement, got a search warrant to obtain Swint's fingerprints.

After Swint gave his fingerprints, he was again shown a picture of Ivery. Again he denied knowing her, but said he thought she was pretty. The officers asked him if he had killed her and he said no.

Then the officers told him his DNA matched evidence at the scene.

"I have nothing to say about that," Swint said.

After some more discussion about the DNA, Swint ended the interview.

"With all due respect, we need to bring this interview to close," Swint said. "I am sure I will see you again. My attorney would not want me to get into this."

On Nov. 25, the crime lab matched the latent print to Swint's left middle finger. By mid-December, a three-prosecutor panel was reviewing the evidence.

On Feb. 1 and 2, prosecutors presented evidence to the grand jury, which indicted Swint just before noon on Feb. 3. An hour later, Swint shot himself in the head as officers approached his Phenix City, Ala., house.

Tommy Swint took the answers to investigators' questions with him.

Records show the detectives were looking at Swint in other cases. Swint's DNA was tested, but did not match, evidence taken from another prostitute homicide, according to an e-mail Montgomery County Assistant Prosecutor Tracey Tangeman sent to other prosecutors.

They should keep looking, said Art Jipson, a sociologist and director of criminal justice studies at the University of Dayton. Jipson recommended doing "geographical profiling," looking at all unsolved homicides in the areas where Swint lived and worked.

It is common for serial killers to be drawn to careers in law enforcement or the military because they like the idea of using force and having authority over others. However, Jipson said, it's equally common for them to fail in those professions, either because they can't get through the screening processes or because they do not submit well to authority themselves.

"Everything you're telling me raises the hackles on the back of my neck," Jipson said. "This guy really fits the profile."


Information from: Dayton Daily News,

Reserve Officer Jeff Gulley Arrested for Arson

The second Mineral Wells man arrested in connection with a Feb. 3 arson is reportedly a licensed police officer in the State of Texas but does not currently hold a law enforcement position.

Information from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education confirmed that Jeff Gulley, 30, of Mineral Wells, was appointed as a reserve officer for the Mineral Wells police department from October to December 2006 and was appointed as a police officer in Ranger from October 2006 to June 2007.

According to Mineral Wells Police Chief Mike McAllester, the police department turned in the reserve officer paperwork to TCLEOSE and provided him a uniform and equipment but doesn’t “remember him working in uniform here.”

“He never showed up,” McAllester said. “He never worked for us.”

McAllester said Gulley applied to the department since that time but was never interviewed.

About the same time, Gulley reportedly took a position with the Ranger police department.

Ranger police chief Elton McCoy said he was not with the department at that time and did not immediately have access to Gulley’s records.

TCLEOSE records also indicate Gulley worked as a jailer at the Parker County Jail, though the Index was unable to reach the warden Friday.

The Index also confirmed Gulley served in the United State Marine Corps between 2003 and 2007.

Gulley – along with former patrolman John Gore who questioned and arrested Tuesday on three additional counts of arson – is charged with one count of arson relating to the destruction of a two-story storage building on Hood Road and Division Street around 2:30 a.m. Feb. 3 as a result of an intentionally set fire.

During an interview with a Parker County Fire Marshal’s official, Gore allegedly confessed to burning the structure and implicated Gulley, Parker County Public Information Officer Shawn Scott reported.

The same official then interviewed Gulley twice, Scott said.

“During these interviews he exposed his involvement in the Feb. 3 arson,” Scott said. He also allegedly confessed to being involved with two other fires, a grass fire that burned only grass and brush and a structure fire that did not fully ignite.

The two alleged fires were not in the jurisdiction of Parker County and the information was turned over to Mineral Wells investigators, Scott said.

The Feb. 3 fire is the only arson investigation the Parker County Fire Marshal’s office is directly involved in, according to Scott.

According to Mineral Wells police, Gulley was questioned Tuesday morning and released after Gore named a suspect in a prior incident.

Gulley was arrested on a Parker County warrant for arson around 4 p.m. Thursday at his residence and booked into the Mineral Wells jail overnight.

Police provided extra patrol to the area overnight after Gulley’s wife reported people throwing things at the family’s residence after the Index published a report of his arrest Thursday evening.

Investigators questioned Gulley Friday morning, shortly before he was transported to the Parker County jail. According to jail records, bond had not been set as of Friday evening.

“He cooperated,” McAllester said Friday morning. “His account of what happened on Feb. 3 wasn’t changed but there have been additional offenses reported.”

McAllester said they would be investigating his statements about the alleged offenses.

“Information given by both of them will result into further investigation into other fires,” McAllester said. “There is certainly the possibility of additional counts against each of them.”

“Every time we talk to them, there’s more,” McAllester said.

Suspicious fires as far back as 2001 are being investigated, though McAllester said that does not mean investigators necessarily believe the two were involved in fires that far back.

John Gore, who resigned Wednesday after three years with the Mineral Wells Police Department, reportedly posted bonds on all four charges Tuesday and was released from the Palo Pinto County Jail. Bond on the three charges involving the Tuesday fires were reduced to $30,000 for first-degree arson with injury and $20,000 on the second-degree felony arson counts. Bond was set at $30,000 on the Parker County arson charge.

McAllester said before Tuesday he knew of nothing that indicated a possible arsonist on the police force and they are investigating whether anyone else in the department had any indication.

Laura Le Blanc, public information officer with the TCLEOSE, said they were informed of Gulley’s arrest and would seek action regarding his peace officer’s license if he is found guilty.
Other Information: 
Officer John Gore Charged With Arson

Officer Donald Schismenos Has More Citizen Complaints Than Any Other Officer

His chiefs have steadfastly defended him over the years.

All the citizen complaints, his use of force, fighting bad guys who resist arrest — it all comes, they have said, with Officer Donald Schismenos being an aggressive street-gang cop in Akron.

Internal police documents, however, do not appear to support the contentions of the Akron chiefs, past and present.

In fact, no street-gang officer working alongside Schismenos comes close to generating the number of citizen complaints, or resorting to force to corral a resisting suspect, according to documents released by the city's law department.

Schismenos is facing a 45-day suspension for disobeying a sergeant and arresting a woman who refused to surrender the video she shot of him making an arrest.

He also is to begin light-duty desk work Monday, a temporary assignment that takes him off the city's gang unit and his off-duty jobs.

This is the first time Schismenos, a 17-year veteran, has ever been disci

Six years ago, Akron police Chief Michael Matulavich was asked about the escalating number of complaints against Schismenos.

Matulavich, a stern, sometimes gruff, old-school cop, defended the officer's record, describing Schismenos as ''committed and conscientious.'' Those traits, according to the now-retired chief, naturally generated complaints.

''He's always poking sticks at the bears. That's why we send him out there,'' Matulavich said in a 2004 interview.

'Nature of the job'

Fast-forward six years. Current police Chief Gus Hall found himself in a position of explaining more complaints against Schismenos.

In a recent interview, Hall basically reiterated what Matulavich said years ago.

''He works the gang unit, where you're not dealing for the most part with ordinary citizens,'' Hall said. ''It's just the nature of the job and with the groups of people he's dealing with, you will have more use of force, resisting arrests than officers just handling routine traffic stops.''

There are six officers assigned to the department's gang unit. On a daily basis, they work the tougher neighborhoods of Akron, trying to trump the gangbangers.

Over the years, Schismenos has emerged as the face of the unit. He is often invited to speak to neighborhood watch clubs and civic groups about the perils of gangs inside Akron's borders.

He also is regarded as an expert in gang affiliation identification, and county prosecutors have used his testimony to win longer prison terms for defendants accused of gang activity.

In turn, his personnel file is filled with letters of thanks and commendations for his gang work.

Schismenos, however, leads the gang unit with 71 instances of use of force and suspects who resist arrest since 1997. The next closest gang unit officer has 35 such reports.

As for citizen complaints, Schismenos has 32 over his career, three times as many as the next gang officer, who has 10.

Messages and e-mails to Schismenos seeking comment have not been returned for several weeks.

But in a 2004 interview with the Beacon Journal, he attributed the complaints and use of force to his gang-unit work.

''I'm an aggressive officer that is proactive,'' Schismenos told a reporter. ''Our unit is one of the only units that are proactive. We don't just react to reports coming in. We go out and try to get criminals off the streets before they commit more crimes.''

Officers are required to document instances in which they must use physical force or suspects resist arrest.

Union defends record

Paul Hlynsky, the department's union president, defended Schismenos' record. He said the officer's expertise on gangs has made him a highly sought source for other units in the police department, placing Schismenos in the thick of homicide, drug and other investigations.

Hlynsky said this interaction leads to more contact with gang members than other officers in the unit have. This potentially adds to the number of complaints against Schismenos.

In addition, Schismenos has taken off-duty jobs in tough, public-housing neighborhoods and at nightclubs notorious for attracting rougher crowds, Hlynsky said.

As a result, he said, Schismenos' record is being unfairly attacked by city officials, particularly Police Auditor Phil Young and Mayor Don Plusquellic, who last week tripled Schismenos' original unpaid suspension from 15 days to 45.

The suspension has yet to take effect. Schismenos is expected to appeal the mayor's decision to an arbitrator, a process that could take several months.

''I think Don's stuff has been grossly exaggerated by the mayor and the supposed independent auditor,'' Hlynsky said. ''He's already been tried and convicted in the press.

''Here, Schismenos is being made to defend himself and these gang members continue to run amok in the city.''

Under review

Early in his career, when Schismenos was piling up complaints and use-of-force reports, his supervisors counseled him to practice defusing, rather than escalating, his confrontations with citizens.

At the time, he had 47 citizen complaints and use-of-force reports in his first three years of duty. The numbers have since grown to about 118.

In an interview last week, Hall said the department is reviewing Schismenos' record. He has been temporarily taken off the gang unit and is prohibited from working his off-duty jobs until a ''fit for duty'' evaluation is conducted. The evaluation gauges an officer's mental and physical health.

Hall said the department will also study Schismenos' record against other gang unit officers.

''Those are some issues that we need to look into,'' he said. ''It's one of the reasons we requested a 'fit for duty' evaluation.''

Young, the city's police auditor, said the department's defense of Schismenos over the years has done a disservice to the city. When told of the numbers by the Beacon Journal, he said statistics should back up the comments of the chiefs who have defended Schismenos in the past, ''but it's not even close.''

''[The chiefs] make those statements because they are easy to say and I think it steers our citizens in the wrong direction,'' Young said. ''[They say] that this guy is out there hammering people and getting criminals off the streets and that's why he's getting the complaints and most of the complaints and use of force involve bad people. I think that's very misleading.''

Tenure appears to have no bearing on Schismenos' numbers.

Sgt. Michael Zimmerman, Officer Rod Criss and Schismenos have each worked with the unit for at least 10 years.

Criss and Schismenos have been officers for about 17 years. Zimmerman has been with the force since 1977.

But while Schismenos has generated the most citizen complaints among gang officers, Criss and Zimmerman have garnered 13 complaints combined. Zimmerman has no use of force or resisting arrests reports; Criss has 28.

Zimmerman, who supervises the unit, did not return a phone message or an e-mail seeking comment.

Growing scrutiny

Schismenos' record is under growing scrutiny since his confrontation last summer with an Akron woman who videotaped his arrest of a disorderly suspect. Sarah Watkins, 48, refused Schismenos' request for her camera and a sergeant eventually intervened and ordered the officer to ''let it go.''

Schismenos, however, filed felony charges against Watkins, which led to her arrest. She spent parts of two days in jail before making bond. The charges were eventually dismissed.

An internal investigation ended with a recommendation that Schismenos receive a 15-day, unpaid suspension.

Schismenos contended he did not hear a sergeant's order to drop his demands for the camera and he appealed the suspension to Mayor Don Plusquellic, hoping to see the penalty lessened.

Instead, the mayor criticized Schismenos' arrest of Watkins as a ''personal vendetta'' and tripled the suspension. He also ordered Schismenos to undergo a psychological evaluation that could determine whether the officer stays in the gang unit.

''Where has the accountability been for all these years?'' Young asked. ''Where is it? What are we doing here? Are we just making statements about being a gang officer and that this is the way it is? These are questions that need answers.''

Roseville Officers File Lawsuit Alleging Harassment of Gay Cops

"There's kinda of culture within the department..."

A culture that Investigative Sgt. Darin DeFreece, former detective Michael Lackl and Officer Ken Marler, allege fostered a hostile work environment targeting gay officers and those perceived to be gay.

"Nobody cared enough to listen," DeFreece said.

The lawsuit says Chief Mike Blair didn't stop the alleged behavior, and even retaliated against those reporting the harassment.

It names Blair, Sgt. Kelby Newton and former City Manager Craig Robinson for not turning the department around after claims first surfaced in 2007. The city disagrees.

"The city of Roseville is absolutely committed to treating every employee in our organization of every level with dignity and respect. And when we have allegations, when we have complaints that arise, we have procedures and policies in place. We very pro-actively and aggressively address those," said Megan MacPherson, spokeswoman for the City of Roseville.

A 16-year veteran, 10 of them with Roseville, DeFreece says derogatory comments have always been commonplace anywhere from the briefing to the locker rooms.

"There's a sense of permissiveness, that people are allowed to make offensive comments, make it a little bit uncomfortable for people to have an alternative lifestyle," DeFreece said.

According to the lawsuit, one captain explained that a security gate code and voicemail access with the numbers 13-69, symbolized 13 as being unlucky and 69 for it's sexual connotation. Two of the plaintiffs are married to women. DeFreece said there are several officers who stand behind them on the suit, and that most of the staff don't participate in the harassment.

"99.9 percent of the people that work at the Roseville Police Department are extremely professional," DeFreece said.

"It's a sad day," he said.

"Any regrets?" Fox 40 asked.

"That it never occurred in the first place. Those are my biggest regrets," DeFreece added. "I look forward to the day when we're beyond this, we've healed as a department."