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Only on FOX19 NOW: Cincinnati police suspect one of their own may be 'dirty' cop


Some Cincinnati police officers believe they may have a bad cop in their ranks- an officer who they suspect was tipping off drug dealers about police activity.

The accused officer was part of a small, specialized unit that conducts undercover drug and other investigations.

Potential drug buys seemed to fall apart at the last minute once the accused officer found out about those cases, officers reported during internal interviews in June 2016.

These cases, normally considered “home runs,” would turn out to be “strikes,” one officer told internal investigators, according to the recordings obtained by FOX19 NOW.

A tip from outside of CPD was enough for the department to launch an Internal Affairs investigation into an allegation of “Law Violation by Officer,"  police records show.

FOX19 NOW has obtained details of the internal affairs investigation, including DVDs of interviews with officers who talk about the accused bad cop.

The recordings show the officer’s colleagues became suspicious of him a couple of months after he began working in their unit:

“(A dealer has) plenty of dope all day long and then within 15 minutes of, you know, (the officer under suspicion) finding out that we’re doing this buy… that all of a sudden dude’s done, ‘I’m out,’” one officer told internal investigators, according to the DVDs.

Another officer reported: "You know, it’s like anything that we would go do that he was aware of would just…there was no fruit on that tree and when we just were expecting more. And I know that’s the way it is in that kind of work, it’s hit and miss, but it seemed like we were swinging for home runs every time and just missing ‘em if he was aware of these investigations.

"But," the officer told internal investigators, "I have nothing, again, I have nothing at all to say that he had, you know, done anything to spike that investigation or any one of them.”

In response to repeated requests about the case, Cincinnati police released a document on May 31 showing the investigation began in March 2016 and wrapped up on earlier this year, on Feb. 24 with a “not-sustained” finding.

The case was officially closed March 13, and Police Chief Eliot Isaac approved it four days later, the record states.

The chief and officer who was the subject of the internal investigation declined to be interviewed for this story, according to the police spokesman, Lt. Steve Saunders.

Reached again Wednesday, Saunders declined comment.

Sgt. Dan Hils, the leader of the union that represents Cincinnati police, also declined comment.

FOX19 NOW has asked for the entire internal investigation file, including recordings of all interviews conducted and the one of the officer in question, which we do not have.

We are not naming the officer because he has not been charged with a crime and, according to police records, the allegation against him was “not sustained." 

But now an attorney for a former officer fighting to get his job back has asked federal authorities to investigate allegations involving a "dirty" cop and concerns that the matter was "swept under the rug," documents obtained by FOX19 NOW show.

That lawyer recently turned the DVDs over to federal authorities, as well as typed transcripts of the recordings, his letters to them show.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney Office in Cincinnati referred comment to the FBI.

“The FBI is your best point-of-contact at this time,” wrote Jennifer Thornton in an email to FOX19 NOW.

“As a matter of policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential investigation,” said FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren.

The fact that the internal investigation showed no wrongdoing concerns several current Cincinnati police officers who tell FOX19 NOW they are still worried there could be a dirty cop in their ranks.

The officers who spoke with internal expressed several suspicions including, according to the recordings:

--The Hamilton County Probation Department reportedly had a confidential informant who was “scared of” the officer who was the focus of the internal investigation and the probation department turned that tip over to RENU, the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office drug unit.

---A major drug raid fell flat shortly after the accused officer joined the unit, the officers reported. One of the officers told internal investigators he had the accused officer assist in writing and signing the search warrant as part of his on the job training. 

According to the officers who were interviewed, they were aware based on a tip from an informant of the presence of a significant quantity of drugs inside a house, including  secret compartments that had been constructed to conceal drugs.  

But when police went in with a SWAT team, they said they found the house torn up, the drywall ripped out, and only a small amount of drugs.

“When we got up there, there was a bedframe. Everything else was gone,” an officer told an internal investigator, according to the DVDs. “Nobody was in the house, and the only things that we got from the search warrant were misdemeanor stuff.

"We found syringes, we found brand new crack pipes that had been pur-that looked like they had been purchased off the internet. So it was definitely a trap house where they were also selling points, needles, syringes and crack pipes," he said, according to the DVDs.

" But we didn’t find, I think aside from a little bit of marijuana, we didn’t find any heroin that we expected. Or any cash that we expected.”

-- An officer reported receiving information from an informant who said an unknown officer was reportedly being paid by drug dealers for information. The officer told internal investigators he brought his informant in and advised him: “We think there very possibly could be a cop doing some things, you know, in the area that they shouldn’t be doing.

’“He goes, he stopped me right away. He was like ‘I already know what you’re talking about.’ And I’m like ‘what do you mean? He’s like ‘you talking about like a dirty cop or something?’

And I’m like, ‘well, yeah, how, what do you already know what I’m talking about?’ He said - and let me get this straight - he said ‘I already know what you’re talking about, I already talked about it with my cousin… the other day, that there’s a cop up there who sells information to dope boys up there.’ “And I’m like ‘well, what do you mean?’ What kind of information?’

He’s like, ‘you know, who, who ‘all are looking at, when y’all are coming, what cars you’re gonna be in, what houses you guys are looking at, like if about to run up in somebody’s house, and they, they pay him for that information."

--Certain suspects wanted to speak only with the officer under internal investigation and knew him by name; he didn't seem to share information, officers reported, according to the recordings.

“It’s just how friendly he is with these guys when we go out there and talk to ‘em, and then sometimes some of these guys, we’ll, we’ll be directly dealing ‘em and then when we meet with the guy or show up around this person, they’ll recognize him and he’s told us nothing about this person, you know,” an officer told internal investigators.

“And it’s just like I said, these investigations where he’s involved, we get blanks or nothing, when we’re expecting good, solid investigations, you know we put a lot of work into it and  then just nothing comes from it, you know. But he’s the only thing that had changed in there….he was the only thing that changed when we started getting these strikes. You know, we were missing everything.”

--The officer became aware of cameras focused on a certain street where drugs were consistently distributed, the recordings suggest. Drug activity dropped to "almost zero" and, when an undercover agent went to do a drug buy, he advised an internal investigator, according to the DVDs, he was told it would have to occur inside the building because there were cameras on the street.

 “…..They used to line up 10, 15 cars. Dope boys and cars on that street, selling out of cars and hanging out in the park dicing and gambling, stuff like that. That seemed to evaporate once he became aware of the cameras."

The recordings also indicate officers began to purposely exclude him from investigations.

In the end, the officers told internal investigators all they had were their suspicions and hunches, no solid evidence against the officer, the recordings show.

Internal investigator : “Is that why you guys never?”

Officer: “Yeah, you don’t want to accuse, you don’t want to accuse a cop of doing something”

Internal Investigator: “ Right.”

Officer: “When you don’t have anything.”

Internal Investigator: “And that’s, that’s where we’re at.”

Officer: “We, we literally had nothing. If we had something this would’ve been, you know like I said, we would of came to you guys a long time ago and said here, ‘This is what we have.’ And I would say we’re all pretty good investigators….you know, we just, we had nothing, we had suspicion. That’s all.”

The officer who was the target of the internal probe was transferred to another area of the police department in June 2016, his personnel file shows. There is no mention in his file of the allegations or internal investigation.

Overall, his job performance reviews are mostly positive.

Supervisors indicated the officer exceeded or met expectations in the years he has been with the department, working in a variety of areas.

They repeatedly encouraged the officer to study for promotion. They encouraged him to apply to attend class to become a field training officer.

The officer also received several written commendations.

He also received reprimands for:

  • Striking a woman jogging across the street in the marked crosswalk while he was on routine patrol in a police vehicle and failing to report the auto accident to a supervisor, police records show. "This notice is given to you with the hope you will improve your conduct and performance,” a supervisor wrote on the “Notice of Official Reprimand.”
  • Failing “to properly secure his issued duty weapon resulting in the theft of said weapon from a loaner car from a local vehicle repair company,” another police record states. It’s not clear if the weapon was ever recovered. 

Late last month, an attorney who represents a former Cincinnati police officer seeking reinstatement asked federal officials to look into the situation, according to documents obtained by FOX19 NOW.

“I have a legal duty to report that I am in possession of detailed evidence and interviews involving a “dirty” cop involved in tipping off drug dealers and accepting payoffs, who was investigated by the Internal Investigations Department but has not been disciplined, simply transferred,” Attorney Robert Croskery wrote May 24 to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cincinnati.

“Moreover and more disquieting, the file regarding the investigation of this officer (he then cites the case number) has allegedly disappeared and purportedly does not show up in a system search. Moreover, there is an allegation that the dirty cop involved has friends in high places in the Department.”

Croskery’s correspondence elaborates on several suspicions raised by the officer’s co-workers in the recordings.

He closes his letter by requesting “that this matter be looked into immediately and appropriate measures be taken.

“Because Cincinnati Police Internal Investigations has, up until this point, taken no action, and apparently will take no action, based on the long delay, I believe that it is incumbent upon the Department of Justice to look into this case of alleged public corruption and take appropriate action.”

The letter indicates he enclosed “Disc containing all audio transcripts.”

His letter did not name his client or the officer under suspicion.

On May 31, Croskery wrote a second letter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office naming them both.

“As we discussed, here are purported transcripts of the Internal Investigations of (the accused officer),” the letter states.

“They were typed up by my office staff and, while they may have a few minor inaccuracies, show the overwhelming circumstantial evidence of corrupt activity on the part of (the officer who was under internal investigation). While I do not know (the officer) personally, I do know that there is serious concern on the part of his fellow police officers that this matter has been swept under the rug.

“I can tell you that my client, Jason Cotterman, a former police officer administratively discharged from City of Cincinnati Police Department after being exonerated from a highly flimsy charge of ‘failing to charge a sergeant with DUI’ has received these tapes and has acted to pass them along. To protect the names of confidential informants and undercover officers, the names are redacted from the transcripts, but are on the audio tapes."

Cotterman lost his job in May 2016. He was administratively suspended from duty with a medical retirement recommendation by the department’s psychologist, according to his lawyer.

Related story: Former Cincinnati cop fights to get job back

Croskery declined to discuss the letters or the allegations in them when FOX19 NOW caught up with him outside his office.

“I can tell you that my client, Jason Cotterman, is a straight-up guy, he’s an honest guy," Croskery said. "He will always do the right thing and it is my duty to do what the right thing is on behalf of Jason Cotterman.

“But, as far as any letters I may have sent to any agency, I can’t comment on that.”

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