Investigation underway related to closed internal probe of alleg - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Investigation underway related to closed internal probe of alleged 'dirty cop'

(File) (File)
FOX19 NOW Legal Analyst Mike Allen reviews documents from the case. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker) FOX19 NOW Legal Analyst Mike Allen reviews documents from the case. (FOX19 NOW/Jennifer Baker)
CINCINNATI (FOX19) -

Eight months after Cincinnati police closed an internal investigation as “Not Sustained” into allegations an officer was tipping drug dealers to police activity, another investigation is underway related to it, police records show.

But it’s not quite clear why an investigation is ongoing, when it began, who is conducting it – or if it’s more than just a cursory review.

It’s also not clear if the investigation targets the officer, another person or entity that came up during the internal investigation.

Cincinnati police and federal authorities are not talking.

But a lawyer for a former Cincinnati police officer seeking reinstatement recently turned over details about the case to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio and asked them to investigate allegations involving a "dirty" cop and concerns that the matter was "swept under the rug," according to documents obtained by FOX19 NOW earlier this year.

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

We are not naming the officer because he has not been charged with a crime and, according to police records, the allegations against him were “Not Sustained.”

He remains on active duty and now works in a different area of the police department.

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

We found out about the new, ongoing investigation when Cincinnati police finally cited it as the reason why they would not release the entire internal case file to us after we followed up multiple times over the past six months to our original records request for it more than a year ago.

Cincinnati police have never publicly discussed the allegations or outcome of the internal investigation, only confirming in late May after repeated inquiries that it even existed and had, in fact, already closed in two months prior in March. 

They remain just as tight-lipped now. That includes top police officials such as Chief Eliot Isaac and Executive Assistant Chief Dave Bailey, the accused officer and internal investigators, according to Lt. Steve Saunders, police spokesman.

“The Cincinnati Police Department respectfully declines to provide an interview regarding this matter for all individuals you requested an interview from,” Saunders wrote in an email earlier this month to FOX19 NOW.

The president of the union that represents Cincinnati police also declined comment.

'We dropped the ball'

Records for this story were extremely difficult to obtain from the police public information office, despite multiple follow-ups and ample time provided,

Nine pages were finally released to us Nov. 2.

"Any additional documents in the IIU report and all redactions in the documents you have received are exempt from a public records request pursuant to Ohio Revised Code Section 149.43(A)(2)(a) – (d) as confidential law enforcement investigatory records related to an ongoing investigation," Saunders wrote in an email.

When we sought clarification on the investigation by asking who was conducting it and why, if it was something new or the old internal case reopened or if this was referred to another area of the police department or an outside agency for a criminal probe, Saunders wrote: “In response to your other questions, I don’t know.”

When we followed up again, he responded: "The previously noted exemption satisfy your request for information and I am not required to provide any additional clarification.”

Saunders said the 9 pages should have been released to us back in late September.

He explained the lengthy wait for the public records as an inadvertent staff error that he said would be addressed: "We dropped the ball."

By comparison, Cincinnati police released those same 9 pages in less than a week's time more than three months ago to a private citizen who asked for the entire case file, Jeff Schare.  He is a former Cincinnati police detective who retired in October 2016 and now works as a private investigator, according to his LinkedIn page.

Schare declined to comment.

The 9 pages released include records showing internal investigators looked into allegations of a police department member potentially providing confidential information to individuals who were engaged in criminal activity,” reads a Feb 24 memo to the police chief.

The memo was written by someone in Internal Investigations whose name is blacked out.

“This information was based on a pattern of criminal suspects eluding law enforcement just prior to law enforcement’s arrival to the area where the suspect was observed,” the memo states.

“Additionally, this information was provided to law enforcement in a real time basis by various sources. Due to these criminal suspects evading law enforcement just before law enforcement’s arrival, law enforcement believed that their response was being compromised by an internal component.

“IIU has exhausted all investigative avenues and has been unable to substantiate any of the allegations. Due to the sensitive nature of the allegations and the continued employment of the Department member alleged to be involved, IIU recommends the identities of all involved Department members identified in this investigation be held in confidence.

The next sentence is blacked out and then the memo closes with: “At this time, IIU recommends this case be closed, NOT SUSTAINED.”

The case was officially closed March 13, and the chief approved it four days later, the record states.

Case 'cries out for some prosecutor to look at it'

It appears Cincinnati police did not consult with the Hamilton County Prosecutor’ Office on the case to see if the allegations warranted a criminal versus administrative investigation and/or possible charges, a prosecutor’s spokesman said.

He declined to say if prosecutors thought the case should have been, saying they do not discuss cases that do not result in indictments.

Our FOX19 NOW legal analyst, former Hamilton County prosecutor Mike Allen, said Cincinnati police should have had prosecutors review the case as soon as they found out about the allegations to get advice on how to proceed with an investigation and then to see if criminal charges were appropriate.

We had Allen look through the few records were have been given on this case.

He said police appear to have handled it unusually, particularly given such serious and detailed accusations against a law enforcement officer by his own colleagues.

Allen also was perplexed why CPD internal affairs investigators solely investigated when the case was referred to them by Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit (RENU).

Allen questioned why the case was not left with the RENU, a specialized unit set up to handle more covert drug investigations. OR why RENU didn’t at least assist CPD throughout, particularly after, according to a Hamilton County Sheriff's Office spokesman, a Cincinnati police officer who is in RENU checked into a tip about the officer from an informant and felt there was enough there to continue investigating.

“This is one just, based on what you’ve shown me, that cries out for some prosecutor to look at it, whether it’s the local county prosecutor or the United States Attorney Office,” Allen said.

“I don’t know that this, based upon what I’ve seen, an internal investigation should be the end of it.  I think this is something that some prosecuting agency whether it’s state or federal needs to look at.

“I’ll tell you what, if I was running the show with this situation, real simple: Pick up the telephone,  call the prosecutor’s office and say I want to come over and talk to you about something. Really simple to do  and with allegations as serious as these, I really don’t know why that didn’t happen if it didn’t happen.”

Cincinnati Police Sgt. Anthony Mitchell and Officer Michele Longworth of the Internal Investigations Unit handled the case, according to DVDs we obtained of interviews some of the accused officer's co-workers gave in June 2016.

Both Mitchell and Longworth were rated “exceeds standards” in their latest job performance reviews and noted for being dedicated, professional, hard-working and impressed superiors.

Mitchell, an officer since 2006, was just transferred to the unit on Feb. 14, 2016, just a month before the internal investigation into the officer was launched, his personnel file shows.

Mitchell has worked in District 4, Criminal Investigation Section (Youth Services Unit - SRO Squad) and served as a District 3 School Resource Officer.

He was transferred to the police chief’s office as a Community Liaison Officer in 2012. He was moved to CIS (Youth Services Unit) in 2013, transferred in 2014 to D3/Neighborhood Liaison Unit, promoted to police sergeant in 2014, transferred to District 1 and then transferred internal.

Longworth , an officer since June 2000, according to her personnel file, worked in Districts 5 and 3 before she spent 9 years in Personal Crimes Unit where she was a veteran rape squad investigator known to be tenacious in the pursuit of truth and passionate about perfection in her work.

She was transferred to internal investigations in Sept. 2015.

Both received positive reviews from supervisors and were noted for being loyal employees.

“Sergeant Mitchell continues to excel regarding administrative investigations,” wrote his then supervisor, Lt. Craig Gregoire, in his latest job review.

“He has proven himself reliable to the Unit. His written communication has improved to where little correction is needed. Over the course of the rating period, Sgt. Mitchell has been the primary investigator for more complex investigations," Gregoire wrote.

"During these investigations, Sergeant Mitchell always poses questions regarding his actions. As his supervisor, I appreciate this as it demonstrates Sergeant Mitchell is concerned with how the results of IIU investigations will affect the Department in the future.”

Mitchell was commended for coordinating a fundraiser bowling event in Madisonville between the police and fire unions in honor of fallen Officer Sonny Kim.

“This successful event showcased the Department in favorable light to the City. Furthermore, the attentiveness to detail Sergeant Mitchell demonstrated in IIU cases were carried into the coordination of this event. Sergeant Mitchell has proven he is loyal to the Department.”

Longworth also was noted for being “loyal to the Unit and, most importantly, the Department.

“In the 2016 year, IIU has been privy to several criminal investigations where confidentiality is critical,” Gregoire wrote in her latest review.

“By maintaining her relationships with outside resources and using these resources to facilitate IIUs goals, a cornerstone of the Department’s mission has been attained through investigative integrity.”

'A criminal with a badge'

While Cincinnati police won't discuss the new investigation or say who is conducting it, the sheriff's office and RENU is not, said Jim Knapp, sheriff’s spokesman.

Federal officials declined comment.

“Regarding the matters you mentioned, our response remains the same…As a matter of policy, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential investigation,” wrote FBI spokesman Todd Lindgren.

Two FBI agents met in early June with an attorney and his client about the case, records show.

Robert Croskery, an attorney for Jason Cotterman, a former Cincinnati police officer suing to get his job back, turned over transcripts of interviews some of the accused officer’s co-workers gave to internal investigators a year earlier, in June 2016. FOX19 NOW also obtained these records.

In the meeting with the FBI agents, Croskery discussed allegations that police administrators tried to cover it up to avoid a scandal, according to a letter Croskery wrote federal authorities in July when he circled back to see why it appeared they were not following up on the tips he provided.

“Unfortunately, over a month has elapsed since that interview I had with the FBI agents and I have information that no contact has been made with some individuals who have specific information about (the accused officer’s) corruption and would gladly share in it,” Croskery wrote.

His letter goes on to state that the accused officer remains on active duty in the department and “Sources from within the department, to which I have access because of client(s) with rank and file police connections, have informed me that Chief Isaac has remarked that he will take no action regarding (the accused officer), apparently because he wishes to ‘avoid’ scandal.”

Law enforcement officers who know the accused officer “do not regard him as a police officer, but rather as ‘a criminal with a badge’,” Croskery wrote.

“Given the alarming facts that were reported in the internal investigation, including known drug dealers wanting to deal only with (the accused officer), a suspicious rash of incidents in which drug dealers were tipped off before raids only after (the accused officer) knew, multiple crooks wanted to deal just with him, and the fact that he has received no discipline whatsoever, nor the type of (suspicion) that normally go along with his actions, raise grave concerns,” his letter states.

“I believe that this is a case that definitely needs to have more attention from the FBI than it appears to have received to date.

“One of the fundamental duties of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has long been ferreting out and fighting public corruption,” Croskery wrote.

“Corruption amongst the police force is the most dangerous type corruption of all, given that the thin blue line protects our community. I therefore urge that the FBI make strong, vigorous and immediate follow-up on these items of information that I am providing to you.”

We have been watching this case since July 2016, a month after the officer was informed he was under an internal investigation.

He was stripped of his police powers, gun and badge and put on desk duty on June 3, 2016, according to paperwork released to us when we asked about this case and his personnel file. His police powers were restored nearly two weeks later, on June 15, 2016.

He was moved to another area of the police department. His file does not indicate why.

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.

Cincinnati police launched their investigation after the Hamilton County Probation Department received the tip from an informant, police records show.

The probation department, which has declined comment about this case, passed that information along to the Hamilton County Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit (RENU).

The Cincinnati police officer assigned to RENU interviewed the informant and "decided there was enough truth to it to investigate," Knapp said.

The Cincinnati officer notified his RENU commander, Major Brad Winall, who has since retired, according to Knapp.

Winall told the officer to call Cincinnati police and let them know," Knapp said, "because it's their guy, their issue and that's where it got turned over to (CPD) internal affairs. It's our policy. It's their officer and their issue and they investigate it. It wasn't a cover up or anything like that. At no time did we ever start an investigation.”

Allen said he was puzzled why the case didn’t remain with RENU or at least have them assist since they specialize in drug investigations and a city police officer in the unit already checked into allegations and felt there was enough there to keep digging.

“It looks like it’s been bounced around a little bit, too, a little bit of a hot potato, I guess,” Allen said. "The allegations here, I guess for lack of a better word the insinuations, that you could potentially have an officer tipping off drug dealers about investigations, it’s really, it’s devastating.

“It would be devastating to the morale of the police department if, in fact, that was happening. It kind of makes you scratch your head a little bit and wonder what’s going on.”

Earlier this year, FOX19 NOW obtained some details of the internal affairs investigation, including DVDs of interviews with officers who talk about the accused cop.

The recordings show the officer’s colleagues became suspicious of him a couple of months after he began working in their unit in 2015.

Garrity vs Miranda rights

The recently released documents about the case from CPD reveal that five were documents signed in June 2016 that show Garrity rights instead of Miranda rights were given to participants before interviews with internal investigators.

Garrity rights protect public employees from being compelled to incriminate themselves during investigatory interviews conducted by their employers. They can be fired for information obtained during such statements but they cannot be criminally prosecute to them.

Miranda rights is a right to silence warning given by law enforcement to criminal suspects in police custody or custodial interrogation before they are interrogated to preserve the admissibility of their statements against them in criminal proceedings.

“A member must, upon direction of this police chief or his designated representative, respond completely and truthfully to all questions that are specifically, directly and narrowly related to his performance as a police officer,” reads the document called “Manual of Rules and Regulations of Disciplinary Process for the Cincinnati Police Department.

“Since the member is required by rule and case law to answer, and has no right against self-incrimination, the response to such questions may be used only in the application of administrative justice. The member is immune in any subsequent related criminal proceeding from the uses of his answers or fruits thereof.”

It’s not clear if the accused officer was among those who signed the Garrity paperwork or if he was read Miranda. The documents released to us did not include any indicating Miranda rights were administered and signed.

“I was surprised that Garrity was given instead of Miranda," Allen said.

"These are some very serious allegations that go to the very heart of the integrity of the police officers and the police department. Again, I am not privy to all the information, but I am surprised that they are talking about Garrity rights as opposed to advising Miranda rights."

“You don’t have to have a written Miranda waiver but you almost always do especially when it’s a police investigation of a police officer.  It’s just a very short form where the person’s Miranda rights are listed and they check off those rights and ultimately sign that they waive the Miranda rights and I’ve not seen any Miranda waivers in the information you have given me.

“My understanding is that some of the information has been given to the FBI,” Allen said. “In my opinion is the finest law enforcement investigatory agency in the country if not the world.

If the FBI gets this and if there’s anything to it, I have no doubt whatsoever that they’ll investigate it thoroughly and, if merited, will turn it over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution or, more accurately, the decision as to whether to prosecute. 

“The FBI doesn’t mess around.  They just don’t.  They have no bias, they have no favoritism, they’ll do it right. They’ll investigate it and if it warrants, they’ll turn it over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Still, Allen noted, if the accused officer signed the Garrity rule, criminally charge him will be difficult if not impossible.

“They are going to be seriously hampered because of that.  Whether there’s still enough to – there’s enough to investigate, I don’t have any doubt about that – but whether ultimately there would be enough to file federal criminal charges that, of course, would be up to the United States Attorney,  but yeah, the giving of the Garrity as opposed to Miranda I think really would hamper any potential prosecution.

“Whether it’s fatal or not, I just don’t know enough about it to know.”

A law enforcement official who requested anonymity because this person is not authorized to discuss the matter said he/she doesn’t believe there is a true ongoing investigation now and the case was covered up from the start to avoid a scandal in the police department.

RENU was going to take the case and was beginning to work on it and then Cincinnati police “took it," according to the source.

“I believe that it was just swept under the rug,” the source said.

“It’s discouraging and it’s dangerous in those investigations for the officers involved. It undermines those cases. Those were sure-fire arrests that didn’t happen. When people think that one guy is bad, they just assume that we all do that. That’s the problem.”

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