CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - The former commander of a covert investigation unit for the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office is speaking out to clarify the agency's role in the probe of an alleged 'dirty' Cincinnati police officer, one suspected by his colleagues of helping drug dealers.
Major Brad Winall retired from the sheriff's office in April after 42 1/2 years with the sheriff's office as the commander of the Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit (RENU). He said Cincinnati police asked RENU to turn the case over to them after RENU launched an investigation in March 2016.
That is the direct opposite of what FOX19 NOW was told by the sheriff's office spokesman, Jim Knapp.
Winall, according to Knapp, told a RENU officer to call Cincinnati police and inform them of the allegations against their officer, Knapp said in our story that ran last week, "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."
That's not true, Winall told us in a phone interview Friday.
Winall, who spent most of his career (30 years) working assignments with the DEA, FBI and RENU, said RENU was in the early stages of an active investigation into whether a Cincinnati police officer was tipping off drug dealers to police activity when he personally alerted CPD.
He said he called the supervisor of agency's internal investigation unit at the time, Lt. Craig Gregoire.
Winall said he informed Gregoire out of professional courtesy RENU was launching an investigation into one of CPD's officers.
Then, Winall said, Gregoire called back a few days later and said CPD wanted the case.
"He thanked me for the heads up and we began doing some of our background and I guess it was about 3-4 (days) later he called back and said and asked that they, the internal affairs unit, be permitted to run with the investigation, work on the investigation, basically since the allegations involved a Cincinnati officer but, more importantly, involved investigations that were being conducted by the Cincinnati Police Department that were disrupted.
"I said 'Fine. If you guys want to come over and we'll show you what we've done so far and take over the investigation,'" Winall said.
Cincinnati police spokesman Lt. Steve Saunders did not respond to requests for comment about this story Monday and again Tuesday.
Saunders has repeatedly declined to discuss the case and also has declined our request to talk to Gregoire, the accused officer and others involved in their internal probe.
We are not naming the officer because he was not charged with a crime and the allegation and internal case against him closed, according to CPD records, as "Not Sustained" in March of this year.
Winall said he did not know whose orders Gregoire may have been acting on when Gregoire asked for CPD to take the case back in 2016, or if Gregoire made that decision on his own.
Winall said he assumed it was a decision at CPD that came from the top levels.
"He just called back and said 'we'd like to do it' and we said 'OK,'" Winall recalled. "I got the feeling he ran it up the chain of command, but I don't even know if that's my assumption or if he specifically said that. Maybe he said something like 'we would like to take it over.' I just assumed it was people, his boss, everybody has a boss. But I don't know because it wasn't important. It wasn't important. He simply asked and I said 'OK.'"
Asked if this was unusual, Winal responded "no" but then conceded it had never happened before that he could recall in more than 30 years
"I cannot recall off the top of my head a time when we initiated something that they asked to take over the case. I can't recall that. There have probably been times when they probably asked to be updated or sent an investigator over to be involved with the case. That would be more common."
Winall sad he agreed to turn the case over to CPD because it involved one of their own officers allegedly impacting their cases, and some of the witnesses were Cincinnati officers.
Had the allegations related to any RENU cases, Winall said RENU would not have turned over the case solely to CPD.
"RENU was asked to give up control of this investigation under what I thought was some pretty sound investigative decision-making, not that RENU helped in any way to squash this case or turned its back on this case."
Winall told us he thinks the sheriff's office spokesman who told us RENU turned the case over to CPD because that's what they typically do according to police and "at no time did we ever start an investigation" was wrong due to an internal miscommunication when Knapp checked with the current RENU commander on the case.
"He misspoke," Winall said of Knapp. "He didn't know and I don't think it was malicious. I think he just tried to get you a quick answer."
When contacted for this story, Knapp looked into the issue and got back to us in a few days.
He said Wednesday there was an internal miscommunication within the sheriff's office that led to him inadvertently giving us misinformation about RENU's handling of the case.
"There is no doubt in my mind that he knows better," Knapp said of Winall.
Winall said he only recently learned CPD's internal investigation on their officer closed as "Not Sustained."
"We were disappointed when we heard the outcome, of course, but after our initial turning the case over to the Cincinnati Police Department, for the most part we were no longer involved," he said.
"We were disappointed based on what we were told originally, but I must comment that we did not do a complete investigation so, without the benefit of doing the complete investigation from A to Z, allegations are allegations until you prove your case in court."
Does Winall regret turning the case over?
"I can't say hypothetically that if we had conducted the investigation that the results would have been any different at this point because I can't predict the future," he responded. "I don't know what evidence, if there was evidence, that we would have uncovered that they didn't, so it's pretty tough to speculate or to second guess."
Winall said over his career, RENU investigated 12 to 15 officers. Out of those, 9 or 10 were prosecuted. That included cases on at least three Cincinnati police officers who were accused of helping drug dealers, he said.
All the cases were initiated from an officer bringing that information to a supervisor who approved an investigation, he said, similar to the way the alleged 'dirty cop' case began.