By Aaron C. Davis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Prince George's County police on Monday sought to reassure residents that they can trust officers they may encounter on the street, or need to call on for help, saying all of the officers under investigation in a federal corruption probe have been moved to jobs where they do not interact with the public.
"No resident in Prince George's County needs to be concerned that an officer would either pull them over on a traffic stop or respond to a call at their house for 911 service," Maj. Andy Ellis, the department's chief spokesman, said at a news conference. "Any officers suspected in this probe are not assigned to patrol duties."
Ellis was reacting to a report in The Washington Post that cited law enforcement sources and confidential police documents saying that the FBI has been investigating whether a group of at least seven Washington area police officers took money to protect a high-stakes gambling ring frequented by some of the region's most powerful drug dealers over the past two years.
Five of those officers are current and former members of the Prince George's department; one is a current D.C. officer and another is a former D.C. Housing Authority officer. Phone records, surveillance and other evidence tie most of the officers directly to the game's operators, which include known drug dealers, documents show. It is unclear how much money the officers may have taken to provide the protection, or whether the investigation will lead to charges.
District police spokeswoman Traci Hughes on Monday said federal authorities had not notified the department of any District officer under investigation. According to documents reviewed by The Post, a veteran D.C. officer was caught on police surveillance video providing security for an illegal gambling game in full tactical gear and was found to be in regular contact with one of the game's organizers.
At the news conference, Ellis provided new details about the genesis of the probe. He said county internal affairs detectives received information about possible wrongdoing by officers in 2007 and initiated a corruption probe. He said the department soon invited the FBI to join the investigation.
Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said last week that he turned over the effort entirely to federal authorities this year when he took over the department to remove any doubt that it would be thorough and impartial.
Ellis said county officers connected to the probe had been taken off patrol as "the investigation developed."
However, Vince Canales, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police, said he had not been notified of any officers being transferred because of such an investigation.
One officer under federal scrutiny returned to patrol as early as this spring while he remained under investigation for ties to the gambling ring and other possible criminal activity, sources said.
Cpl. Eddie Smith, 41, was arrested June 10, weeks after he was returned to patrol, for burglarizing a Temple Hills-area bank. Smith acted as a lookout, armed and in his police uniform, while a partner sawed into the bank's ATM safe, according to charging documents.
As few as two Prince George's police officers under investigation may currently remain on the county's payroll.
Smith and another officer have recently resigned. A third also recently retired.
Ellis said Monday that the department would seek to prosecute criminally and administratively any officers found to be involved in illegal activity, which for former officers could include efforts to revoke pension benefits.
"We wear the same badge as officers that commit misconduct. One bad cop tarnishes the badge that we all wear and it also takes away from public confidence in the entire justice system," Ellis said. "Any officer we find and are able to get enough evidence on, we will prosecute."