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News in Brief

Alabama: Techdirt reports that police in Brookside have routinely violated the law in traffic enforcement. By early February 2022, it was clear that the local police department in the small town had been racking up staggering amounts of income in traffic fines, receiving more than $600,000 in 2020 alone. The tactics that officers used included inventing laws during traffic stops, fabricating charges, and using racial slurs. The surplus in traffic violation income began under former Brookside Police Chief Mike Jones, who was hired in 2018 and resigned under fire on January 25, 2022. Drivers who had been the subject of these abuses also allege that once reports began coming out about the tactics, they were pulled over again and vaguely threatened with “consequences” for the negative reports.

California: A retired police officer from the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) pleaded no contest charges stemming from an insurance fraud and money-laundering scheme, reports the Santa Clara Office of the District Attorney. The former officer, Robert Foster, 48, was convicted on January 14, 2022, on charges of insurance fraud totaling $1.13 million and laundering a total of $18 million. Foster, who with his wife owned a Genesis Private Security—a firm that SJPD did not know about—was found to have reported false payroll, undercounted staff, underreported on-the-job injuries, and paid employees off-the-books in an effort to reduce insurance premiums. He also did not pay employees overtime and paid them through a third party so that he could hide millions in taxable payroll. He was set to be sentenced on February 25, 2022, to an expected prison term of three years. His wife, Mikalia, was also convicted in the scheme. Her sentencing is set for April 29, 2022, when she is expected to receive a one-year jail term plus five years’ probation. The couple will also be ordered to repay the $1.13 million they stole.

Connecticut: A former Norwalk Police Department officer is alleged to have reported more than 30 fabricated traffic stops over four months, The Hour reports. Edgar Gonzales, 31, is accused in a warrant for his arrest of fabricating a total of 33 traffic violations between February and April of 2021. The charges came in early February 2022, after an investigation into his conduct revealed the alleged activity that resulted in his resignation from the department in June 2021. The investigation was initiated in May 2021, when a citizen reported that he had received a Google alert indicating he had been stopped by a Norwalk officer. The man, who had never been stopped, reported that he was not only never stopped, but was sick at the time of the reported stop. Gonzales now faces five charges of third-degree computer crime and five charges of second-degree forgery. He was released on $100,000 bond in February 2022.

D.C.: On February 12, 2022, a former Washington, D.C. police officer was arrested on charges of having sex with a 16-year-old, according to The Advocate. The former officer, Brett Parson, 53, was stopped in his car by police the morning of his arrest in Coconut Creek, Florida. He had been closely following a second vehicle when the officers stopped and questioned him. Upon investigating the second car, officers discovered that Parson had been following a 16-year-old boy, who admitted that he and Parson had met on the dating app Growlr and engaged in sex. Parson, who was the head of the Metropolitan Police Department LGBT Liaison Unit in D.C., retired in 2020 after 26 years. He now faces two charges of unlawful sexual activity with a minor.

Florida: WFLA, a news channel in Tampa, reported that a former Lee County Sheriff’s deputy was charged on February 11, 2022, with taking part in scheme to arrest a man on false pretenses in exchange for sex and a vacation. The former deputy, Niko Irizarry, is alleged to have taken up a deal by a man named Charles Custodio, 37, who was also arrested. Custodio offered Irizarry a vacation to Paris and arranged sex for him in exchange for the arrest of an innocent man whom Custodio had a vendetta against. When the officer agreed to the scheme, Custodio had a third man pose as a real-estate agent and plant drugs on the victim. Soon after, Irizarry pulled the victim over in a traffic stop and arrested him on December 16, 2021, knowing that the drugs had been planted. The third accomplice, Scott Snider, was also arrested.

Georgia: WAGA, a news channel in Atlanta, reported that an officer with the Atlanta Police Department (APD) was fired after he was arrested on charges of rape. The assault is alleged to have happened on January 31, 2022, at the victim’s apartment in Acworth. An investigation was opened into the incident on February 3, 2022, after the alleged victim contacted the authorities. The officer, Lionel Dely, 32, turned himself in at the Cherokee Adult Detention Center on February 11, 2022. He was immediately relieved of duty by APD and suspended without pay on February 14, 2022, one week before he was then fired. APD reported that Dely was not on official business when the alleged rape occurred.

Illinois: A former Cherry Valley Police Department officer was found guilty on January 18, 2022, of child-pornography and soliciting a minor, reported WTVO, a news channel in Rockford. The officer, Otoniel Molina, 38, was convicted on charges of indecent solicitation of a child, grooming, and child pornography for an incident in 2019. He was caught when the parents of an 11-year-old girl alerted authorities that their daughter was in contact over the internet with Molina. He was found to have asked the girl, who said she was 19, for nude photos, which prosecutors said clearly showed she was a child much younger than that. Molina then sent nude photos back and solicited sex from her. His sentencing was scheduled for March 25, 2022.

Indiana: WANE 15, a news channel in Fort Wayne, reported that a Wolcottville Police Department officer was arrested on suspicion of misconduct with a minor on February 14, 2022. The arrest came as a result of an investigation started on February 4, 2022, into allegations reported by the mother of a 16-year-old. She reported that the officer, Zarek B. Finley, 27, had engaged in “inappropriate electronic communications” with her daughter, alleging he was in contact with her through the Snapchat social media app. Finley was charged with attempted child seduction (a level 5 felony), attempted dissemination of material harmful to a minor (a level 6 felony), and attempted possession of child pornography (a level 6 felony). The investigation is ongoing, and the FBI is involved.

Kentucky: A former Louisville Police Department (LPD) officer was sentenced on February 1, 2022, to two years in prison on charges of excessive use of force during a protest. The former officer, Cory P. Evans, 34, was found to have violated a protester’s constitutional rights when he struck the victim over the head on May 31, 2020, during a protest in response to the killing of Breonna Taylor, reported NBC News. The incident occurred when arrests were being made. A protester knelt down to surrender to officers when Evans hit the person on the back of the head with a riot stick. This was found be an unreasonable use of force. Evans resigned from LPD in July 2021 and pleaded guilty to the charges. He was also sentenced to two years supervised release.

Louisiana: The Acadiana Advocate reported that a former Crowley Police Department officer was sentenced to 40 years in prison for child molestation. The former officer, Damon Broussard, 45, was sentenced on February 1, 2022, after being convicted in November 2021 of molesting an 8-year-old in Acadia Parish. Broussard was arrested in 2013 on charges of aggravated rape and child molestation of two minors in a separate incident. The victim of the assault for which he was convicted was present during the sentencing along with five other women who have accused Broussard of sexual abuse. The victim is now an adult. All of the women were able to provide evidence of Broussard’s crimes. He is still facing charges of child pornography possession, having been held in Acadia Parish Jail since his 2018 arrest in connection with that crime.

Massachusetts: A police officer in Salem was accused in January 2022 and subsequently charged with participating in a bank fraud scheme involving $10,000 in counterfeit money orders, reported Boston.com. The officer, Iancy Gonzales, was charged with larceny by a single scheme over $1,200, forgery, and uttering false or forged records, and placed on administrative leave by the Salem Police Department (SPD). An administrative hearing will be scheduled by SPD to determine what the professional repercussions will be for Gonzales. Her criminal arraignment was set for February 25, 2022.

Michigan: On February 16, 2022, a former Detroit prosecutor was sentenced to 21 months in prison for obstruction of justice, reported the Associated Press. The former prosecutor, Eric Smith, had served for 15 years as an elected prosecutor in Macomb County until he resigned in 2020 amid investigations by state and federal officials into his conduct. According to federal prosecutors Smith used his elected position to illegally make money, stealing from his own campaign to pay for personal expenses between 2012 and 2020. The money, around $75,000, was stolen through two schemes orchestrated by Smith. He also admitted to attempting to get three individuals, including two assistant prosecutors, to lie in statements about how he used the money from his campaign. He pleaded guilty to his crimes in the case a year before his sentencing. However, Smith has also been called to trial in a state case, which alleges that he committed embezzlement, among other crimes.

Missouri: KTVI, a news channel in St. Louis, reported that a former Chesterfield Police Department officer once arrested for spying on people in a restroom has gone back to jail. The former officer, David Cerna, was originally convicted in 2016 of sexual misconduct after he was found to have installed a hidden camera in a gas station bathroom and uploaded videos of people using the facilities to porn sites. He was also found to have recorded a video of a teenager’s genitals while he searched the detained minor. For this offense he was found to be sex offender. However, he is now accused of refusing to register as one, and for this new alleged crime he was returned to jail in early February 2022. Prosecutors said that Cerna was warned of the deadline for his registration but neglected to carry out the requirement on time. In the 2016 trial the judge warned Cerna that if he engaged in any further misconduct he could face up to a decade in prison.

New York: A former New York City Police Department (NYPD) officer was indicted in mid-January 2022 for the vicious murder of his mother, reported WBZ radio in Boston. The former officer, Osvaldo Diaz, 46, is accused of attacking and killing his 78-year-old mother with a machete on February 24, 2021. Diaz is said to have fled the scene of the murder and evaded capture for a week before he was finally caught in New Jersey. Diaz’s lawyer requested a psychiatric evaluation for his client before his trial on February 17, 2022, citing concerns for Diaz’s ability to participate in the proceedings. The murder is reported to have been devastating for the family, which includes Diaz’s six siblings. Diaz, who served in NYPD for three years starting in 2005 before being dismissed, now faces 25 years to life in prison.

Puerto Rico: A former police officer in Puerto Rico was sentenced in early February 2022 to 30 years in prison, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York. The former officer, William Vazquez-Baez, of the Puerto Rico Police Department, had previously pled guilty to racketeering and conspiring to commit murder for hire in the mid-2000s. Vazquez-Baez, who began as an active officer in 1994, was found to have helped the La Onu drug-trafficking organization, using his position to act as an informant for the group, who would contact him while transporting cocaine to help them avoid police detection in and around San Juan. He was also found to have distributed payments to other corrupt officers, and he helped the group cover up the murder of a civilian, even participating in the murder of another person, raiding his apartment and executing him. He received cash bonuses for his participation. La Onu’s drugs, which Vazquez-Baez helped move, were sent to the Bronx, where they were distributed from a daycare center.

South Carolina: On February 16, 2022, a former police officer in Pacolet was arrested and charged in connection with an incident that took place on August 30, 2020. WYFF, a news channel serving Greenville, reported that the former Pacolet Police Department officer is Benjamin Perry Levi, 42, of Spartanburg. The exact nature of the incident is unclear, but Levi now faces charges of misconduct in office and third-degree assault and battery. He was taken to the Spartanburg County Detention Center for holding. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office will prosecute his case.

Texas: A police officer in Fort Worth was arrested for DWI in early February 2022, reported KDFW, a news channel serving Dallas. The officer is Ronnie Carey, a 29-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department. He has been accused by investigators looking into the matter of driving while intoxicated and on duty. They also clarified that he was not in uniform and was working in a “support services capacity,” so he did not have any interaction with the public during the incident. After his arrest he was stripped of all police powers and put on restricted duty.

Virginia: WCYB, a news channel serving Bristol, reported that a police officer from the Appalachian region was sentenced in early February 2022 for engaging in inappropriate behavior with a minor. The Appalachia Police Department officer, Benjamin Lawson, was charged with inappropriately touching an underaged girl on multiple occasions between December 2018 and May 2019. He entered an Alford plea, allowing him to legally admit that there was enough evidence for a conviction, but not admitting that he is guilty of the crime he was charged with. Lawson had been arrested in July 2019, when he was accused of the sexual abuse of a child. In his sentencing in February, he was given five years in prison, but will serve only three months. 

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