Corruption scandal shocks, saddens metro law enforcement

All eight Forest Park police sergeants were called to the department Tuesday for routine training. Victor Middlebrook and Andrew Monroe, two solid officers recently promoted to sergeant, were teamed up and told to head to their training station.

They then walked into a room filled with federal agents and their boss, Chief Dwayne Hobbs, who was having one of the worst days of his 40-year career. The two sergeants were being arrested, accused of being part of a group of Atlanta area officers who allegedly served as bodyguards for agents posing as drug dealers.

Hobbs was flummoxed when federal agents briefed him on the charges earlier in the month. The gregarious Middlebrook, 44, was admired by the community and two years ago was voted by his comrades as the department’s Officer of the Year. Monroe, 57, was a ramrod-straight former military man with 11 years on the force. But the two allegedly received $24,000 last fall to stand guard for what they thought were multi-kilo cocaine deals.

“What’s most egregious was they were doing it behind the badge, which makes it worse in my book,” said Hobbs. “It was sickening to think that two weeks ago I trusted those guys. And to some extent it makes you look around and say, ‘Who else?’ ”

Police officers in six different metro departments and in the Federal Protective Services are likely processing many of the same confusing thoughts. Seven metro area officers, two former DeKalb County jailers and a federal contract officer all allegedly sold their badges.

A close examination by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of affidavits, court files and interviews with police officials shows that several of the officers arrested last week were eager to be corrupted.

The charges are the most widespread case of police corruption seen in metro Atlanta in years. In 1996, a group of Atlanta officers, mostly from Zone 3 in Grant Park, were convicted of shaking down drug dealers. And six years ago, several Atlanta narcotics officers were convicted on corruption charges after a 92-year-old woman was killed in an illegal raid.

But those two scandals were limited to corrupt cops in the same unit. In the current case, the corruption has metastasized among a much wider, more disperse group of officers.

The accused come from the DeKalb County Police Department, as well as forces from Stone Mountain, Atlanta, Forest Park and MARTA. Some had problems with alcohol or domestic issues. Many had financial problems. At least three — including Middlebrook — have filed for bankruptcy.

Last week’s charges were shocking. Officers often guarded the illicit transactions while in uniform, sometimes even using their patrol cars as a bonus. Payments ranged from several hundred to a few thousand dollars. Some eagerly helped plot the operations, gave suggestions to make them go more smoothly and even talked about the stark possibility they might have to shoot someone. After hearing two such violent suggestions last month, federal authorities shut down the 18-month operation.

Five civilians were also arrested in the sting, allegedly helping hook up the street gang with the cops.

The operation started in August 2011, when a street gang associate told agents for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that some Atlanta area cops served as bodyguards for drug deals. Investigators say a dirty cop standing guard during a drug exchange is a valuable asset for dealers, ensuring they will not be robbed by other criminals or busted by the law.

The informant put the word out among gangdom for cops to provide protection. Three civilians — Jerry Mannery Jr., 38, of Tucker, and Shannon Bass, 38, and Elizabeth Coss, 35, of Atlanta — allegedly stepped up, saying they had the names of such cops.

DeKalb Police Officer Dennis Duren was allegedly the first, meeting with Bass and the informant Oct. 3, 2011, at a Stone Mountain IHOP to plan their operation. The next day, the trio met two undercover agents at a nearby Publix parking lot and exchanged 3 kilos of fake cocaine for cash. Duren allegedly strolled the lot in uniform, guarding the deal.

Seemingly, Duren got shorted his first time out. The informant allegedly gave Bass $2,200 for his work in the deal. Bass told the informant he was keeping $1,500 for himself and would give the officer just $700.

But Duren couldn’t object. Chief Hobbs said once an officer accepts a bribe, there’s no going back. “If that officer says yes (to joining corrupt activities), then that other person owns you for the rest of your life,” he said.

A day later, Bass, Duren and the informant met again at IHOP to evaluate the transaction. Duren and the informant agreed the exchange didn’t go down “quickly enough to avoid detection,” an affidavit states. Later, Duren allegedly agreed to bring his squad car while guarding drug deals. But he needed a bonus: $3,000, not the agreed upon $2,200.

Duren allegedly took part in four deals with 3 kilos of fake cocaine each time.

By the following April, the enterprise was apparently pulling in eager and even ambitious cops. Mannery allegedly said he had three cops for the operation, including Stone Mountain Police Officer Denoris Carter.

Carter, 42, had worked at the 16-officer force for two years since being laid off from East Point during cutbacks. A uniformed Carter allegedly sat in his patrol car guarding a deal on the edge of town. Later, Carter allegedly used his squad car to provide escort service to a dealer driving 10 kilos to a deal.

Carter, a training officer well-versed in working with procedures, was apparently eager to please. At one meeting at an Applebee’s, the officer asked the informant if he was satisfied with his services, especially the escort. It seemed that Carter got comfortable, even brazen in his dealing. Authorities say that one drug deal took place in front of Bev’s Place, an eatery on Main Street in the small town. During the deal, Carter allegedly stood in uniform near his patrol car in the parking lot.

By early this year, the participants in the operation were going beyond eager to almost aggressive.

On Jan. 3, Monyette McLaurin, 37, a former DeKalb jail officer who had been recruited, allegedly told Bass that he would shoot the buyer at the drug deal if necessary. All he needed was a signal.

McLaurin had quit working at the jail in April 2011, picked up a DUI later that year in Gwinnett County and is upside down in debt with more than $500,000 in mortgages on properties worth substantially less than when he bought them in the mid-2000s. A 2011 bankruptcy filing said he had $399,653 in general unsecured debts.

Attorney and former police officer Bill McKenney said financially squeezed cops can be vulnerable, especially those who grow close to informants or people they meet while working extra jobs at clubs.

“The bad guys know the financial situation of officers,” he said. “They’re going to go pick somebody out of the herd who is weak and financially susceptible.”

“At least one of them was known to be a little too friendly with the bad guys,” McKenney said of those arrested. “If he was working a club and they would come in, he would go over and shake hands with them or exchange a couple of hugs.”

In mid-January the sting operation got potentially dangerous, authorities said, when DeKalb Police Officer Dorian Williams, 25, allegedly entered the operation. Williams allegedly asked for a premium — $6,000 — for wearing his uniform and driving his squad car during the drug deals.

On Jan. 24, he allegedly drove his squad car to an Ingles on Rockbridge Road and guarded a drug deal. Days later, he allegedly instructed Bass to quickly leave with the cocaine if anybody got shot.

Then, feds say, their sting got scary. On Jan. 30, Williams sat at an Applebee’s and talked about what should happen if other cops rolled up on the deal. Authorities say he suggested transactions should take place at a high school parking lot because backpacks would not draw suspicion.

Bass told him the next deal would have a new buyer. “Williams then explained that he may have to shoot this new buyer if things do not go well, saying, ‘I gotta (expletive) kill him. I just can’t shoot him.’ ”

Two days later, Williams allegedly sat watch in a Sam’s Club parking lot while another deal went down. The feds then pulled the plug on the operation.

Last week, local department chiefs had to help perform a dreaded job — arrest one of their own.

At the Stone Mountain department, Chief Chancey Troutman called Carter into his office, where agents grabbed him and put him under arrest. “He looked stunned and dropped his head,” Troutman said. “He couldn’t do anything but cooperate. They interviewed him for two and a half hours.”

Told that many of those arrested had money problems, Troutman responded, “I think all of us have cash problems — I know I do — but I go out and work an extra job. And I’m the chief of police.”

Then Troutman rounded up his troops. The next shift was ready, so he gave them a pep talk.

“You are going to hear people say bad things about you and call you a dirty cop, a crooked cop,” he told them. “Hold your head up and do your job.”