Corruption complaints had followed officers

Corruption complaints had followed officers

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St. Louis - City police officers Bobby Lee Garrett and Vincent Carr stayed on the streets despite years of corruption complaints from lawyers and suspects.

They stayed even after their bosses heard a rumor of someone putting out a hit on Garrett for stealing his money.

They stayed until a week ago, when federal authorities arrested them on charges alleging they planted evidence, stole money, arrested an innocent man and dealt drugs.

Officials say that what sometimes looks like a lax attitude toward policing the police is really an illustration of how difficult that job can be.

Criminal defense lawyers said they had been complaining about Garrett and Carr for years.

One, Joel Schwartz, estimated that 50 to 100 of his clients over the years have told him Garrett planted drugs or stole cash. "I have had allegations from clients ... as far back as I can remember regarding Mr. Garrett, " he said.

His law partner, Scott Rosenblum, said, "The consistent theme is that ... narcotics were planted on (clients) and that their money and jewelry was stolen."

Rosenblum said he forwarded most of the complaints to federal prosecutors or the FBI.

"We've been making a lot of noise ... for a lot of years about these officers and a few others, " he said.

Garrett and Carr have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Garrett's lawyer, Chet Pleban, scoffed at the claims from colleagues in the defense bar.

"Anybody can make an allegation for any reason, " he said. "Whether it's supported by the evidence is a different matter."

Carr's lawyer, Nels Moss, said Carr maintains his innocence. "I have never heard a word about Carr, " said Moss, a former prosecutor. "He's a pretty clean guy."

Police spokeswoman Erica Van Ross said that in the past five years, Garrett and Carr each received one internal affairs complaint. Neither was sustained, meaning an investigation "did not disclose sufficient evidence to support the allegations."

Lawyers, including Schwartz, have said that they were turned away from internal affairs. "I'm not going to waste time with I.A. What are they going to do?" Rosenblum asked.

A 'Lengthy' Investigation

Officials would not say when the Garrett-Carr investigation began, except to call it "lengthy."

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway said, "I think that there were a number of times that we had information that led to an investigation and I don't know if you'd characterize it as one continuous investigation."

Citing the pending criminal case, Van Ross declined comment on why Garrett and Carr remained on the job after allegations emerged. The department has said it cooperated with the FBI and removed both men from street duty after learning of the investigation.

Federal officials said - and defense attorneys acknowledged - that the best way to catch police under suspicion can be to leave them on the street and watch what they do.

Many of the allegations in the indictment of Carr and Vincent stem from a particular incident in June. Others date to 2007.

A Firsthand Complaint

Officials said they heard a rumor in February that one accused drug dealer, Alphonso Hemphill, wanted to have Garrett killed for allegedly stealing thousands in cash from him.

Interviewed at his home in University City this week, Hemphill told a reporter he had arrived in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood to visit a friend when Garrett and Carr boxed his car in.

Hemphill said Garrett tried to drag him out when Carr recognized him and urged restraint, saying: "That's Alphonso. He's in a wheelchair."

Hemphill said Carr went behind a house with a man he didn't know. Garrett stayed behind, took a bag of drugs out of his pocket and dropped it to the ground.

"This yours?" Hemphill said Garrett asked him.

He said Garrett wanted him to tell who else on the street had lots of drugs, money or cash to steal. But he refused to help.

Carr returned, Hemphill said, and Garrett left his cell number with instructions to call when he had information. They took $4,000 and had him sign his name to a form before leaving, Hemphill said.

Hemphill's girlfriend, Joy Campbell, said she was picked up a week later by an intelligence unit officer asking about a rumor that Hemphill was offering a murder contract on Garrett.

Campbell said she told the officer there was no contract but that the officers robbed Hemphill. Within days, Hemphill said, he met with Capt. John Hayden, commander of the Internal Affairs Division. Hemphill denied putting a price on Garrett's head. He said Hayden asked him to help the police set up Garrett, but he declined.

Hemphill vigorously denied any involvement with drugs, saying his money was from casino winnings. "I'm a gambler, " he said.

Police pulled Garrett off the street for a time but returned him after the threat was investigated, officials told the Post-Dispatch.

The department would not make Hayden available for an interview.

False Complaints

Law enforcement officials and defense attorneys agree that complaints about police are frequent and often false, and that obstacles to investigating them are high.

"It is not at all unusual for criminals to blame everyone other than themselves for the ills that have happened to them, " Hanaway said. "It is not because there are a lot of cops who are breaking the law. It's because they want to get off."

She added, "Unless someone who has direct knowledge of the crime is willing to step forward and give us information and/or corroborative evidence, it's very difficult for us to take any step beyond that."

Often, there are no independent witnesses. Drug dealers don't leave a paper trail to show whether they had $500 or $5,000 when police arrived. There is usually no physical evidence if an officer plants drugs or takes cash.

Aggressive, honest officers can rack up as many complaints as the dirty ones.

Hanaway said it's painful for police to look for crooks in their own ranks. But she vowed that any time a serious complaint is made, "We look into it."

Rosenblum said that bad cops take advantage of the inherent difficulties. "Oftentimes, the individuals that are being exploited are those that have the least amount of voice, " he said, citing people with criminal records, little money or a lawyer who doesn't believe them.

Some just plead guilty, seeing futility or even risk in challenging officers at trial. "Who's the jury going to believe?" he asked.

The Effect On Prosecutions

Prosecutors are reviewing cases - including Hemphill's - in which Carr and Garrett are witnesses, said Shirley Rogers, chief trial assistant in the St. Louis circuit attorney's office.

Hemphill still faces a federal heroin conspiracy charge, however.

Said Hanaway, "We have carefully scrutinized any cases that these officers have been involved in." She said some cases remain active because the officers had only a peripheral role, or there was other supporting evidence.

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said last week that her office sometimes declines to file charges based on one officer's word. "If we believe that somebody is not being credible ... then we won't go forward based on that person's statement, " she said.

Whatever happens to Garrett and Carr, Rosenblum said, "I'm certain this will open a torrent of motions from incarcerated individuals who have been serving time and are completely innocent."



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