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East Cleveland police chief says arrests of officers 'a devastating blow to the image' of department

East Cleveland Police generic
Posted at 5:01 PM, Jul 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-20 17:03:56-04

EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — On Tuesday, East Cleveland's police chief posted a lengthy statement apologizing to the community over a week after two officers were arrested and accused of stealing $5,000 from a resident during a traffic stop.

“As most of the Cleveland area is aware, on July 9, 2021, two of our officers were arrested while on duty based on allegations of theft, among other criminal actions,” Chief Scott Gardner stated in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “I would like you to know that we have not been avoiding the issue, but have struggled as to how to put these events into words. Firstly, we would like to issue a sincere apology to all of those involved, to our citizens, and to those who continually support police. I would also like to touch on how we were made aware of the complaint, how it was handled, some of things which may have been overlooked by the public in this situation, and how this has affected our city and department.”

Officer Alfonzo Cole and Officer Willie Warner-Sims were arrested Friday, July 9 after investigators said a man filed a complaint alleging the pair stopped him for a window-tint violation then stole $5,000 he'd withdrawn to pay for a relative's funeral.

RELATED: 2 East Cleveland police officers charged with felony theft

Cole, who has been with East Cleveland police since February 2018, and Warner-Sims, who has been with the department since February 2020, were arrested and charged with theft.

Gardner’s statement continues:

“Upon receiving the complaint of these officers’ alleged misconduct, the desk sergeant immediately took the information to the Detective Bureau. Both officers were ordered to the Bureau from the road and were questioned immediately. At this time, reasonable suspicion of criminal activity became apparent. As such, this matter ceased to be an internal investigation and detectives from the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office were called to conduct the investigation. Also at this time, both officers were placed under arrest and booked into the East Cleveland City Jail.

“For a moment, I would like all of those reading to think about the prior sentence. Both officers were booked into the East Cleveland City Jail. This means these two officers had to be booked into our jail by our officers. While I did not personally book them into our facility, I cannot imagine the awkwardness and embarrassment felt by the booking officers caused by the flagrant disregard of societal standards displayed by these two officers. Not only was this insulting to East Cleveland as a city and as a police department, it was a punch in the face to a profession which has remained honorable since the founding of our country.

“As most of you are now thinking, this has been a devastating blow to the image of the East Cleveland Police Department. For the past few years, we have been attempting to improve the department’s image by being more public regarding the arrests we make, crimes that occur, and sharing what our officers go through from day-to-day. Most of us feel that this has helped improve our view by the public, but realize that now, any progress which has been made since a similar incident in 2014 surfaced, has been lost. We are now forced to once again, start from the bottom, and attempt to rebuild our reputation, all because two officers could not practice basic self-control.”

Since the men were arrested, investigators say another man came forward claiming the officers stole money from him during a traffic stop last week. The pair is also accused of stealing drugs and and at least one gun during traffic stops.

The chief said in many of the cases, it appeared the officers did not activate their body cameras.

Gardner said last week he believed that was intentional. He's now asking the city to upgrade the body camera system to models that self-activate to improve transparency.

Gardner’s statement concludes:

“I would like to encourage anyone who has been wronged by these two officers to file a formal complaint with our department. These formal complaints are routed to our Internal Affairs Division, and will be used as evidence in an employment status hearing. These complaints will also be forwarded to the Cuyahoga County Sheriffs as evidence for the criminal investigation against these officers. For your convenience, you may access the Internal Affairs Complaint form via the following link: https://www.eastcleveland.org/.../PERSONNEL-COMPLAINT... This form may be completed at your convenience and returned to the East Cleveland Police Department where it must be turned over to an on-duty supervisor.

“Usually, I enjoy making posts to our social media to keep you all informed and sometimes make you laugh. I take no pleasure in this post due to its embarrassing nature; however, this situation had to be addressed by our department. I hope you will excuse the delay in our post. It is not that I have avoided the issue, it is that this after several drafts, I have not been able to channel the correct words, and only time allowed me to coherently gather my thoughts after my anger, embarrassment, and disappointment dissipated slightly. Again, I would like to offer a sincere, somber apology to not only the victims, but to our citizens, and law enforcement professionals throughout the United States.”

Both officers have been placed on unpaid leave and are free on $5,000 bonds.

RELATED: More allegations emerge against East Cleveland officers charged with theft

View the original Facebook post below: