EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio — Investigators said Tuesday more people have come forward accusing two East Cleveland police officers of stealing from them during traffic stops.
Officer Alfonzo Cole and Officer Willie Warner-Sims were arrested Friday 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said a man filed a complaint alleging the pair stopped him for a window-tint violation then stole $5,000 he'd withdrawn to pay for a relative's funeral.
"The complainant actually had documentation to back-up the fact that he had just made a withdrawal," said East Cleveland Police Chief Scott Gardner. "He had documentation relative to where he was going, what he was trying to do with the money."
Gardner said the case was turned over to Cuyahoga County Sheriff's detectives.
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.
Since then, 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.
Gardner said the allegations blindsided him.
"There was essentially no reason to be looking at the officers or thinking they were doing anything of this nature because there were no complaints," said Gardner.
Gardner said he does not believe the cases represent a systemic problem inside the police department and hopes the quick arrests send a message.
"I don't know any police officer who wants to work with a dirty cop," said Gardner. "We don't want it, and we quickly act and we quickly acted in this situation."
But activist Art McCoy of Black on Black Crime said the charges bring to light corruption in the department.
"I'm encouraging the mayor to look at this police system from the top up," he said. "We can blame these young men, and they should be held accountable, but until we hold the system of East Cleveland accountable, they’re going to still keep corrupting our young men."
The chief said in many of the cases, it appeared the officers did not activate their body cameras.
Gardner said Tuesday 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.
Both officers have been placed on unpaid leave and are free on $5,000 bonds.