Detroit cop fired, others quit amid internal drug probe

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — An internal investigation dubbed "Operation Clean Sweep" into alleged corruption within a Detroit police drug unit has ensnared nearly a dozen officers and uncovered widespread problems, the city's top cop revealed Wednesday.

Police chief James Craig said six officers have stepped down, one has been fired, two others suspended and two more are expected to face criminal charges as part of the investigation that started in August 2019 when the chief ordered internal affairs officers to raid the drug unit office.

As he was discussing the case, Craig got word that a seventh officer had resigned.

"As we speak, there's another individual who was coming in for a termination hearing. We've just learned he's turning in his equipment as we speak and is opting to resign," Craig said during a press conference at Public Safety Headquarters. He didn't elaborate on what the officer had allegedly done wrong.

The probe has uncovered about 50 cases of officers lying on search warrant affidavits, money stolen from drug raids, and thousands of dollars in overtime fraud that's also being investigated by federal authorities, the chief said.

Police chief James Craig

"This (corruption) has led to a significant lack of criminal prosecution of armed drug dealers," Craig said.

The chief said specifically since he ordered internal affairs officers to raid the former Narcotics Section 15 months ago, one officer has been fired, one sergeant and three officers have retired under investigation, two other officers resigned under investigation, and two officers are suspended without pay after the probe uncovered alleged wrongdoing.

"Both (the suspended officers) will be served with discipline and termination of employment," Craig said. "One criminal case is under review at the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office for overtime fraud, and another criminal case will be submitted in the near future for perjury.

"This probe has had a significant impact in rooting out corruption, but our work continues." 

The investigation also revealed overtime fraud. A review of one sergeant's 282 court appearances from 2015-20 revealed 171 alleged instances of time fraud, a potential of more than $16,000 stolen, Craig said.

Another crew was judged to have stolen at least 200 hours after the investigation reviewed their cell phone data and found the officers weren't in the locations they'd claimed to be, Craig said.

Some of those officers might have been on federal task forces, which is why the U.S. Attorney's Office is looking into the allegations, the chief said.

"We've also uncovered vouchers that were submitted for payment (of informants who weren't paid), suggesting embezzlement by officers," Craig said. "We found more than 30 (fake) blank vouchers."

He attributed the problems in the unit to "poor supervision."

"When you talk about a corruption probe of this magnitude, it starts with failed supervision," Craig said. "It appears nobody was paying attention."

The chief ordered internal affairs officers in August 2019 to raid the former Narcotics Section because he said he "had a hunch" there was more corruption than the FBI had uncovered when agents arrested former Detroit drug cop Michael Mosley, who pleaded guilty in February of taking a bribe from a drug dealer.

Mosley was indicted on Aug. 22, 2019, the same day Craig ordered the drug unit raid. Craig said the probe initially looked at members of Mosley's former crew, but the investigation has since expanded.

Another focus of the investigation is the activities of officers who worked with ex-Detroit narcotics cops David Hansberry, Bryan Watson and Arthur Leavells, who in 2017 were convicted in federal court of offenses that included ripping off drug dealers and stealing money and drugs that had been seized in raids.

That investigation, which started in 2010, was focused solely on criminal offenses, while the current probe is also looking at noncriminal violations, Craig said. 

Investigators plan to look back 10 years, although so far the investigation only goes back to 2017, Craig said. In that three-year time frame, the probe has uncovered multiple instances of narcotics officers stealing money from dope dealers, filing false affidavits for search warrants with judges, and officers unilaterally empowering people as confidential informants, when that requires prosecutors to sign off, Craig said.

The investigative team consists of 12 Detroit police officers, six FBI agents, and one investigator each from the Michigan Attorney General and Wayne County Prosecutor's offices.

"Since the launch of Operation Clean Sweep, 55 complainants have been interviewed; these are individuals who were in the drug trade, who were never arrested," Craig said. "Also, 10 prior informants were interviewed."

Craig said he expects the investigation to take up to two years.

"We're estimating we've uncovered 50 false warrant affidavits ... there was alleged untruthfulness about the background of informants, and people were bringing in their own drugs to pass them off as narcotics purchased (which would allow police to get a search warrant)," Craig said.

"There were numerous reports of money stolen from (drug raid) scenes, and several repeat offenders were allowed to walk (without being arrested)," Craig said.

The investigation also led to the exoneration of Darrell Richmond, while another man, Darell Chancellor, was freed after a probe by the Wayne County Prosecutor's Conviction Integrity Unit, which found alleged wrongdoing by Detroit drug cops.

Craig said he's enacted rules designed to quell corruption. All narcotics search warrants must be approved by a deputy chief, and a lieutenant must be present when search warrants are executed.

"If the warrant location is more complex and not as routine, then a captain or above must be present," he said. "Also, random body-worn camera audits are conducted by lieutenants, and all surveillance notes must be digitally uploaded."

Craig said he's reassigned several people with more than five years in the former narcotics unit, which is now called the Major Violators Section. The move leaves the unit with one lieutenant, three sergeants and 13 police officers.

"That's 40% below what it was prior to the probe," he said.

Willie Bell, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said he is satisfied with how the investigation is going.

"What you're seeing is accountability, and the board welcomes that kind of accountability," he said. "Narcotics (corruption) has been a serious issue my whole career."

Allegations of corruption in the Detroit police narcotics unit go back decades. In 1973, 22 Detroit cops from the 10th Precinct were indicted on charges of involvement in heroin trafficking; nine of the officers were convicted of various crimes.

In 1991, five current and former Detroit cops and a relative of then-Mayor Coleman Young were among a group that was charged with providing protection for drug traffickers who turned out to be undercover FBI agents. Five defendants pleaded guilty in federal court, while other officers were acquitted.