2 investigates: Troubled DeKalb officers

Updated:

Loading

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County leaders promised last year to clean up the county’s police department after a series of officer arrests, but the pattern of problems has persisted. 
           

A Channel 2 Action News investigation reveals warning signs the department may be missing.
           
Last year, Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer sat down with the county's CEO, police chief and public safety director, who all acknowledged they had major work to do. Nine officers had been arrested in the previous year.
           
Now, Fleischer has found 13 additional DeKalb police officers suspected of crimes, and most of them have a history of problems. She spoke to a man about his encounter with county officers in 2011.
           
"They slammed my face into the windshield, broke my teeth. Then, they started stomping me when I fell back to the floor," said 19-year-old Travarrius Williams.
           
Williams couldn't believe two officers would beat a handcuffed teenager. His shock grew when he learned a supervisor had ordered that behavior.
           
Records show Sgt. Anthony R. Robinson had at least 20 prior complaints with 15 disciplinary actions. All three officers are now criminally charged. 
           
"[They're] just another gang, like they say we is (sic).  Another gang, black, gray, blue, they're just another gang," said Williams.
           
Fleischer dug through five years of internal affairs records, and found 244 officers investigated for violating at least three department rules. Eight officers had more than 10 allegations each. The worst offender was T.J. Crumpton, who cost taxpayers $215,000 in a civil settlement with Brian Peterson.
           
"My head hits the ground. I start feeling my blood coming down my face," said Peterson of his 2010 incident with Crumpton.
           
Peterson said he was also beaten while handcuffed, after Crumpton followed him out of Dugan's sports bar while working off-duty security. Peterson had said good night to a group of women Crumpton was talking to. Internal affairs suspended him for a day.
           
"When you have a pattern, at what point does it become the department's problem?" asked Peterson.
           
Crumpton's history shows nearly 200 hours of suspensions for more than a dozen incidents. In 2009, a major recommended terminating him, for being “a liability to himself and the department.”
           
"As people are allowed to get away with that kind of behavior, they push it a little further the next time, and a little further," said Mark Bullman, Peterson's attorney.

Bullman is a former officer who said the problems in DeKalb are systemic.
          
"It's one of the worst I've ever seen," he said of the department's internal disciplinary system.

Bullman is particularly critical of the department's use of an early-warning computer system that alerts when an officer has repeated problems. 
           
"It's supposed to be an alarm, but it ends up being a snooze button instead," said Bullman.
           
A year ago, Channel 2 Action News investigated the nine DeKalb officers who had been arrested in the previous year. At the time, Public Safety Director William “Wiz” Miller said he was shocked by the number of recent officer arrests. He has since retired.
           
"Sometimes we don't get it right. We'll admit that," he said in May 2012, vowing to make changes.
          
Since that interview, 10 more DeKalb officers have been arrested. Three more are currently under investigation, including Crumpton.
           
Of those 22 arrested officers, Fleischer found 16 had prior internal affairs complaints.
           
"We've got to act a lot quicker and be a lot swifter," said newly appointed DeKalb Police Chief Cedric Alexander. 
           
Alexander has been on the job a mere six weeks, and has already revamped the internal affairs unit. He said the unit was top-heavy, and is now balanced with officers who are experienced, but not complacent.  
           
"One of the most important things right now for me is to be able to regain, if you will, the trust of this community because it has been lost," said Alexander.

He vowed to keep the department transparent and honest.
           
"I have a very low tolerance for foolishness," said Alexander, "If I see an emerging pattern here, if I see progressive discipline here over a reasonable period of time that suggests to me that this person is not a fit inside this agency, they will not be inside this agency."
           
Alexander said he's already seen cases he might have handled differently, and will review all punishment going forward.
           
He also wants to upgrade the early warning software to expand its capability and will make sure the department does a better job paying attention to the alerts.
           
Brian Peterson spent five days in jail and lost his job after Crumpton arrested him, but he’s still optimistic.

"I know good officers don't want bad officers making a bad name for them. The biggest thing is trying to weed out those bad seeds," Peterson said. 
           
Prosecutors eventually dropped all of those charges and opened the criminal investigation of Crumpton instead. Crumpton has been reassigned to desk duty pending action from prosecutors.