Blue privilege doesn’t save this ex-cop after he was caught stealing $2,823 dollars in fees paid to the department’s impound lot.
On Wednesday, a judge sentenced a former Cleveland Heights police officer and military veteran to two years in prison for his crimes. He faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
Common Pleas Judge Kathleen Sutula heaped scorn on 30-year-old Lamont Darden, called his actions “deplorable” and said the U.S. Marine Corps veteran tarnished both law enforcement and the military, according to Cleveland.com.
“It’s sad that you thought you were above the law,” she said as a Cuyahoga County sheriff’s deputy led him away in handcuffs. “You’re not.”
Darden, 30, pleaded guilty last month to one count each of tampering with records and theft in office in the months-long scheme in which Darden, then a basic patrol officer, stole at least $2,823 while he was assigned to the department’s impound lot last summer.
Cleveland.com continued the report:
Darden was assigned to the window where people paid to get their towed cars back. At least 20 times between April and August of last year, Darden pocketed cash, trashed the paperwork and let the person go home with the car.
The scheme was uncovered when a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer pulled over the driver of a car that was listed as still being impounded. The driver handed police a receipt that showed they paid the impound lot fee to get their car released. CMHA police then called Cleveland Heights police, who immediately launched an internal investigation.
When confronted by a detective, Darden admitted that he took money, but said he only did it twice, and took no more than $500, according to his statement.
Investigators then uncovered at least 20 cars that were released with no records during Darden’s shifts, and tallied the thefts to $2,823. Assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor Matthew Meyer said it’s possible that investigators did not find all of the thefts Darden committed, and called the dollar amount “conservative.”
Darden cashed out his retirement fund from the city and repaid the city through his lawyer, Tyresha Brown-O’Neil, on Wednesday morning.
Darden, who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, had fallen into near financial ruin in the months before he started the theft. His home was burglarized in April, and the thief stole his department-issued handgun and handcuffs, as well as electronics. Police also discovered paperwork that showed Darden was on the verge of bankruptcy.
“I was on hard times,” Darden told Sutula. “I’ve never been in trouble and you’ll never see me again.”
Meyer points out that police officers need to be held to a higher standard, they are being paid good money to uphold the law.
“This is not just a case of a man in financial distress who was stealing to make ends meet,” Meyer said. “This is a much greater problem. We have a police officer who needs to be held to a higher standard.”
The sentence was stiff, compared to other police officers who faced similar charges as Darden, as Cleveland.com points out.
Former Timberlake Police Chief David Phillips pleaded guilt in Lake County Common Pleas Court in 2014 to the same charges as Darden, theft in office and tampering with records. Phillips altered payroll records to pay himself more than $24,000 extra over the course of a year, The News-Herald reported. He only received 6 months in jail for stealing more than 10 times the amount Darden did.
And Cuyahoga County Judge Shirley Strickland Saffold sentenced retired Warrensville Heights police detective Andre Harmon in 2015 to three years in prison, after Harmon admitted to stealing drugs and $40,000 in seized cash from the department’s evidence locker, filing false inventory reports and hiding them under his front porch.
Meyer approves of the sentence Darden was given and reiterates that it is vital to hold cops accountable for their crimes.
“Anytime a law enforcement officer breaks the law and does it so boldly and openly and brings his entire department into disrepute, it’s absolutely appropriate that he goes to prison,” Meyer said.
Sutula, before handing down her sentence, held up photographs that Meyer pulled from Darden’s public social media pages from a costume party he hosted four days after detectives searched his home as part of the investigation into the thefts.
The photo showed Darden and his sisters, dressed as characters from the movie “House Party,” holding up their first two fingers on each hand. Sutula asked Cleveland Heights police officers in the court if those were “gang signs.” She then asked Darden what the signs were meant to be.
“Those are peace signs,” Darden replied.
It is great to see cops being held accountable for their crimes. They should be held to a high expectation as law enforcement officers instead of getting free passes to be corrupt.
(Article By Jeremiah Jones)