Seven Chicago Police Officers Indicted in Drug Sting
On December 20, 1996, seven officers in the Chicago Police Department's tactical unit were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly stealing and extorting $65,000 from undercover FBI agents posing as West Side drug dealers (Jennifer Ordonez, "Seven Chicago Police Officers Indicted for Extortion," Washington Post, December 21, 1996, p. A11; Michelle Campbell and Michael Gillis, "7 W. Side cops held in drug sting," Chicago Sun-Times, December 21, 1996, s.1, p. 1).
Dubbed the "Austin Seven" after the largest neighborhood in the 15th district tactical unit, the officers have been charged with 21 separate counts of conspiracy to commit robbery and extortion, and illegal use of firearms. The indicted officers are Gregory S. Crittleton, 31; Edward Lee "Pacman" Jackson Jr., 26; M.L. Moore, 48; Alex D. Ramos, 31; Lennon Shields, 29; Cornelius Tripp, 34; and James P. Young, 30. They have been with the Chicago Police Department from two to nine years. Another man who is not a police officer, 25-year-old Charles Vaughn, was charged with one count of committing robbery along with the seven officers. "They were not only acting as cops, they were acting as robbers," U.S. Attorney James Burns stated at a press conference. Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez called the defendants "traitors to their profession" and "brazenly corrupt"
The investigation began in late 1995, after a tip prompted the Police Department's internal affairs unit to follow up on the unspecified illegal activities of some of its officers. Four of the indicted officers -- Jackson, Moore, Tripp and Shields -- as well as Vaughn, were ordered held without bond by U.S. Magistrate Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, who said the charges represent the "grossest violation of the public trust that can be imagined." Both video and audio tapes will be presented by prosecutors as key evidence against the defendants, all of whom pleaded not guilty (Andrew Martin and Matt O'Connor, "Tapes outline cops' pattern," Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1996, p. A1; Michael Gillis, "No bail for 4 cops in corruption case," Chicago Sun-Times, December 24, 1996, s. 1, p. 1).
Drugs reportedly were found in the police locker of four of the indicted officers, and a picture in "Pacman" Jackson's locker showed him "throwing" the hand signal of a street gang called the Conservative Vice Lords. Jackson is alleged to be a leader of the gang. All the suspended officers except Jackson allegedly made admissions to investigators after their arrests (Ken Armstrong, "Indictments may taint any case officers handled," Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1996, p. A1).
Cases that resulted from the work of the accused officers may be dismissed and some imprisoned defendants released. Precedents for case dismissals exist in recent police corruption cases in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. (See "More Drug Convictions Will Be Reversed in Philadelphia," NewsBriefs, March 1996).
Many Austin residents feel certain that police corruption is much deeper than these seven officers. Leola pann, president of the Northwest Austin Council, has called for more investigations, and state Representative Coy Pugh (D-Chicago) feels that "this is just the tip of the iceberg" (Maurice Possley and Andrew Buchanan, "Agent posed as dealer's girlfriend in Austin," Chicago Tribune, December 28, 1996, p. A1).