Officer accused of blackmailing parolee
Federal complaint says he sought cash, guns after planting drugs
By GINA BARTON
March 8, 2005
A Milwaukee police officer was charged Tuesday with a criminal civil rights violation for trying to shake down a parolee for money and guns, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Milwaukee.
The officer, Ala W. Awadallah, 26, also threatened to plant drugs on the man and to have him sent back to prison, according to an FBI agent's affidavit filed in support of the complaint. If convicted, Awadallah faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison and $200,000 in fines.
The complaint refers to at least three other officers, but Awadallah was the only one charged Tuesday. The federal investigation and the department's internal investigation are ongoing, officials said.
Neither Awadallah nor his attorney, Munjed Ahmad, could be reached late Tuesday.
According to the affidavit, Awadallah and officer Kathleen M. Huber pulled over Earl Cosey, 25, for not having license plates on his van around 8 p.m. Feb. 11. Cosey, who was on parole after a criminal conviction for recklessly endangering safety, explained he had just purchased the van that day.
Cosey - whose parole already had been revoked once - said he did not give Awadallah permission to search the van, but Awadallah did anyway, according to an account Cosey gave investigators. After the search, Awadallah showed Cosey what looked like crack or powder cocaine, saying it was enough to have him charged with a felony and sent back to prison. Cosey denied that the drugs had been in his car.
"Awadallah told Cosey the only way Cosey could be let go was if he came up with two pistols and a 'chopper,' that is, an assault rifle, for Awadallah," the affidavit says.
Awadallah told Cosey to call some people and try to get some guns immediately, according to the affidavit.
When Cosey's cell phone died, Awadallah gave him another one to use. Finally, Cosey said he would have better luck finding guns if he were released. Awadallah agreed, giving him until midnight.
Before releasing him, Awadallah took $200 in cash from Cosey, saying he would get it back once he provided the guns, according to the affidavit.
Shortly before midnight, Cosey called Awadallah's cell phone and told him he could not get the guns until the following day. Cosey recorded that conversation and two others. Cosey promised that his brother would leave the guns in a garbage can, but his brother did not.
That evening, Awadallah left a message on Cosey's voicemail, which Cosey later provided to the FBI and Milwaukee police investigators.
According to the affidavit, the voicemail from Awadallah said: "Yo, dude, you (expletive) up, player. You don't call me with an address in about four minutes, just want to tell you I'll find your ass and put a case on you. The case you should have had. Then you go back to prison. Alright. . . . Five minutes, man. Peace."
The next day - two days after the initial traffic stop - Awadallah and two other officers pushed their way past Cosey's girlfriend into his house and started to search the house, according to the affidavit.
Cosey wasn't there, but Awadallah reached Cosey on his cell phone, according to the affidavit. Cosey told investigators that Awadallah promised to find drugs in the house and arrest his girlfriend.
Fearing for his girlfriend's safety, Cosey called 911, and a sergeant arrived at the house. Officers from the department's professional performance division then were called to the scene.
Awadallah, who has been on the force for seven years, the first two as a police aide, was assigned to District 6, said police spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz.
He was placed on desk duty when the allegations surfaced. As of Tuesday, he was suspended with pay, as required by state law, Schwartz said.
Huber, the only other officer identified in the complaint, has not been charged. She remains on duty, Schwartz said.
Awadallah appeared in federal court Tuesday and was released on $50,000 personal recognizance bond. His next court appearance is March 22.
Three citizen complaints against Awadallah, one in 2003 and two in 2004, have been filed with the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, according to David Heard, executive director. Details about the complaints were not available late Tuesday.
Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann said the allegations that Awadallah planted drugs may affect pending cases.
"If someone raises it as in issue, it would now certainly be viewed in a very different light," he said.
Awadallah is the fourth Milwaukee police officer charged with a felony in less than a month. A fifth is accused of breaking the law while serving on the force but has resigned.
Three officers - Jon M. Bartlett, 33, Daniel L. Masarik, 25, and Andrew R. Spengler, 25 - last week were charged with felonies in connection with an October beating outside a party in the Bay View neighborhood.
Former officer Shareeta Stovall, 28, was charged Feb. 12 in federal court with helping her brother launder drug money.
All have pleaded not guilty.
Police Chief Nannette Hegerty said in a written statement issued late Tuesday that her office referred each case for criminal prosecution through the police department's Professional Performance Division.
"I will not tolerate criminal wrongdoing by any member of the Milwaukee Police Department," she said in a statement.
John Diedrich of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report
||Truth in Justice