LIMA — The case against a Lima man for selling drugs was based in part on evidence collected during a search warrant that police, prosecutors and judges agree contained false statements.
A Lima police officer was verbally reprimanded for actions related to an affidavit he submitted to a judge while seeking the search warrant. A police informant testified that some information contained in paperwork upon which the warrant was issued was not factual.
On Friday, the Lima chapter of the NAACP staged a press conference alongside the man whose conviction was arguably based on the falsified document. Local NAACP President Ronald Fails used the occasion to allege a “systemic” pattern of “institutionalized racism from top to bottom” within the Allen County criminal justice system.
Lima Chief of Police Kevin Martin on Monday said the incident in question was little more than human error on the part of the police officer and said racism “will not be tolerated” within the department.
At the heart of the NAACP’s claim is the case of Leonard Bingham Jr., who in October entered a plea of no contest to felony charges of possession of cocaine, having a weapon under disability and possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Bingham, 51, was indicted in May 2016 in part due to a drug buy made by a police informant on March 31, 2016. On the following day police executed a search warrant at a residence owned by Bingham at 419 S. Collett St. Drugs and guns were taken into evidence during the raid.
Court documents show that the Lima police officer who submitted an affidavit to Judge Jeffrey Reed to obtain the search warrant — Dustin Brotherwood — included in his request statements alleging the purchase of drugs from Bingham by a confidential informant, information that was later proven to be erroneous.
Assistant Allen County Prosecutor Destiny Caldwell wrote in the state’s response to a defense motion to suppress evidence garnered during the raid that some information submitted by Brotherwood “would appear to have been made with reckless disregard for the truth.” Caldwell, however, said that even with the exclusion of the contested information, “there remains sufficient content in the affidavit” to support a finding of probable cause and issue the warrant.
Both Brotherwood and the police informant testified the informant was not involved in a drug buy that included Bingham.
But Judge David Cheney — who ruled on the defense’s motion to suppress the evidence — wrote that despite the “material misstatement of fact” contained in the affidavit, “the evidence still shows that Judge Reed had a substantial basis for concluding that probable cause existed to search 419 S. Collett St.”
NAACP officials, however, maintain that Bingham’s constitutional rights were violated.
“We are calling attention to what we see as police who are in bed with prosecutors who are in bed with judges,” Fails said.
Bingham, who is free on bond pending appeal, said he chose to plead to the charges against him because he had been “tried and convicted” in the media and believed his chance of receiving a fair trial had been severely jeopardized.
Bingham said Brotherwood should be charged with perjury. Fails went even further, saying the NAACP “demands that Officer Brotherwood be removed from any type of policing” and that a review of “every case he’s ever been involved with” be initiated by police officials.
In a letter sent to Bingham on July 3, Martin said Brotherwood “did violate Lima Police Department General Directives in this incident. Although there is no evidence to support a belief that Investigator Brotherwood’s actions were intentional, his careless action allowed false information to be submitted as part of an official document.”
“Police officers are people, and people make mistakes,” the chief said Monday. “There has to be accountability and I believe the officer has been held accountable.”
Brotherwood was given a verbal reprimand.
Lima Attorney Ken Rexford, who represents Bingham, said, “Too often inaccuracies are written off as sloppiness. Why can’t we just play above board?”
Martin also repeated that he is “not aware of any instances of racism — either isolated or systemic — within my department. If I become aware I will take the appropriate action. It’s not something I will allow to go unchecked.”
Despite allegations by NAACP officials that Brotherwood has a history of racial bias, his personnel file reveals a mostly clean work record. The verbal reprimand in the Bingham case in July of last year and a similar warning two months later for a “heated exchange” with another officer in an unrelated incident are the only blemishes on the officer’s record.
In December 2013 the now-defunct Citizens Review Board, acting on a complaint by a private citizen, determined that Brotherwood was disrespectful but not racist during a traffic stop earlier that year.
Brotherwood was hired in October 2008 and joined the LPD the following January. He has received a dozen commendations for his police work during his time with the department.
Reach J Swygart at 567-242-0464.