Ken Leighton 4:30 a.m., March 4
Who Will Police the Police Police?
OTHERWISE UNREMARKABLE OFFICE BUILDING IN LITTLE ITALY - Voice of San Diego was right when it reported that Police Chief William Lansdowne quietly disbanded the San Diego Police Department's special anticorruption unit soon after his arrival in 2003. But what VOSD didn't report was that earlier this month, Lansdowne even more quietly launched the city's new Secret Police Oversight Operation, or SPOO.
SPOO probably would have remained a secret were it not for the recent exploits of its commanding officer, Captain Joe Wilson. Wilson, a 20-year veteran long regarded as a paragon of police virtue by his fellow officers, is accused of hiring and then killing a prostitute during a drug-fueled rampage - while on duty in his office.
There is no sign in the lobby indicating the presence of SPOO. Nor is there a sign on the door that opens onto the buzzing, high-tech headquarters of this elite unit. "SPOO was designed to operate almost entirely in the dark," explained Detective Harry Richards, the investigating officer on Wilson's case. "Unfortunately, sometimes, bad things happen in the dark - even during daylight hours."
Richards produced the photo seen above and laid out the tragic sequence of events. "The way we see it, Wilson had been hitting the bottle (1) pretty hard all morning. It's understandable; spying on your own people is a high-stress job. But he made a mistake when he ordered up the hooker (2) - using his work computer to find her and put in the call. And then, once she arrived, it looks like he helped himself to a fair amount of the seized cocaine (3) that was given to him to conduct internal sting operations. Bloodwork on the dead hooker indicates that at least he was generous enough to share. So they had their fun, and that's when things got ugly. He told her to take payment from the pile of cash 4) on the floor. Unfortunately, she was bright enough to notice the sheet of 'cash paper' that was still in the tray of the printer (5). The guy had been printing fake bills all morning. Naturally, she freaked out and started screaming at him about how if he didn't pay up, she was gonna expose him and all this, and that's when the Captain lost his cool. He grabbed a seized handgun from a recent drug raid (6) and bang, that was it. And the best part? The reason we know all this is because he recorded the whole thing on his camera (7). When his team came back to the office from field work, Wilson was distraught, and shouting about not knowing how to delete a file. Special Officer [Blake] Rogers went in to Wilson's office to help, and that's when he noticed the hooker."
"Awkward," added Richards.
Wilson remains in custody; his hearing is scheduled for early next week. Reached for comment, Chief Lansdowne promised to try really hard to do better next time. Mayor Sanders, a former police officer, was quick to express his sympathy and support for the hooker, Chief Lansdowne and Captain Wilson. "We know this much," said Sanders. "Chief Lansdowne's heartfelt apology makes it clear that this is not a systemic problem. Rather, it is just the latest in a long line of completely unrelated and unforeseeable acts of depravity, abuse of power, and violence toward women on the part of individual police officers."
More like this:
- The real reason Zimmerman got the SDPD chief gig? — April 3, 2014
- SDPD chief Lansdowne retires — Feb. 26, 2014
- Lansdowne Lays Down…the Law — Feb. 20, 2014
- Officer Chris Wilson’s Memorial Draws Thousands to the Rock Church in Point Loma — Nov. 4, 2010
- An Issue of Public Safety — Oct. 26, 2006