Saturday, October 09, 1999

Prosecutor: Cop led 'double life'

Allegations include drugs, threats to kill

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Rolando Underwood.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        For a Cincinnati police officer, Rolando Underwood apparently kept some pretty strange company.

        Authorities say they often heard his voice in taped conversations with police informants, bragging about his connections to criminals in Michigan, Kentucky and Arizona.

        They say he used police computers to identify undercover cops and to gather information that would help him arrange drug deals worth thousands of dollars.

        More than once, they say, he threatened to kill anyone who got in his way.

        “He was leading a double life,” Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen said Friday. “There's nothing lower than a crooked cop.”

        He said Officer Underwood was about to make an $80,000 drug deal when his fellow officers arrested him late Thursday on charges of marijuana trafficking, obstructing justice and unauthorized use of property.

        Hours later, he was on his way to jail in lieu of $2.5 million bond. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.

        Officer Underwood's attorney, John Burlew, said his client was being treated more severely because he is a police officer. He asked Judge Thomas Crush of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court to release him on his own recognizance.

        “No policeman is above the law,” Mr. Burlew said. “But they're not below the law, either. Even policemen have the right to be presumed innocent.”

        While prosecutors described Officer Underwood's arrest as “shocking,” his personnel record reveals a man who is no stranger to trouble.

        During his 10 years on the force, Officer Underwood was suspended three times, fired and reinstated once, and repri manded five times for offenses ranging from incompetence to neglect of duty. He was fired during his initial recruit class in 1989 after officers found an unauthorized gun in his car. He was reinstated in 1991 and allowed to join a recruit class a year later.

        The most notable incident involved the accidental shooting death of Darnell Mansoor, a fellow police officer who was shot in 1993 with Officer Underwood's gun.

        Although another officer was handling the gun when it went off, Officer Underwood received a 30-day suspension for failure of good behavior.

        After another suspension in 1996, an unnamed supervisor attached a handwritten note to a disciplinary report that described Officer Underwood as a “discredit to the police division.”

        According to his personnel file, two of the incidents that led to disciplinary action involved allegations linking him to drugs or suspected drug dealers.

        In May 1996, Officer Underwood was suspended for 60 days for leaving his gun out while having sex with a woman who had ties to a drug dealer and who was under criminal investigation.

        In 1997, his partner alleged Officer Underwood was smoking marijuana in his police cruiser, his file shows. No action was taken in that case because evidence was insufficient, Police Chief Thomas Streicher said.The incidents were not enough to cost Officer Underwood his job.

        “If you look at a singular incident and you can't prove it, alone by itself, it's nothing,” Chief Streicher said. “But when you throw things together over a period of time, it shows a period of conduct and, eventually, maybe you are able to develop something.”

        Mr. Allen said that finally happened over the past two years, when officers from the Regional Enforcement Narcotics Unit began building a criminal case against Officer Underwood.

        “He is not an officer with a stellar record,” Mr. Allen said. “The more we got into this case, the more shocking the allegations got.”

        Chief Streicher said the investigation began because Officer Underwood's name kept coming up in connection with suspicious activities.

        He said some suspected that Offi cer Underwood was pointing out undercover officers to drug suspects. At times, he said, Officer Underwood would show up at locations that were under surveillance.

        “Sometimes he was there before we got there,” Chief Streicher said.

        He said the concerns grew when a police informant began recording conversations with Officer Underwood.

        At a bond hearing Friday, an undercover officer testified that those conversations implicated Officer Underwood in several drug deals.

        The undercover officer, who was not identified, also said Officer Underwood made threats and boasted of his criminal connections in other states.

        “He stated on a number of occasions that he would kill the cooperating individual in this particular case,” the officer testified. “He also threatened to kill anyone, specifically law enforcement officers, who attempted to stop his narcotics trafficking.”

        In one conversation, Chief Streicher said, Officer Underwood discussed setting up a “drug distribution network” in Lexington, Ky.

        Assistant prosecutor Gus Leon said Officer Underwood arranged two drug deals in September, one for 3 pounds of marijuana and another for 4 pounds.

        They said a third deal — involving 60 pounds of marijuana and $80,000 — was negotiated this month with the police informant.

        Mr. Allen said police arrested Officer Underwood at his Roselawn home before he could complete that deal.

        He said the investigation would continue but indicated police had found no evidence that other officers were involved in illegal activity.

        Prosecutors said they sought a high bond for the 40-year-old officer because his knowledge of police operations and his alleged comments about harming others.

        The judge also said he feared Officer Underwood might carry out the threats. He noted that the officer is 6 feet 2 inches and 245 pounds.

        “He's an enormously powerful man,” the judge said before setting bond at $2.5 million. “He could kill somebody with his bare hands.”

        Chief Streicher agreed that the officer, who has been suspended pending a disciplinary hearing Tuesday, posed a serious threat.

        “He's been in the police division 10 years,” he said. “He's very familiar with our operations, with our vehicles and with accessing our information.

        “This makes him an even greater threat to our officers.”


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