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FBI Probes Alleged Cop Corruption

December 18, 1997

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ The police department, struggling to recover public trust after four officers were charged in a drunken street brawl, was plunged into turmoil again Thursday when the FBI announced an investigation into charges that cops have been stealing from drug dealers.

``We have to rid ourselves of the problems we have in this department once and for all,″ Police Chief Michael Zunk said. ``We cannot continue to be embarrassed by bad officers.″

Patrolman Myron A. Powell, 35, a seven-year department veteran, is charged with shooting a suspected drug dealer to death during an apparently botched drugs-and-cash robbery this month. Convicted drug dealer Michael A. Highbaugh, 33, who was also charged in the slaying, told police he and Powell had been robbing dealers for four years.

Powell’s arrest last week prompted a rash of tips about other police crimes, from news reports, city residents and police officers. Zunk said he sought FBI help to prevent any suspicion his department might try to hide misconduct.

``We are committed to following this trail wherever it leads,″ said Wayne Alford, agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis office.

Zunk said he had no further evidence of police involvement in drug murders and said other leads being investigated suggest no widespread corruption. ``We’re not trying to indict the entire police department,″ he said.

Last year, the department was rocked by indictments against four officers accused of drinking heavily at a baseball game, accosting passersby on a downtown street with racial and sexual insults, and beating two of them.

The police chief resigned, and Zunk was brought in to clean up the department.

A jury failed to reach verdicts in the case in October. Prosecutors struck deals that allowed one former officer to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and dropped charges against two officers who agreed to counseling. Another former officer faces a second trial on unrelated battery charges.

Authorities pleaded for community understanding amid the latest announcement, which came one day after a Marion County sheriff’s deputy was convicted of fondling women inmates.

``Lately there have been a series of police officers who have forgotten that they are part of something larger and nobler,″ prosecutor Scott Newman said. ``And I think the public response to that should not be to distrust or to hate police officers generally.″

Roderick Bohannan, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the FBI’s involvement gives the investigation much-needed credibility.

Tales of police robberies of drug dealers have circulated on the street for years, he said.

``You hear it in the barbershop, you hear it in the bar,″ he said.

The police brass paid little attention because no one would believe the victims, he said.