Yet more Columbus, Ohio, vice cops have been arrested on federal criminal charges. The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Ohio announced Tuesday that former Columbus Division of Police (CPD) Officers Steven G. Rosser and Whitney R. Lancaster have been charged with conspiring to violate others' civil rights and conspiring to commit wire fraud.
"The indictment alleges that these two former law enforcement officers abused their badges and deprived individuals of their Constitutional rights," said U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers.
Rosser and Lancaster—who made their first appearance in court today—were both longtime members of the force (19 years and 31 years, respectively) who spent their last several years on the job as part of the city's vice unit. And both officers were involved in an ill-fated, extracurricular stakeout of Columbus strip club Sirens when Stormy Daniels danced there in July 2018.
Rosser, Lancaster, and a few colleagues arrested Daniels and two Sirens workers that night on illegitimate charges. The cases against all three were quickly dismissed. A whistleblower within CPD outed the officers as having lied about being at Sirens that night as part of a prostitution and human trafficking investigation and the city had to pay a total of $500,000 to settle lawsuits from Daniels and the other two women. Rosser and Lancaster were two of six Columbus cops named in the Daniels lawsuit.
That incident is not part of the new federal indictment. But the duo's current troubles also stem, in part, from strip club antics and allegations of wrongful arrest.
According to the feds, Rosser got in a fight with a patron at Nick's Cabaret in 2015 and "allegedly represented that he was acting in the course and scope of his employment as a police officer during the fight and in the days that followed," when he had the man "seized and searched without probable cause."
"Based, in part, on a report that Rosser wrote regarding the fight, officers arrested that individual in April 2015, and he was detained at the Franklin County jail for approximately five days before the charges against him were ultimately dismissed," according to the U.S. attorney's office.
In another incident, this one in April 2018, Rosser, Lancaster, and some of their colleagues allegedly stopped and searched the owner of the Dollhouse strip club without probable cause.
These two allegations form the basis for the conspiracy to violate civil rights charge. The other charge comes from allegations that Rosser and Lancaster were "routinely reporting false and fraudulent special duty hours," as the federal charges put it. The former officers allegedly billed work hours to both the Columbus Division of Police and to a special fire-related project on 29 different days in early 2018.
The charges against Rosser and Lancaster come about a year after former Columbus vice cop Andrew Mitchell was indicted on federal criminal charges.
Mitchell—who fatally shot Donna Dalton while she was trapped in his unmarked police car in 2018—was accused of depriving multiple women of their civil rights by kidnapping them and threatening them with arrest if they wouldn't have sex with him. The case against Mitchell is still ongoing, with a jury trial date currently set for September 21, 2020.
Mitchell is also being sued in federal civil court by a Jane Doe who alleges that Mitchell kidnapped and raped her while she was handcuffed in the back of his vehicle. Doe's complaint, filed in January, also suggests that "the harm visited upon [Doe] by Defendant Mitchell resulted from the failure of the City… to act to relieve Defendant Mitchell of his gun and badge" despite the fact that "red flags about [Mitchell] and other officers in the Vice Unit had been raised." This failure stemmed from the city's "policy or culture" of tolerating bad behavior from vice cops, the suit claims.
In another federal civil lawsuit, Rosser and Lancaster are being sued by the company behind now-defunct Columbus strip club Kahoots.
"In or around 2017, Defendant Rosser and Defendant Lancaster spent numerous
hours at Kahoots while in their official capacity," states the Kahoots complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in January. It accuses Rosser and Lancaster of filing "criminal charges, without probable cause, against a number of [Kahoots] employees and/or independent contractors," after Kahoots wouldn't rehire a fired bouncer that Rosser allegedly wanted the club to rehire.
The complaint also notes that Rosser filed criminal charges against Kahoots' parent company Icon Entertainment, claiming that it illegally allowed sexually oriented activity. Those charges were later dismissed. "Criminally charging Icon Entertainment was for other ulterior motives that violated its Constitutional rights," the lawsuit claims.