Last year, undercover FBI agents outfitted an abandoned car with audio and visual recording equipment. They’d gotten information that a Bibb County deputy was involved in illegal activity.
The agents left $1,000 inside the car.
Bibb County deputy Jermaine Donnell Hill was the officer who went to check out the car. While searching it this past November, he was recorded putting the cash into his pocket.
When Hill, an officer for 10 years, wrote up his report, he omitted any reference to the money.
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Hill later admitted taking the money and helped FBI agents in other undercover stings that led to the arrests of three other deputies: Jimmy Lee Denson, Arthur Howard and DeCarlo C. Lattimore, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore said at a Friday afternoon news conference.
Hill resigned last week, Sheriff David Davis said.
Denson, Howard and Lattimore were arrested and fired Friday morning. Denson had worked as an officer about 13 years, Howard for about nine years and Lattimore for five years.
Hill has already pleaded guilty to theft of government money and making a false statement, Moore said.
Denson, Howard and Lattimore are charged with attempted extortion. They each pleaded not guilty at first appearance hearings Friday, where a federal magistrate set a $10,000 unsecured bond in each deputy’s case.
Moore detailed the undercover operations that resulted in the three men’s arrests:
On Feb. 28, 2014, an undercover agent posed as a drug dealer in a car equipped with audio and video recording equipment. The agent had $2,000 and some cocaine.
Lattimore drove his patrol car to an arranged meeting place, planning to rob the person he thought was a drug dealer. Hill, who was working with the FBI, made a traffic stop on the undercover agent’s vehicle. He and Lattimore searched the car, and Lattimore put $1,000 in his boot.
Lattimore and Hill gave the cocaine to a local drug dealer with the understanding that they would receive a portion of the proceeds when the drugs were sold. On April 17, Lattimore went to the sheriff’s office’s substation on Shurling Drive to pick up his $500 take. He was in uniform.
An undercover agent posing as a drug dealer met Hill and Denson at a prearranged place March 20. With $2,000 and cocaine in the car, Hill and Denson searched the car and only let the supposed drug dealer leave after he agreed to leave behind the drugs and the money, which the deputies split.
The deputies gave the drugs to a local dealer to sell, again with the understanding that they would get part of the proceeds. Denson, in uniform, met Hill April 25 off Riverside Drive to get his $500 from the deal.
The Telegraph tried to contact Hill and Lattimore for comment.
No one came to the door at Hill’s house Friday night.
In east Macon, a woman who answered the door at Lattimore’s home Friday night said he wasn’t there, but “when he gets ready to make a statement, he’ll contact someone. ... God is good all the time.”
On June 9, undercover agents, posing as a pimp and two prostitutes, met Howard at a motel room, where he was recorded as the agent posing as a pimp described his need for protection from the law. Howard agreed to help and explained law enforcement surveillance techniques.
Howard also gave information about a drug investigation he’d been involved in.
Before leaving, Howard received $200 and acknowledged that he would provide protection for additional money.
If convicted, Denson, Howard and Lattimore could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison, Moore said.
Hill faces up to six years after his guilty plea.
Davis said each of the deputies was under close scrutiny during the course of the investigation since they were allowed to keep working.
It’s unclear whether the fact that the deputies have been arrested could affect cases that the sheriff’s office has investigated.
Bibb County State Court Solicitor Rebecca Grist said it’s a fairly rare situation for prosecutors to have an officer on a case under federal indictment.
“It can have a major impact because if you’re relying on someone’s credibility and their credibility is called into question, your case gets called into serious question,” she said.
Grist’s office prosecutes misdemeanor crimes such as DUI, shoplifting, some marijuana possession and family violence.
“It really is going to depend on how many cases they have. ... I haven’t had a chance to look and see,” she said.
If “they’re an ancillary case officer on a case, it’s not going to have a huge effect on what we can do with a case. But if they’re the sole responding officer, yeah, we may have a real problem prosecuting the cases,” Grist said.
Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke said his office, which prosecutes felonies, will be giving any case the deputies worked “a serious look.”
He said he supports the U.S. attorney’s efforts to “weed out corruption.”
Contacted Friday afternoon, Denson’s lawyer, Donald Johstono, said he hasn’t seen the specifics allegations against his client.
“We haven’t seen any reports or any information to know what the allegations are, or what they say he did,” he said. “We look forward to having the opportunity to review that and then make a decision how best to proceed on his behalf.”
Howard’s lawyer, Gregory Bushway, said, “At this point, Mr. Howard is maintaining his innocence.”
The names of lawyers for Hill and Lattimore weren’t readily available late Friday afternoon.
There are 640 sworn officers at the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office. The cases announced Friday show that “justice works,” Davis said.
“We’re not going to tolerate wrongdoers amongst the public that we serve,” he said. “I’m certainly not going to tolerate wrongdoers who are working in my office.”
When the three deputies were arrested Friday, two were in uniform.
“We had a (jail) jumpsuit waiting for them,” Davis said. “I’m not going to have a person wearing a Bibb County Sheriff’s Office uniform standing in front of a federal magistrate. ... We changed their clothes.”
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.