A Western District police officer has been suspended with pay while the internal affairs division investigates charges that he allegedly tried to extort $500 from a man he accused of fondling himself in Queenstown Park.
Sgt. Robert Johnson, a county police spokesman, said the case will be turned over to the state's attorney's office when internal affairs completes its investigation, possibly by the end of the week.
Sergeant Johnson would not identify the officer because he has not been charged.
Although Queenstown Park has been the scene of public sexual activity in the past, there is no evidence that the alleged victim, who was not identified, did anything wrong, Sergeant Johnson said.
The investigation was triggered about 2 p.m. Thursday when someone in the alleged victim's family called internal affairs detectives to complain. The caller said the officer accused the man of fondling himself, ordered him into the police cruiser, took personal information from him then claimed the situation "could be taken care of" without any public disclosure if the man paid him $500, Sergeant Johnson said.
When the man asked for time to get the money, the officer told him that if he got it by the next day the incident would be forgotten, Sergeant Johnson said. The officer allegedly told the man to put the money in an envelope under a trash can at the north end of the park.
Internal affairs detectives put an envelope containing a $100 bill under the trash can, about 1 p.m. Friday. The officer showed up shortly before 3 p.m. and took the envelope, went back to his police car and left the park, Sergeant Johnson said.
Internal affairs detectives obtained a warrant to search the officer, his home and police car the same afternoon. They found the $100 bill -- which they identified through serial numbers -- and the officer's log book when they searched his car about 6 p.m., Sergeant Johnson said.
Police said they had never heard of an officer trying to extort money from citizens before.
"In the 26 years I've been here I can't conjure up any instances I've been associated with," Sergeant Johnson said.
Lt. Hank Snow, commander of the department's internal affairs division, said this is "the first time that I can recall in this department's history" that an officer has been accused of extortion.
Lieutenant Snow also said that he wants to complete the investigation "as expeditiously as possible."
Frank R. Weathersbee, county state's attorney, said it is not unusual for investigations by internal affairs detectives to take a week.
"It happens a number of different ways," he said. "Sometimes they suspend their investigation and send things to us. Then they pick up the investigation after we act. Sometimes they do the entire investigation."
If the evidence warrants, the officer could be charged with bribery and extortion.
Extortion is a misdemeanor that carries a prison term of not more than two years, Sergeant Johnson said.
Bribery is a felony with a penalties ranging from a $100 fine and two years in prison to a $5,000 fine and 12 years, Sergeant Johnson said.