‘Damaged Everybody’: Judge Sends East Cleveland Cops to Prison for Stealing $14K from Residents During Traffic Stops, Including from Man Paying for His Mother’s Funeral Expenses

Two Cleveland-area police officers were sentenced for stealing thousands of dollars over a one-year period from drivers they pulled over during traffic stops.

Former East Cleveland officers Willie Warner-Sims, 32, and his partner Alfonzo Cole, 35, both pleaded guilty to four counts of robbery and one count of theft in office.

Sims and Cole robbed six victims between July 2020 and July 2021 and swiped a total of $14,781, authorities say. Cole also took two firearms.

Alfonso Cole (left) and Willie Sims (right) were sentenced for stealing more than $14,000 from drivers during traffic stops in Cleveland, Ohio from July 2020 to July 2021. (Photos: YouTube/WKYC Channel 3)

Sims was sentenced to two years in prison. Cole will spend two years and six months behind bars and must pay a $40,000 fine.

The pair were caught after a 21-year-old man filed a complaint to the East Cleveland Police Department stating that they took $4,000 from him during a traffic stop at a gas station on July 8, 2021. That man was on his way to a funeral home to spend the money on his mother’s funeral services, according to Cleveland.com.

Sims and Cole were subsequently arrested the day after the man reported the theft.

A year before that incident, Sims stole $3,850 from someone after responding to a call about an altercation at an East Cleveland gas station. He took the money, arrested the victim, and had the victim’s car towed.

In September 2020, Cole conducted a traffic stop and stole $850 from the driver and about $400 worth of suspected marijuana. Then, he issued the driver a traffic citation that included his signature and a forged signature of a police sergeant who wasn’t at the scene.

Two months later, Sims took $1,300 from a 34-year-old’s car during a traffic stop. Sims ordered the victim out of the vehicle and when the victim returned, he noticed the money was gone. The victim told the judge he didn’t want to initially report the crime because drugs were also in the car.

On July 8, 2021, the same day Sims and Cole stole $4,000 from the man trying to pay for his mother’s funeral expenses, Sims conducted another traffic stop and stole $781 from another person. That victim reported that Sims stopped him and told him to step out of the car. He refused, so Sims “roughed him up a little,” according to his statement. Sims placed the victim in the back of his police vehicle, then “ransacked” his car and stole the money as well as some marijuana edibles.

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Michael J. Russo told Sims that his actions “disgraced” hard-working officers.

“The one person that the public should be able to have confidence in … would be your emergency services, your police officers, your firefighters, your EMTs,” Russo said. “You’ve shaken the confidence of the public in the criminal justice system and the trust they put in police officers.”

Russo told Cole during his sentencing that he “damaged everybody in the community.”

“When a[n] individual who is a police officer has taken that oath, he, in essence, is in a criminal category of his own,” Russo said. “He, in effect, is a traitor to the system. He’s far worse than your normal burglar or robber or criminal.”

Sims apologized to his loved ones in court, saying he was sorry “for putting myself in this position.” 

These arrests and convictions stem from a department-wide investigation into the East Cleveland Police as authorities look into allegations of corruption. Police Chief Scott Gardner faces charges connected to fraud, theft, money laundering, and records tampering — crimes that he denies committing. More than a dozen current and former officers with the department also face numerous charges.

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