Suspended gang unit officer corroborates abuse allegations

by Jordan Green

Officer AJ Blake (center) said the GPD gang unit has focused almostexclusively on the Latin Kings despite the fact that other gangs havebeen shooting against each other. Also pictured are the Rev. CardesBrown and Blake’s fiancee, Sandra Sanchez. (photo by Jordan Green) The Latin Kings, a provocative Latinostreet organization labeled a gang bythe Greensboro Police Department,found perhaps the most unlikely of alliesearlier this month a former member of thedepartment’s gang unit.Officer AJ Blake, who is currentlysuspended without pay as he appeals aconviction for two counts of assault on afemale, told reporters at New Light MissionaryBaptist Church on June 2 that the gang unit hasalmost exclusively focused on the Latin Kings,even to the exclusion of investigating gangsthat were shooting at each other. “The Latin Kings have been specifically thefocus, given to me by my supervisor, Sergeant[Ronald] Sizemore that he referred to as beingdirected by Captain [John] Wolfe,” Blake said.“The gang unit was instructed to charge theLatin Kings with any possible violations thatwe could.”Blake said certain investigative tools usedagainst the Latin Kings qualified as abuses ofpolice authority. “For example, we’re investigating anattempted murder on, I believe it was,Maplewood Lane, and we were havingdifficulty locating one of the Latin Kingmembers that was involved allegedly in theincident as the driver of the vehicle,” he said.“Her parents were not cooperating, so thestrategy of my sergeant was to order severalofficers to stay outside her house waiting forthe mother and father to leave because theydid not have a license, to wait for them to get acertain distance away from the house, to thenarrest them for driving without a license, andtow the car. Which to me is outrageous.”

OfficerAJ Blake (center) said the GPD gang unit has focused almost exclusivelyon the Latin Kings despite the fact that other gangs have been shootingagainst each other. Also pictured are the Rev. Cardes Brown and Blake’sfiancee, Sandra Sanchez. (photo by Jordan Green) Blake said he approached Sizemore last yearwith a concern that the squad was focusingexclusively on the Latin Kings while two streetgangs on Martin Luther King Drive wereactively shooting at each other. “To me, preservation of life is moreimportant than going after what we think [theLatin Kings] might be doing,” he said. “When Iapproached my sergeant, and said, ‘We need tostop this incident before someone gets killed,’he still wanted to focus on the Latin Kings.”Chief Tim Bellamy dismissed Blake’sallegations. “If someone has given you a directiveyou don’t agree with, our directives allowyou to file a complaint,” he said. “He filedtwo complaints before. Why didn’t he file acomplaint about this? I talked to his chain ofcommand and no one recalls him bringing thisforward.” Blake said the gang unit’s obsession withthe Latin Kings dates back to 2006, whenarrested members of the Latin Kings refusedto cooperate with police officers who weretrying to book them and, as Blake described

it, “attempted toassault the arresting officers,” requiring them “to call the deputiesto assist them.” Blake himself was the subject of complaint by theLatin Kings. Cornell said after he was arrested in December2007 and charged with assaulting a police officer, Blake asked himwhich hand he wrote with. Cornell responded that he wrote with his lefthand, and said that subsequently a warrant was drawn up alleging thathe struck Officer Robert C. Finch with his left arm. A year later,Cornell was acquitted of the charge. Blake responded at thepress conference that he “told Jorge I only asked questions relevant tothe investigation.” The suspended officer, who played the “good cop”with the Latin Kings, described an attitude of hostility among hiscolleagues. “Once when I was interviewing Cesar Herrera, amember of the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation, I was interruptedby Officer Sizemore, who took over the interview,” Blake said in hisprepared statement. “Officer Sizemore began shouting at Cesar and saidthat he wished Jorge Cornell, the leader of the ALKQN who had beenrecently shot, had been killed. It was not said in a joking manner.” During the same episode, in which Latin Kings wereaccused of carrying out a retaliatory attack against someone who turnedout to be completely uninvolved, Jason Yates said Sizemore made thesame statement to him. “I made an off-hand joke,” Sizemore told YES!Weekly when asked about the allegation last November. “Probably it wasin bad taste. He was laughing. I was laughing.” Despite hisacquittal last December for the charge of assaulting a police officer,Cornell said the gang unit has continued to harass the Latin Kings, andhis organization has filed five or six formal complaints with the humanrelations department. They have also been using digital video todocument their interactions with the police. “We’ve actuallygot an officer on tape laughing at us,” Cornell said, “saying, ‘You cango ahead and file all the complaints you want with human relations;it’s not going to help.”

Racism alleged to be widespread on force

Blake,who is a black officer of Honduran descent, suggested the abuses of theLatin Kings that he has described are tied in to a larger culture ofracism within the department. He said that when he “indicated thatthere was other more serious gang activity than the harassmentactivities in which we were engaged, Sergeant Sizemore said that hisimage of a gang member is a Latino male.” Blake said he filed twocomplaints against fellow officers for making racist statements, andthe department took no action to correct problems. Then amember of a street narcotics squad, Blake said he filed a complaint in2006 against a Sgt. Hafekaneyer for describing Latinos as “wet-backs”and saying during surveillance of a Latino club “that all the membersthere looked like illegal immigrants and he was disgusted that ablond-haired, blue-eyed woman would degrade herself with illegal immigrants.” Blakesaid he filed a complaint with the sergeant’s supervisor, whoinvestigated it and told the complainant that the offending sergeant“admitted making the ‘wet-back’ comment, but [said] that he did notrealize I was Latino.” Blake said he also filed a complaintagainst Officer Ashley Brown, who “said because I am from Honduras Imust be a gang member and that he considers everyone from Honduras tobe gang members.” The response from Lt. Whisnant and Capt. DwightCrotts, who is now an assistant chief, Blake said, was that he couldnot substantiate his complaint and “I was claimed to be hyper-sensitivetowards jokes about Latinos, that I can’t take a joke.”

Askedto respond to Blake’s account, Chief Bellamy said the complaints “wereinvestigated by supervisors and appropriate actions were taken.” Thechief said he could not discuss the outcomes of the complaints, butquestioned Blake’s credibility, stating, “Everybody he’s talked to he’sdone changed lines about what he’s said.” Blake acknowledged that hismotivation for coming forward is his unhappiness with the city’sdecision to suspend him without pay after he was criminally charged.That policy has been applied selectively, he said.

During the press conference, Blake apologized to the city, to thepolice department and to his fianc’e, Sandra Sanchez, for his behaviorat a drunken police party to celebrate the birthday of Michael Caudleat the Police Club on Jan. 16. Blake acknowledged that he and Sanchezbecame engaged in an argument but denied attacking either her orLorraine Galloway, another guest at the party. A warrant against Blakealleges that he grabbed Galloway around the neck and shoved herbackwards; Blake maintains that put his hands in Galloway’s chest areaand pushed her back in response to the woman shouting and raising herhands at him. Blake was suspended without pay the following day.