03/13/2007

Ex- Ga. officer admits robbing drivers during traffic stops

By Bill Torpy
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A former Cedar-town police officer pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to stopping Hispanics and stealing money from them.

Douglas Damiano, 37, admitted that he stopped the motorists under the pretext of a traffic stop but then either asked them for their wallets or went through their vehicles looking for money.

The rogue cop, authorities say, figured the victims were illegal immigrants and would not report him to authorities.

The former officer, who was barely audible in court and tapped his feet nervously before the proceedings, admitted to taking money from three different Hispanic males — including a Gordon County sheriff's deputy working under cover — in late 2002 and early 2003.

Damiano, who still faces state charges of violating his oath in office, worked for more than two years in Cedartown and "made a lot of arrests and traffic stops," said Chief Keith Barber.

Barber said Damiano was trying to get another police job at a Cobb County agency even after having been caught in this scheme.

Damiano faces three years in prison on the federal charges and has agreed to plead guilty to the state charges. He is to be sentenced May 3.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Plummer said authorities believe Damiano did this more often than the three cases he pleaded to.

"He'd spot a Hispanic motorist and trail them until they'd commit a traffic violation," Plummer said. "If the person had $300, he'd take $100 or $80. He wouldn't take all the money."

Plummer said the case took a while to be resolved because there were two different jurisdictions and because Damiano changed attorneys.

Authorities say the Georgia Bureau of Investigation started getting complaints from Hispanic males or from their American citizen girlfriends about what was happening.

Agents then got the Gordon County deputy to work under cover. Damiano took the bait, stopping the lawman and taking a marked $100 bill.

When confronted with the evidence, authorities said Damiano confessed.

"He thought he could he could use his position as a police officer to rob [immigrants] with impunity because they would be too scared to complaint to other law enforcement officers," said U.S. Attorney David Nahmias in a statement. "He thought wrong."

"It's sad when you have people who have been entrusted with looking out for the public good who abuse that," said Isaiah Delemar, acting regional counsel for the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

"When you break down that trust and confidence in the police department, it's just really bad. People don't report crimes if they feel they can't trust the police — that really goes for anybody," Delemar said.

Staff writer Mary Lou Pickel contributed to this article.

Copyright 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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