12/09/2007

Ex-officer's drug arrest stuns neighbors and Ga. police

By Time Eberly
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

MARIETTA, Ga. If Isaac Saleumsy was a drug dealer, he wasn't a very good one.

Either that or he just didn't pay his bills.

The Marietta police officer rarely paid the monthly dues for his east Cobb County condominium which resulted in a lien on his condo, and got his pickup truck towed this summer.

He also apparently struggled to pay his mortgage, as a foreclosure announcement for his condo ran in a local newspaper around the same time.

Saleumsy's money problems rankled his neighbors, but those who knew the 30-year-old cop say they never could have predicted he would be charged as an Ecstasy dealer in an international drug ring.

Neither could the police chief near Savannah who gave Saleumsy his first break in law enforcement and says he helped him land a position in Marietta.

"He was just a good, clean lad that I thought would make a good police officer," said Garden City Police Chief David Lyons, who hired Saleumsy in March 2004. "And he was a good police officer."

Saleumsy and 28 others were arrested last week in connection with a drug ring that ran like clockwork, federal authorities said.

Brightly colored Ecstasy tablets were produced in Canadian labs, smuggled over the border and driven to the Southeast in hidden car compartments. One of the last stops: Atlanta-area dance clubs.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized more than 65,000 pills in the six-month investigation. Of those, 4,101 were taken from Saleumsy's condo, according to an arrest warrant.

Authorities describe Saleumsy as an established mid-level dealer on the distribution level of the sophisticated ring, which also included some of his relatives. He was fired from the Marietta Police Department two days after his arrest, and he is being held without bond in the Gwinnett County jail.

Saleumsy, who was born in Bangkok, Thailand, and grew up in Clayton County, had not been a police officer for long just over three years with the Garden City and Marietta police departments.

A police badge boosted his status in metro Atlanta's Southeast Asian community, said childhood friend Ta Vetsavong, 31, who went to a Jonesboro church with Saleumsy up through high school.

"Everybody gave him a little respect when he became a police [officer]," Vetsavong said.

Saleumsy spent 14 months on patrol in Garden City, earning a letter of commendation, Lyons said.

Lyons said Saleumsy was a people person and a fast learner who told him that he wanted to make a career out of police work.

"I did see enough of him that you could tell he was going to be a top-shelf officer," Lyons said. "He had all the potential to be a really superb officer one day. A little more experience, a little more training, and he's right there."

Saleumsy left the department in May 2005 on good terms, Lyons said. The same month, he took the job in Marietta to be closer to his family, the chief said.

Officer Mark Bishop trained Saleumsy for six weeks when he arrived in Marietta. The young officer made a good first impression; he always showed up on time with his uniform pressed and his boots polished.

"He was really attentive to what I had to say, to what I was teaching him," Bishop said. "He did a good job."

Working the graveyard shift, Saleumsy got a department award for helping save two elderly people who were trapped in a burning car on I-75, Bishop said.

He also appeared motivated to seek a promotion, telling fellow police officers that he was attending a local college to get a degree.

At home in the Overlook condos off Columns Drive, he put black curtains in the windows to keep sunlight out when he slept during the day.

His law enforcement position came in handy last spring, when a rash of car burglaries hit his condo complex.

Residents asked Saleumsy whether he could get Cobb County police to patrol more. Whatever Saleumsy did worked; county police cars began showing up regularly.

Neighbors say Saleumsy wasn't loud or disruptive, and he didn't have visitors coming and going at all hours.

He had a girlfriend who was so in the dark about Saleumsy's alleged dealings that she peppered his closest neighbor with questions, said the neighbor, who would not give her name.

He also had a roommate who moved out around the time that Saleumsy's pickup got towed last summer, fearful that his car would be next, neighbors said.

Saleumsy eventually got his car out of the tow yard, neighbors said, but still didn't pay the nearly $4,000 he owed to his condo association not with money from his $17-per-hour police job or with cash from drug deals he's accused of making.

Copyright 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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