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Two Fired Columbus Police Vice Officers Arrested On Federal Charges

Columbus Police cruiser vehicle
Adora Namigadde

Fired Columbus Police Vice officers Steven Rosser and Whitney Lancaster have been arrested on federal civil rights charges.

A federal grand jury on March 26 charged Rosser, 43, and Lancaster, 57, with conspiring to violate others' civil rights and conspiring to commit wire fraud. Each were arrested Tuesday morning and appeared in federal court that afternoon.

“The indictment alleges that these two former law enforcement officers abused their badges and deprived individuals of their Constitutional rights,” said U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers in a statement. “We will root out any alleged bad actors acting under color of law and are grateful to the vast majority of officers who do the honorable work of protecting us and the Constitution."

If found guilty, the officers face up to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to violate a person's civil rights, and up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Rosser and Lancaster were fired from Columbus Police in January, following the recommendation of Chief Tom Quinlan, after being found guilty on internal charges of improperly arresting porn star Stormy Daniels and depriving her of her rights. They both had been suspended since 2018 amid an FBI investigation into the now-shuttered Vice Unit.

“The Columbus Division of Police continues to advocate for police accountability and strongly supports today's arrests on corruption charges against these former officers by the FBI and the Public Corruption Task Force,” said Quinlan in a statement. “I commend the dedication and effectiveness of the partnerships leading to today's arrests.”

The Charges

The recent federal indictment includes allegations against the officers dating back several years.

Authorities say that Rosser was involved in a physical fight with an employee of Nick's Cabaret, a Columbus strip club, in March 2015. During and after that altercation, Rosser said he was acting in his duties as a Vice officer.

Rosser then used a coworker's credentials to submit a false investigation report about a supposed "threat" to his life made by that Nick's Cabaret employee. That person was arrested and detained in the Franklin County jail for five days before charges were dismissed.

Timeline: Investigation Of Columbus Police Vice Unit

The indictment accuses Rosser and Lancaster of searching the owner of the Dollhouse, a strip club on Karl Road, and his car without a warrant or consent – in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

Finally, Rosser and Lancaster are alleged to have routinely reported false and fraudulent special duty hours.

After a flooding incident at the Fort Rapids waterpark and resort, Columbus Division of Fire ordered a 24-hour "fire watch" for off-duty officers to monitor the site for further damage and safety issues. The manager of Fort Rapids put Rosser in charge of coordinating coverage for that fire watch, which under Columbus Police regulations must be performed outside of normal work hours.

However, Rosser and Lancaster "routinely reported materially false and fraudulent hours in connection with their Fort Rapids Special Duty assignment," double-billing Columbus Police and the Fort Rapids managers for their work.

Deeper Scrutiny

When they were fired, Rosser had been employed by Columbus Police for 19 years, and Lancaster for 31 years.

In July 2018, the officers were involved in arresting Daniels and two employees at the Sirens strip club. A Columbus Police probe determined those arrests were “improper,” and the city since settled lawsuits from Daniels and both employees.

Police investigators also found Lancaster guilty on two other internal charges, including submitting inaccurate timesheets and failing to take enforcement action against someone who provided cocaine to the manager of Sirens.

Rosser was found guilty of submitting inaccurate timesheets as well. And he was found guilty of lying to internal investigators about the reason behind visiting Sirens on the day of Daniels' appearance, which itself was determined to be cause for termination.

Last year, federal charges were brought against former Vice officer Andrew Mitchell, who is accused of kidnapping victims under the guise of an arrest and forcing them to exchange sex for their freedom.

Quinlan eliminated the Vice Unit in March 2019, replacing it with the Police And Community Together (PACT) Team. The FBI investigation into the Vice Unit remains ongoing.

This story will be updated with more information.

Gabe Rosenberg joined WOSU in October 2016. As digital news editor, Gabe reports breaking news and edits all content for the WOSU website, as well as manages the station's social media accounts.