(This is the fifth in a series about overseas policing assignments).
The investigator I described in the previous post as an immature, cocky, obnoxious, profane individual, one of three Americans in the Special Investigations Unit of the War Crimes section, became the center of attention one morning in the fall of 2003, when he was named a suspect in the theft of 35,000 Euro dollars. For the purpose of continuity in telling the story, I will refer to him by the alias of Jerry.
The year before, Jerry had worked a case in which the sum of money mentioned above was recovered as evidence and being held pending trial. I believe the case was a fraud, and had been assigned by the Police Commissioner for investigation. I was not a part of the SIU at that time, but still assigned to the Priština Serious Crimes Squad. The money was under lock and key in the evidence locker of the War Crimes Unit.
The theft came to Jerry's attention when he retrieved the evidence one morning for a court hearing. Like any good supervisor, the new head of the unit, a Brit, had him account for the evidence prior to leaving with it. The evidence was removed from the locker, the envelopes containing the cash were set out on a desk, and it was discovered that the bills had been replaced with paper. Yep, just like you see in the movies, pieces of paper cut to the size of Euro notes and placed inside envelopes so that it looked from the outside like money was inside. Jerry became an immediate suspect.
Let me back up several months.
The previous head of the unit was a retired lieutenant from a large west coast agency. I had worked with him in the Priština Serious Crimes Squad. For the purpose of continuity, I will refer to him by the alias of Will. Will headed up the Cold Case Unit in serious crimes, which was no small task considering the number of unsolved homicides there were in the region following the NATO takeover in the province. I liked the guy a lot. He was rock solid, smart, down to earth, and easy to get along with. When the head job at War Crimes opened up, which was traditionally an American posting, Will applied and got it. His presence was part of the reason why I transferred to War Crimes some months later. I trusted and respected him.
Jerry was already in War Crimes when the change of leadership took place. His level of immaturity struck the wrong chord with Will. Bluntly stated, they did not get along. There was apparent animosity, and it centered around the nonsense coming out of Jerry's mouth on a daily basis. He was rude and insulting, and for no other apparent reason than because he could be and get away with it. There's a fine line between witty and obnoxious, and he crossed it with impunity on a daily basis.
Overseas policing is not set up like a traditional police department. There is no rank structure, so to speak. There are supervisory and management positions, but with respect to whatever rank a cop held back home, that didn't matter overseas. A captain of a police department in the states might very well find himself doing the same job and working side by side with an officer who, back home, was a patrol officer. Jerry took advantage of this.
Time went by, I joined the unit, and through conversation with Will learned that he was applying for a "quick turnaround." A quick turnaround was a two-year extension in the mission. All assignments were one-year contracts, with the option for two six-month extensions. An officer could apply for a quick turnaround, which would give him another two years in the mission without having to go back home and wait for the next opening, in addition to attending the orientation in Virginia all over again. Generally speaking, quick turnarounds were not given out very often. For them to be granted, there had to be a legitimate, viable justification.
For some reason known only to the gods, Jerry had been given a quick turnaround a few months earlier. Why that happened was anyone's guess, because his position certainly didn't justify it. The fraud case he had worked would not have had any bearing on keeping him, because pending cases were routinely handed over to a new investigator if the current one had to go home (as an example, I was assigned to take over a train bombing investigation for a Filipino officer leaving the mission, a box of thick three-ring binders filled with photographs and reports).
I'd seen Jerry in action, and was pretty sure I knew the reason why he'd been granted a quick turnaround. It was because he was a kiss-ass. Sure, he'd screw with people in an obnoxious, immature manner, even those that were in positions of command like Will. But, he also knew who NOT to screw around with, and didn't hesitate to hit his knees when it came time for a lip-plant on the appropriate superior's rear end.
Over time, it became apparent to Will that he was not going to be granted a quick turnaround. That Jerry had been given one made him furious. That fury was compounded by jokes Jerry would verbalize to Will about being old and needing Viagra to perform, along with other adolescent, odious, insulting, and inflammatory remarks. I remember going to lunch with Will one afternoon in a UN Police vehicle when he started hammering a massive, meaty fist on the dashboard, enraged and yelling about the unfairness of the situation.
Will ended his mission and went home. Some weeks later, Jerry took the evidence for his case out of the locker and the theft was discovered.
Only two people held a key for the evidence locker: the head of the unit and the second-in-command. Will had been the boss, and the Brit who took over for him after he departed had been his second.
It was a divided camp within War Crimes on who the suspect was: Will, Jerry, or the Brit. Some said that Will, frustrated and angry over being refused a quick turnaround, and not liking Jerry anyway, and especially because the money was part of Jerry's case, made off with the cash. Others said that it wouldn't surprise them a bit if Jerry took the money because he knew that the circumstances of Will's departure would likely finger him as a suspect. A few thought it was the Brit, who would look innocent considering the animosity between Will and Jerry.
The matter was investigated but never solved. Whoever took the cash brought discredit to the unit and caused a scandal. We were the elite internationals who did not allow local cops into the unit because they lacked integrity, and yet we ended up looking like the fools who could not be trusted.
I would leave Kosovo in December 2003, spend the next six months living in Rome, and then got notified of open positions in Afghanistan. I applied and got accepted. What could possibly go wrong?