Gangster in blue

The feds say a celebrated Atlanta cop doubled as a gang leader

David Freeman was a good cop and it showed, in praiseworthy letters from bosses, merit awards for impressive police work and feats that could be considered fodder for superhero-dom.

Freeman kept three children, all of whom had been shot in the face, alive until the paramedics showed up. Freeman hunted and arrested murder suspects before the bodies got cold — and without a single clue to work with. Freeman made more arrests in two weeks than most top cops make in a month.

But David Freeman also was a bad cop — a really bad cop — if there's any truth to the accusations laid out in a 26-page federal indictment.

Freeman and some residents of the northwest Atlanta neighborhood that he policed are alleged to be the masterminds of the street gang "the Diablos." The gang made every attempt to rule the local drug trade using violent tactics including murder — and committing the very types of crimes Freeman the Cop was praised for solving. The fruits of the Diablos' labor were in turn funneled into a Dirty South rap group by the same name.

But the stunning coexistence of accolades for an outstanding officer and accusations of a hardcore gangsta might not be as startling as one might think.

As hinted in the 1,000-plus pages of weak-willed internal affairs investigations into Freeman, as well as in Freeman's police department personnel file and his federal indictment, the young man from the ghetto may have been a good cop for the same reasons he supposedly was a bad one: He knew the ins and outs of his neighborhood like few cops could. And he knew the workings of police better than any criminal could have dreamed.

In his 1991 application for a job at the Atlanta Police Department, 26-year-old David Alan Freeman was a stellar candidate. He'd earned a bachelor's degree in criminology from Georgia State, where he'd also served as student body president. He'd held jobs as an administrative assistant at Arthur Andersen and a legal assistant at King & Spalding. And he'd been on the Board of Commissioners of the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Governor's Commission on Drug Awareness and Prevention and the Mayor's Commission on the Future of Atlanta.

He was hired, and he rose up the ranks from a clerk who collected money for city permits to a patrol officer in a high-crime pocket, the area surrounding the public housing wastelands of both Perry and Bowen homes. The latter was where Freeman grew up.

Freeman did well on the beat, as evidenced by nomination letters he repeatedly received for Officer of the Month and of the Year, both of which he won. A December 2000 letter said: "It's amazing to sit back, watch and listen to him catch stolen vehicles and robbers with ease. Most of his success comes from his familiarity with suspects and from having grown up in this area. However, he must be credited with good investigative skills as well."

Perhaps most telling of Freeman's performance as an officer, however, is an evaluation letter dated a few years earlier: "Officer Freeman is always doing extra patrols in and around areas that have high instances of drug sales."

In an ironic choice of words, the Aug. 12 indictment against Freeman brings to mind a warped variation on every policeman's mantra: to protect and serve.

The Diablos, the indictment states, aimed to "preserve and protect the power, territory and profits of the enterprise through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence, assaults and murder."

A man called "Day Day" played a special role in that enterprise. Described as one of five gang leaders, Day Day would let the Diablos know when a police investigation into them was launched. He would name drug dealers the Diablos ought to shake down. And he would hand over to the Diablos "drugs which he had taken from persons he had detained in his official capacity as a police officer."

And in the most chilling language in the indictment, that police officer, Freeman, is described as the force behind the 2002 revenge murder of a man named Mike Goss, or "Mike Mike." "'Mike Mike' had given information to the Atlanta Police Department regarding the kidnapping, beating, robbery and attempted murder of" a Diablos victim, the indictment states. So Freeman held up in front of two gang members "a copy of the police report listing Goss as a witness" and told them that Goss "should be killed in retaliation for providing information to police."

Goss was gunned down June 11, 2002.

Between 2001 and 2002, Freeman is accused of ordering one of the Diablos to carry out another retaliation slaying of a man named Derrick Colbert, kidnapping two people and threatening to have them beaten by the Diablos, and kidnapping and beating another man identified by the feds only as "C.J."

And his alleged crimes bear eerie resemblance to some of the 15 Atlanta Police Department internal affairs investigations into Freeman's behavior over the past five years.

The double-phonebook stack of internal affairs investigative files only offer hints of a cop gone wild. None of the complaints that citizens filed against Freeman mention the Diablos, and some complaints were likely tarnished by the not-so-stellar credibility of Freeman's accusers.

But Freeman's behavior, as described by those who claimed to be his victims, was growing increasingly erratic.

In 1997 Freeman was hanging out with Jared Samples, at the time an Atlanta City Council member, when Freeman and Samples' campaign manager, Edward Traylor, got into a pushing match, according to internal affairs documents. Traylor claimed Freeman put a pistol to his head. But witnesses — including Samples and his nephew — said they'd stepped out of the room at the time the gun was allegedly pulled. Samples later signed an affidavit saying he was confident that Freeman, who's described in police documents as Samples' best friend, did not have a gun.

Internal affairs dropped Traylor's charge against Freeman.

Also in 1997, a man named Arroya Carruth says Freeman approached him in a grocery store parking lot and said "he was going to take me by the place that they sell marijuana and then he was going to plant it on me and arrest me for it."

Carruth claimed he was placed in the back of Freeman's patrol car and that Freeman "was playing a tape of Tupac and he turned the radio up loud and he had his police hat turned to the rear of his head." He says Freeman took him up a dirt road off Bankhead Highway, told him to lie on the ground and stuck revolver to his head: "The other officer came over and he told Officer Freeman if you're going to do him, don't do him with that gun, do it with the other gun. But I never saw another gun."

Carruth was arrested for assault and battery on a police officer, among other charges, and claimed that at his bond hearing, "I was telling the other prisoners that if they ever see Officer Freeman out on the street to be cautious because he's crooked. Officer Freeman said, 'Fuck you, I'm on the right side of the law.'"

Freeman denied he did anything but arrest Carruth after a routine traffic stop. The investigation was dismissed for want of evidence.

In July 2002, a citizen complaint again placed former Councilman Samples at the scene of a Freeman fray. Samples and a woman named Tomika Hayes had visited Freeman's house and Freeman got hostile and told them to get out, Hayes later told internal affairs. As she drove away at 2 a.m., she claimed Freeman fired a shot at her.

According to a transcript of a 911 call, which she immediately placed, Hayes said: "Yes, good evening, uh, I was just at a party, a mutual friend's house that I didn't even know and was ask[ed] to leave and we left. He fired a weapon at me."

Two Atlanta officers met Hayes on the street and escorted her back to Freeman's house. One officer went inside.

"They returned to my car to inform me that they did not find any shell casings," she said. "Mr. Samples came down to the car asking me to let him take care of it and for me to act as if it were a bad dream and no one really shot at me."

Freeman denied pulling a gun and said he never even knew the cops visited his home. He told internal affairs that shortly after Hayes drove off, he'd showered and gone to bed.

When internal affairs began posing questions to Officer Rodrick Dingle, who went to Freeman's door and who had known Freeman for six years, a funny exchange followed:

IA: Did you speak with Officer Freeman during the incident in question?

RD: No, Mr. Samples advised that he was not accessible.

IA: What did Mr. Samples tell you in regards to Officer Freeman not being accessible?

RD: He did not state the reason. ...

IA: When Mr. Samples stated to you Officer Freeman was inaccessible, did you request he elaborate?

RD: No. ...

IA: Did you canvas the neighborhood for witnesses?

RD: No.

IA: Did you generate a police report of the incident?

RD: No.

IA: Did you notify a supervisor that Officer Freeman was accused of discharging his weapon at a civilian?

RD: No.

Internal affairs ruled: "Due to the fact that the responding officers did not contact a supervisor, Ms. Hayes' allegations cannot be sustained."

A person who lived in the neighborhood Freeman patrolled — who asked not to be identified by name due to anxiety over Freeman's alleged proclivity for revenge beatings — describes how fear of Freeman subsisted for so many years.

"We'd speak on it, but nobody listened to us because all our kids had records," the resident said. "There's no win-win thing in this here. You can talk about it, but you'll never be protected. He had the power and the will to do whatever he wants and nobody could do anything about it."