The Informant: Inside The Fight Between Columbus Police And Kahoots
A billboard advertising the strip club Kahoots hovers over Henderson Road on the edge of Upper Arlington. It features pink lettering, and a woman whose eyes look directly at passerby.
This is where Carla Hoover says she used to dance before being forced out of the industry.
“I cannot work in the city of Columbus because I’ve been blacklisted,” Hoover said. “Which means my name is put out as someone who is not hireable because I fought against the charges that were put on me by Rosser.”
Hoover is one of six women who filed a federal lawsuit on April 16 against former Columbus Police Vice detectives Steven Rosser and Whitney Lancaster. She spoke to WOSU last October, just before Rosser was relieved of duty during an FBI investigation of the Vice Unit.
Hoover said she loved performing in clubs.
“The freedom. I make my own schedule, I make my own money,” Hoover says. “I deal with the people I want to deal with. If you’re a jerk to me, I don’t have to talk to you.”
The other five women involved in the suit are Emily Haudenschield, Brittany Yates, Danielle Calderon, Ashley Graves and Chelsea Ewart. All are former performers at Kahoots, one of Columbus’ most popular strip clubs.
The lawsuit accuses Rosser and Lancaster of arresting the dancers in retaliation for the club firing an employee. As it turns out, the two Vice officers have a long and complicated history with both Kahoots and the former employee, a man named Jeremy Sokol.
Who Is Jeremy Sokol?
Hoover declined this week to talk about the lawsuit, instead referring questions to her attorney David Goldstein. He says things changed for Hoover and the other plaintiffs because of Sokol.
“There was a period of time when Kahoots had an individual who worked for them named Jeremy Sokol," Goldstein says. "Kahoots fired that individual, and it's on our information and belief that Detective Rosser wanted that individual to be hired back to Kahoots."
Sokol was a host at the club for several months, before being fired in September 2017.
“He was released because of a few things we suspected,” says a former assistant manager of Kahoots. He asked that WOSU not use his name out of fear of retaliation.
Sokol, it turns out, was an informant for Columbus Police. He agreed to speak on record to WOSU.
“My position at Kahoots as of 2018 February was one of a human trafficking liaison,” Sokol says.
Sokol says he first crossed paths with Rosser during another investigation, then started working as Rosser’s informant.
“I did not know them," Sokol says of the two officers. "They were not anybody that I had known from the past."
Sokol claims he was at Kahoots to help.
“It was proposed to the owner of Kahoots by the Columbus Police Department’s Vice crime unit that they had someone in there to monitor for any kind of human trafficking,” Sokol says.
So when Kahoots fired Sokol, Goldstein says, the Vice officers pushed back.
“It's our belief that these two officers obviously violated our clients' constitutional rights and harassed them to either try to force Kahoots to hire the manager back or to try to close the business down and did not have any legal justification to do so,” Goldstein says.
"Community Defense Act"
Rosser has been a Columbus Police officer for 18 years. His personnel file is clean and includes a few commendations.
About a week after Kahoots fired Sokol, the former assistant manager says Rosser met privately with him and the club’s then-general manager, demanding they rehire Sokol.
The manager says after they refused, “(Rosser) dropped numerous citations on the club, which hurt a lot of people.”
The citations involved customers touching nude or semi-nude dancers. Officers accused Kahoots dancers of violating a state law called the "Community Defense Act," which Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein now says is unenforceable.
City records show in Columbus, state and city detectives cited five dancers for illegal touching in 2015 and 2016. Then over a six-week span in 2017, undercover Columbus detectives including Rosser and Whitney Lancaster cited Kahoots 19 times.
“During that time, the officers seemed to have an affiinity to attend Kahoots on a regular basis,” Goldstein says.
All but a few of the citations occurred in the weeks and months after Kahoots fired Sokol.
“Now, I don’t think (the dancers) received their charges until I was terminated,” Sokol says. “But that would be because the police who work undercover don’t hit you the very next day for fear of being identified on club surveillance camera.”
The former assistant manager says at first, Kahoots refused to rehire Sokol, but after receiving 11 citations in a week, the club relented. Sokol announced to staff he was coming back in November 2017.
“(Rosser) kind of forced our GM out and forced Jeremy back in,” says the former assistant manager.
After Sokol returned, citations from Vice detectives slowed down. Then, in early 2018, undercover detectives from the Ohio Investigative Unit cited Kahoots dancers 22 more times for improper touching.
Sokol left Kahoots again in late 2018. According to written testimony from then-Vice officer Lt. Robert Kemmerling, the unit uncovered a lot of crime during raids at the strip club.
At one point, Rosser even floated the idea of legislation to license strip club employees, which he said would protect dancers. Some dancers wrote letters to police thanking them for their action at Kahoots.
The Columbus City Attorney's Office stopped enforcing the "Community Defense Act" in July 2018 following the arrest of porn star Stormy Daniels. Klein said he would review and possibly dismiss past charges under the act.
Daniels' arrest also helped spur an internal and FBI investigation into the Vice Unit, which was suspended in September. Both Rosser and Lancaster were placed on desk duty, and one former Vice detective faces federal and state charges. In March, Columbus Police abolished the Vice Unit entirely.
Rosser and Columbus Police have repeatedly declined comment. WOSU could not reach Lancaster or current Kahoots management.
If you have information to share about the Vice Unit, contact WOSU at email@example.com.