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Columbus Fires Two Former Vice Officers Who Arrested Stormy Daniels

Miranda Panda and Brittany Walters were arrested at Sirens strip club in Columbus on July 11, 2018, during an appearance by Stormy Daniels.
Adora Namigadde
/
WOSU
Miranda Panda and Brittany Walters were arrested at Sirens strip club in Columbus on July 11, 2018, during an appearance by Stormy Daniels.

The city of Columbus has fired two former Vice Unit officers involved in the arrest of Stormy Daniels.

Columbus Police officers Steven Rosser and Whitney Lancaster were terminated Thursday at the direction of Public Safety director Ned Pettus, following the recommendation of Chief Tom Quinlan.

Rosser and Lancaster were both found guilty of improperly arresting Daniels and depriving her of her rights.

"This arrest was not like any other strip club investigations because in the other strip club investigations, all charges were filed at a later time, or the offender was released on summons," Pettus wrote. "Not a single other suspect was deprived of their rights by being arrested 'On View' and taken to the Franklin County Jail for slating, except Ms. Clifford demonstrating gross neglect of duty an incompetence."

Lancaster was also found guilty on two other charges: submitting inaccurate timesheets multiple times between September 2017-July 2018, and failing to take enforcement action against someone that Lancaster says provided cocaine to the manager of Sirens.

Rosser was found guilty of submitting inaccurate timesheets during the same time period. He also 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.

"You were untruthful in your IAB interview," Pettus wrote, "when you stated that going to Sirens on July 11, 2018 was due to elements of human trafficking involving a specific underage dancer named 'Pearl.' No search was conducted at Sirens on July 11, 2018 for 'Pearl' and no other Vice Section personnel interviewed in this investigation made any statement in reference to looking for a specific human trafficking victim named 'Pearl.'"

Lancaster is a 33-year veteran of the department.

Pettus also suspended Lieutenant Ron Kemmerling for 240 working hours, and suspended Sergeant Scott Soha for 120 working hours.

Rosser and Lancaster have been suspended since 2018 amid an FBI investigation into the now-terminated Vice Unit. Both worked for the department for about two decades.

Pettus has declined to comment on his decision, as the case may go to mediation. Columbus officers have the right to appeal their firing, and may ask the Fraternal Order of Police to mediate.

In 2017, WOSU obtained police personnel records that showed that over the previous decade, Columbus Police had fired 14 officers and rehired three after appeals from the FOP. The arbitration process typically takes six to eight months.

Rosser and Lancaster faced departmental charges for their involvement in Daniels’ arrest at the strip club Sirens. In July 2018, they arrested Daniels and two Sirens employees for violating Ohio’s “Community Defense Act,” which prohibits “nude or semi-nude” dancers from touching patrons.

Timeline: Investigation Of Columbus Police Vice Unit

City Attorney Zach Klein quickly dropped charges against all three, and recommended the city stop enforcing the law.

A Columbus Police internal probe determined those arrests were “improper,” although not pre-planned or politically motivated as the women alleged. Columbus City Council has since settled lawsuits from Daniels and the two Sirens employees for $450,000 and $150,000, respectively.

Rosser and Lancaster also face lawsuits from former workers and owners of the now-shuttered strip club Kahoots, who claimed the officers unjustly arrested employees as retaliation for the club firing a police informant.

Kahoots employees told WOSU that Rosser attempted to pressure Kahoots to rehire Jeremy Sokol, who says he served as “human trafficking liaison” for the Vice Unit. After the club refused, the officers repeatedly cited dancers under the “Community Defense Act” until the owners relented.

“City records show in Columbus, state and city detectives cited five dancers for illegal touching in 2015 and 2016,” wrote WOSU reporter Adora Namigadde. “Then over a six-week span in 2017, undercover Columbus detectives including Rosser and Whitney Lancaster cited Kahoots 19 times.”

After the club rehired Sokol, citations from the Vice detectives slowed down again.

“In this particular case, their enforcement activity, which they knew was not proper, had the effect of basically driving this company out of business and forcing them to close down,” said attorney Bart Keyes, who represents the former owners of Kahoots.

Rosser and Lancaster are the latest officers to face consequences from the FBI’s investigation into the Vice Unit.

Last year, federal charges were brought against officer Andrew Mitchell, who retired in “bad standing” in March 2019. Mitchell is charged with kidnapping victims under the guise of an arrest and forcing them to exchange sex for their freedom. He also faces state charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Donna Castleberry, whose death helped spur the probes into the Vice Unit. Mitchell pleaded not guilty on all counts.

Quinlan eliminated the Vice Unit in March 2019, replacing it with the Police And Community Together (PACT) Team. Investigation into the Vice Unit remain ongoing.

If you have information to share about the Vice Unit, contact WOSU at adora@wosu.org.