Last Wednesday afternoon, Chester City police officer Albert D. Ross was called to the Delaware County Courthouse in Media “under false pretenses,” according to anonymous sources familiar with the investigation.
It was there and then that the officer was quietly arrested and charged with a host of offenses involving sexual assault on women while on duty, following an investigation conducted by the county Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
Many sources said this arrest is “just the tip of the iceberg.” The Spirit has been investigating a variety of allegations against Ross since early 2016, after being approached by the alleged victim from an August 2015 elevator incident at the Chester Police Department that was described in a press release last week from district attorney’s office, in which Ross allegedly put his fingers down a female victim’s pants.
In the city, particularly among the police department, for the three years that the officer worked, Ross’ background was not a secret and he was considered a problem by many of his colleagues. In attempts to periodically gather more information about the 2015 incident, a reporter asked various cops about Ross and each responded, “We know.”
“We all knew, but we couldn’t say anything,” said one officer who wished to remain unidentified. “It’s very hard to have a cop who has ties to City Council reprimanded because Council will take it out on you.”
And Ross’ ties to Council run deep, according to sources, who named Councilwoman Portia West, an incumbent seeking reelection in November, as spearheading his employment despite the police leadership’s warnings about his dubious background that was laced with complaints of sexual assault from three previous law enforcement agencies- the George Hill Correctional Facility, Darby Borough Police Department and the Chester Housing Authority.
These incidents were also referenced by the press release from the district attorney’s office.
“This whole issue was created by Council and at some point, it’s going to come out,” said another municipal insider who also wished to remain in the shadows. Additional sources called Council “enablers” of Ross’ actions.
“When you have an officer with that kind of background and let him loose on the street, what do you expect?” other anonymous source asked.
Last week, city spokeswoman Aigner Cleveland told The Spirit that Council “wasn’t privy” to the officer’s background and the supporting information from the district attorney’s office about Ross’ resume “is subjective” because, as Cleveland said, the police department never disclosed that information when Ross’ hiring was presented to Council. It was the “former mayor and Council” who moved forward with the hire, according to Cleveland.
Many members of “the former Council” are still members of the current Council.
And sources refuted Cleveland’s claims.
“I find it highly unlikely that Council wasn’t aware, because (West) said she didn’t believe it,” a source said, about West and damaging information about Ross, adding that West and Ross’ mother were friends.
And John Linder, the “former mayor” to which Cleveland alluded, never voted to hire Ross, according to sources. Linder, himself, said “City Council meeting minutes reflect that I never voted to hire Ross because of his background.”
Along with Linder, sources said then-Police Commissioner Joseph Bail, Jr., who was unavailable for comment, also refused to endorse the officer’s police certifications with the state.
With the then-mayor and commissioner’s refusals to certify Ross and Council’s refusal to fire him, Ross was placed on the third floor in the police department on “desk-duty”- a clerical position usually reserved for officers with seniority, Chester police insiders said.
“When a senior officer is tired of getting shot at in the streets, they’ll request that job,” sources said. “He was put there because there was nowhere else for him to go.”
On the third floor in the department, behind a glass window, as seen by a reporter in 2016, Ross sat for three years, but not without incident.
Sources said Ross had at least two insubordination issues, which led him to being fired shortly after being hired. And the desk position was how the officer gained access to allegedly sexually assaulting the woman in the elevator two years ago.
In one instance of insubordination, the sources recalled, Ross conducted a traffic stop on a female motorist using his privately-owned, civilian vehicle that had an illegal police lightbar installed.
The second instance was a domestic incident at 7th and Tilghman sts., in which Ross was warned by his superiors to not return, but he was discovered by police in the home the following morning.
Through each of these displays of alleged misconduct, sources said West defended Ross each time.
For the phony traffic stop, sources said, “(Ross) told West he was looking out. He wasn’t even in uniform. He was out there pretending to be a police officer.”
West, whose several calls seeking comment were ultimately refereed to Cleveland, according to sources, also persuaded the woman involved in the domestic dispute not to press charges.
When Ross was set to be terminated for his behavior, Councilmembers Elizabeth Williams, William “Al” Jacobs, West and then-Councilman Nafis Nichols, sources said, fought to keep the officer employed. In their crusade, the sources said, Council labeled Bail, who is white, a racist.
“West said we were punishing Ross unjustly and that there were racial innuendos against Bail for firing a black officer,” a police source said.
Sources said Ross was hired during Council’s search for Black officers following an officer-involved-shooting at the hands of a white officer and a Black civilian that led “to thousands of dollars being spent on the state police recreating the crime-scene.”
The shooting was later proven to be justified, but multiple sources said it was not uncommon for Council to reject qualified, seasoned police candidates simply because they were white.
“One year, we had 13 candidates, who were already cops elsewhere, so they were ready to go, but Council didn’t want to hire them because they were white. They went with 11 Black candidates that needed to be put through academy, but only three of them made it,” sources said.
Sources also recalled Council chastising Linder for having a mostly white police command staff, especially a white commissioner, in a predominantly Black city. “Council told (Linder), ‘How does that look?’” sources said.
In spring 2016, current Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and then-Police Commissioner Darren Alston, who retired in December 2016, endorsed Ross for police certifications, granting him authority as a patrolman.
And on April 11, 2017, according to county court records, Ross filed a summons for a potential lawsuit against the Chester Police Department, which is named as the “lead defendant” and the city. The summons states that “money damages” are requested.
The Newtown-Square based attorney, Michael A. Ruggieri, listed in the summons as representing Ross, did not respond to multiple calls requesting comment.
Additionally, the lawsuit in its entirety has yet to materialize, but sources suspect that Ross is suing the city because “he felt once he got certified, he was held up from the overtime process.”
According to a press release from the DA, Ross is facing indecent sexual assault, official oppression and harassment charges. The officer, who has been suspended, posted the unsecured $250,000 bail and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 13.
Authorities say they suspect there may be more victims and encourage them and anyone else with more information to contact CID Det. Robert Lythgoe at (610) 891-4243.