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Ex-Cleveland cop involved in traffic stop robberies sentenced to 2 years in prison

The judge fined Willie Warner Sims and his partner, Alfonzo Cole, $40,000 and ordered the former officers to repay the one victim they robbed together $5,000


Jonathan Whitlow told a judge on Thursday that he didn’t want the former East Cleveland police officer who pulled him over and robbed him — twice — to go to prison.

Cory Shaffer

By Cory Shaffer

CLEVELAND — Jonathan Whitlow told a judge on Thursday that he didn’t want the former East Cleveland police officer who pulled him over and robbed him — twice — to go to prison.

He said he wanted Willie Warner Sims to pay him his money back.

“How is he going to pay me making 3 cents an hour?” Whitlow asked.

Visiting Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Timothy McGinty noted Whitlow’s wishes and said his pessimism that he will see any of the more than $2,000 that he said Sims stole from him was warranted.

McGinty went on to sentence Sims to two years in prison, a sentence that Sims agreed to serve when he pleaded guilty last month to four counts of robbery and one count of theft in office for robbing Whitlow and two other people during his time on the force.

“You did actions that were cowardly,” McGinty told Sims.

McGinty noted that Whitlow, who has several prior criminal convictions and has been through the criminal justice before, respected Sims’ authority when he got pulled over.

“And it was the police officer who was robbing him,” McGinty said. “It’s turning it all around.”

Sims’ former partner on the force, Alfonzo Cole, also pleaded guilty to four counts of robbery and theft in office for the crime spree that spanned from November 2020 to July 2021.

Cole was sentenced Monday to 30 months in prison.

McGinty fined both men the maximum $40,000, and he ordered the former officers to repay one victim they robbed together $5,000. McGinty ordered Cole to repay three people he robbed on his own $4,580. Sims is on the hook for $6,931.

Both Cole and Sims agreed to forfeit their state police officer licenses.

Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley said through a spokeswoman that he thanked the FBI and the county sheriff’s department for investigating the case.

“This sentence is a continuation of our efforts to eliminate corruption in the East Cleveland police department,” O’Malley said.

McGinty noted that Sims told the court’s probation department in an interview before his sentencing that he was just following the lead of older officers in the department who built a culture of pocketing money from drug dealers and showed “no remorse.”

He apologized to his friends and family, but he did not express regret to Whitlow or any of the other victims.

“I’m looking forward to moving on with my life,” Sims said.

Sims’ first robbery came on July 7, 2020, when he responded to a gas station after a customer became irate and began yelling at the cashier and a worker for a beverage distribution company that was there to collect a check.

The worker, who carried a gun for protection and $3,850 in cash he collected from other clients on his route, went to his car to call police, but the cashier already had. Sims showed up and took the man’s cash, then told the man that he “must have dropped it,” Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Mary Grace Tokmenko said in court Thursday.

Sims first encountered Whitlow on Nov. 8, 2020, when the officer pulled over Whitlow’s car. Whitlow was riding in the passenger seat, and his friend was driving. Whitlow said Sims gave conflicting reasons for pulling them over before he settled on a window-tint violation, then pulled the two out of the car and searched it. He found $1,300 in cash, pocketed it and then sent the men on their way.

Whitlow said he didn’t report the incident because he also had marijuana in the car that Sims didn’t find.

Whitlow said the officer pulled him over again in July 2021 and almost the same scenario played out. This time, Sims took $781 from him and four marijuana gummies. Whitlow said he recorded the interaction on video.

The next day, Cole and Sims stopped a man who said he was on his way to a funeral home to pay for his mother’s services. The officers grabbed $4,000 of the man’s cash, officials and prosecutors said.

That man went straight to East Cleveland police to file a complaint, and department supervisors pulled Cole over after his shift and found $1,200 in cash in his wallet and the gummies in a duffel bag in his backseat, Tokmenko said.

Whitlow said that if it wasn’t for the two stealing from that man, he doubted the case would have been investigated.

“This has been going on in East Cleveland for over 20 years, and nobody has been doing nothing about it,” he said.

Whitlow said he sympathized with Sims, who worked in a department that paid its officers a paltry salary compared to other departments.

“He didn’t kill nobody. He didn’t beat nobody up. He’s a thief,” Whitlow said. “Him going to jail ain’t going to do nothing for me.”

Sims grew up in a good family, graduated from St. Joseph’s Academy and went to Bethany College, where he played football, defense attorney Daniel Misiewicz said. Sims’ family, who attended the hearing, told Misiewicz that Sims always wanted to become a police officer.

“He knows what it means to be part of a team,” Misiewicz said. “His goal was to be part of a team and be a police officer.”

Willoughby police pulled Sims over in May 2022 and cited him for improperly handling a gun in his car. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to a fifth-degree felony.

Tokmenko noted that police initially pulled over Sims for a tinted window violation.

“There’s some irony there, huh,” McGinty noted.

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