In early December of 2009, about a week after four police officers were killed, I worked a shift in Lakewood. Like many other cops, I had shown up to support my shell-shocked colleagues and to allow them some time off to grieve. In reality, we all were drawn to the Lakewood station by our need to make sense of the tragedy, to talk through the hurt, and to begin the healing process among friends and colleagues.
Between calls for service we spent most of the day outside the station, mingling with a large crowd of people who, like us, were attempting to process the terrible events of the last week. This spontaneous community gathering was both stunning and, in my experience, unprecedented. People shook our hands and hugged us. They brought food and drinks. They encased the station in balloons and flowers, making an impromptu shrine for the fallen officers.
And they donated money – a lot of money. These donations, intended for the children of Mark Renninger, Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, and Greg Richards, was a gift meant to express the community’s profound appreciation for the protection these cops provided them, even at the cost of their lives. It was a bitter time, but with a unique sweetness as well.
Enter Skeeter Manos. This veteran Lakewood cop was recently arrested for diverting a large sum of the fallen officers’ donations to his own secret account. Manos is alleged to have received approximately $151,000 in funds, given to him as treasurer of the police guild, and used it to live a lavish lifestyle. His first appearance in federal court on Wednesday is the next step in the lengthy investigation and a continuation in what must be a very painful process for his department.
For myself, the very idea that a fellow cop would be capable of this level of betrayal makes me sick to my stomach. The details of the investigation hold no possible explanation for Manos’ alleged actions other than simple greed. Luxurious vacations, high-rolling casino trips and all the material goods said to have been purchased with the embezzled funds were apparently sufficient reason to steal from the public, fellow officers and the children of his slain comrades. The shame of such a crime is a hole with no bottom.
I am not naive - naivete is a short-lived phenomenon in police work. I recognize that people are capable of making terrible choices, and cops are no different. But there is also an unspoken code of brotherhood (and sisterhood) in law enforcement, an ideology that best expresses itself in the action of rushing to the aid of another officer in trouble. In a word, we look out for each other.
This is why the federal indictment against Skeeter Manos, for illegally diverting public donations meant for the children of his fallen comrades, is a punch to the gut. If proven (and we must afford Manos the same right to trial as anyone else), this betrayal of trust will provide front page fodder for the vocal minority who already possess a low opinion of police officers. Worse, it has the capacity to undo much of the progress made, since the shooting, in bridging the gap between police officers and the citizens whom they protect. I truly hope it does not.
This is not an enjoyable column to write. My procrastination over the last day had as much to do with my sense of revulsion at the allegations as it did with an utter lack of words to express this sense. However, it would be disingenuous to continue to write columns defending the actions of police officers and then remain silent on such a reprehensible act.
I certainly hope that a fellow police officer did not commit this crime, this naked act of betrayal. But if he did then he must be held accountable, and cops will have to work that much harder to regain the public trust.