A former Cortland County resident resumed posting fake Facebook messages Tuesday that aim to depict city police department officers engaged in corruption, according to the department.
Devon Ismael, 24, formerly of 3748 Fairview Drive, Cortlandville, was arrested by state police on March 13 for falsely reporting charges of city officers’ misconduct to the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Cortland Police. Ismael is now facing two additional charges for impersonating two city officers on Facebook and posting fabricated conversations that appear to depict the officers stealing guns and drugs, as well as lying under oath to obtain search warrants and threatening someone with assault, according to department news releases.
On Jan. 13 The Cortland Voice received an anonymous message that appeared to depict a screenshot of Community Policing Officer Jesse Abbott talking online with another person attempting to sell guns and drugs from the Cortland Police Department’s evidence locker.
The Cortland Voice immediately identified the picture as a fabrication and forwarded the message to the Cortland Police Department. Among the discrepancies in the falsified message were the impossibly large amount of guns and drugs stored in the city evidence locker and Abott’s supposed access to the locker.
Lt. Michael Strangeway had previously described on Jan. 9 the department’s strenuous evidence auditing practices for a retirement article for Ret. Detective Sgt. Patrick Sweeney, who had served as the department’s evidence custodian. Another detective sergeant was appointed as the evidence custodian after Sweeney’s retirement, according to the article.
As part of the custodian’s duties, the sergeant conducts an evidence audit twice a year, cross-checking 50 pieces of evidence with another department supervisor, Strangeway said in January.
The city police department is also an accredited department, a voluntary designation the department achieved through training in the procedures and policies of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. To maintain accreditation, the department must comply with requirements outlined in the division’s manual, according to the DCJS. These requirements include injunctions that, “The property and evidence inventory shall consist of an eyes-on inspection of items to ensure accountability” and “The inventories and audits must include a sampling of money, firearms, controlled substances, and high-value items each time they are conducted.”
Strangeway dismissed the fraudulent posts in a phone interview this afternoon.
“It’s a ridiculous outrageous claim. The claims aren’t possible,” said Strangeway. “Anyone with knowledge of the policies and procedures of the Cortland Police Department would know that the things the fraudster was claiming to do aren’t even possible.”
After the fabricated message was sent to The Cortland Voice, other fabricated messages began appearing on Facebook using personas of Abbott and another officer, said Strangeway.
“Beginning back in January we were made aware that someone was impersonating two of the city police officers,” he said.
Ismael gave the Cortland County Sheriff’s Office the falsely created messages as supposed evidence of corruption, according to police. The state police’s Special Investigations Unit in Binghamton were contacted to investigate the case, including who created the messages, Strangeway stated.
The accusations were “completely unfounded,” he said.
After Ismael was arrested on March 13 and charged with third-degree falsely reporting an incident, a misdemeanor, the falsified messages stopped.
Through a Facebook profile attributed to Larissa Noelle, Ismael posted more falsified pictures that aim to depict Abbott selling guns and drugs, discussing a potential assault on a black person and lying under oath to obtain an illegal search warrant, according to city police.
Ismael impersonated both Abbott and another officer in the falsified posts and will be charged with two additional counts of misdemeanor second-degree criminal impersonation when he appears to answer his court ticket at 3:15 p.m. Sept. 16 in City Court, Strangeway said.
Ismael recently relocated to North Carolina, he said.
Why Ismael targeted the Cortland Police Department and two officers in particular is unclear.
“I never knew him, never met him, never arrested him,” said Abbott in a phone interview this afternoon.
Strangeway was also unsure. “We’ve had dealings with him in the past, but nothing that one would think would warrant something like this,” he said.
Why Ismael restarted after five months and an arrest is also perplexing.
“I don’t know for sure, although it seems to have started again as Mr. Ismael court appearance looms closer,” Strangeway said.
The false messages that most bothers Abbott involved his family.
“For someone willing to do this to an officer who’s trying to do good in the community is hurtful,” said Abbott, the officer in charge of the Office of Community Policing. “The support that I’ve received from the community has been incredible and it means a lot.”
And while Abbott would prefer Ismael to stop, he is not letting the posts interfere with his mission to protect and serve the City.
“And I’ll continue to serve the community I grew up in,” he said.