2 police officers jailed in drug trafficking case

Two Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers have been charged with conspiring to distribute crack cocaine.

The two officers, Gerald H. Holas Jr. and Jason A. Ross, were dressed in orange jail jumpsuits as they walked with their heads down and hands cuffed into the federal courthouse on Friday for their first appearance.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Savage told U.S. Magistrate Judge Carl Horn that the government wants the two police officers to remain jailed without bond pending their trials.

Horn scheduled a bond hearing for Thursday.

Ross, 35, and Holas, 35, have both resigned from the force. Ross, a police officer since 2002, was a patrol officer. Holas, on the force since 1998, was assigned to the street crimes division.

Interim Police Chief David Graham said Friday that building the public's trust and confidence is a responsibility the department takes seriously.

“Nothing is more important than the integrity of the force,” Graham said in a statement. “While we cannot talk about the specifics of the investigation because we are bound by the policies of the U.S. Attorney's Office, I can tell you that it is deeply disappointing and, quite frankly, it both saddens and angers the men and women of this department to learn of these arrests.

“While this is a dark day for us, be assured of this department's continued commitment to delivering the quality police services this community expects from us.”

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory expressed disappointment.

“We expect the highest standards from all our police officers,” the mayor said in a statement. “This is a stain on both our city and the over 1,665 sworn police officers who are risking their lives every day to uphold the law and protect our citizens.”

Ross and Holas are charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine. The charge is punishable by up to life imprisonment. It carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Savage told the judge that Ross and Holas are accused of conspiring with David C. Lockhart of Charlotte. Lockhart, 25, has been charged with conspiracy as well as with possessing with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of crack cocaine.

The judge asked Savage if Lockhart had been convicted of any serious drug charges that would subject him to harsher punishment. The prosecutor said he wasn't aware of any.

No other details about the charges against the police officers were disclosed during Friday's hearing, which lasted about four minutes.

Savage, questioned by reporters following the hearing, would not say if any more police officers might be charged. “I can't comment,” he said.

An affidavit to support the criminal charges against the police officers has been sealed at the request of prosecutors.

In seeking to seal the document, prosecutors wrote that public disclosure of the facts surrounding the charges would harm the ongoing investigation.

The disclosure of that information, prosecutors wrote, would create a risk of physical harm to witnesses and could prompt co-conspirators not yet apprehended to flee. It also would reveal confidential grand jury and wiretap information.

As the former police officers left the courtroom, their legs shackled, they scanned the audience.

As Lockhart left, he spotted a woman among the spectators in the back of the courtroom.

“Keep your head up,” he whispered.

McCrory, meanwhile, is asking the city manager and the police chief to conduct a thorough review of the city's policies and practices to ensure that no one in city government is participating in illegal activities. He said that should include a review of the application and screening process for police officers, training procedures, and day-to-day supervision.

“While there will be an investigation to determine the facts and involvement of these officers, it is unfortunate that this situation has impacted the excellent reputation that each police officer and city employee has worked to build with the citizens of Charlotte,” the mayor said.

“I continue to have faith in the integrity of our police force and will closely monitor this situation as more facts emerge. I want to assure the public that the city and all its employees will cooperate fully with federal authorities.”