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Gangster in blue

The feds say a celebrated Atlanta cop doubled as a gang leader

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David Freeman was a good cop and it showed, in praiseworthy letters from bosses, merit awards for impressive police work and feats that could be considered fodder for superhero-dom.

Freeman kept three children, all of whom had been shot in the face, alive until the paramedics showed up. Freeman hunted and arrested murder suspects before the bodies got cold -- and without a single clue to work with. Freeman made more arrests in two weeks than most top cops make in a month.

But David Freeman also was a bad cop -- a really bad cop -- if there's any truth to the accusations laid out in a 26-page federal indictment.

Freeman and some residents of the northwest Atlanta neighborhood that he policed are alleged to be the masterminds of the street gang "the Diablos." The gang made every attempt to rule the local drug trade using violent tactics including murder -- and committing the very types of crimes Freeman the Cop was praised for solving. The fruits of the Diablos' labor were in turn funneled into a Dirty South rap group by the same name.

But the stunning coexistence of accolades for an outstanding officer and accusations of a hardcore gangsta might not be as startling as one might think.

As hinted in the 1,000-plus pages of weak-willed internal affairs investigations into Freeman, as well as in Freeman's police department personnel file and his federal indictment, the young man from the ghetto may have been a good cop for the same reasons he supposedly was a bad one: He knew the ins and outs of his neighborhood like few cops could. And he knew the workings of police better than any criminal could have dreamed.

In his 1991 application for a job at the Atlanta Police Department, 26-year-old David Alan Freeman was a stellar candidate. He'd earned a bachelor's degree in criminology from Georgia State, where he'd also served as student body president. He'd held jobs as an administrative assistant at Arthur Andersen and a legal assistant at King & Spalding. And he'd been on the Board of Commissioners of the Atlanta Housing Authority, the Governor's Commission on Drug Awareness and Prevention and the Mayor's Commission on the Future of Atlanta.

He was hired, and he rose up the ranks from a clerk who collected money for city permits to a patrol officer in a high-crime pocket, the area surrounding the public housing wastelands of both Perry and Bowen homes. The latter was where Freeman grew up.

Freeman did well on the beat, as evidenced by nomination letters he repeatedly received for Officer of the Month and of the Year, both of which he won. A December 2000 letter said: "It's amazing to sit back, watch and listen to him catch stolen vehicles and robbers with ease. Most of his success comes from his familiarity with suspects and from having grown up in this area. However, he must be credited with good investigative skills as well."

Perhaps most telling of Freeman's performance as an officer, however, is an evaluation letter dated a few years earlier: "Officer Freeman is always doing extra patrols in and around areas that have high instances of drug sales."

In an ironic choice of words, the Aug. 12 indictment against Freeman brings to mind a warped variation on every policeman's mantra: to protect and serve.

The Diablos, the indictment states, aimed to "preserve and protect the power, territory and profits of the enterprise through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence, assaults and murder."

A man called "Day Day" played a special role in that enterprise. Described as one of five gang leaders, Day Day would let the Diablos know when a police investigation into them was launched. He would name drug dealers the Diablos ought to shake down. And he would hand over to the Diablos "drugs which he had taken from persons he had detained in his official capacity as a police officer."

And in the most chilling language in the indictment, that police officer, Freeman, is described as the force behind the 2002 revenge murder of a man named Mike Goss, or "Mike Mike." "'Mike Mike' had given information to the Atlanta Police Department regarding the kidnapping, beating, robbery and attempted murder of" a Diablos victim, the indictment states. So Freeman held up in front of two gang members "a copy of the police report listing Goss as a witness" and told them that Goss "should be killed in retaliation for providing information to police."

Goss was gunned down June 11, 2002.

Between 2001 and 2002, Freeman is accused of ordering one of the Diablos to carry out another retaliation slaying of a man named Derrick Colbert, kidnapping two people and threatening to have them beaten by the Diablos, and kidnapping and beating another man identified by the feds only as "C.J."

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