About 25 years ago, Ron Stallworth was asked to lead the Ku Klux Klan chapter in Colorado Springs.
Problem was, the outgoing Klan leader didn't know that Stallworth is black.
"He asked me to take over the lead because I was a good, loyal Klansman," said Stallworth, who had been in constant phone contact with the Klan leader while leading a yearlong Colorado Springs police investigation into the Klan.
Stallworth later moved to Utah, where he recently retired after nearly 20 years as an investigator for the Utah Department of Public Safety. He says he's amazed that no one ever caught on to the investigation he led starting in 1979. After he was offered Klan leadership, he quietly disappeared.
As a memento Stallworth still carries his Klan membership card signed by David Duke.
"It was one of the most fun" investigations, he said. "Everybody said it couldn't be done."
Stallworth communicated with Klan leaders using the telephone. A white officer posing as Stallworth went to the meetings.
"The challenge for me was to maintain the conversation flow," Stallworth said. At the same time, Stallworth also led an undercover investigation into the Progressive Labor Party, a communist group that protested at Klan rallies.
Stallworth, of Layton, worked 30 years in law enforcement in four states. Stallworth's undercover experience and research led him to become a nationally known expert on gang culture.
He calls the Klan investigation "one of the most significant investigations I was ever involved in because of the scope and the magnitude of how it unfolded."
The investigation revealed that Klan members were in the military, including two at NORAD who controlled the triggers for nuclear weapons.
"I was told they were being reassigned to somewhere like the North Pole or Greenland," Stallworth said.
The Klan investigation isn't the only time Stallworth has been mistaken for a white guy.
He's been contacted by academics about his "scholarly research" on gangs. One such academic "said he was so impressed that a white Mormon in Utah could write such an impressive work on black gang culture."
Stallworth said he laughed and explained that not only is he not white or Mormon, he started his college career in 1971 and remains about 2 1/2 years shy of his bachelor's degree.
Stallworth started to work on gang activity for the Utah Department of Public Safety in the late 1980s. He wrote a report that led to the formation of Utah's first gang task force the Gang Narcotics Intelligence Unit that involved the Utah Division of Investigation and the Salt Lake City Police Department.
"Based on what was going on at the time, I knew about the L.A. gang problem," he said. Utah gang suspects were "telling us they were Crips from California."
Stallworth said of his work in Utah, it's his investigation of gangs that he's most proud of.
"It's had a lasting impact, first and foremost, on law enforcement," he said.
Wes McBride, president of the California Gang Investigators Association and retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said about 15 years ago he "heard about this guy in Salt Lake who was becoming an expert" in gangsta rap music. So, he invited Stallworth to speak on the topic. It was the first of a series of lectures Stallworth gave on street-gang culture.
"I don't know that any of us ever listened to it," McBride said. "Where he was instrumental with us was pointing out to listen to the words, to listen to what these gangsters were saying."
The two both testified in a 1993 homicide in which a Texas state trooper was killed by a 19-year-old gang member, McBride said. Stallworth was the expert witness on the connection between gangsta rap and gang culture in the case, McBride recalled.
Leticia Medina, executive director of Utah Issues, said she started working with Stallworth on gangs in the late 1980s, when the first Metro Gang Unit was under development. She was a youth corrections provider at the time.
"He was very interested in what my perspectives were," she said. "I learned from him as much as I hope he learned from me.
"Law enforcement is not something that I grew up trusting. I had an opportunity to deal with a cop and see his world," she said.
At the time, Medina said, law enforcement wasn't involved in the community.
"They started the Metro Gang Unit, and everyone knew who the gang unit was," she said. "One key that Ron worked on was getting to know the community and community leaders. . . . Law enforcement needed to be trained in cultural competence and gang culture."
Stallworth has self-published four books on gang culture and has testified before Congress on gangs and violence. He also served as the state's first gang-intelligence coordinator.
In 1994, he was selected by the U.S. Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center to participate in a national street-gang symposium, the results of which were presented to the U.S. attorney general.
Now that he's retired, Stallworth plans to remain active, politically and otherwise.
Stallworth is chairman of the Black Advisory Council and serves on Layton's Parks and Recreation Commission and Planning Commission.
He also was one of several applicants for a vacant City Council seat in Layton. Stallworth didn't get the seat but says he plans to run for City Council.
He coaches a youth track team for 9-to-14-year-old boys and girls, and would like to volunteer for the Huntsman Cancer Center, which cared for his wife, Micki, before her death.
Stallworth is also going back to school. He wants to complete a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration at Columbia College.11 comments on this story
Medina said she wouldn't be surprised if Stallworth continues to speak up on issues close to him."Now that he's retired, watch out," Medina said. "He is very committed to all these communities. He is also very committed to the career he chose as a law-enforcement officer. . . . People need to take the time to really listen to him."