The shoe is on the other foot. The pot is calling the kettle black. The hunter has become the hunted. And, six former Philadelphia narcotics officers are currently sitting where they used to send people. In a prison cell. These officers have been indicted by the federal government on a 26-count indictment that includes allegations of drug dealing, extortion, kidnapping, firearm offenses, records falsification and more. The full indictment can be read here. The respected drug cop became the alleged drug dealer. Why? Greed. And a belief of invincibility. These professional head shots will soon be replaced by mug shots.
The Federal Indictment
The indictment alleges that between February 2006 and November 2012, these rogue officers from the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Field Unit engaged in a pattern of threats, assault, robbery, kidnapping and false arrests to extort more than $500,000 in cash, drugs, watches and clothing from individuals targeted as drug dealers. These officers would hold people over balconies until passwords for safes were obtained and cash recovered. Beat people with their service weapons and steal from them. Take money and drugs from homes and make no report of the seizures. Alleged drug dealers were taken to hotels or the police station and held for days until they relented and allowed police to search their homes and steal money, drugs and other personal property.
The Drug Cop Became the Drug Dealer
These officers would then have the audacity to distribute the stolen drugs and make even more money acting in the same manner as those they were responsible for taking down, according to the federal government. But, if true, aren’t they worse than the drug dealers themselves? Drug dealers don’t hide behind a badge and act like something they’re not. They don’t take an oath to serve and protect and then do the exact opposite. If the countless episodes of wrongdoing outlined in the indictment are true, the hypocrisy of it all is what is so maddening.
Despite their alleged brazen activity, they never thought they would get caught. They were the police. The others, drug dealers. They were the good guys. The others, crooks. They were for truth and justice. The others, for money, violence and terror. There was no one policing the police. And, the temptation for these narcotics officers was just too great as they seized the opportunity to take large amounts of cash and drugs believing nobody would ever believe the criminal accuser.
According to some reports, these actions began as early as 2002. But, who was going to believe an alleged drug dealer if they went to Internal Affairs and reported a theft of cash? They would only make the case against themselves stronger. “Officers, I don’t have reportable income but I had $25,000 in cash hidden behind a wall in my house, not $6,000 like the police claim on their report.” This would be a confession of further wrongdoing. And, who would believe them anyway? They were the bad guy.
Former Officer Jeffrey Walker’s Cooperation
The irony of it all is that authorities did not believe the myriad of citizens making similar reports of theft and extortion. It took a police officer turned robber/drug dealer for the federal government, the District Attorney’s Office and others to finally believe that these officers were lying, cheating and stealing. So, it took the word of one disgraced officer who admitted to robbing drug dealers and redistributing those drugs on our streets to finally take seriously all of the complaints that had previously been made.
When former Philadelphia police officer Jeffrey Walker was caught in a sting planting drugs in a target’s car and then going to his house and stealing $15,000 in cash, he was immediately arrested and pled guilty. His next step: cooperation. In an effort to reduce the time he’d spend in federal prison, he started talking. A lot. Suddenly all the citizens’ reports that were previously dismissed as “unfounded” against these six officers, now became true. It took a liar to be believed to have these alleged liars indicted even though honest citizens were disbelieved.
By Day & By Night – Jekyll & Hyde
By day, these officers would get on the witness stand at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, often while making overtime from the City because they were off duty, point across the room to defense table and condescendingly speak down at the accused drug dealer and their terrible crime of poisoning our City and taking advantage of addicts all for a quick buck. And, they did it with a slight grin on their face as they took satisfaction in appearing as the good guys who were fighting crime and keeping our streets safe.
By night, according to the feds, they were the drug dealer. They were the robber. They were the thief. They stole from us all. They stole money from drug dealers, taxpayers and the City. But, more than money, they stole our faith. Our faith in a system where people place their hand on the Bible and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Our faith in an oath that officers take to serve and protect the citizens of Philadelphia. Our faith in truth and justice. So, where do we go from here?
Presumption of Innocence
Like every client I have ever represented as a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney, these six individuals are presumed innocent and remain innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, while the indictment appears damning, these officers are entitled to every constitutional protection afforded any other citizen. We must resist the urge to convict them in the court of public opinion and wait for all of the facts to be presented in a courtroom. If a jury of their peers convicts them of these offenses, they deserve the full wrath of the law. And, it should be considered an aggravating factor that they did all of this while acting as police officers, public officials, with a duty to uphold and enforce the law, not break it. On the other hand, if acquitted, we must respect the jury’s verdict and accept that they be allowed to go on with their lives and support their families. Regardless of the verdict, whether they should ever be allowed to wear the uniform of a police officer is a question for another day.
The Indicted Officers
Thomas Liciardello: 38 years old, 19 year veteran of the force, 12 years in Narcotics;
Perry Betts: 46 years old, 19 year veteran of the force, 13 years in Narcotics;
Linwood Norman: 46 years old, 24 year veteran of the force, 16 years in Narcotics;
Brian Reynolds: 43 years old, 20 year veteran of the force, 13 years in Narcotics;
John Speiser: 42 years old, 19 year veteran of the force, 5 years in Narcotics; and
Michael Spicer: 46 years old, 19 year veteran of the force, 12 years in Narcotics.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for possession with intent to deliver, contact Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Brian M. Fishman immediately for a free consultation concerning your rights. Additionally, we handle civil rights cases. If any of these officers stole money from you or testified falsely against you or a loved one, we invite you to contact our office to discuss whether you have a valid claim against the City of Philadelphia or the Philadelphia Police Department.
Disclosure: I was a Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney from 2002-2005. During that time, I called many of these officers to the stand to testify at preliminary hearings and at trial. While I can’t recall with any specificity the outcome of cases, I am certain that individuals were ordered to stand trial and convicted based on the testimony of these officers. I can not say whether these officers were testifying to the truth then but I had no reason to disbelieve their police reports or testimony. I have also been a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney for almost 9 years. I therefore have had the chance to cross-examine many of these officers in an attempt to call their credibility into question. Again, I don’t have a recollection of the results of specific cases as these officers have not testified in years. But, during my time as both an Assistant District Attorney and a criminal defense attorney, I have had the chance to speak with many of these officers outside of the courtroom. Therefore, I have had the chance to get to know them on a personal as well as professional level.
Sources: Philadelphia Magazine: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2014/07/30/report-six-philly-cops-arrested-feds-mug-shots; NBC Philadelphia: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Former-Philadelphia-Narcotics-Officer-Pleads-Guilty-to-Drug-Dealer-Robbery-246906771.html; Times Herald: http://www.timesherald.com/general-news/20140804/6-philadelphia-police-officers-seek-bail-in-racketeering-case; CBS Philly: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2014/07/30/six-philadelphia-police-officers-arrested-in-federal-corruption-probe/; Philly.com: http://articles.philly.com/2014-08-01/news/52290646_1_officers-rogue-cops-perry-betts.