PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A rogue ex-police officer testifying against drug squad colleagues in a federal corruption trial admitted Wednesday that he committed "thousands" of crimes during his career on the Philadelphia Police Department.
Former officer Jeffrey Walker said he and other members of his undercover unit routinely lied to judges and juries after planting evidence, stealing drug money and beating suspects to get information.
Walker acknowledged that his lies have led to any number of unjust convictions. He didn't consider the victims "human" because they were drug dealers.
"We were getting the drugs, the guns, the money (off the street)," Walker, a 24-year police veteran, testified Wednesday. "We were also stealing."
At least 160 convictions have been overturned and scores of civil-rights lawsuits filed since Walker's plea in the case in 2013. The lawsuits are on hold while six former colleagues charged in the wake of his cooperation fight the Justice Department racketeering charges.
Walker, 46, explained that the squad targeted white, college-type dealers for the on-duty heists because they were easily intimidated. More than a dozen such witnesses have testified, some telling the jury they presumed they were being robbed by rival criminals when the thuggish officers descended on them.
The squad routinely barged in first, stole what they wanted, and then went to court to get a search warrant, the July 2014 indictment said.
The drug unit — under the aggressive leadership of lead defendant Thomas Liciardello — graced their bosses with a steady stream of high-profile arrests and drug and cash seizures. That kept the Internal Affairs complaints at bay for many years, Walker said.
But the crew's solidarity — and alleged secrets — started to unravel a few years ago, along with Walker's marriage. He began drinking heavily, causing him to be forgetful and fall asleep on the job, even during surveillances.
Liciardello stripped him of his partners, sending him out on the street by himself, while the others joked about his marriage, drinking and weight-loss surgery.
"I don't know why they were ostracizing me," Walker testified, speaking in a dull monotone and wearing the green prison jumpsuit that has been his uniform since May 2013. "If they needed me to do something, I did it."
Walker had only one friend left on the job by the end — Linwood Norman, the only other black defendant.
Walker and Norman, both tall and broadly built, had earned the nickname "the Twin Towers" as the squad's enforcers. It fell to them to rough people up when necessary, Walker testified.
They also partnered in one of the more audacious crimes detailed in the 26-count indictment, he said. In September 2009, they stopped a drug dealer outside the city limits and seized four kilos of cocaine, he said. Norman steered three of the kilos to someone who resold it on the street, then gave Walker a $17,000 cut of the proceeds, he said.
The police property receipt lists just one kilo of cocaine and said it was seized in Philadelphia.
Drug dealers victimized by the squad never complained about the dodgy police reports, lest they face more trouble for having more drugs or piles of cash.
"You did this for your benefit, ... so you could get money, in your pocket, to spend on wine, women and song?" defense lawyer Jack McMahon asked the government's star witness on Wednesday.
"That's correct," Walker said.
His arrest in an FBI sting, he said, led to a spiritual epiphany that inspired him to come clean about both the defendants and himself. He also hopes to avoid a life sentence.
"As part of saving myself, I wanted to tell the truth. And they were part of my truth," Walker said.