Sergeant defends drug officers on trial in racketeering case

AP News
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Posted: Apr 29, 2015 1:18 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Philadelphia police sergeant defended six of his former drug unit officers on trial in a sweeping racketeering case, telling jurors Wednesday he "would have taken care of (it)" had the theft, beatings and perjury described by drug dealers and an outcast squad member occurred.

The veterans of the city's elite undercover squad were accused of stealing money and drugs, planting evidence, beating and threatening suspects, and lying in court.

Sgt. Joseph McCloskey's testimony for the defense was designed to attack the government's witnesses: a string of admitted drug dealers and convicted former officer Jeffrey Walker.

One drug dealer told jurors he was lifted over a balcony and threatened. But McCloskey said he was there — and it didn't happen.

"If that would have happened in my presence, we wouldn't be here today. I would have taken care of that seven years ago," said McCloskey, who, like other supervisors, was not charged in the case.

He will face cross-examination from federal prosecutors who brought the racketeering case after years of complaints about the narcotics field unit. More than 160 of their drug convictions have since been overturned and scores of civil-rights lawsuits filed.

The jury after a month of testimony is expected to get the case next week.

Walker, who was caught stealing $15,000 and planting drugs in an FBI sting, said the unit routinely searched suspects' cars and homes before getting warrants. Police brass turned a blind eye because the huge seizures the squad amassed made them look good, Walker said.

McCloskey, the latest supervisor to testify for the defense, denied that his men ever took a Rolex watch or other loot described in the July 2014 indictment.

"My squad was there to confiscate drugs and guns. Even money was incidental," McCloskey said.

Prosecutors accused the group of stealing more than $400,000 in the course of their police work. Walker, 46, said he spent his share on clothes and women, while being careful not to attract attention.

He said he learned that rule from lead defendant Thomas Liciardello, the squad's day-to-day leader.

McCloskey attacked Walker's job performance in the years before his 2013 arrest, a period when Walker admitted he was going through a divorce and drinking on the job.

"I had to send a message to him, so he was assigned every job that came in (one Sunday)," McCloskey said.

On the day in question, Walker turned in a kilogram of cocaine he said that he and defendant Linwood Norman had seized. Walker this month told jurors that they kept three additional kilos to resell on the street.

Liciardello and Norman, along with co-defendants Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts and John Speiser, have pleaded not guilty.