PHILADELPHIA (AP) — One of six former drug squad members on trial in a police corruption case took the stand Friday to deny that the group stole more than $400,000 from drug dealers and roughed them up along the way.
Michael Spicer appeared relaxed and affable as he challenged testimony from a string of drug dealers who said they were robbed, beaten, threatened and even framed in court. A seemingly bright, mild-mannered former milkman, he is the only defendant expected to testify in what has been a joint defense strategy throughout the month-long trial.
Spicer, 47, told the jury that squad members watched TV and played basketball with suspects while they waited for them to set up their suppliers — a far cry from complaints that they leaned one man over an 18th-floor balcony and kidnapped another for a week in a motel.
Spicer denied ever seeing a safe that trial witness Robert Kushner said went missing during a 2007 drug raid. Kushner said he had $80,000 stashed in it, and was locked in a holding cell when it disappeared.
Former squad member Jeffrey Walker, who pleaded guilty in the case, said he carried it down 17 flights of stairs before splitting it with squad leader Thomas Liciardello and others.
"I never saw a safe in his apartment, at all," Spicer testified Friday.
Instead, he said he and two other officers shot hoops with Kushner while they tried to set up his supplier.
"Mr. Kushner advised us he was a basketball coach," Spicer recalled. "(Co-defendant Brian) Reynolds said he hoped his team was better than he was, because he was not very good."
Kushner's trial testimony led him to lose his job coaching basketball at a private suburban school.
Spicer also challenged other episodes described during the month-long trial, including a dealer who said he was leaned over a high-rise balcony over the password to his Palm Pilot.
"That didn't happen, that I saw," said Spicer, who said he was there for the entire 2010 search.
Suspect Michael Cascioli, he said, agreed to give up the password when they reminded him he wouldn't otherwise get credit for cooperating. He then agreed to summon his supplier.
"After we got done searching, ... we just sat around watching TV, waiting for (the supplier)," Spicer said.
Kushner and Cascioli are two of more than a dozen admitted drug dealers who have testified for the prosecution. A few other witnesses say they were not in the business and wrongly targeted by the squad, including a man with $10,000 in cash in a safe in his garage.
The northeast Philadelphia plumber said he regularly put aside money for his daughter's college tuition. But police suggested he raised the La Salle University nursing tuition by selling methamphetamine, and Spicer on Friday said the man admitted as much. The squad that day reported finding 100 grams of meth and a digital scale, and the plumber spent five weeks in jail before the charges were dropped.
Scores of drug convictions have been overturned amid Walker's corruption plea in May 2013 and the ensuing July 2014 indictment of Liciardello, Reynolds, Spicer, Perry Betts, Norman Linwood and John Speiser.
Walker, caught stealing $15,000 and planting drug evidence in an FBI sting, hopes to avoid a life sentence with his testimony. Three police supervisors have testified for the defense, and maligned Walker as a problem officer.
Spicer's cool temperament will be put to the test Monday when federal prosecutors get their turn to question him.
He may be the last witness before the jury gets the case.