Closings set after ex-officer testifies in drug squad case

AP News
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Posted: May 04, 2015 5:41 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former Philadelphia police officer took one for the team as he sparred with a federal prosecutor on the final day of testimony in a narcotics squad corruption trial.

Six veteran officers are on trial, but only cool-headed Michael Spicer took the stand to defend charges that the group robbed drug suspects, roughed them up and lied to win convictions. Spicer was the last trial witness called before the jury hears closing arguments Tuesday.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm an angel," Spicer said, describing the squad's power of suggestion that led one suspect to cooperate. But he said he never saw anyone lean the man over a balcony or put him in harm's way from the supplier he set up, as the indictment charges.

"We would never put a civilian in jeopardy. The sergeant wouldn't allow that for a second," Spicer said.

The jury over the past month has heard from more than a dozen drug dealers and a rogue ex-colleague who testified after he was caught stealing $15,000 in drug money and planting evidence.

Convicted officer Jeffrey Walker said he had committed "thousands" of crimes on the job — even reselling three kilos of seized cocaine on the street — and shared the proceeds with his fellow officers. He said he never worried about people wrongly convicted because they were drug dealers and, to his mind, not "human."

"I was very loyal to the guys," the 24-year police veteran said. "I would lie for them. I would steal for them. I would abuse people for them. I wanted to be part of the squad."

Police supervisors, called by the defense, attacked Walker as a sloppy drunk who once lost his service weapon.

The supervisors were on hand for many of the drug raids described in the 2014 indictment. Prosecutors say the squad stole more than $400,000, carried a safe down 17 flights of stairs to avoid elevator cameras, raided homes before getting search warrants, and threatened suspects and their family members.

None of the supervisors were charged.

The criminal trial follows years of complaints and civil lawsuits about the narcotics field unit run by lead defendant Thomas Liciardello. About 160 convictions were overturned amid Walker's plea in 2013 and last year's indictment against Liciardello and five others.

Spicer, 47, acknowledged that he was not present for some of the episodes alleged, and could not dispute them.

In one arrest discussed Monday, Spicer was asked why his paperwork said another officer had translated for a Spanish-speaking man signing off on a search warrant. The officer came to court to deny he translated in that case.

"I'm still scratching my head (over that)," Spicer said. "I don't know if we misconveyed what we were asking him, or if he misunderstood."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney also asked about threats allegedly made to a plumber's family to get him to cooperate during a methamphetamine raid. According to the plumber, the officers warned that his wife and daughter could be put in prison and attacked.

"I remember a conversation put to (him) that if he didn't step up to the plate, his wife and daughter are going to be taken into custody," Spicer said. "I don't remember which officer said it."

"He had to step up to the plate, and he did not. That led to the arrest of both (women)," Spicer said.