PHILADELPHIA — Federal prosecutors rested their monthlong case Friday against six former Philadelphia police officers who are accused of robbing dealers of large sums of drugs and cash, beating them to get information, planting evidence and lying in court to win unjust convictions.
The defense then began its case by questioning FBI agents about the evolving story told by star government witness Jeffrey Walker, a disgraced member of the elite undercover unit.
Prosecutors built their case on Walker's testimony and that of a string of admitted or suspected drug dealers.
Walker admitted that he routinely stole money and valuables during illegal drug raids, which he said was standard procedure in the undercover unit run by defendant Thomas Liciardello. The unit scored major seizures that, according to Walker, kept police brass happy and internal affairs complaints at bay.
"It made them look good. It was nothing but a dog-and-pony show," Walker testified earlier this month.
More than 160 drug convictions have been overturned since Walker pleaded guilty and the six others were named in a 26-count indictment. Scores of civil-rights lawsuits are pending over the allegedly tainted arrests and convictions.
Walker has been in custody since he fell for an FBI sting — planting drug evidence and stealing $15,000 from an informant — in May 2013. He hopes to avoid a life sentence with his testimony.
The defense has tried to paint him as a thieving outcast in the unit. They question why police supervisors involved in the raids haven't been charged along with Liciardello and co-defendants Brian Reynolds, Perry Betts, Michael Spicer, Linwood Norman and John Speiser.
Defense lawyers, attacking Walker's credibility, hope jurors will seize on the changing nature of his statements. He first told the FBI that he had never before planted drugs, but now admits committing "thousands" of crimes during his 24-year career. He also reversed course about whether or not their sergeant had shared in a $50,000 drug-raid bounty. And he acknowledged that he was drinking heavily during his later years on the job as his marriage came apart and he tried to kill himself.
On Friday, Chief Inspector Christopher Werner, who oversaw the squad, challenged the testimony of a barber who said officers held him hostage in a hotel room in 2006 and forced him to set up a drug supplier. His account is the basis of a kidnapping charge that is part of the indictment's racketeering conspiracy count.
Werner said the man was free to stop cooperating, although he conceded that the man would have faced arrest.
On cross-examination, Werner said he could not recall why the barber — allegedly caught with a large supply of drugs and an AK47 — was not arrested since he never reeled in the Florida supplier.
"It was a misstep. He should have been," said Werner. "As (the) captain, I'm going to have to take responsibility, but there were other people involved."