United States

US Judge Approves Bail in Philly Police Indictment

A federal judge has upheld rulings that grant house arrest to four of six Philadelphia police officers charged with robbing, beating and kidnapping drug suspects.
The officers granted bail Thursday include alleged enforcer Linwood Norman, who is accused of dangling a suspect over an 18th-floor balcony as he demanded money and selling three kilograms of stolen cocaine.
"He had set up a drug rip-off, basically, with one of his relatives,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said in seeking to have Norman detained. "Not only does he take the cocaine, he's able to sell it, and bring the money back to Officer (Jeffrey) Walker very quickly.'' 
The bail decisions are a setback for federal prosecutors who want all six indicted drug squad officers in custody to await trial. They fear their witnesses will be threatened.    
Walker is a former drug squad colleague who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating in the case. The indictment announced last week relies heavily on his statements and those of convicted or suspected drug dealers. Defense lawyers believe there is little corroborating evidence and call the witnesses -- especially Walker -- unreliable.
"I'm surprised the government will give them so much deference and credence,'' lawyer Gregory Pagano, who represents officer Perry Betts, has said.
Betts was granted bail Thursday along with Norman, John Speiser and Brian Reynolds, although not all of them were able to immediately post the required property.
The racketeering indictment accused the group of using gangland tactics to steal or skim more than $500,000 in cash and cocaine from suspects from 2006 to 2012. 
Drug task force members have been slapped with civil rights complaints by civilians for years. The lawsuits filed against Officer Thomas Liciardello, the alleged ringleader, date to the 1990s. Nearly 80 related lawsuits may be put on hold while the criminal case plays out.
However, other alleged victims kept quiet, and only told their stories after investigators debriefed Walker and contacted them, Wzorek said.
The federal prosecutor described the alleged shakedowns as "gunpoint robberies'' and argued that anyone else charged with armed robbery would not get bail.
U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno, though, concluded that the suspended officers could not attempt the crimes described in the indictment without their guns and badges. 
Liciardello and co-defendant Michael Spicer are still being held without bail. Robreno is expected to review those decisions on appeal at a later date.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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