Dropping of Mt. Airy meth case may link to narc squad problems

On Dec.3, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office dropped its case against two men and a woman accused of selling methamphetamine in the city’s Mount Airy neighborhood.

Two of the policemen who took part in the drug bust are in a group of five officers who’ve been removed from the Narcotics Field Unit and reassigned.

That same day, District Attorney Seth Williams reportedly sent a letter to Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey informing him that his office would no longer pursue any charges tied to the work of the five narcotics officers.

A defense lawyer in the Mount Airy case thinks the decision to drop the charges resulted from the shadow cast over this group of officers. And a public defender thinks this case might be one of the first of many cases to fall apart.

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The two narcotics officers who testified at a September 2011 preliminary hearing in the Mount Airy bust are Thomas Liciardello and Michael Spicer.

The defendants are Warren Layre, James McIntyre and Cecilia Silverwood, who were arrested on June 23, 2011 for allegedly participating in a crystal methamphetamine operation. Each was charged with possession with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance.

Police testified they recovered close to 900 grams of crystal meth from a two-bay garage on Sedgwick Street.

Assistant District Attorney Brett Furber, who was prosecuting the case, would not comment on his office’s decision following the Dec. 3 court date.

Defense attorney Robert Datner, Silverwood’s lawyer, told NewsWorks that Furber told three defense lawyers in a closed meeting that day that his office was withdrawing the charges.

“He did not specify any officers by name, but merely said there was an issue with the officers,” said Datner in a phone interview last Friday evening.

Tasha Jamerson, Williams’ spokesperson, would not comment on whether the decision was directly tied to the cloud over Liciardello and Spicer.

Datner said he had not gotten advance word of the District’s Attorney’s decision. He said he’d entered Courtroom 707 fully prepared to argue a motion to suppress all evidence.

“It’s not every day the District Attorney decides to withdraw a fairly significant methamphetamine case involving a pretty good number of defendants,” said Datner, adding that he is “very confident” the case was dropped as a result of Liciardello and Spicer.

So, too is Bradley Bridge, a longtime lawyer with the city’s public defender’s office.

“Absolutely,” said Bridge when asked about the case. “The DA’s office isn’t doing any Liciardello cases.”

Bridge noted that the Mount Airy-based case “has to be amongst the first cases, if not the first case [dropped as a result of Williams’ letter to Ramsey].”

He said he expects every case involving Liciardello, Spicer and the other named narcotics officers will be thrown out as well.

Officers Perry Better, Brian Reynolds and Brian Speiser were also listed in Williams’ letter.

Both Liciardello and Spicer have been named in pending federal lawsuits alleging fabrication, planting of evidence and stealing from suspects, according to court documents.

They’ve also been investigated by the police department’s Internal Affairs Bureau. A majority of the allegations in that investigation were deemed “unfounded,” according to Bridge.

Datner said he’d been having trouble getting his expert witnesses in the Mount Airy case an opportunity to physically inspect evidence. Three times appointments were cancelled at the last minute, Datner said, with various reasons being given.

The reasons may have been legitimate, said Datner, but “it just seems suspicious that each time we tried to see the evidence they had an excuse not to show it to us.”

The Philadelphia Police Department did not respond to an email asking for comment on Datner’s account.

Datner, for his part, is now content to accept his case’s result.

“You don’t ask too many questions [when charges are dropped]. You take it and run,” he said.

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