The federal case against six Philadelphia narcotics officers charged with corruption, theft and violent intimidation of suspects opened Monday – setting up what will surely be a heated clash between “dirty cops” and the credibility of the convicted drug dealers who are accusing them.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek took an hour to outline the testimonies of at least 16 individuals who say they were illegally searched, beaten, robbed and even hung over a balcony by the officers. The victims – many of them convicted for selling drugs – accuse the officers of stealing more than $400,000 and other valuables.
Wzorek acknowledged the histories of his witnesses, saying they would be the first to admit they’re not the most upstanding citizens. But that doesn’t excuse instances of pistol-whipping, punching suspects in the face, and, in one case, hanging someone over an 18-story balcony, he said in his opening statement.
“Taking money while armed as a Philadelphia police officer is still theft,” Wzorek told the jury. “Think about how they used their power and guns to intimidate the Philadelphia community. Don’t let yourself get distracted from that.”
The first of six defense lawyers, Jack McMahon, made a more emotional appeal, describing his client, Brian Reynolds, as a distinguished, aggressive cop doing what he needed to do given the dangerous nature of his job.
“These guys who lurk in the dark, sell drugs to kids even, who use guns, they don’t like cops who interrupt their business,” said McMahon. “If Brian Reynolds worked all those years without someone complaining, he wouldn’t be doing his job.”
The negative terms used by the defense to describe the government’s witness list quickly piled up – emphasizing the word “drug dealer” often along with adjectives like disgusting, despicable and the scourge of the city.
“When you put 19 single bags of trash together, it just makes a larger pile of trash,” said McMahon.
Feds says the group used gang-style tactics between 2006 and 2012, until former narcotics officer Jeffrey Walker was arrested for planting drugs during an FBI sting operation.
Walker gave up his former colleagues and is now the prosecution’s main witness.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Miller, representing Officer Thomas Liciardello – the alleged leader of the group – described Walker as a thug and a coward.
Opening remarks by the final three defense attorneys will finish Tuesday, and the trial is expected to last 10 weeks.