May 14, 2015
A jury on Thursday found six Philadelphia police officers not guilty of federal charges that they stole money from drug suspects, used excessive force and lied on search warrants and in court testimony.
The officers, all members of an elite narcotics unit, were acquitted of a range of charges including conspiracy, kidnapping, extortion and assault in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.
Prosecutors had argued the veteran officers abused their power and witnesses said the defendants had threatened and beat drug suspects, planted evidence, skimmed cash and lied on official police reports.
The defense disparaged the credibility of those witnesses, who included more than a dozen drug dealers and a former police officer who admitted to committing what he said were thousands of crimes while on duty.
The former officer, Jeffrey Walker, was arrested in an FBI sting in 2013. He pleaded guilty and testified against his former colleagues at the trial, which began in March.
Family members of the acquitted officers wept quietly as the verdicts were being read aloud in court and burst into loud sobs and hugged one another as the final "not guilty" was announced.
Once the 12 jurors were polled to confirm the unanimous decision, the officers and defense lawyers hugged and back-slapped one another in celebration.
Five of the officers who were wearing electronic ankle monitors while on house arrest during the trial were having the devices removed at the courthouse.
The sixth, Thomas Liciardello, who was accused of being the ringleader and the only one held without bail, was being released from custody, his lawyer said.
Each of the six officers, who were suspended without pay, will decide whether to return to the police force, their lawyers said.
More than a hundred drug cases in which the defendants were involved between 2006 and 2012 have been thrown out.
One witness, a drug dealer, testified in the trial that the officers threatened to throw him off a high-rise balcony if he refused to cooperate and another witness said they held him hostage for days in a motel room.
When the six were arrested last summer, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called the allegations "one of the worst cases of police corruption I have ever seen."