Judges split on bail for Philly police officers

August 4, 2014 - 5:34 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Three Philadelphia police officers charged with conspiring to rob drug dealers of more than $500,000 in cash and cocaine were granted house arrest Monday, although two others were denied bail.

Those being released include Officer Linwood Norman, described as an enforcer who once dangled a drug suspect over an 18th-floor balcony as he demanded money.

"Mr. Norman's actions in this case are out of control," Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek said as he fought the bail request. "We've got (him) selling three kilograms of cocaine while he's on the police department."

However, U.S. Magistrate Timothy Rice said that Norman and two others could be released. He found no immediate evidence that they had threatened witnesses after the investigation began two years ago and they were put on desk duty.

Most of the defendants face long prison terms if convicted of racketeering or a weapons charge. They have all pleaded not guilty to charges that include kidnapping and civil rights deprivations.

The officers are accused of using gangland tactics to intimidate their targets. The officers allegedly bashed in someone's teeth and beat people in the head with a steel pipe.

The officers also routinely entered homes without a search warrant, at least once using a sledge hammer to knock down a door — after locking the owner in a jail cell overnight, the indictment said.

Rice denied bail to the officer suspected of being the group's ringleader, Thomas Liciardello. He once pistol-whipped a man held at a motel room for several days so he could "score points in a bizarre contest with other officers to physically abuse victims," Wzorek wrote in a court filing.

Defense lawyers questioned the credibility of the accusers, given their criminal backgrounds.

The city's district attorney questioned the credibility of the accused officers in 2012 and refused to use their testimony in court, a move that followed years of defense bar complaints and civil rights lawsuits. Prosecutors said they had tried to make a case for years, but could only do so after former officer Jeffrey Walker was arrested on home-invasion charges, and agreed to plead guilty and cooperate.

Defense lawyers, as they pushed for bail, said it was not surprising their clients waved weapons and used harsh tactics in their work pursuing drug dealers.

"He wasn't playing Pollyanna out there on the streets," said Officer Michael Spicer's lawyer, Jimmy Binns. "All of these alleged robberies are in connection with arrests and searches and seizures."

The police families who packed the federal courtroom Monday gasped when a judge first assigned to the bail hearings ordered Spicer held. The judge, Magistrate Richard Lloret, had offered to step down because he was a longtime federal prosecutor. After his ruling, the other defendants all asked him to recuse himself. Rice was then brought in for the other hearings.

Spicer was expected to appeal his detention. A bail hearing for a sixth defendant was postponed.