Philadelphia, PA- Six Philadelphia narcotics officers were arrested early Wednesday morning for allegedly robbing, assaulting suspected drug dealers and falsifying reports to cover up the abuses following a lengthy federal corruption investigation.
The officers arrested were Thomas Liciardello, Perry Betts, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, John Speiser and Linwood Norman. The officers are either current or former narcotics officers, and face a multitude of charges including racketeering, drug dealing, extortion, robbery, and kidnapping.
An investigation by the Philadelphia Police Department and the FBI alleged a disturbing game played by the accused officers in which they awarded points to one another based on different methods of assaulting suspects. Another accusation includes an incident where an officer allegedly held a suspect 30 feet off the ground over a balcony in an attempt to gain information from the suspect. The officers also stand accused by officials of stealing over $500,000 in cash and goods such as electronics and designer clothes between 2006 and 2012, and selling drugs that they’d seized from suspects.
The indictment states that the officers used “extreme force” to obtain the cash and personal property, and made false police reports to avoid attracting attention to themselves.
Warren Layre had spoken of his experience with the officers in an interview last year with The Philadelphia Inquirer. Layre said that Officer Liciardello, one of the officers named in the 26-count indictment, was among several other officers who raided Layre’s auto repair shop without a warrant in 2011 on suspicion of drug dealing. Layre went on to describe how officers broke the door of his shop down with a battering ram. According to Layre, Liciardello hit him in the head with a metal pipe, rendering him unconscious. Layre said that when he came to, Liciardello then kicked him in the face and knocked his front teeth out.
After a search warrant was obtained, a large quantity of methamphetamine was found in the shop. Liciardello reported that $6,650 was seized from the shop; Layre said the amount was closer to $41,000. Layre theorized that the drugs were placed there by an acquaintance who may have been a police informant.
Layre’s story is just one of many allegations against the officers named in the indictment. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the accusations amount to “one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard.” Ramsey suspended the six officers on Wednesday with “intent to dismiss”.
If found guilty, all officers but Speiser could face life sentences in prison; Speiser faces a maximum sentence of 40 years.
Ramsey seeks to change current police union rules to allow narcotics officers to be rotated out of the unit every five years to curb long-term corruption such as this case. “We need to be able to move people from these sensitive units if there’s any hint at all that they are engaging in misconduct,” said Ramsey.
The police union has been against changing this rule, stating that more time spent in the narcotics unit builds expertise and a stronger bond with police informants. Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby argued that “they already had to have a background check to get into narcotics. You have plenty of supervision, a disciplinary system in place, and a commissioner who is obviously not bashful about firing people.”