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Ex-Philly cop who admitted thousands of crimes to be sentenced

The acquittal of former Lt. Jeffrey Walker’s colleagues creates headaches for police and prosecutors trying to move past one of the city’s biggest corruption scandals.

Ex-Philly police officer Jeffery Walker
Ex-Philly police officer Jeffery WalkerRead more

J EFFREY WALKER, the disgraced ex-cop behind one of Philly's biggest police scandals, will be sentenced for his crimes on Wednesday.

But his punishment is hardly the end of a controversy that erupted about a decade ago, when attorneys first raised concerns about arrests made by the elite narcotics squad, where Walker once worked as an officer.

Because, while Walker pleaded guilty and implicated his colleagues in crooked schemes to rob and beat drug dealers, those colleagues - Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, John Speiser, Perry Betts and Linwood Norman - were acquitted in May and got their jobs back earlier this month.

That means a big mess for police, local and federal prosecutors, civil attorneys seeking damages and defendants whose cases have hung in limbo.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called the case "one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard" and vowed to melt their badges when he fired the officers last year. And both local and federal prosecutors have refused to use their testimony, dumping hundreds of cases before trial.

But then came the six officers' acquittal by a jury (drug dealers are rarely perceived as sympathetic or credible) and reinstatement.

What will happen with any future arrests they'll make, when authorities are already on record questioning their credibility? And do citizens who have sued for civil-rights violations have any chance of winning their cases?

"It's a very difficult situation," said attorney Michael Pileggi, who has filed several civil lawsuits against the officers.

The six officers will return to the jobs they held when they were fired - in the districts, not narcotics.

"If you're a cop, there's nowhere I can put you to 100 percent guarantee that you won't make arrests," Ramsey said yesterday. "Is that a problem? Yes, if the D.A. will not use them to testify in court, and I certainly understand that, that is not a knock on the D.A. at all. The real problem was that the case was lost in court. It is very, very unfortunate that the U.S. Attorney's Office did not win that case."

Despite the officers' acquittal, District Attorney Seth Williams remains hesitant about prosecuting cases based on the officers' work. He has no plans to reinstate the cases - 450 by some counts - already tossed, or quit reviewing those in the pipeline, spokesman Cameron Kline said.

"We respect the jury's verdict," Kline said. "The jury, of course, was required to apply a standard of proof beyond any reasonable doubt. That is not the standard that applies to our exercise of prosecutorial discretion to protect the integrity of our cases. The result of the criminal trial therefore does not alter our approach concerning these officers. We will continue to review matters involving these officers on a case-by-case basis."

As for federal cases, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Lappen said, "We carefully consider the credibility of all witnesses in cases that we investigate for possible prosecution. At this time, we do not have any open cases involving these defendants as witnesses."

Meanwhile, civil-rights lawsuits naming the officers as defendants are piling up in federal court.

The city has paid out $794,500 in settlements involving these officers, said Craig M. Straw, chief deputy of the city law department's civil-rights unit. About 150 lawsuits remain unresolved.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Diamond has directed attorneys involved to pick "bellwether" cases, a strategy sometimes used when a large number of plaintiffs are arguing the same theory. A representative number of test cases proceed, so that all parties can see how they might pan out. Attorneys have asked Diamond to activate 12 cases.

"It might come down to whether Walker was involved in the arrest or not," said attorney Pileggi, who's been attaching Walker's testimony to claims he's filed.

That's good news for people like Shante Hall.

Hall, 39, of Eastwick, was among the first defendants whose suspicion fueled the federal investigation of the narcotics squad.

Arrested in 2003 and again in 2004 by cops including Walker, Hall's first case was thrown out - but he was convicted and sentenced to eight to 10 years in the second case, despite his protestations of innocence and planted evidence. He served his sentence and was released before the FBI nabbed Walker during a 2013 sting.

Now he's in the tricky position of trying to get his conviction reversed and expunged - even though he's already done his time.

"I'm not going to sit here and deny I ever did anything wrong," said Hall, a father of three who has been arrested several times since he was a teenager. "But I didn't do that [the case that led to his prison sentence]. Two wrongs don't make a right."

While his former colleagues denied guilt and were acquitted, Walker testified that he committed "thousands" of crimes in 24 years as a cop.

At trial last spring, he told jurors he and his colleagues routinely planted evidence, lied under oath, conducted countless illegal searches, stole money and drugs from dealers, and used violence to silence and intimidate them. Defense attorneys attacked his credibility, as well as that of the 19 drug suspects who testified.

Walker, who's been behind bars since 2013, cooperated with authorities and testified against his former colleagues to avoid a possible life sentence.

His sentencing is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the federal courthouse.

Sentencing guidelines suggest he'll get eight to 10 years for his crimes. Walker's defense attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick is asking for much less - 37 months, followed by two years of supervised release - because he pleaded guilty and cooperated with authorities. His "remorse is profound and sincere. He understands that he made terrible choices, which have led him to this position," Fitzpatrick wrote in a sentencing memo filed Friday.

Prosecutors haven't filed a sentencing memo yet outlining what they might seek.

Said Ramsey, "I hope he gets as stiff a punishment the law allows. He's an embarrassment to the department; he's an embarrassment to law enforcement."

Meanwhile, Walker's old colleagues made one bold move in getting past the case: They have sued Ramsey, Williams, Mayor Nutter and the city for defamation.

In a complaint filed in federal court June 9, Spicer, Speiser, Liciardello, Betts, Reynolds and their former supervisor Lt. Robert Otto attest that Williams defamed them in a 2012 letter in which he told Ramsey his office would no longer use them as witnesses in narcotics cases.

"D.A. Williams' entirely misbegotten and irresponsible letter started a gigantic, destructive avalanche of severe and permanent wrongs, damages and injustices, inflicted not only upon the plaintiffs but upon all Philadelphia citizens who count on the fundamental purpose of government - public safety and order through the criminal justice system," attorney Christopher Mannix wrote in the complaint.

Last week, Mannix told the Daily News that he hasn't ruled out a similar complaint against the feds.

"It's true that prosecutors have many levels of immunity, and the burden on any defendant to go up against a U.S. prosecutor is extremely high - and it should be, or else prosecutors would be chilled, and they shouldn't be," Mannix said. "But we may be over that bar. An action against the U.S. Attorney's Office is being analyzed and explored."