Suspended Philadelphia police detective Rickie Durham pleaded not guilty to obstruction-of-justice charges yesterday and was placed under house arrest during a brief hearing in U.S. District Court.
Judge David R. Strawbridge rejected a prosecution motion to deny Durham bail and instead set restrictions aimed at addressing the government's concern that Durham might try to influence witnesses in the case against him.
In a cramped fifth-floor courtroom packed with relatives and friends, including several off-duty police officers, Durham responded with a firm "not guilty" when the six charges were read to him.
The 12-year police veteran has been suspended with intent to dismiss, a procedure that will result in his firing within 30 days.
He has been charged with knowingly leaking information to a drug kingpin about a pending law enforcement raid and then lying to investigators about it.
His lawyer, Fortunato N. Perri Jr., told Strawbridge that Durham was a "dedicated police officer" and intended to fight the charges.
Pointing to the members of the department who had turned out for the hearing, Perri said, "Law enforcement has a different view than the government. . . . Law enforcement has not turned their back on Rickie Durham."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bresnick had argued that Durham should be denied bail and jailed pending trial.
In a detention motion and in arguments in open court, Bresnick contended that Durham had violated his oath as a police officer by tipping off Alton "Ace Capone" Coles about a series of raids Aug. 10, 2005.
Bresnick argued that Durham had "risked the lives of hundreds of his fellow officers, who unwittingly could have walked into a firestorm of bullets as a result of his obstructive conduct."
He contended that if left free, Durham would be "a serious risk of continuing to obstruct justice in the case that awaits him."
Strawbridge, however, ruled that Durham would be placed under house arrest with electronic monitoring at his home in the 1600 block of East Mount Pleasant Avenue; that the house, owned by Durham's wife, would be used as collateral for a $50,000 bail bond; that Durham would report to pretrial-services officials twice a week; and that he could not have any contact with any potential witness in the case.
The charges appear to be built around information provided by Jerome "Pooh" Richardson, a former Philadelphia high school and NBA basketball standout.
Durham and Richardson have been friends for years. Richardson's half-sister, Aysa, was Coles' live-in girlfriend in August 2005.
Durham was one of more than 200 law enforcement agents assigned to take part in predawn raids aimed at the Coles drug organization that Aug. 10.
A few hours before the raids went off, Durham called Pooh Richardson, who lives in California.
The indictment alleges that Durham made the call knowing that Richardson would in turn call his sister and tip her and Coles off about the raids.
Durham has said he made the call merely to gather information for the investigation. He has subsequently acknowledged that the call was "poor judgment," but has insisted he had no intention of leaking information.
What Durham said to Richardson during their phone call will be at the heart of the case. Richardson is cooperating with authorities.
The raids went off as planned.
Coles, who was charged with heading a multimillion-dollar cocaine operation, was eventually convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to life plus 55 years.