Rejecting the prosecution's primary arguments in the obstruction-of-justice case against former Philadelphia police officer Rickie Durham, a federal judge Monday sentenced him to 24 months in prison, well below the minimum 15-year sentence authorities had sought.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage said Durham's actions were "reckless" and "exposed fellow officers to great risk," but he described them as an isolated incident in an otherwise exemplary 12-year career in law enforcement.
Durham was convicted last September of making a phone call that tipped drug kingpin Alton "Ace Capone" Coles to a raid just hours before it went down on Aug. 10, 2005. He also was found guilty of lying to investigators probing how Coles learned of the raid.
As he has since first being targeted in the case, Durham, 44, told Savage before sentencing Monday that he never intended to warn Coles and that he would never place other officers in harm's way, as the government alleged.
"I would give my life for my fellow officers," Durham said, his voice cracking.
Dressed in a dark business suit and open-collared white shirt, the husky ex-detective told the judge that he had "lost everything" and let down those who admired and believed in him. He was fired shortly after his arrest and will lose his police pension as a result of his conviction.
Durham, who has remained free on bail and under house arrest, was ordered by Savage to begin serving his sentence on July 12.
The events of Aug. 10, 2005, he said, "changed my entire life, Your Honor, and I apologize for it." If given the chance, he said, he hoped to "go back into the community and reinvent myself."
He repeatedly told Savage that he accepted responsibility for his actions, but he called them an error in judgment.
Savage, who had presided over Durham's two-day trial, appeared to agree.
In sometimes-heated exchanges with Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bresnick, the judge rejected a government request to expand the sentencing guidelines in the case and denied another motion asking for sentencing at the high end of the guidelines, possibly 235 months.
He also chided Bresnick for comparing Durham's conviction and its impact on society to those of several other police officers sentenced on corruption charges.
Among the cases cited by Bresnick was the conviction of Malik Snell, a former Philadelphia police officer sentenced to 360 months after being convicted of robbing drug dealers at gunpoint during phony police stops.
Savage, noting that Snell was committing crimes "with a gun . . . and a badge," asked incredulously if Bresnick was comparing Durham's actions to Snell's.
When Bresnick answered that in terms of undermining public confidence in law enforcement, Durham's offense was comparable, Savage rolled his eyes.
"We have a difference of opinion," said Savage, who has a reputation for abrupt and pointed comments to both prosecutors and defense attorneys. "It's called a sense of proportion."
"Are you saying I don't have it?" Bresnick responded.
"Draw your own conclusion," the judge snapped.
Earlier in the 90-minute hearing, Savage criticized Bresnick for "mischaracterizing the evidence" in the case.
Bresnick declined to comment as he left the courtroom after the hearing.
Fortunato Perri Jr., Durham's lawyer, said he and his client were pleased with the sentence and said it was clear that Savage had carefully evaluated all the evidence.
In arguments Monday and in the September trial, Perri said that Durham was acting out of concern for a friend's sister when he made a phone call just hours before the raid that led to Coles' learning about his pending arrest.
Durham, a police detective then working for an FBI drug task force, was one of more than 200 law enforcement agents taking part in predawn raids aimed at Coles and his multimillion-dollar cocaine-distribution network.
The agents had gathered at Philadelphia International Airport as they prepared to fan out across the region. More than a dozen locations, including Coles' $450,000 home outside Mullica Hill, had been targeted.
Just hours before the raids began, Durham called longtime friend Jerome "Pooh" Richardson, a former NBA and collegiate basketball star living in Los Angeles.
Durham knew that Richardson's half-sister, Asya, was living with Coles in the South Jersey home and told him that he should get his sister out of the house.
"They're going to take the dude down," Pooh Richardson, who testified for the prosecution, said Durham told him that morning.
Pooh Richardson, who testified under a grant of immunity, said he called his sister to warn her. As a result, Coles learned the raid was imminent and made several phone calls, picked up on wiretaps, to try to alert associates.
Prosecutors argued that Durham should have known that by calling Pooh Richardson, Coles would be alerted. They also contended that under the law, Durham's sentencing for his obstruction of justice conviction should have been linked to the underlying crime in the case, Coles' kingpin drug-dealing.
Coles was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life plus 55 years.
With that in mind, prosecutors had asked that the sentence guidelines, 121 to 151 months in a Probation Department presentence report, be increased to 188 to 235 months.
But Savage accepted Perri's argument that the underlying crime should be Asya Richardson's involvement. In 2008, she was convicted of two counts of money-laundering and has appealed that conviction. She has yet to be sentenced.
Savage said the evidence showed that Durham "did not want to help Coles and only wanted to help Richardson."
As a result, the judge amended the guidelines, setting them at 41 to 51 months and sentencing Durham to 24 months. He also was fined $5,000 and ordered to serve three years of supervised release and perform 1,000 hours of community service after his prison term ends.
U.S. Attorney Michael L. Levy said late Monday afternoon that his office was disappointed with the sentence and that "24 months does not adequately consider" the criminal factors in the case. Levy sad his office was "considering all options that are available." The office could appeal the sentence.
Durham, who declined to comment as he left the courtroom, was swarmed by more than a dozen family members and friends, including his elderly mother, who embraced him, shook his hand and patted him on the back.
"He's remorseful for his actions," said Perri, the defense attorney. "He's upset at this whole situation. . . . It's been a long, hard road for Rickie, and I think he finally has a bit of a sense that it's at an end."