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One Camden officer guilty, another not in Special Ops case

One Camden police officer was convicted and another was acquitted after a four-week trial in U.S. District Court in a case that involved falsified reports, planted evidence, and stolen money.

One Camden police officer was convicted and another was acquitted after a four-week trial in U.S. District Court in a case that involved falsified reports, planted evidence, and stolen money.

Antonio Figueroa, 35, was convicted of three of five counts in what federal prosecutors called an attack on "the foundation of the entire criminal justice system."

The second suspended officer, Robert Bayard, 33, was acquitted of all charges.

Figueroa clasped his head in his hands as the guilty verdicts were announced. Looking stunned as he exited the courtroom, he declined to comment.

"We're disappointed in the verdict," said his attorney, Ralph A. Jacobs, adding that an appeal was planned.

Moments after the verdicts were read, Bayard gave his attorney a bear hug as they sat at the defense table. He then sat down and wiped his eyes. His wife, Donielle, who was in the courtroom for the entire trial, also wiped away tears as she sat in the spectators' benches.

Bayard's attorney, Robert N. Agre, said the jury of four men and eight women may have been swayed by the improbability of the prosecution's claim that Bayard started to break the law just three days after joining the elite Special Operations Unit on July 28, 2008.

Deputy U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick said "it's difficult to speculate" why the jury split its verdict. "We certainly respect the jury's decision," he said.

The two men were charged with one count of conspiring to violate the civil rights of Camden residents in connection with 13 incidents in 2008 and 2009. Each was also charged with four other similar counts involving individual incidents.

Much of the prosecution's case rested on the testimony of three other officers who earlier pleaded guilty to similar charges, and now face up to 10 years in prison.

Defense attorneys attempted to shift blame to the three, particularly ex-officer Jason Stetser, saying they were implicating Bayard and Figueroa to win shorter prison terms.

The FBI investigation and subsequent indictments have resulted in state prosecutors' dismissing charges or erasing convictions of about 200 people. In most instances, those arrested had pleaded guilty to drug possession and related offenses. Many are now suing the city, and attorneys for some monitored the trial.

John Williamson, the Camden FOP president, said he was not surprised that Bayard was acquitted.

"I know him personally, and his father is a retired police officer and had been in Internal Affairs for 15 years," said Williamson, who attended part of the trial.

"I knew that Rob would never do anything to bring embarrassment on his family, or that would taint his father's career," said Williamson.

Of Figueroa, he said, "It's unfortunate. I have never known Figueroa to be like that, or engage in that type of behavior."

Chief Scott Thomson said in a text message that "Camden police will continue to hold our officers to the highest standards of integrity and honesty while upholding our solemn oath to protect and serve."

Both Bayard and Figueroa were acquitted of what may have the most publicized incident, involving a Camden man, Ron Mills, 46.

In a January 2009 police report written by Bayard, Mills was accused of throwing a bag of drugs on the ground and eluding officers after a foot chase. But Mills weighs more than 300 pounds and walks with a cane.

Mills contended that he was merely waiting for a friend at a vacant house when the officers showed up searching for drugs. Mills has said he knew nothing about any drugs, and when the officers told him to leave, he walked away.

Six weeks later, officers assigned to the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force arrested Mills, and a city detective concerned about the discrepancy between the report and Mills' inability to run contacted Internal Affairs. City police later asked the FBI to investigate.

Mills, who could not post $75,000 bail, spent five months in jail before being released in 2010.

Attorneys for Bayard and Figueroa argued that no single officer was responsible for the accuracy of a typical report, because the author would usually assume that the information, provided often by many other officers, was accurate.

Among the other officers present at the January 2009 incident were Stetser and a second former officer, Kevin Parry, who also testified for the prosecution.

Outside the courtroom, Bayard referred questions to Agre, who said he did not know if his client would seek to return to the Camden force.

"I don't think he has had time to reflect on what he wants to do," he said. Williamson said Bayard could seek reinstatement. A call to the police department was not immediately returned.

Sentencing for Figueroa is scheduled for March 16, said U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler.

Stetser, 33, of Waterford Township, pleaded guilty in June 2010. He was known on the street as "Fat Face" and had a reputation for aggressively going after drug dealers. His father, Jim, was a Camden officer who retired in 1989.

Besides Stetser and Parry, 31, Dan Morris, 48, a former sergeant, pleaded guilty after retiring from the force following an auto accident while on duty.

Each faces 10 years in prison and sentencing is scheduled early in 2012.

Bayard, who with his wife, a speech therapist, has three children, has a degree in criminal justice from Widener University and joined the Camden force in 2006. Nearly a dozen friends and coworkers from previous jobs testified on his behalf.

Figueroa joined in 2003. Figueroa, a Camden native, earned a GED, later took community college courses, and left a job in a graphic-design company to join the force, Jacobs said.