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Amid credibility issues, five Philly narcotics officers, lieutenant transferred

Amid mounting concerns about credibility, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has transferred five Philadelphia narcotics officers and a lieutenant to quieter, lower-profile units.

Editor's Note: This story originally ran on Dec. 6, 2012.

Amid mounting concerns about credibility, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has transferred five Philadelphia narcotics officers and a lieutenant to quieter, lower-profile units.

Ramsey confirmed Wednesday that he ordered the transfers, but declined to discuss his reasons for doing so.

According to multiple sources, the District Attorney's Office recently informed Ramsey that prosecutors no longer wanted to call the officers to testify in drug cases. Those sources said the District Attorney's Office had determined that the officers' credibility was too badly damaged.

Tasha Jamerson, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Seth Williams, declined to comment on the transfers or on how the office planned to handle any current cases involving them.

Officers Perry Betts, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Thomas Liciardello, and Brian Speiser were transferred to Center City districts or the traffic unit. Lt. Robert Otto was transferred to South Detectives. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said that the transfers were based on "unfounded accusations" by the District Attorney's Office and that the allegations should have been investigated first.

"When you've got an aggressive group of officers, you're going to have people who aren't happy," McNesby said. "These guys took a lot of guns off the streets, took a lot of drugs off the streets. They did a lot of good work for the city."

The officers have been the targets of a number of Internal Affairs complaints and federal lawsuits, many of which allege the use of excessive force, false arrests, and the filing of fraudulent reports. The city settled many of those cases, records show.

Bradley S. Bridge, a veteran lawyer in the Philadelphia Public Defender's Office, said the officers were "among the most troubled in the department."

"Transferring them out of a place where they have intense, high-profile interactions with people, and where there is little oversight of their actions, is an important and significant move," Bridge said. "We have had numerous clients who have complained about their interactions with these officers, who have maintained that these officers have testified falsely against them. And this is a recognition that those complaints are valid. This reflects that the problems are so significant that the department had to do something."

In a 2008 lawsuit, Christopher Conolly of South Philadelphia alleged that Liciardello and another officer pulled him over as he drove home from a martial-arts class. The officers were driving a car with tinted windows and were wearing plain clothes, according to the suit, but refused to show Conolly their identification. Conolly said he believed he was about to be carjacked and drove away.

When the officers caught up to him, Conolly said, he got out of the car with hands raised, but they threw him to the ground and choked, kicked, and punched him as he yelled for help. Liciardello, he said, put a gun to the back of his head and told him, "We are the cops. If you don't shut up, I will put a . . . bullet in your head."

Conolly was arrested. Charges were later dropped and the city settled the case, records show.

In a lawsuit filed in October in federal court, Edward McGill of Lindenwold alleged that he was visiting family and friends when Liciardello, Speiser, Reynolds, and Otto arrested him without cause and charged him with drug possession. "The aforesaid charges were based upon the filing of a fraudulent police report," said the suit, which is pending.

In 2008, Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa M. Rau rejected eyewitness testimony from Betts in a nonjury trial involving a man arrested outside a house in Kensington. Betts testified that he caught Hector Tapia with two pounds of cocaine, $1,300 cash, and a gun. Tapia, then 29, disputed almost every aspect of the officer's account, saying he had a licensed gun, no cocaine, and $350 from his haircutting business.

After hearing that Tapia had no criminal record, and viewing photos that showed a crime scene that would have been difficult to see at night, Rau delivered a not-guilty verdict.

At the time, Betts told The Inquirer: "You put your life on the line every day, sacrificing yourself to protect the public. . . . I was just very surprised that a person with a kilo and a loaded .45 would be let go."

To McNesby, the circumstances surrounding the six officers echo those of five narcotics officers taken off the street in 2009 after allegations surfaced that the officers falsified evidence, conducted illegal searches, and stole while on the job. Officer Jeffrey Cujdik and others were spotlighted in a series of Pulitzer Prize-winning stories published in the Philadelphia Daily News, and the officers have been the targets of a federal investigation for more than three years. No charges have been filed.

The reporting by Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman was based in part on interviews with a confidential informant who alleged that Cujdik sometimes falsified information about suspects to obtain search warrants.

McNesby has maintained the innocence of those officers.

"It's a sad day," he said, "when you have the criminals in the city dictating where cops are going to be working."

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