Disgraced narcotics cop Jeffrey Walker spent three days on the witness stand this week in the federal corruption trial of six fellow officers.
Depending on your perspective, Walker provided either the high or the low point of the now three week-old trial. By his own admission, he was a liar, cheat and thief during most of his 24 years with the Philadelphia Police Department. But that's a description he and federal prosecutors say that also fits the six members of the Narcotics Field Unit sitting at the defense table in U.S. District Court.
Planting drugs, stealing cash and narcotics, falsifying reports and lying in court were all part of a day's work in the unit, Walker said.
When the indictment in this case was handed down last year Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called it one of the worst cases of corruption in the department's history. A more troubling possibility, and one hinted at by the feds, is that the dark side of law enforcement that has been the theme of this prosecution is SOP in narcotics squads.
Walker, 46, took the stand after the jury had heard tales of corruption and abuse from a half dozen admitted drug dealers who in one way or another said their constitutional rights had been trampled on by lead defendant Thomas Liciardello and his five-co-defendants.
The jury heard more of the same today from several other witnesses arrested by what authorities allege was a rogue unit led by Liciardello.
But it's hard to generate sympathy for criminals which is part of the dilemma facing prosecutors in this case. From many of the reader comments on this website it's clear that there are those who believe the defendants were the front line of defense in a war of drugs and that in that war all that mattered was winning.
Prosecutors, on the other hand, have painted the six accused cops as urban bandits with badges.
As the trial moves into its fourth week on Tuesday the key issue that has emerged is not whether the jury -- largely middle class, white suburban residents -- feels sorry for the witnesses. The point is whether the jury believes them.
Walker, a sad sack of a witness, corroborated much of the earlier testimony, although his details weren't always a perfect fit. That is to be expected from any two people recounting events that occurred six or seven years in the past. The indictment focuses on incidents that allegedly occurred between 2006 and 2012.
So was drug dealer Michael Cascioli dangled by his feet over the 19th floor balcony railing at his City Avenue apartment or was he lifted by Walker and co-defendant Linwood Norman and shown the height from which he could be dropped if he didn't cooperate with the cops?
And did Howard Wilson hide $38,000 in drug proceeds in a sweat suit stuffed in a clothes dryer or was the money in a shoe box hidden in that basement dryer?
Those were just two varying versions of a litany of crimes and questionable behavior the jury has heard about over the first three weeks of the trial. There are 19 "episodes" of corruption detailed in the indictment. Thus far about half of those have been laid out for the jury through at times mind-numbingly detailed direct testimony and sleep-inducing repetition on cross-examination.
Once the prosecution rests, perhaps in two more weeks, the defense has said it expects to call several high ranking members of the police department who were on the scene for some of the events in order to refute prosecution witness testimony.
That should be interesting.
There is the police inspector who, according to testimony, showed up drunk at a raid. And the police lieutenant who the FBI didn't question because, an agent said from the witness stand, authorities didn't believe he would tell the truth.
Finally there is the police sergeant who directed the unit and who, the feds allege, looked the other way, instituting his own "don't ask, don't tell" policy as long as the Liciardello-led unit was making big drug busts.
Walker finished his testimony Thursday the way he began, acknowledging his guilt but insisting he was just going along with the program. At times he appeared beaten down as he discussed how his personal life was a shambles -- marital problems, depression, thoughts of suicide, drinking on the job and medical ailments. The six-foot-three one-time unit enforcer said that while he dealt with those issues, Liciardello and the others, with the exception of Norman, mocked and belittled him.
It was sophomoric. It was as if Liciardello and his guys were the popular group in high school and Walker, the lanky Geek who had been ostracized, was willing to do whatever it took to fit back in. A series of text messages between Liciardello and Walker were petty, petulant and pathetic. These were, after all, grown men. Grown men, in fact, with badges and guns.
"I was loyal," Walker said. "I wanted to be part of the group."
Not until May 21, 2013, when he was caught red-handed in an FBI sting robbing a "drug dealer" who was actually an FBI cooperator, did he agree to give it all up and become a witness for the feds.
From the witness stand this week, Walker frankly admitted he was trying to save himself and win a reduction in a potential 20-year sentence by throwing Liciardello and the others under the bus. Asked by Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney if he ever was concerned about the drug dealers who were jailed and convicted as a result of false or exaggerated testimony, planted evidence or bogus police reports, Walker said he was not.
"They were criminals," he said, fair game in the war on drugs that he and the others were waging.
There are those, of course, who might argue that morals and ethics have no place in war and that you do whatever it takes to win. And, conversely, there are those who might say that if to defeat your enemy you have to become your enemy, then you've already lost.
In this case, it will be up to the jury to decide which of those two philosophies applies.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net.