By Ralph Cipriano
On cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney asked former Officer Michael Spicer about a shocking allegation contained in "Episode #4" of the government's indictment of the rogue cops.
On Nov. 26, 2007, the indictment charged, while hanging out at drug dealer Michael Cascioli's 19th floor apartment on City Line Avenue, Officers Spicer, Linwood Norman, Perry Betts and Jeffrey Walker allegedly took money from the drug dealer's nightstand and "used it to purchase pizza" for four big hungry cops "without [Cascioli's] permission."
"That would have been a staple of our diet," Spicer conceded with a half-smile from the witness stand when asked about the pizza.
Sensing weakness, the prosecutor pressed in for the kill. Who bought the pizza, she wanted to know.
"I don't know," Spicer replied. "I don't know who paid."
It was exchanges like this during the three-hour cross-examination of Spicer, the only one of six defendants to take the stand, that had the defense camp smiling and laughing when it was all over.
Before the cross-examination got started today, Spicer gave the jury an inside look at the feud between former Officer Jeffrey Walker, the prosecution's star witness, and former Officer Thomas Liciardello, the defendant the government says was the criminal mastermind of the rogue cops.
"We actually got along pretty good," Spicer told defense attorney Jack McMahon about his past relationship with Walker.
The problem with Walker was that he was the most senior member of the narcotics field unit,
Spicer said; the guy with the most time on the job.
As the officer with the most experience, Walker felt he should shave been the "driving engine" on the squad, Spicer said.
"Not only was he not the driving engine," Spicer said of Walker, but "he was being pulled along caboose-style" by the other officers. Especially Liciardello, who had the least experience on the unit, Spicer said.
In basketball they call it court vision. On the narcotics squad, Spicer told the jury, Liciardello was the guy who always saw first what everybody else was doing.
There goes that drug suspect we stopped a while back, Liciardello would tell Officer Spicer. Let's go after him. He also had a knack for working informants.
"Tommy gained the most information and did the most jobs," Spicer said admiringly. "He had a talent. He was phenomenal at what he did."
And he didn't mind telling you about it, Spicer said. Meanwhile, Jeff Walker was screwing up, Spicer told the jury.
Typically, everybody on the squad "had a piece of the job," Spicer testified about drug busts.
"Jeff screwed up so many things," Spicer said.
Walker became known as the "X-man" on property receipts because he made so many mistakes that he was always crossing out, Spicer said. That left plenty of openings for defense attorneys to probe in court about what Officer Walker really meant to say on those property receipts, Spicer said.
Then Walker shifted to recording drug tests, Spicer recalled. It's a relatively easy job. You dip small amounts of seized drugs in chemicals and record the colors that they turn.
Walker was getting the color sequence wrong, Spicer said. That resulted in several "nasty-grams" from the police lab, Spicer told the jury.
Walker also screwed up the summary sheets on drug busts, Spicer said. That pissed off the squad's meticulous sergeant, Joe McCloskey, Spicer said. The summary sheets would be kicked back three times a night for corrections.
In summation, McMahon asked Spicer if he ever planted drugs on suspects.
"Never," Spicer said.
Did you ever beat anybody up, McMahon asked.
"No, I never beat anybody," Spicer said.
Did you ever rob anybody?
"I never stole money in my entire career," Spicer said.
Are you proud of your work as a police officer, McMahon asked.
"I was," Spicer said, with a shrug.
Until this indictment came along.
"I lived for that job," Spicer said.
On cross-examination, the prosecutors had to know that Spicer was going to be a tough witness. The affable and easy-going former milkman was a veteran cop used to testifying in court. He doesn't rattle, he doesn't get agitated. He's quick to smile and insufferably polite.
"Yes ma'am," he kept saying.
Today, during the three-hour cross it was prosecutor McCartney who was raising her voice, cutting off Spicer's answers and looking agitated when the defense objected, and the judge repeatedly allowed Spicer to finish his often lengthy answers to the jury.
For Spicer, it seemed like a walk in the park.
The defendant has something else going for him. On much of the heavy-handed stuff that the rogue cops are accused of, it wasn't usually Spicer who got fingered as the heavy. Or he wasn't on the scene when much of the alleged police misconduct went down.
So the former milkman turned out to be a fabulous poster boy for the defense.
After Spicer charmed the jury last week, and got rave reviews from many corners, the prosecution could have just asked him a series of questions that he didn't know the answer to, to get him off the witness stand as quickly as possible.
So you didn't see your fellow officers dangling that drug dealer by his feet off the balcony?
You didn't see your fellow officers threatening another drug dealer's wife and daughter?
You didn't see your fellow officers stealing drugs and money?
You didn't see much, did ya?
But instead, perhaps sensing they were way behind, prosecutor McCartney spent three fruitless hours probing Spicer, looking to trip him up. The result was, McCartney didn't land any real punches. But she did give Spicer more time to ingratiate himself with the jury.
McCartney began by asking Spicer about Officer Walker.
Was Spicer one of the cops who used to make fun of Officer Walker after he had gastric bypass surgery, McCartney asked.
Walker didn't tell us he was going in for gastric bypass surgery, Spicer countered. He told us he was going to have his nose operated on to cure sleep apnea.
Spicer admitted that the other cops on the squad did rib Walker.
"You got your nose operated on and you lost 30 pounds," was the kind of joke the cops cracked on Walker, Spicer said.
McCartney asked about some crueler remarks. But once again, Officer Spicer didn't hear anything nasty.
"I didn't hear 'zipper mouth' and 'staple stomach,' " Spicer told the prosecutor. Walker does "snore like a bear," Spicer said. That's why he and the squad initially bought the sleep apnea story.
Did Spicer see a Spanish-speaking drug dealer being abused by one of his fellow officers?
"I didn't stand over the top of somebody who was reaching into somebody else's crotch," Spicer explained.
McCartney asked why a search warrant that Spicer wrote out said that a Spanish-speaking officer had translated for the Spanish-speaking drug dealer. Especially after the Spanish-speaking officer was called as a government witness and said in court that he didn't do any such translation.
"I'm still scratching my head a little bit," Spicer said about the denial by the Spanish-speaking officer. "I don't know if we misconveyed what we were asking him, or if we misunderstood."
"But I'm not going to call him a liar," Spicer said.
Then there was the plumber that Officer Liciardello allegedly threatened after he busted the guy for possessing meth.
Liciardello, McCartney said, allegedly threatened to arrest the plumber's wife and daughter if he didn't cooperate and give up his supplier. And if the wife and daughter got arrested, McCartney said, Liciardello allegedly told the plumber the wife and daughter would go to jail, and bad things would happen to them.
Spicer, of course, remembered the conversation differently.
Liciardello was just trying get the plumber to cooperate.
And "If he didn't step up to the plate," Spicer said, "his wife and daughter were going to prison."
That's just what happened, Spicer said. But he didn't hear any threats.
Did your see your fellow officers steal anything from another drug dealer's house, McCartney asked.
"I didn't pat anybody down or search them when we left," Spicer replied.
McCartney asked about a marijuana dealer that the squad was using as a cooperator.
On his second bust, the cops caught the dealer with nearly a pound of marijuana. Yet he wasn't charged with anything.
Why wasn't he charged, the prosecutor wanted to know.
"That's above the pay grade of a police officer," Spicer replied. It's the district attorney who decides who gets charged with what.
A police report said the investigation on the marijuana dealer was closed "due to a lack of action," McCartney said. Why was that investigation closed, McCartney asked Officer Spicer.
The witness smiled at the prosecutor.
Please don't think I'm being "fresh or smart," he said. But the reason the investigation was closed was "due to a lack of action." Spicer said.
After McCartney got through, to prove how successful Spicer had been, a smiling defense attorney McMahon stood up and told the judge he didn't have a single question to ask on redirect.
After three hours of cross-examination.
The defense rests, McMahon said.
The prosecution had no rebuttal witnesses.
The jury was on a break when Judge Eduardo C. Robreno called the other five defendants to the front of the court to ask about their decision not to testify.
Were the defendants aware that they had a constitutional right to not testify, and that it wouldn't be held against them? Were they aware that they also could choose to testify, but that their testimony would be evaluated by the jury as they would evaluate the testimony of any other witness?
In view of the circumstances, did the defendants choose to testify or decline to testify, the judge asked.
"Decline, sir," Liciardello said.
"I decline to testify, Your Honor," Brian Reynolds said.
"I decline to testify," Betts said.
"I decline, sir," Norman said.
"I decline, Your Honor," John Speiser said.
When court resumes at 9 a.m. tomorrow, it will be time for closing statements.
This could go on for a while.
The prosecution plans to use two and a half hours for their closing statement. The six defense lawyers are allotted up 10 hours for their closings.
Then the government gets a one-hour rebuttal.
Some of us have already heard enough of this case. What we really need is an explanation for why it was brought to trial.