Two members of the Detroit Police Department's now-disbanded narcotics unit were accused on Wednesday in a federal indictment of stealing drugs, extortion, and carrying out fake arrests.
The officers — Lt. David "Hater" Hansberry and Officer Bryan "Bullet" Watson — have been suspended by the department since October. A third man, Kevlin Brown, has also been charged with one count of interference with commerce by robbery or extortion.
“Officers who violate the law cannot be tolerated because effective law enforcement requires public trust,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, in a statement Thursday. “We applaud Chief [James] Craig’s commitment to root out any officers who tarnish the badge.”
According to the indictment, which was unsealed Thursday, Hansberry, 34, and Watson, 46, began their alleged conspiracy in June 2010 and it ran until they were suspended in October. The pair set up bogus drug deals with civilians to rob them, carried out fake arrests, and stole money and drugs from individuals, the indictment stated.
The officers would then fail to log evidence money and drugs seized during searches of homes, according to the indictment. Instead, they sold the drugs on their own and split the profits, the indictment alleged.
Paul Abbate, special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit bureau, said in a statement Thursday, “Every police officer who would dishonor the badge must know that they will be held accountable under the law."
The trio was in court Thursday afternoon for an arraignment on eight charges, including robbery conspiracy, intent to five or more kilograms of cocaine, and interference with commerce by robbery or extortion. All were released on unsecured bonds, said Gina Balaya, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office. Brown is expected back in court Friday to complete his arraignment, she said. The counts carry penalties ranging from five years to life in federal prison.
Messages were left for attorneys representing the officers, as well as the Detroit Police Officers Association, seeking comment.
Craig, appointed Detroit's police chief in mid-2013, disbanded the department's narcotics unit last summer. Since August, the unit has been the focus of an FBI probe.
Balaya declined to comment when asked by MT if more indictments would be forthcoming — but, according to a source with knowledge of the federal investigation, another officer has already said he would plead guilty, and as many as three additional indictments are expected.
The indictments come after a number of lawsuits involving alleged wrongdoing at the hands of the narcotics unit have been filed in recent months.
According to one potential class-action complaint — first reported by MT — filed by a Warren couple, officers forcibly entered their home in December 2013 with assault rifles drawn, demanded to know if they had any money, and seized nearly fifty marijuana plants, according to the complaint. The couple, Timothy and Hatema Davis, was never charged with a crime.
An officer named as a defendant in the complaint, James Napier, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January while he was being investigated by the FBI and Detroit Internal Affairs for narcotics corruption. Detective Napier was identified by The Detroit News, citing two police sources "familiar with an investigation into corruption in the Narcotics Section," as one of the officers under investigation.
Timothy Davis — who said he was taken to an abandoned building and questioned for five hours — was legally licensed to operate a marijuana grow facility, according to the complaint.
Michael Dezsi, the couple's attorney in the case, said of the indictments announced Thursday, "This ... is consistent with the allegations of these lawful business owners that they were being robbed by officers of Detroit police."
One of the Detroit officers who responded to the scene in Warren was Sgt. Stephen Geelhood, according to a copy of the Warren Police Department's incident report obtained by MT. Geelhood is named as a defendant in another case filed last November in Wayne County Circuit Court by a Detroit couple, alleging officers illegally searched their home with a warrant based on false statements. The officers physically assaulted Anthony McCallum and threatened his wife, Elaine, "for no reason," the complaint, also first reported by MT, stated.
McCallum was detained and charged with intent to deliver and manufacture marijuana, intent to deliver and manufacture less than 50 grams of cocaine, firearms possession by a felon, and felony firearms, court records show — but all charges were eventually dismissed once issues related to the warrant came to light.
Police obtained the warrant based on an affidavit signed by Officer Amy Matelic, according to a court transcript from an Aug. 8, 2013 hearing on the charges brought against Anthony McCallum, who initially plead not guilty on each count. In the sworn affidavit, Matelic stated she received a tip from a confidential informant that cocaine was being sold and stored within McCallum's home. The informant provided tips in the past that led to arrests and generated cases in 3rd Circuit Court and 36th District Court, according to the transcript.
But, according to the transcript, Matelic had no direct conversation with the informant or personal knowledge of the tip; another officer, Gil Hood, actually received it. For unclear reasons, Hood didn't sign the affidavit.
"So the affidavit I mean really just cannot be described as anything other than false in that respect," said Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway, during the 2013 hearing.
The only thing "honestly averred in the affidavit," Hathaway said, is that Matelic and Hood conducted surveillance of McCallum's property. "That in and of itself does not provide probable cause for the warrant," Hathaway said.
The McCallums filed their seven-page complaint against two officers who conducted the search of their home, Geelhood and "Officer Blue," who have been with the Detroit Police Department since 1994 and 1997, respectively, according to court records. In briefs filed by the McCallums attorney, Geelhood and Blue are identified as "undercover" officers in the city's "now disbanded narcotics unit." (The city later identified Blue in an email to MT as Officer Abraham Blue.)
That cases remains pending.