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Monday, November 14, 2011

False-Arrest Cops' Trial Set To Begin

Camden Officers' Trial Set To Begin
The Courier Post by George Mast - November 13, 2011

CAMDEN, NJ — The federal trial of two suspended Camden police officers charged with making false arrests to put drug suspects behind bars is set to begin this week. Patrolman Antonio Bayard and Robert Figueroa were indicted on federal corruption charges in October 2010 following a two-year investigation into what authorities said was a rogue five-officer platoon at the department. The officers allegedly planted stolen drugs on suspects, carried out illegal searches, pocketed drug proceeds and then lied on police reports to cover their tracks. Camden police first began an investigation into the officers and then handed the case over to the FBI. Former officers Jason Stetser and Kevin Parry, along with former Sgt. Dan Morris, the unit’s supervisor, have already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy and named specific incidents where the officers carried out illegal arrests. At least Parry, the first officer to plead guilty in March 2010, is expected to testify about Bayard and Figueroa’s role in the scheme in the upcoming trial. According to federal court documents, in late 2009 Parry provided information to the FBI about cases where Figueroa, Bayard and the others allegedly participated in illegal arrests. Figueroa, 35, and Bayard, 33, are each charged with conspiracy to deprive others of civil rights and have maintained their innocence. The charge carries up to 10 years in prison. The police scandal quickly became one of the furthest reaching in the troubled city’s history and has become a civil liability nightmare. Even before Parry pleaded guilty and admitted that between May 2007 and October 2009 the officers planted drugs on suspects in dozens of cases, the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office began dismissing drug charges in cases involving the officers. Over the ensuing months, charges in more than 200 cases were dropped, dozens of people were suddenly released from prison and lawsuits began pouring in against the city.

To date, 59 people who claim they were falsely arrested by the officers have filed federal lawsuits against the city and are waiting eagerly to see what new details about the alleged conspiracy surface during the upcoming trial. “There will be a lot of information that will come out at the trial which we can use in our civil cases,” said attorney Paul Melletz. Melletz, whose client filed the first lawsuit in reference to the officers, said the attorneys have had to wait for the culmination of the officers’ trial before they begin taking depositions and gathering needed evidence from the government. “As soon as the criminal trial is over with, then we can start going,” he said. Melletz said the attorneys have agreed that a representative from the many cases will be present throughout the trial to report back on details. John Williamson, president for Camden’s rank-and-file officers, said he, too, will be monitoring the trial. Williamson declined to comment further but said he has known Bayard’s father, a retired Camden police sergeant, for years and has always known Bayard “to be a good officer.” Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson has maintained the accused officers are not a reflection of the rest of the department. “There is nothing more vital for the Camden police than to maintain the trust of the people we serve,” he said in a message on Friday. “We will continue to take the needed measures to ensure our officers are operating with the highest levels of integrity. “The ends will never justify the means.” Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Kugler said Wednesday that opening arguments could begin as soon as Tuesday afternoon. Aside from Parry, federal prosecutors Matthew Skahill and William Fitzpatrick are also expected to put numerous persons on the stand who they say were falsely arrested by the officers. Bayard’s attorney, Robert Agre, and Figueroa’s attorney, Ralph Jacobs, said in a pretrial hearing Wednesday they intend to challenge the credibility of the witnesses — many of whom have prior criminal convictions — as nearly all of them pleaded guilty following their various arrests by the officers. “There are many impairments to these government witnesses,” Agre said during the hearing.

As indictments against Bayard and Figueroa cite more than a dozen specific occasions where the officers were involved in illegal activities, Fitzpatrick said the trial will consist of multiple “mini trials” for each of the alleged incidents. Authorities contend Figueroa and Bayard were part of a hard-charging narcotics squad, the Special Operations Unit, 4th Platoon. The five-man unit was created on July 28, 2008, and its members were breaking the laws within days, indictments against Figueroa and Bayard allege. And the alleged illegal activities continued for months. In a Jan. 27, 2009, incident, the indictment claims Bayard, Figueroa, Stetser and Parry unlawfully searched a Camden home where a person identified only as “R.M.” was located and arrested the individual based on “false information.” The indictment alleges Bayard then authored a police report containing “false and misleading facts” in order to “conceal their unlawful actions.” In continuing the scheme Bayard then “testified falsely under oath” before a state grand jury in reference to the arrest, according to the indictment. According to a Nov. 24, 2009, FBI report, Parry told federal agents and the head of Camden’s Internal Affairs Unit about the same Jan. 27, 2009, incident where the four officers searched a home occupied by Ronald Mills. Parry told the agents that the part of a subsequent police report stating Mills fled from the house and threw down a small sandwich bag to the ground was false. “Parry stated that this did not happen,” the report reads. “Parry stated that the drugs were found inside of the house under some carpet.” Although authorities claim the officers tried to cover their tracks by doctoring police reports, a second FBI report shows members of Camden’s Internal Affairs Unit began to become suspicious as complaints against the officers began to mount. A May 13, 2009, FBI memo states that by March of the same year there was information from multiple sources about allegations of police corruption in Camden. According to the memo, Camden’s internal affairs investigators had handed over to the FBI 20 files of complaints against the officers. One particular citizen complaint alleged that the officers had illegally searched an apartment and stolen thousands of dollars from a drug dealer. The memo alleges that the officers then only turned in a portion of the drug proceeds — a pattern that was also seen in other complaints. In November 2009, Figueroa, Parry and Stetser were suddenly suspended without any public explanation. Weeks later when Bayard was informed he too was being suspended, he stormed through the police headquarters and punched out a window in anger, according to a Camden Police Internal Affairs report. “You people put me with them,” Bayard yelled, according to the report. “It’s your fault. I didn’t do anything.”

1 comment:

DavePrime said...

Wow. One couldn't make this stuff up! It's as twisted and evil as any Hollywood movie script!