Detroit cop accused of robbery maintains his innocence
Detroit — Two Detroit Police Department drug unit members were released on $10,000 unsecured bond Thursday after being indicted and accused of robbing and extorting people while on duty.
Lt. David "Hater" Hansberry and Officer Bryan "Bullet" Watson were arraigned in federal court on charges that include robbery conspiracy. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in federal prison.
The allegations undermine the public's trust, Police Chief James Craig said, in a city that is emerging from a years-long public corruption investigation that led to dozens of convictions and federal prison sentence for former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
"Officers who violate the law cannot be tolerated because effective law enforcement requires public trust," U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement Thursday after the indictment was unsealed.
The indictments come almost three months after another officer under investigation in the case, Detective James Napier, 35, of the 12th Precinct, died of a self-inflicted gun shot. The charges also come five months after Hansberry, 34, and Watson, 46, were suspended for alleged criminal wrongdoing.
Hansberry and Watson sat next to each other in federal court, hunched over while reading copies of the eight-count indictment. Hansberry appeared animated, arching his eyebrows and smirking while reading portions of the criminal case and slowly shaking his head.
"He's as shocked as anybody by the allegations," Hansberry's lawyer, Michael Harrison, told The Detroit News. "He maintains his absolute, absolute innocence and wants to have his name cleared."
Watson's lawyer, Steve Fishman, referenced an earlier police case involving eight officers from Detroit's 4th Precinct who were acquitted in 2004 of federal charges they violated the constitutional rights of suspected criminals by planting evidence and writing phony reports.
"The media was in an identical frenzy 10 years ago when the 4th Precinct case was brought in federal court," Fishman said. "The noise died down quickly when all of the officers were found not guilty on each of the 104 counts. Sometimes, history repeats itself."
While free on bond, Hansberry and Watson are barred from possessing firearms.
A third man associated with Hansberry, Kevlin Brown, also was charged in the case and accused robbing and extorting a victim in January 2012.
The indicted officers have been suspended without pay, Craig said at a brief press conference Thursday.
"The vast majority of the men and women in the Detroit Police Department are honest and hardworking. They honor the badges they wear and the oath they took to protect the citizens of this city," he said. "But criminal allegations of this magnitude tend to affect the erosion of public trust and the tarnishing of our badges."
According to the indictment, Hansberry and Watson carried out traffic stops and fake arrests before stealing drugs, money and property.
The alleged conspiracy started in June 2010, ran through October and involved Hansberry and Watson also arranging drug deals and then stealing money, drugs and property, prosecutors alleged.
They "would also identify themselves as law enforcement officers performing official law enforcement duties in order to coerce their victims into complying with their demands and to encourage their victims to flee, leaving behind their controlled substances, money or personal property," prosecutors alleged in the indictment.
Instead of turning over the money, drugs and property to the Detroit Police Department, Hansberry and Watson sold the drugs — sometimes through informants — and split the money, the Justice Department alleged.
The indictment lacked many specific details, leaving Hansberry's lawyer to wonder about the case's origin. Harrison called his client a "superstar" who was a sergeant at age 25 and a lieutenant at 33.
"My fear is that this case could be about drug dealers and dirty cops looking to get themselves out of trouble by burning down whoever they can," Harrison said. "Could there be a much bigger fish than a young rising star of the police department?"
Hansberry, a 16-year veteran, and Watson, a 22-year veteran, were suspended with pay in October along with multiple other officers from the former narcotics unit, Craig said.
Prosecutors would not release the police department members' hometowns but city records indicate Hansberry lives in Detroit and Watson lives in Farmington Hills.
Craig disbanded the Narcotics Section in July because of what he said were systemic problems uncovered during an Internal Affairs investigation that began in May, including how drugs and evidence were handled.
An internal probe started last year is ongoing, Craig previously told The News, and is separate from the federal investigation. The internal probe stems from accusations of wrongdoing by Lt. Chuck Flanagan, which is also an ongoing internal affairs probe. The federal investigation started before Flanagan took over the drug unit.
Since then, the department has launched a new Major Violators Unit with more oversight and limits on time officers spend serving in the unit, Craig said.
"I can only imagine the number of people that have been victimized by this crew," Southfield defense lawyer Neil Rockind said.
He defended a Detroit man in 2013 charged in a drug case investigated by Hansberry, Watson and Napier.
The police lied to obtain a search warrant and lied about finding cocaine during a raid at a home owned by the man's mother, Rockind said.
Rockind's client was acquitted in Wayne County Circuit Court in December 2013 after a jury trial.
Now, it's Hansberry and Watson's turn as defendants, Rockind said.
"They're going to witness the awesome power of the government that they were a part of," Rockind said. "They're going to see federal agents and prosecutors being given the benefit of the doubt."