New charges added against Detroit cops under indictment

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Two former Detroit Police narcotics investigators under federal indictment for allegedly using informants to help them steal from drug dealers face additional charges of extortion and robbing motorists.

David Hansberry and Bryan Watson, along with Kevlin “Omar” Brown, a longtime Hansberry acquaintance, were indicted in April 2015 on charges of carrying out traffic stops and fake arrests to steal drugs, money and property. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in federal prison.

The latest charges, filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in a superseding indictment, are similar to the original allegations. The most recent indictment said the three defendants “would arrange or monitor drug transactions in which significant amounts of controlled substances were intended to be purchased or sold by private parties, including informants of the defendants.”

In the first and second indictments, the alleged offenses took place from June 2010 to October 2014. The latest charges, filed Feb. 10, allege that “rather than allow the drug transactions to take place (the defendants) would use their police authority to extort participants in those transactions and take their controlled substances, money, and personal property.”

The superseding indictment further alleges the defendants “carried out pretext traffic stops and fake arrests, so that they could unlawfully take controlled substances, money, and personal property from the victims, their homes and their vehicles.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office and lawyers for the defendants declined to comment on the latest accusations. When the first indictment came down last year, however, they asserted their clients’ innocence.

“(Hansberry is) as shocked as anybody by the allegations,” attorney Michael Harrison told The Detroit News in April. “He maintains his absolute, absolute innocence and wants to have his name cleared.”

Watson’s lawyer, Steve Fishman, said the indictments were similar to an earlier case involving eight Detroit cops from the 4th Precinct who were acquitted in 2004 after being indicted in federal court for violating 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 told The News in April. “The noise died down quickly when all of the officers were found not guilty on each of the 104 counts. Sometimes, history repeats itself.”

Hansberry a 16-year veteran, and Watson, who spent 22 years on the police force, were suspended without pay after the indictments were filed.

Federal prosecutors said in November they were concerned about the safety of witnesses in the case, and had to relocate them to protect them, according to court transcripts obtained by The News. One witness was shot while driving in Metro Detroit, prosecutors said.

The allegations against the two cops came as Detroit Police were conducting an internal investigation into widespread wrongdoing in the Narcotics Section, which prompted Police Chief James Craig to disband the unit.

Craig also instituted a policy that bars officers from automatically staying more than five years in specialized units like narcotics, because he said it opens the door for complacency and corruption. If an officer wants to remain in such a unit, he or she must request it.

The federal case also prompted policy changes in the way police use informants. Among the changes is a stricter policy on whom officers can use as an informant. Officers also must now get permission to use someone as an informant.

ghunter@detroitnews.com

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN