Feds: 2 ex-Detroit cops should be taken into custody

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Two former Detroit police officers convicted of felony extortion should get near the maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when sentenced next week and be taken into custody immediately, the government said in court documents filed Wednesday.

But defense attorneys for former Lt. David Hansberry, 37, and former Officer Bryan Watson, 48, object to the sentencing ranges recommended by the federal court’s probation department, saying a federal jury “essentially” rejected the government’s case by clearing Watson of eight of the nine counts and Hansberry of nine of the 10 counts.

In pre-sentencing memos filed with U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III, lawyers for Hansberry and Watson asked for sentences closer to two years, arguing the guidelines are too high and based on allegations the men were not convicted of at the trial.

Hansberry and Watson, who remain on bond, were members of the now-disbanded narcotics unit of the Detroit Police Department when they were indicted in 2015 on charges of carrying out traffic stops and fake arrests to allegedly steal drugs, money and property from civilians.

The men were convicted in July 2016 after a five-week trial. Hansberry, a 19-year veteran, and Watson, who spent 24 years on the police force, were suspended without pay after the indictments. They were later terminated.

Prosecutors said evidence at the trial showed Hansberry, who was a sergeant at the time, and Watson failed to log into evidence money and drugs seized during searches of homes. Instead, they split the proceeds and arranged for the sale of the drugs, sharing the proceeds generated by the sales.

In one instance in July 2010, federal officials say Hansberry and Watson participated in a drug seizure that netted more than $3 million, the largest cash seizure by the Detroit Police Department at that time. Only $2.2 million, however, was placed in the evidence room, according to court documents.

J. Michael Buckley, an assistant U.S. Attorney, filed a sentencing memo, writing the pair made a mockery of the criminal justice system and endangered Detroit neighborhoods when they willfully released drug dealers whom they caught red-handed to further their illegal enterprise and enrich themselves.

“Hansberry and Watson betrayed not only their sworn oaths of office, but they betrayed the very citizens they were sworn to protect, as well as all other honest law enforcement officers and the criminal justice system. Instead of removing kilograms of cocaine — and more importantly, kilo weight dealers — from the street, defendants worked in concert with kilo weight dealers to sell kilos of cocaine in Detroit,” Buckley said.

Steven Fishman, Watson’s attorney, called the sentencing guidelines of 210 to 240 months proposed by the court’s probation department “monstrous” and said those numbers were driven in large part by the alleged thefts in the case of between $500,000 to $1,500,000.

“The probation department arrived at that figure by including the unsubstantiated and unproven allegation of a theft of over $900,000 on July 26, 2010,” Fishman said.

Watson’s sentence should be closer to 21 to 27 months, Fishman said, and take into account he was acquitted of the more serious charges of delivery and conspiracy to deliver cocaine.

“The government argues that the court should basically ignore the jury’s not guilty verdicts on the bulk of the counts, sentence Mr. Watson as if he had been convicted of those counts by considering the acquitted conduct, and ignore the issue of sentencing disparity,” Fishman said.

Michael J. Harrison, Hansberry’s attorney, said probation is recommending a sentence of 235 to 240 months for his client. Harrison is asking for a sentence of between 15 and 21 months, saying the calculations are higher because probation included government claims for economic loss in the case to be between $550,000 and $1.5 million.

“The jury found Lt. Hansberry not guilty of all of the substantive acts relied upon in the (report) to come to this astonishing economic loss calculation,” Harrison wrote.

Buckley said the men should be taken into custody immediately after sentencing because they pose a danger to some in the community and pose a risk of flight because of possible lengthy prison sentences.

“One government witness was shot and seriously wounded shortly after his cooperation was made known during the course of pre-trial discovery,” Buckely said.

Sentencing in the case is Feb. 22 before Murphy.