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Two ex-Detroit cops get prison time for extortion

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Two former Detroit police officers are headed to federal prison after a judge sentenced them Wednesday for convictions in a felony extortion case.

Former Lt. David Hansberry was sentenced to 12 years and 11 months in prison and former officer Bryan Watson was sentenced to nine years in prison by U.S. District Judge Stephen J. Murphy III.

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

Both were convicted in July 2016 of one count of conspiracy after a five-week trial. The jury cleared them of all other charges.

Murphy said he took no pleasure in sentencing the former narcotics officers to prison.

“I see a great deal of regrettable, unimaginable and sad conduct by an individual who reached the top of his profession,” Murphy told Hansberry who was sentenced first.

“But when any police officer violates the law it causes mistrust by the public...and it makes others think of crossing the line for personal gain,” Murphy said.

The sentences came in lower than the 20 years in prison the government had requested for both men. Hansberry had asked the judge for no jail time in court on Wednesday.

Murphy refused to order Hansberry or Watson into federal custody at sentencing as the government had requested, saying the men were not a danger to the community or a flight threat.

Speaking before his sentence was given, Hansberry said he had the legal authority to talk to and lie to drug dealers to get drugs off the street.

“There are certain circumstances of a necessary evil. When you can take $2 million and 100 kilos of drugs off the street – that is an appropriate time,” he said.

Hansberry told Murphy he was heartbroken that his proudest accomplishment as a police officer of seizing $1.2 million in cash during a drug deal was used against him in court.

“I called my mom and dad and said your son is going to be on the news. It was the city’s biggest seizure,” Hansberry said. “It was the proudest moment of my life that has been turned against me.”

Watson declined to speak at sentencing. Murphy said while his crimes were no less serious he did deserve a lesser punishment because he was a low-level officer and took less money than Hansberry.

On Monday, attorneys for the pair filed a motion for a new trial, alleging the government intentionally withheld evidence during their federal trial.

The motion claims U.S. prosecutors kept the jury from learning the identity of a man discussing on a recording how two dope dealers, not police officers, had stolen nearly $1 million in cash that had been confiscated in a 2010 drug bust.

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 money and arranged for the sale of the drugs, sharing the proceeds.

In one instance, in July 2010, 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, federal officials say. 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 that said 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.

Buckley said the men should be taken into custody immediately because they pose a danger to some and are a flight risk.

Steven Fishman, Watson’s attorney, called the sentencing guidelines of 210 to 240 months proposed by the court’s probation department “monstrous.” He said the numbers were driven in large part by the alleged thefts in the case of between $500,000 to $1.5 million.

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

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.

Several assistant Wayne County prosecutors wrote letters to Murphy asking for a lenient sentence.

Prosecutor Kym Worthy said four assistant prosecutors who sent letters of support on Hansberry’s behalf failed to disclose their action to supervisors.

“Their behavior was highly inappropriate, and I am extremely disappointed in their lack of judgment,” Worthy said in the statement released to The Detroit News Friday.