DETROIT — A Detroit police lieutenant and an officer — accused of robbing drug dealers and stealing money and drugs obtained during police searches — were arraigned on charges Thursday.
The indictment, which came down Wednesday, comes months after Detroit Police Chief James Craig disbanded the department’s troubled drug unit and officers became the target of a federal investigation.
Lt. David Hansberry and Officer Bryan Watson are each facing charges of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute narcotics, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, possession with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a crime of violence, possession of a firearm in the furtherance of a crime of violence and drug trafficking crime and multiple counts of interference with commerce by robbery and extortion.
Kevlin Omar Brown — who the indictment says is an “associate” of Hansberry — is charged with one count of interference with commerce by robbery or extortion.
Hansberry and Watson were arraigned Thursday in U.S. District Court and Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub entered not guilty pleas for them. Brown appeared in court, but his arraignment was continued to Friday because he did not have an attorney. All three men were given $10,000 unsecured bonds.
Additionally, Brown was ordered to clear up any outstanding warrants within 90 days, must remain confined to his Detroit home and must wear a tether. Brown ignored requests for comment as he was leaving the courtroom after the hearing.
Watson was ordered to turn over four weapons he owns, as well as his concealed pistol license. His attorney, Steve Fishman, was not immediately available for comment.
Michael Harrison, Hansberry’s attorney, said his client, who has been aware of the investigation for months, maintains his innocence.
Hansberry is “confident he’ll be vindicated,” Harrison said, adding that his client has been a police officer since he was 18 years old, was promoted to sergeant at age 25 and then promoted to lieutenant at age 33. “Never had so much as a parking ticket.”
Hansberry and Watson, though, are accused of arranging “drug transactions with civilians, including confidential sources, so that they could rob and extort them,” according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office says. “The defendants allegedly carried out traffic stops and fake arrests, and then stole drugs, money and personal property from their victims.”
At a news conference this afternoon, Craig said he was “troubled” by the allegations against the veteran officers. He said criminal allegations of this magnitude impact the public trust.
“The vast majority of the men and women of the Detroit Police Department are honest and hardworking, they honor the badge they wear and the oath they took to serve and protect the citizens of this city,” Craig said.
He said he believes four other former narcotics officers remain suspended with pay “until this investigation is fully complete.” Craig said he couldn’t comment on whether those officers would be charged.
In place of the disbanded narcotics unit, the department — which Craig previously said also investigated narcotics officers for an allegation of theft — created the Major Violators Section. Craig said officers assigned to that section work there for a limited duration of time.
The indictment says Hansberry — also known as Sarge or Hater — was a sergeant in the department’s narcotics section from November 2009 through November 2013, when he was promoted to lieutenant.
Hansberry, 34, and Watson, 46 — who have been on suspension since October — are accused of failing to log money and drugs seized during searches into evidence, instead splitting the proceeds and arranging to sell the drugs.
From June 2010 through about October 2014, Hansberry and Watson, whose nickname was Bullet, arranged drug transactions “in which substantial amounts of controlled substances were intended to be purchased or sold by private parties, including informants of the defendants,” the indictment says.
They are accused of using their status as police officers “to assist in their scheme.” It says they drove police vehicles, activated the lights, wore police clothing and badges and carried guns.
The indictment says the officers carried out “pretext traffic stops and fake arrests.”
According to the news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office: “Hansberry and Watson also allegedly identified themselves as police officers to coerce their victims into complying with their demands and to encourage their victims to flee, leaving behind illegal drugs, money and personal property.”
“The vast majority of the men and women of the Detroit Police Department are honest and hardworking, but these defendants betrayed their oath and their fellow officers,” Craig is quoted saying in the news release. “We are committed to the highest standards of integrity, and we will remove any officers who do not live up to those high standards.”
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said they applaud Craig’s “commitment to root out any officers who tarnish the badge.”
She said: “Officers who violate the law cannot be tolerated because effective law enforcement requires public trust.”