By Steve Tawa and Syma Chowdhry
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A federal jury in Philadelphia today returned a not-guilty verdict on all counts for all six former Philadelphia Police narcotics officers charged in a broad corruption case.READ MORE: Missing 6-Year-Old Sahara Little Found Safe, Stolen Vehicle Found In Checkers Parking Lot, Police Say
The stunning verdict, following seven days of deliberations, was read aloud by the jury foreman: not guilty on each of 26 counts. All of the defendants were freed — only one, Thomas Liciardello, had been previously detained but the judge ordered him immediately released.
There were gasps from family members in the courtroom when the first verdict was announced, on the most serious charge of racketeering. Then, silence prevailed as the subsequent verdicts were read, with family members in the gallery holding hands or covering their mouths.
After the last not-guilty verdict was read, audible sighs of relief could be heard, followed by hugs and kisses among family members, prompting the judge to ask for decorum in the courtroom.
The officers in the police department’s elite narcotics squad had been accused of roughing up drug suspects, pocketing seized cash, and lying on police reports to cover up a long series of actions between 2006 and 2010. One former officer, Jeffrey Walker, has pleaded guilty to official corruption and had been working with federal investigators to build the case against his six former colleagues.
The defense had argued that the government’s case was built around the testimony of about 20 drug dealers and one dirty cop looking for leniency.
Defense attorney Jeff Miller said, “You don’t run with a case when you have a bunch of dirtballs as witnesses.”READ MORE: 23-Year-Old Dies After Tuesday Night Shooting In Kensington, Police Say
Outside the federal courthouse in center city Philadelphia, Liciardello said, “I just want to thank the jury for their verdict. They believed in us. I just want to get on with my life.” In response to a reporter’s question, he said he will seek to get his old job back.
Fellow officer Perry Betts added, “It’s hard to hear people say things about you that you know are not true.”
Defense lawyer James Binns, who represented former officer Michael Spicer, laid blame for the abortive trial on overly eager prosecutors.
“Well, in my opinion, the problem was that they did not investigate before they indicted,” Binns told reporters.
Prosecutors say they are disappointed in the outcome.
Assistant US attorney Anthony Wzorek said, “We knew from the beginning of this case this was going to be a very difficult case to bring, a case that had to be brought, and we don’t regret that decision.”
US attorney Zane Memeger says his office respects the jury’s decision but adds, “We stand by our case and we will not be deterred from prosecuting cases like this.”