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A pair of Detroit police officers were arraigned Thursday on a list of charges that include robbery, extortion, cocaine possession, and conspiracy to possess narcotics with intent to distribute. The allegations against the officers have further besmirched the Detroit Police Department's problematic narcotics unit, of which they were both members before it was disbanded last year.
If convicted, Lt. David Hansberry and Officer Bryan Watson could each spend up to 20 years in prison. The US Attorney's Office has accused them of coordinating drug deals with civilians "so that they could rob and extort them. The defendants allegedly carried out traffic stops and fake arrests, and then stole drugs, money and personal property from their victims."
They allegedly used police equipment and represented themselves as police officers in the course of these criminal operations, which took place between June 2010 and last October, when they were suspended without pay.
Hater and Bullet, as Hansberry and Watson were nicknamed on the force, pled not guilty and are not out on $10,000 unsecured bond with strict orders not to possess firearms. Hansberry's attorney told the Detroit Free Press that his client would be "vindicated" and pointed out that he "never had so much as a parking ticket" — he became a police officer at age 18.
The Detroit Police Department has had various internal problems over the last decade, in its troubled narcotics unit as well as with officers crossing the line on the job. The narcotics team was dismantled as the FBI began an investigation regarding officer misconduct that eventually made its way to the US Attorney's Office. Beyond Hansberry and Watson, other officers in the narcotics division are currently suspended on paid leave pending the completion of the investigation, the Detroit Police Chief James Craig told the Free Press.
"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," he told the newspaper. After the drug unit shakeup, Craig created the Major Violators Section, which uses short terms to rotate officer participation.
A decade ago, eight Detroit police officers were accused of falsifying reports and planting events to boost arrests of suspected drug dealers and prostitutes. A federal jury ultimately acquitted the cops. Watson's lawyer Steven Fishman suggested that the same thing could happen in this case.
"The media was in an identical frenzy 10 years ago when the Fourth Precinct case was brought in federal court," Fishman remarked to the Free Press. "The noise died down quickly when all of the officers were found not guilty on each of the 104 counts. Sometimes history repeats itself."
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