Detroit — Two suspended members of a disbanded Detroit Police Department drug unit were released on $10,000 unsecured bond Thursday after being indicted and accused of robbing and extorting people while on duty.
Lt. David “Hater” Hansberry and Officer Bryan “Bullet” Watson were arraigned in federal court on charges that include robbery conspiracy. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in federal prison.
The indictments come almost three months after another officer under investigation in the case, Detective James Napier, 35, of the 12th Precinct, died of a self-inflicted gun shot. The charges also come five months after Hansberry, 34, and Watson, 46, were suspended for alleged criminal wrongdoing.
“Officers who violate the law cannot be tolerated because effective law enforcement requires public trust,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement Thursday after the indictment was unsealed.
A third man associated with Hansberry, Kevlin Brown, also was charged in the case and accused robbing and extorting a victim in January 2012.
Lawyers for Hansberry and Watson did not return calls seeking comment early Thursday.
Hansberry and Watson sat next to each other in federal court, hunched over while reading copies of the eight-count indictment. Hansberry appeared animated, arching his eyebrows and smirking while reading portions of the criminal case and slowly shaking his head.
While free on bond, Hansberry and Watson are barred from possessing firearms.
The indicted officers are suspended without pay as the department looks to restore public trust eroded by the accusations, Detroit Police Chief James Craig said at a brief press conference Thursday.
“The vast majority of the men and women in the Detroit Police Department are honest and hardworking. They honor the badges they wear and the oath they took to protect the citizens of this city,” he said. “But criminal allegations of this magnitude tend to affect the erosion of public trust and the tarnishing our badges.”
Craig called the allegations “troubling” and stressed they should not reflect upon the rest of the department.
“It does not suggest that everybody assigned to the former narcotics unit was somehow involved in illegal narcotics activity,” he said. “We should remember allegations of criminal conduct by a few should never paint a picture that the entire police department is corrupt.”
Hansberry, a 16-year veteran, and Watson, a 22-year veteran, were suspended with pay in October along with multiple other officers from the former narcotics unit, Craig said.
“That’s been a consistent process that I’ve adhered to,” Craig said. “If there are criminal allegations and it moves into a charging situation then the status changes to no pay.”
Craig said he did not know how many other officers remain on suspension. He declined to comment on if the department expects charges to be brought against those individuals.
Craig disbanded the Narcotics Section in July because of what he said were systemic problems uncovered during an Internal Affairs investigation that began in May, including how drugs and evidence were handled.
An internal probe started last year is ongoing, Craig previously told The News, and is separate from the federal investigation. The internal probe stems from accusations of wrongdoing by Lt. Chuck Flanagan, which is also an ongoing internal affairs probe. The federal investigation started before Flanagan took over the drug unit.
Since then, the department has launched a new Major Violators Unit with more oversight and limits on time officers spend serving in the unit, Craig said.
“The narcotics units and the vice units of today have a limited tenure, or limited duration of assignment of three to five years,” he said. “By doing that it certainly …eliminates stagnation.”
According to the indictment, Hansberry and Watson carried out traffic stops and fake arrests before stealing drugs, money and property.
The alleged conspiracy started in June 2010, ran through October and involved Hansberry and Watson also arranging drug deals and then stealing money, drugs and property, prosecutors alleged.
They “would also identify themselves as law enforcement officers performing official law enforcement duties in order to coerce their victims into complying with their demands and to encourage their victims to flee, leaving behind their controlled substances, money or personal property,” prosecutors alleged in the indictment.
Bernard Cybulski, vice president of the Detroit Police Officers Association, said: “Just because they’re indicted doesn’t mean they’re guilty. They should be given their day in court.”
Instead of turning over the money, drugs and property to the Detroit Police Department, Hansberry and Watson sold the drugs — sometimes through informants — and split the money, the Justice Department alleged.
“I can only imagine the number of people that have been victimized by this crew,” Southfield defense lawyer Neil Rockind said.
He defended a Detroit man in 2013 charged in a drug case investigated by Hansberry, Watson and Napier.
The police lied to obtain a search warrant and lied about finding cocaine during a raid at a home owned by the man’s mother, Rockind said.
“Watson testified defiantly that he was telling the truth,” he said. “And Hansberry attempted to suggest his integrity was beyond reproach.”
Rockind’s client was acquitted in Wayne County Circuit Court in December 2013 after a jury trial.
“My experiences with these officers was very negative,” Rockind said. “These officers are entitled to their day in court and their lawyers will say (Hansberry and Watson) are beyond reproach. They’re going to witness the awesome power of the government that they were a part of. They’re going to see federal agents and prosecutors being given the benefit of the doubt.”
via Detroit News