Witness details faulty information given by officers in Camden police trial

Fugitive task force Detective Bill Wiley was all set to capture a supposed Camden drug dealer who - according to a police report - had outrun two patrolmen six weeks earlier.

So Wiley came equipped for the job: seven officers, a K-9 dog, and bulletproof helmets.

But instead of a lithe and swift street-corner drug dealer, Wiley encountered Ron Mills, who weighs more than 300 pounds and needed a cane to get from the couch to the door.

"I found it hard to believe he could have run away from those officers," Wiley recalled Wednesday.

So Wiley's next stop in 2009 was Internal Affairs.

The 19-year veteran told his story from the witness stand in U.S. District Court on Wednesday as one of the final prosecution witnesses in the trial of two former Camden officers.

Antonio Figueroa, 35, and Robert Bayard, 33, were members of the Special Operations Unit in 2008 and 2009 when, according to prosecutors, they falsified police reports, planted drugs, stole cash, and violated the civil rights of the drug suspects they arrested.

Thirteen specific incidents are at issue in the trial.

Three other officers have pleaded guilty to similar charges, resulting in the dismissal of 200 state criminal cases.

One of those cases involved Mills, 46, who in the official police report written by Bayard was accused of throwing a bag of drugs on the ground and eluding officers after a foot chase in January 2009. The result was the fugitive warrant.

Mills contended that he was merely at a friend's house that day when the officers showed up searching for drugs. Mills said he knew nothing about any drugs, and the officers told him to leave.

It was six weeks later that Wiley, assigned to the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force, showed up with other officers to arrest Mills based on the police report that prosecutors now say was fake.

Mills, who could not post $75,000 bail, spent five months in jail before being released in 2010.

Prior to Wiley's testimony, jurors heard former officer Kevin Parry, 31, testify that he kept "found money" that should have been turned in to the police department, and watched as other officers planted drugs on dozens of suspects.

Parry is one of the three who have pleaded guilty. The others, Dan Morris, 48, and Jason Stetser, 33, took the stand earlier in the trial.

Parry's testimony contradicted parts of Stetser's account to jurors.

Both men admitted to a variety of crimes and face up to 10 years in prison, but Stetser said that he only gave drugs to prostitutes in exchange for information twice, while Parry said he saw Stetser do it up to 20 times.

Attorneys for Figueroa and Bayard, Robert N. Agre and Ralph A. Jacobs, have been trying to undercut the credibility of the three ex-officers, and in cross-examination have led each through a painstaking recitation of every violation of Camden police rules and state law.

Parry acknowledged that a police report will often contain information provided by a number of officers, so the specific officer who wrote and signed the report would not necessarily know if all the information was accurate.

Among the charges against Figueroa and Bayard is that they falsified police reports to cover up their illegal activities.

"The officer will report on what other officers tell him?" Agre asked.

"Yes," said Parry.

But Parry also described a group of officers who casually concocted arrests and chases, in elaborate detail, to obfuscate the officers' own misdeeds.

Parry said when a suspect was found with drugs, officers would frequently plant more on the suspect, which increased the potential criminal penalty as well as improving the officers' reputation within the department.

The case, prosecuted by Deputy U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick and Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew J. Skahill, is expected to continue for at least another week.

Parry, Stetser, and Morris are scheduled to be sentenced in 2012.


Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or ngorenstein@phillynews.com.