Pubdate: Mon, 29 Sep 2008
Source: Times-Picayune, The (New Orleans, LA)
Copyright: 2008 The Times-Picayune
Author: Andrew Vanacore, The Times-Picayune
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)


The raid on Russell's Tire Shop had the look of a successful
garden-variety drug bust.

Acting on an informant's tip, police stormed the building on North
Galvez Street and hauled out three suspects, a bag of heroin, a
quarter-ounce of crack cocaine and more than $4,000 in cash. Police
say they found the evidence in plain sight.

But 11 months after the August 2002 bust, prosecutors dropped the
charges. And this June, attorneys for the city offered the men accused
of dealing the drugs $85,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged the four
New Orleans police detectives involved in the raid planted the drugs
- -- and uprooted the lives of innocent people.

Prosecutors had a problem: In the years since the bust, the police
officers involved ran into legal troubles of their own.

One detective tested positive for cocaine and another was caught using
a stolen Social Security number to lease a Corvette. A third officer
was pulled over in Illinois driving an unauthorized New Orleans Police
Department squad car; authorities found him with some marijuana and a
woman wanted for prostitution. The fourth detective resigned as police
were investigating a stolen gun found in his squad car. All four
officers were ultimately fired or quit.

Sharply diverging claims surrounding the 2002 drug bust may never be
put to rest; no judge or jury rendered a final judgment. But a look at
the raid and its aftermath offers a window into the tactics of one
team of narcotics officers -- the kinds of alleged abuses that critics
say foster suspicion toward police.

The three drug suspects -- Leo Hammond, his son Gregory Hammond and
Tyrone Taylor -- say they were the victims of rogue cops who were
willing to frame innocent men after a bust turned up empty. None of
the accused had outstanding warrants or prior arrests at the time of
the raid. All passed court-ordered drug tests, court documents show.

The city attorney who defended the officers, Jim Mullaly, still stands
behind them, asking: Why would anyone plant so much heroin, more than
30 grams? Why frame men they didn't know?

None of the officers involved in the case could be reached to comment
for this article, and NOPD superiors declined to discuss the matter
until completing a records search. The officers' accounts come from
sworn depositions in the civil case, as does the account of the
unnamed police informant. Information about the officers' alleged
subsequent misconduct was documented in internal police memoranda that
turned up during the civil case.

Russell's Tire Shop is a tiny, one-story building tucked into the 100
block of North Galvez. Russell Taylor, Tyrone Taylor's father, bought
the property in the late 1970s and the stoop out front became a
hangout for acquaintances.

Leo Hammond, 48, an air-conditioning repairman, said the shop has long
served as a place to rest between jobs since he has no office of his
own. Tyrone Taylor, 41, was the shop's manager at the time and a
lifelong friend of Hammond's. Gregory Hammond, a 23-year-old
administrative assistant for the Recovery School District, spent time
at the tire shop as a small child.

Detectives involved in the case -- Steven Payne, Eric Smith and Earl
Razor -- testified during civil proceedings that they had heard rumors
of drug dealing at the tire shop but didn't act on them until they
were transferred to that part of town. It was around July 2002 that
the officers were moved from the 5th District to the 1st, which
includes the Galvez Street business. In the 1st District, they worked
under the narcotics unit's supervisor, William Marks.

In his application for a search warrant, Payne said a longtime
informant told him a man known as Cadillac was dealing crack cocaine
and marijuana just outside the shop.

Payne said he conducted surveillance on the shop twice, watching with
a pair of binoculars from an unmarked car.

Payne said he witnessed a man matching Cadillac's description selling
narcotics. He said that he followed up with a controlled purchase,
giving the informant cash to buy crack at the shop. During a stakeout,
hours before the raid, he said two men later identified as Gregory
Hammond and Tyrone Taylor made a similar sale.

Brett Prendergast, an attorney for the Hammonds and Taylor, says there
were significant discrepancies in the police and informant accounts.
He argues that Payne's surveillance probably never happened.

Payne wrote in his warrant application that Cadillac "will not let
anyone else inside the tire shop with him." Instead, Payne said,
Cadillac would make contact with customers outside and retrieve the
drugs from inside the shop.

But the informant told lawyers otherwise during a discovery hearing:
"I've never given Cadillac money on the outside. He would not accept
money on the outside. . . . Every time I went there, I went in."

In the hours before the raid, Payne said, the informant contacted him
again to say that Cadillac was in the tire shop. The informant
testified that such a tip-off never happened.

Weeks later, the informant said, Payne turned up and warned against
talking to investigators about the tire shop case: "He said in the
event someone should come, I know nothing, I didn't see anything."

- --- 'All I saw was their guns' ---

Police said that when they stormed the tire shop on Aug. 1, 2002,
Cadillac was not there.

As police arrived, they saw Gregory Hammond dash inside. Razor, the
fastest man in the unit, chased him inside, followed by Payne and Smith.

Gregory Hammond said he had reason to bolt: A spate of shootings in
the neighborhood had left him anxious. He said when police pulled up
in unmarked cars, "All I saw was their guns." Police said he ran to
flush the drugs.

Razor grabbed Gregory Hammond when he fell, while Smith and Payne
handcuffed his father and Taylor.

When Payne came inside the shop, he was angry and asked to see the man
who ran, Hammond testified. When he saw the younger Hammond, the
detective punched him in the eye, Taylor and Gregory Hammond said. The
detectives maintained that Hammond had hit something on the ground or
the edge of the desk as he fell. Hammond was taken to Charity Hospital
before booking because of swelling under his eye.

Also in dispute is the exact placement of the drugs detectives said
they found.

In his arrest report and in a hearing in criminal court weeks after
the raid, Payne said he found the drugs in plain view on the desk,
giving police cause to arrest all three men. But Razor and Marks both
said Payne had the heroin and crack in his hand the first time they
saw it. Another officer, Smith, testified that the drugs were found on
Gregory Hammond.

"I don't know where, it may have been in the waist -- in his
waistband," Smith said.

Gregory Hammond and Taylor filed a formal complaint with the NOPD
Public Integrity Bureau, denying they sold drugs and alleging Payne
had struck Gregory and stole money found on the shop desk. The
investigation concluded there was not enough evidence to prove the

- --- Legal trouble ---

All three men were booked with possession and intent to distribute
heroin and crack. Each pleaded innocent. But as they awaited trial,
the detectives who arrested them ran into legal problems.

Smith resigned from the NOPD in March 2003, 11 days before he was
indicted on identity theft charges. Investigators accused him of using
a fraudulent Social Security number to lease a Corvette. He pleaded
guilty to one count of identity fraud.

Two months later, in May 2003, the NOPD began investigating Razor for
allegedly stealing heroin from a suspected drug dealer in police
custody. During that investigation, Razor tested positive for cocaine.
Investigators also found two plastic bags with drug residue in the
glove compartment of his squad car. Razor was fired but maintained his

In July 2003, the Orleans Parish district attorney's office dropped
the tire shop case. In a written statement outlining its rationale,
the office noted that the case relied too heavily on Payne's word. And
that testimony, the office wrote, "will lack credibility due to his
close working relationship with Det. Razor and Det. Smith."

With the criminal case scuttled, the subjects of the raid filed a
wrongful arrest suit in federal court on Aug. 1, 2003.

Within months, the detective in charge of the police unit, Marks, had
his own run-in with law enforcement.

An Illinois state trooper pulled Marks over in November 2003 for
speeding. Marks had borrowed an NOPD squad car from Payne to make a
trip to Milwaukee. The state trooper reported finding two women in the
car. One was a convicted felon with an outstanding warrant for
prostitution in Chicago. Under her seat, the trooper found a small bag
of marijuana, "a partially burned marijuana stuffed cigar and a
smoking pipe," according to police documents. A stolen 9 mm handgun
was found in the trunk, documents show.

Marks begged the trooper not to contact the NOPD, fearing he would be
fired for taking the car out of state, police documents show. He was
fired less than a year later.

Payne denied any knowledge of a gun in the trunk and testified that he
took a dim view of Marks, calling him "a lazy pig." An internal police
investigation sustained charges of possession of a stolen gun against
Payne, who resigned for "personal reasons, and medical reasons" while
awaiting a disciplinary hearing, documents show.

As for the accused, Leo Hammond said that when police accused him of
dealing drugs, "that's when I knew they were dirty cops. Anyone who
knows me, knows better."

"Drugs is something I never affiliated with, never," he said. "I said,
'You know what, I'm going to fight this all the way.' I couldn't live
with just letting it go like that."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin