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10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial: George Bennett Vs. The Defense

10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial: George Bennett Vs. The Defense image 10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial: George Bennett Vs. The Defense image 10th Precinct Conspiracy Trial: George Bennett Vs. The Defense image
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KM" prec' 3 al ef 01 1S& "George Bennett has batís the size of grapefruits," ing to one of his colleagues on the prosecution team at the 1 Oth Precinct conspiracy trial. Whatever one thinks of such quaint language, proceeding as it does from the machismo-xiddtn world of law enforcement, even the bitterest enemies of the Deputy Chief of Pólice would not be likely to dispute its message. Leading an investigation into collusion in the heroin ttade by Detroit pólice officers surely calis for courage and boldness in the extreme. Bennett's two-year investigation, of course, culminated in the indictment of nine Detroit cops and seven civilians for conspiring to sell narcotics and obstruct justice. And for the last five months, Recorder's Court Judge Justin Ravitz has presided over some of the most bizarre and sensational testimony recently heard in a Detroit courtroom. Defense attorneys, in completing their presentation earlier this week, brought to a dramatic close their carefully orchestrated strategy of making a central issue of Bennett's integrity and credibility. One defendant, Patrolman Richard Herold, who faces up to 25 years in prison, accused Bennett from the witness stand of trying to enlist him in a scheme to eliminate Sgt. Rudy Davis, who later became a co-defendant, and then-Police Commissioner John Nichols. Ironically, the first concrete result of the all-out attack on Benneti who, at one point in his investigation. was loid there was a $20,000 contract out on nis was that Judge Ravitz packed Herold otïto the Wayne County Jail tor thirty days on a summary con tempt charge. Before Herold assumed the stand last week in his own dótense, Judge Ravitz specifically warned him not to make any reference to a polygraph test Herold claims to have passed, because the law (cognizant of the unreliability of such tests) forbids any such reference by either side in a court trial. Herold asked what the Denaltv would be if he talked about the Dolveraoh test anvwav. The judge replied thirty days. "It might be worth thirty," said Herold. Once on the stand and under questioning by his attorney, Norman Lippitt, the 37-year-old black cop unfolded his story in considerable and often lurid detail, denying all of the charges against him and describing several encounters with Deputy Chief Bennett. In 1972, while Bennett and his special Detail 318 were still conducting their secret probe of pólice involvement in the citv's disastrous heroin traffic, Herold said Bennett approached him with a request for his help in securing evidence against Sgt. Rudy Davis, Patrolman Robert "Mustache" Mitchell, and other white members of the lOth (Livernois) Precinct narcotics unit. Herold, then assigned to the lOth, claimed to have no knowledge of pólice wrong-doing. Then in January of 1973 Herold, who is married and the father of four, left the city with a young woman for a date with an abortionist in Buffalo, New York. They planned tp stay the niglit in a Toronto hotel room, but it was ransacked, said Herold, while they were out to dinner. Shortly thereafter, Her Majesty's pólice Continued on page 24 lOth Precinct continued from the cover arrived to find cocaine and marijuana that Herold claims was plantea in a sport coat and shirt in the closet. He was arrested, jailed and charged. After posting bond, he returned to Detroit to learn that George Bennett was eager to see him again. Herold testified that he told Bennett he would come to the deputy chiefs northwest Detroit home only if he could bring along his cousin and fellow cop, Aaron Bulloch. Bennett agreed, and Herold and Bulloch arrived at 9p.m. on January 1 1, 1973. Across the street two more of Herold's pólice buddies had staked out the house at his request. Herold said he had wanted to conceal a tape recorder on his person but lacked the money to buy one small and effective enough. After a round of drinks in the den, Bennett suggested that now Herold might want to talk about pólice corruption on the lOth Precinct. "If you help me, said Bennett, according to Herold, "I can help you." "Why should I?" said Herold, who claimed he'd been framed in Toronto and suggested that Bennett had been responsible. Replied Bennett: "I know and you know that goddamn Corbett did it," referring to Lt. William Corbett, then of the DPD's Internal Affairs Section, who (again, according to Herold) hadlappeared in Toronto after the arrest to say that if Herold would resign, he'd have no more trouble from the Department. Herold told Bennett that if he ever found out that Bennett had framed him, he'd "blow his damn head off." "If you cooperate with me," Herold said Bennett told him, 'TH get your case dropped (in Toronto) and get your job back (with the department)." According to Herold, Bennett said he especially wanted evidence against Inspector Robert Mogk, Rudy Davis and Robert Mitchell of the lOth Precinct, Lt. Gus Cardinale.and Inspector Robert Bulloch (no relation to Aaron and, like the others, white). Herold repeated his claim that he had no such evidence. And worried that Bennett might be taping the conversa tion, Herold insisted that Aaron Bulloch leave, and that they retire to the kitchen. At this point Herold says the following exchange took place: continued on page 28 Wth Precinct Continued front page 24 Herold: "Just how bad do you want Rudy Da vis? Do you want me to plant dope on him?" Bennett: "I said I wanted him!..." Herold: "You want him hit. dusted, wasted?" Bennett: "Hey, I said any way I can get him." ■ v iiAwvk j y i JU1U Uil T ïï UT 1 VUlt CV' L J J 1 1 I J , Herold says he asked who else Bennett wanted out of the way-did he want thenCommissioner John Nichols? He said Bennett replied, "Yes, even that goddamn Nichols. I want the third floor (the DPD brass). I want to control the department." It would cost $40,000 to $50,000, said Herold, to get someone to kill a cop. According to Herold, Bennett said, "I can handle my end of it." Herold ended the meeting by saying he'd think over what they had talked about. Aaron Bulloch, who had returned in time to hear the exchange about ( "dusting" policemen,also testified about the conversation and correborated Herold 's version. But Bulloch, who says he continúes to regard Geofge Bennett with admiration, maintains that he didn't take the talk seriously, that he thought each man was testing the otlier, "trying to see how far he would go." Under cross-examination by prosecutor Roy Hayes last Wednesday, Herold called Bennett "a despicable, diabolical, devious and overambitious person." When Hayes asked if Herold delivered his accusations against the deputy chief out of revenge, Herold said with an angry flourish: "Do you think I could take a lie detector test and pass it, and George Bennett wouldn't even take one?" Judge Ravitz immediately sent the jury from the courtroom, and subsequently sentenced Herold to thirty days for contempt, saying it was the only weapon he could use to maintain some measure of control over the proceedings. Herold, a volatile man with a swaggering style, was involved in an earlier altercation in the hallway outside the courtroom with George Bennett and pólice attorney Geoffrey Taft (who allegedly pulled a gun). But he seemed chastened after the contempt citation. He apologized to the judge and said he had lost control after becoming so upset with the prosecutor's line of questions. In his cross-examination, Hayes had suggested that Herold had been a prodigy of the infamous Henry Marzette, a former DPD nare and convicted dope kingpin; had a close relationship with another well-known dealer, Arnold "Pretty Riek" Wright ; and had been accused of assaults against his wife and another woman. Until the outburst that sent him to jail, Herold, who was eventualiy acquitted on the Toronto charge, had been a fascinating and self-possessed witness, presenting an image of himself as a rebellious and unconventional cop-with-a-heart. He had refused, he said, to set up or bust old friends in dope or numbers, and he claimed he was often in trouble with the department tor domg things like purposely losing someone he liad been assigned to follow for political surveillance, "like the Reverend Ralph Abernathy." But in his blanket denial of the charges leveled against him by several witnesses- that he had regularly taken bribes from Roy "Alabama Red" McNeal and Red's family, and had himself dealt in cocaine- Herold, like most of the pólice defendants, seemed somewhat less than convincing. Taken as a whole, the stories heard by the jury from most of the cops on trial simply didn't hang I together. Richard Herold, for example, claimed F that he knew Red only as a junkie who could often provide information about criminal activity in the 12th and Pingree area. Most of the otherdefendants testified that it was common knowledge in the lOth Precinct that Red was a busy dealer in narcotics. Patrolman Daniel O'Mara said he stopped at the McNeal home so often not because he was receiving pay-offs , but because he was after information on hold-up men in the neighborhood from Red's brother-in-law, Leroy "Beatnik" Sampson- even though Beatnik's tips k invariably proved worthless. k Robert Mitchell, the cop about whom there has been perhaps the most telling testimony, presented ft himself as a kind of street humanist whosawmany of the prostitutes H and addicts he encountered as "really good people." He admitted taking a stash of cocaine once from the McNeaPs refrigerator, but said he had sprinkled it out the scout car window on the way back to the station because he didn't want to be bothered with the paper work. ie also 1 ted paying on ïntormants by giving them as much as two ounces of heroin on 40 or 50 occasions. It was either give them dope or stop working, said Mitchell, because the precinct had insufficient funds to pay informants. This is an argument that defense attorneys have been making from the beginning of the trial. And yet Rudy Davis, whose voice the jury heard on a tape recorded phone conversation with an informant setting up a delivery of fourteen packets of heroin, denied ever having given dope to an informant, lt was an answer that seemed likely to cause the jury to wonder about the veracity of the rest of Davis's 1 testimony. Within five minutes of taking the stand Davis had burst into tears, sobbing, "I loved my job. I tried to do myjob right." But despite his weeping, the Mayfield, Kentucky native, who was convicted on a similar charge last year, appeared to many court watchers as a distinctly unpleasant and boastful man who was not likely to have generated much sympathy in the jury of five whites and eleven blacks. Sgt. Davis was also less than popular with his fellow defendants after he decided to bring convicted dope dealer Milton "Happy" Battle into court to testify during the presentation of Davis's defense. As expected, Battle, who pled guilty to the charges in this case back in January and will be sentenced at the trial's conclusión, denied earlier testimony that hè had twice paid Rudy Davis $1000 and on another occasion gave him a diamond ring with the initials RD. He also offered several unkind eomments on the attitudes and methods of the prosecution team after he refused to give them evidence about Rudy Davis. But Battle then proceeded, under cross-examination by prosecutor Walter Gibbs, to effectively implícate nearly every other defendant in the courtroom. While not always matching up perfectly with the bulk of previous testimony, Battle's story was close enough to weave a string of seeming truth through much of the prosecution's case. He even carne up with a new charge against Davis-that Rudy had r nppea on j i ïuu irom nim in a trumpea-up street arrest. The most devastating thing about Battle's testimony was that he carne in as a witness hostile to the prosecution, and so could not be dealt with by defense attorneys in the way they had treated most of the prosecution witnesses- with scathing questions abput the amounts' of money given (for living expenses) and the outstanding cases dropped by the prosecution. Even so, in a bizarre turn of events, two defense attorneys attempted to impeach Battle on his testimony exculpating Rudy Davis. Norman Lippitt got Battle to admit that while talking last year to a lawyer in the Wayne County Jail, he called Davis "the crookedest cop in town." And Mike Sapala, attorney for Battle associate, Guido Iaconelli, forced Battle to deny that he had ordered and purchased the diamond "RD" ring from Guido's Ê brother John, a jeweler. ■ After Battle's testimony, close observers of the case began talking of the likelihood of 75 per cent or more I convictions. And their opinions don't seem to have V changed much with the completion of the case fox the Ê defense. Still ahead, of course, are rebuttal from both ' sides and final arguments, any of which miglit confirm or reverse what may be current trends in the mood of the jury Many observers, however, think it likely that despite the accusations heard agamst rum over the past several weeks, George Bennett and his controversial role in the case will be viewed by the jury as one very tough cop doing the i toughest pólice job of all: rooting out deeply entrenched criminality in his own department. As for Bennett, the M man with a reported $20,000 price on his head f ues to sit quietly through the often stormy m J ings- without so much as the batting of an eyelash or the twitching of a cheek. Watch for cont inning coverage of the trial in future issues. Pamela Johnson has been covering the Oth Precinct Cönsplracy Trial for the SUN for the past flve months.