By From staff and wire reportsPhillyBurbs.com
CAMDEN — Camden has agreed to pay $3.5 million to 87 people who had their drug convictions vacated or charges dropped afterward as part of a police corruption case in which officers stole cash, conducted illegal searches, planted drugs and falsified reports.
The settlement announced Wednesday is the second payout the city has agreed to make in the case. It agreed to pay 11 others $340,000 last year.
Officials dismissed charges or convictions in more than 200 drug cases in 2009 and 2010 because of an investigation that accused rogue officers, including retired Sgt. Dan E. Morris of Moorestown, of stealing drugs and money from suspected dealers and lying on arrest reports and to grand juries.
One former officer has been convicted, and three others have pleaded guilty.
Morris, 49, was sentenced to eight months in federal prison last month for his role. He previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to deprive others of their civil rights.
Timothy Farrow of the Moorestown law firm Dash Farrow represented Charles Cottle, who was unlawfully arrested on Nov. 29, 2007, based on evidence that was planted in the area where he was arrested. Farrow was one of about 30 attorneys to represent those wrongly charged in the lawsuit and subsequent settlement.
The Camden County Prosecutor’s Office vacated the conviction of Cottle, who was released Jan. 6, 2010, after spending 769 days in jail. His settlement was based on the amount of time he spent wrongfully incarcerated, Farrow said.
Cottle pleaded guilty to the trumped-up charges and spent time in the Camden County Correctional Facility and in state prison as part of his former five-year sentence, according to the New Jersey Department of Corrections website.
“The settlement doesn’t take back the years he spent in jail and prison, but it certainly allows him and financially helps him to move on with his life. Not only was it horrible for him to spend time in prison, as it is for anyone, but this caused mentally significant damage and a high level of distrust of the police,” Farrow said.
The FBI-led probe of corruption in the force’s special operations unit led to the arrests in 2009, and about 200 convictions of suspects arrested by the unit from 2007 to 2009 have been reversed, authorities said.
Morris, a city officer since 1986, was the unit’s supervisor during the time of the investigation.
He admitted that between May 2007 and September 2008, he conducted illegal searches without a warrant or consent, obtained coerced consents to search residences based on threats and undue pressure, stole money during illegal searches and arrests, and allowed officers he supervised to include facts in police reports that were false.
Another officer, Antonio Figueroa, was convicted at trial and is serving 10 years in prison.
Former officers Jason Stetser and Kevin Parry also pleaded guilty to their roles in the corruption.
Parry, 31, of Brooklawn, Camden County, was sentenced to 20 months in prison. Stetser, 33, of Waterford, Camden County, is awaiting sentencing.
Camden to pay $3.5 million to victims of police corruption
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