Two officers cleared, one found guilty
BY OMER GILLHAM World Staff Writer & GAVIN OFF World Data Editor
Saturday, June 11, 2011
5/31/12 at 8:54 AM
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A jury acquitted two Tulsa police officers while finding a retired officer guilty Friday in a police corruption trial in U.S. District Court in Tulsa.
Officer Bruce Bonham, 53, and Officer Nick DeBruin, 38, were acquitted on all the counts against them. The counts included drug distribution, planting drugs on individuals and stealing money during an FBI sting May 18, 2009. DeBruin was acquitted on six counts, while Bonham was acquitted on five counts.
The jury deliberated about four hours before reaching a verdict about 5:30 p.m.
Retired Cpl. Harold R. Wells, 60, was found guilty of drug conspiracy, carrying a firearm during drug trafficking and stealing U.S. funds during the FBI sting at a local motel.
After the verdict was read, Magistrate Paul Cleary ordered Wells to be taken into custody. Wells' wife, Ronda, hugged her husband and then collapsed in the courtroom, crying and pleading for several minutes before she could be persuaded to leave the courthouse.
Wells faces a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years on the drug distribution and weapons charges, said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane W. Duke, the lead prosecutor in the case. Wells' sentencing date has not been set.
Duke said: "We respect the jury's verdict. We believe the jury obviously considered all the evidence in reaching the verdict."
Duke is an assistant U.S. attorney from the Eastern District of Arkansas.
Wells was found guilty of five of the 10 counts against him.
During the trial, DeBruin and Bonham took the stand in their defense, while Wells declined to testify on his own behalf.
U.S. District Judge Bruce Black of New Mexico presided over the nine-day trial. Cleary presided over the jury verdict because Black had to return home to New Mexico on Friday afternoon.
After the verdict, DeBruin's eyes filled with tears as he walked over to his wife and kissed her. As Bonham hugged his wife, Debbie, he was surrounded by his family and friends.
Shannon McMurray, DeBruin's attorney, said: "I'm elated. I think that the jury spoke the truth. Nick DeBruin can get back to his life. I really appreciate the jury's service for the last two weeks and their attention and time and consideration they gave all of the defendants."
Coming out of the courtroom after the verdict, DeBruin said: "I'm finally going to get a good night's sleep."
DeBruin and Bonham have been suspended without pay from the Tulsa Police Department since July.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys made their closing arguments Friday morning. The jury began deliberation at 1:15 p.m. The federal trial began May 31. The officers were accused of 13 combined counts. However, Wells, DeBruin and Bonham were charged together in four of the 13 counts.
Jurors convicted Wells on two of the four overlapping charges while finding DeBruin and Bonham not guilty of the same charges. The overlapping charges involved allegations of stealing money during the FBI sting.
DeBruin also was acquitted on a charge that he stole $500 during a 2006 drug search of Cody Weavel's residence.
Closing arguments began with prosecutor Patrick Harris. He was followed by defense attorneys Warren Gotcher, who represents Wells; Shannon McMurray, who represents DeBruin; and Bill Lunn, who represents Bonham.
Each spoke 45 minutes before Duke concluded with a 30-minute closing argument.
Harris began his remarks by showing the jury an FBI surveillance video tape of a drug sting at a Super 8 motel in Tulsa.
The video showed Bonham, DeBruin and former Officer John K. "J.J." Gray pocketing thousands of dollars with Wells in the room.
"It's easy money," Harris told jurors after they watched Gray and others pocket drug money. The surveillance video shows DeBruin and Bonham enter the room. The video shows Bonham accepting a roll of cash from DeBruin and then placing it in his left pocket. This week, both officers said they took the money to run by a drug-sniffing dog.
"There's absolutely no reason for him to get that money except for him to steal it," Harris said.
Harris and Duke repeated a theme to the jury: The officers had time to concoct a story that would explain what's seen on the video.
"The defendants ... had nine months before trial to study the surveillance video, phone records and other incidents to fabricate a story to try to explain away their guilt," Duke said in her argument to the jury.
Gotcher was the first of three defense attorneys to offer closing remarks. With passionate and sometimes animated speech, he attacked each point of the prosecution's case against his client, Wells.
One of the counts involved drug distribution involving phone calls to an FBI agent posing as an illegal drug dealer.
The "dealer" used the name of "Joker." He is the same person who posed as the dealer of the FBI sting. Wells also is accused of delivering methamphetamine to Debra Clayton, a drug felon working for the FBI, his indictment states.
In one key call on July 29, 2009, Wells allegedly facilitated the sale of methamphetamine through "Joker," his indictment states.
During the trial, prosecutors played FBI wiretaps of phone calls between Wells and "Joker." Gotcher said that Wells was trying to set up "Joker" to arrest him or to get another dealer for arrest.
"The prosecution wants you to think Harold was making drug deals, but he was not," Gotcher said.
In explaining Wells' telephone calls and behavior with "Joker," Gotcher said that it is common for a police officer to lie to informants so the officer can perhaps catch a bigger drug dealer.
"Lying for a higher goal is a practice that is codified and legitimate," Gotcher said. "Even the FBI does it as part of their work in the drug world."
Meanwhile, McMurray - in her defense of DeBruin - said the prosecution had failed to prove any of its case involving drug distribution, planting drugs or theft of U.S. funds. McMurray said the prosecution relied on thieves, liars and drug dealers to build its case against DeBruin and the other defendants.
McMurray was referencing Gray and former police officers Eric Hill and Callison Kaiser, both of whom have admitted to stealing drug money and planting drugs. Hill was fired by the Tulsa Police Department in August, while Kaiser resigned in August 2008 to work for the U.S. Secret Service. Both have received immunity from prosecution for their cooperation.
Gray pleaded guilty in June to theft of U.S. funds during the FBI sting and is cooperating with the government in its prosecution. As part of his cooperation, Gray is expected to receive probation, the World has reported.
Gotcher and Lunn both argued that the government relied upon dishonest witnesses - Kaiser, Hill and Gray. They argued all three had a motive - staying out of prison - to fabricate stories against the defendants.
Lunn, defending Bonham, said there was no evidence to suggest that his client, a decorated 20-year veteran, was part of a conspiracy to steal money or plant drugs.
When Bonham accepted $1,000 of drug money from DeBruin, as shown in the FBI surveillance video, Bonham was holding it for a drug dog to sniff, Lunn said.
The video shows DeBruin counting the money before handing it to Bonham.
"That would be consistent with police practice to make sure he knows exactly how much money was involved," said Lunn, adding that the surveillance video never shows Bonham discussing any illegal activity.
"There's nothing said about Bonham as though he's a part of some plan," Lunn said.
Duke wrapped up Friday's closing arguments by spending a half-hour rebutting the defense's case.
Tulsa World reporters Cary Aspinwall, Kevin Canfield, Bill Braun and Nicole Marshall contributed to this story.
Bruce Bonham: Found not guilty on all five counts with which he was charged.
Nick DeBruin: Found not guilty on all six counts with which he was charged.
GUILTY: HAROLD WELLS
Found guilty on the following counts:
- Knowingly carrying and possessing a firearm during and in relation to drug trafficking crime
- Conspiracy to steal U.S. funds
- Stealing U.S. funds
- Conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute controlled substance (meth)
- Use of a telephone to commit a felony
• Harold Wells, according to U.S. Assistant Attorney Jane
Duke, faces a mandatory prison sentence of 15 years.
• Another trial, for Tulsa Police Officers Jeff Henderson and
Bill Yelton, is set for July 25.
• Read more about the upcoming trial in Sunday’s World.
Original Print Headline: 2 cleared, 1 guilty
Omer Gillham 918-581-8301 Gavin Off 918-732-8106
Tulsa Police Officer Nick DeBruin walks out of the federal courthouse in Tulsa after being acquitted in a police corruption trial on Friday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World