Juror in TPD trial explains verdicts
BY OMER GILLHAM World Staff Writers
Sunday, June 12, 2011
5/31/12 at 8:52 AM
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In the final analysis, jurors in a police corruption trial believed that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that two Tulsa police officers stole drug money and planted narcotics on individuals to gain convictions.
Officers Bruce Bonham, 53, and Nick DeBruin, 38, were acquitted Friday on all the counts against them following a nine-day trial in U.S. District Court in Tulsa.
Retired Cpl. Harold R. Wells, 60, was found guilty on five of 10 counts against him.
The counts against DeBruin and Bonham 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.
Wells was found guilty of drug conspiracy, carrying a firearm during drug trafficking and stealing U.S. funds during the FBI sting at the Super 8 motel in east Tulsa.
After the verdict was read, Wells was taken into custody. 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.
While some jurors declined to comment, juror Carmen Armstrong said federal prosecutors failed to prove their case against DeBruin and Bonham.
Additionally, Armstrong said she did not want to convict Wells, but the FBI video and his many conversations with an FBI agent who was posing as a drug dealer convinced the jury of his guilt.
"There wasn't enough evidence for Nick (DeBruin) and Bruce (Bonham)," Armstrong said. "All the finger-pointing" by John "J.J." Gray, Callison Kaiser and Eric Hill, "they weren't believable. You couldn't disqualify the video of J.J. and Wells. Also the phone conversations."
Gray, Kaiser and Hill are former Tulsa police officers who testified as government witnesses. Gray pleaded guilty to stealing money during the FBI sting and awaits sentencing. Hill and Kaiser have admitted stealing drug money and planting drugs on people but have prosecutorial immunity as government witnesses.
"I don't like giving guilty verdicts," Armstrong added. "I would like to have given (Cpl. Harold) Wells a not-guilty verdict, but there was too much evidence."
The trial began May 31 and involved 30 witnesses for the defense and 14 witnesses for the prosecution. In addition to testimony, the evidence included phone records, wiretapped phone calls, police Internal Affairs reports, police reports and other documentation.
Meanwhile, Duke said Wells' sentencing could take 60 to 90 days to occur because the federal probation office must prepare a pre-sentencing report for him.
"We also anticipate that there could be post-conviction challenges to the verdict, which is typical in these cases," Duke said.
During the trial, federal prosecutors produced wiretap recordings of Wells discussing drug deals with Joey McDoulett, an FBI agent portraying an illegal Mexican drug dealer named "Joker" who traveled to Tulsa periodically from Texas to sell methamphetamine.
No wiretap evidence was presented against DeBruin and Bonham.
Wells' attorney, Warren Gotcher, declined to comment. During the trial, Gotcher said Wells was conducting normal police work by discussing deals with "Joker" in hopes of arresting him or another, bigger drug dealer.
Prosecutors alleged that Wells was calling Joker to benefit monetarily from Joker's meth deals.
Gotcher placed drug felon Debra Clayton on the witness stand to show that the FBI was involved in similar drug detective work without being charged with a crime.
Clayton testified that the FBI was aware of two marijuana dealers and their activities but took no legal action against them.
Prosecutors presented evidence that two accused officers were not included in a police report that detailed the drug search, which was actually an FBI sting.
DeBruin and Bonham - key figures on the FBI video and handling of evidence - were omitted from the final report. Gray's name also was not on the report even though he discovered the $13,000 planted in the motel room by the FBI.
During the trial, prosecutors said the officers became suspicious and turned in all the money from the drug search after DeBruin discovered a federal agent near the motel. DeBruin and another officer had conducted a brief traffic stop of the agent.
DeBruin's name was not on the final report even though he contacted the federal agent and even though he reportedly asked to be included.
On the surveillance video, Wells is heard saying, "Nick said to take care him." Police officers testifying on DeBruin's behalf said "take care of me" was a common phrase which means the officer wants to get extra pay for appearing in court.
DeBruin also said he was not suspicious that a sting had occurred. The federal agent had a "cover story," so he was not concerned.
Additionally, the police report from the sting also makes no mention of DeBruin attempting to get a drug dog to sniff money removed from the room by DeBruin and Bonham.
DeBruin and Bonham removed about $1,000 from the room to have a drug dog sniff it for drug residue, according to their testimony. In court, Duke held up the TPD police reports, which make no mention of a drug dog.
"They said their reason for taking the money from the room was for a drug dog, but don't you think they would note that in a report about evidence?" Duke said.
Duke introduced phone records that reportedly show that DeBruin called for a drug dog to come to the motel room after he had contacted the agent. The drug dog could not come to the motel because it had died that day.
Bill Lunn, Bonham's attorney, pointed out that the FBI video was incomplete and had gaps in the audio during critical times. In one instance, the video shows DeBruin talking to Wells at a television cabinet before walking over to Bonham and giving him about $1,000, which Bonham places in his left pocket.
DeBruin testified that he discussed the drug dog with Wells at the television cabinet before leaving the room and discovering the federal agent near the motel. DeBruin's discussion of the drug dog in the hotel room was not recorded by the FBI because the audio on the video was disconnected.
During the trial, Lunn said the audio on the video was mysteriously cut off during this time.
Prosecutors said the surveillance camera and its signal were disrupted by the officers searching the room for drugs.
Lunn also said that a key fob, which was actually an FBI recording device, had a lengthy gap that was not accounted for by the FBI or Duke's office.
Prosecutors suggested the officers may have accidentally turned off the key fob and its recorder by pressing its buttons while walking through the parking lot trying to find "Joker's" car.
Lunn said there could have been exculpatory evidence on the key fob that also mysteriously did not get recorded.
DeBruin testified that he could not place the money in his own pocket because his back pocket had his handcuffs while his other pockets were full. He gave the money to Bonham, but Bonham gave the money back to DeBruin because he had to go home for a granddaughter's sporting event, testimony shows.
Bonham could not be reached for comment Saturday.
In closing arguments, Duke pointed out that DeBruin was wearing a hooded jacket with pockets. On the video, he appeared to have ample room to keep the money for evidence, prosecutors said.
"You never heard the defense attorneys talk about those 'hoodie' pockets, did you?" Duke said in closing arguments.
Armstrong, the juror, said, "All of us (jury) had the same personality. We had to convince a few people of a few things. We got through some of it quite quickly. It got complicated when it came to Wells. Most of us were in agreement."
Original Print Headline: Juror explains verdicts
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Tulsa Police Officer Nick DeBruin speaks with media after being acquitted Friday of all charges against him. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World