TULSA, Okla. – A federal jury convicted a former Tulsa police officer Friday on charges he engaged in drug trafficking and stole federal money. The panel rejected prosecutors' claims that two current cops were part of a corruption ring that left a blemish on the city police department and led to the release of more than 30 defendants.
Current officers Nick DeBruin and Bruce Bonham hugged former officer Harold Wells before federal marshals led him away. Wells embraced his wife, who broke down in tears after he left the courtroom. A sentencing date was not immediately set.
Prosecutors alleged the three were part of a broader corruption plot, suggesting in an indictment last year that some officers operated without boundaries or fear of getting caught. According to the allegations, the officers stole money and drugs, conducted warrantless searches and fabricated evidence to win convictions.
During the trial, prosecutors showed video from an FBI sting that witnesses said appeared to capture the accused officers plotting to split up what they thought to be drug money at a Tulsa motel. The trial also included testimony from Eric Hill, a former police officer who was fired after an internal affairs probe revealed that he admitted to stealing money during a drug arrest.
Hill, who received immunity from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, testified that the three accused officers met after a May 2009 drug search and agreed to turn in money they'd pocketed because they were afraid they were FBI targets.
But Bonham and DeBruin said Bonham placed money in his pocket to see whether a dog trained to sniff out drugs would alight on him.
"I'm happy. What else can I say," DeBruin said after the verdicts were read. "I've gone through hell in the past year."
Bonham said Friday's verdict marked the first time he's felt relieved since he was indicted last year.
"I'd never been handcuffed before other than at the academy. It was the worst day of my life," Bonham said.
Wells, his lawyer and prosecutors did not comment.
Wells was convicted of possessing a firearm while trafficking in drugs; possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute; stealing federal money; conspiring to steal federal money; and using a telephone to further illegal drug sales. He was acquitted on five other counts.
Bonham faced five counts and DeBruin six.
Two other officers, Jeff Henderson and Bill Yelton, have been accused of similar crimes and will go to trial in July. Henderson faces 58 counts of distributing drugs, perjury and witness tampering; Yelton is accused of witness tampering, among other charges.
Since federal prosecutors began raising allegations that Tulsa had crooked cops, more than 30 people have had their convictions overturned or been released from prison based on the alleged false arrests. Several have filed lawsuits against the city.
Because the case involved the Tulsa law enforcement community, both the prosecutor and judge were brought in from out of state. U.S. Attorney Jane Duke of Little Rock, Ark., left the courtroom after the jurors returned their verdict. U.S. District Judge Bruce Black of New Mexico had to catch a plane home Friday afternoon, so local magistrate Paul Cleary accepted the verdict but didn't set a date for further proceedings involving Wells.
Johna Rountree, who would only identify herself as a family member of Wells, said Wells has spent nearly $100,000 to try to prove his innocence and that he was offered a deal by prosecutors but didn't take it "because he wanted to tell the truth."
Bill Lunn, a lawyer for Bonham, said prosecutors were never able to disparage the current officers' character.
"I think the people of Tulsa wanted to hear their side of the story," Lunn said. He said he expected the city police department to reinstate the officers to full duties. The two had been suspended without pay since their indictment.
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