Narco Cops Trial: “This Is Training Day for Real”

Drug dealer testifies that movie-loving Philly narcotics officers threatened to throw him off a balcony.

Training Day starred Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington.

Training Day starred Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington. It starred in Wednesday’s testimony.

If nothing else, the trial of six former Philadelphia Police officers accused of shaking down drug dealers is becoming a cornucopia of pop culture references.

On Monday, witnesses referenced deceased mobster John Gotti and Al Pacino’s role in the movie Scarface. On Tuesday, as testimony continued, the Denzel Washington movie Training Day became relevant.

Michael Cascioli, an admitted drug dealer who claims officers threatened to throw him off a high-rise balcony during a November 2007 incident, says Officer Thomas Liciardello discussed the movie — about a rogue officer shaking down drug dealers and other criminals, natch — as officers searched his apartment for drugs and cash.

“Liciardello asked if I’d ever seen Training Day,” Cascioli testified. “I said yes. He said: ‘This is fucking Training Day for real.’”

Cascioli said he was pulling down between $30,000 and $50,000 a month selling bulk quantities of pot and mushrooms when police took him down in 2007. He went to prison for 13 months after his arrest.

But his account on Tuesday of that arrest differed in significant ways from the reports of the officers who stand accused.

• Cascioli said that police didn’t initially identify themselves when they apprehended him in the hallway of his apartment building. “My first immediate thought was it was the mafia, and I was getting robbed,” he said.

• Police said they executed a search warrant at his apartment; Cascioli said he never saw the warrant until after he’d been taken from the apartment.

• Police said they read Cascioli his Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney, after which he cooperated with investigators. Cascioli said his request for an attorney was denied with a “Fuck you” from Liciardello. It was only after he concluded that officers “could do whatever they wanted to me” that he agreed to help investigators reel in his supplier.

• Police reported that as part of his cooperation, Cascioli gave them the password to his Palm Pilot, which contained information about his business, and about where his money was kept. Cascioli said Tuesday that he tried not to give them the password — only to find the officers threatening to throw him off the balcony to his death. “At this point they started to lift me off the ground. I was afraid,” he said. “I gave them the password. I gave in.”

Under cross-examination, Cascioli said he couldn’t remember most of the the names of the small group of Philadelphians he supplied with bulk amounts of drugs for resale. He said they included doctors, lawyers and even housewives. “They had better jobs,” he said. “They weren’t street dealers.”

Cascioli added that items were missing from his belongings after police were done, including $8,000 worth of property.

He said he never again returned to the apartment after being arrested, choosing instead to move out of state almost as soon as he could. “I wanted to get as far away from these guys as possible.”

Defense lawyers are trying to undermine the credibility of the prosecution witnesses, noting that most of them — like Cascioli — are known criminals whose testimony is untrustworthy when pitted against the police officers who put them away.

Also on trial are Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and John Speiser, all former members of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Narcotics Field Unit. Testimony is expected to last for several weeks.

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