Complaint filed over narcotics officers' conduct in West Mount Airy raid

The building that houses the shop raided by the controversial drug squad.
The building that houses the shop raided by the controversial drug squad. (ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 09, 2013

A Conshohocken man has alleged in a court filing that members of a controversial narcotics squad in Philadelphia raided his business without a warrant, beat him with a pipe, and kicked in his teeth before arresting him on trumped-up charges that were recently dropped.

Warren Layre, 60, said in an interview Friday that he was seeking to recover about $400,000 seized after the June 2011 raid on his auto-repair shop in West Mount Airy.

Layre filed a petition in Common Pleas Court to recover his money, denying that he ever sold drugs. He said the money came from legal business investments.

A certified precision welder who worked for 17 years with a General Motors affiliate, Layre was one of five people arrested as part of the 2011 raid. Charges against the four others also have been withdrawn.

Layre's court filing is the latest aftershock resulting from the transfer of six top Philadelphia narcotics agents last month. The officers were moved to lower-profile positions after District Attorney Seth Williams notified police that his office would not prosecute their drug cases.

Williams has not explained his decision, citing only "prosecutorial discretion." His office has since dropped 139 cases, Layre's among them.

The raid on Layre's shop is detailed in a June 24, 2011, arrest report by Officer Thomas Liciardello, one of the six transferred officers.

Liciardello wrote that he and other officers from his Narcotics Field Unit received a tip from a "reliable source" that drugs were being sold from Layre's auto shop, in the 500 block of West Sedgwick Street.

Liciardello said that during surveillance at the shop, he and other narcotics officers saw two people apparently buying drugs and arrested them.

Liciardello wrote that officers had to enter the garage immediately because Layre and two other men had fled into the shop. Under limited circumstances, police can search a facility without a warrant if they believe evidence will be destroyed.

They later obtained a warrant to search the property, according to the arrest paperwork.

When police entered the garage that day, they arrested Layre and two others. After they obtained the warrant, they seized more than a pound of methamphetamine, as well as $6,650 and a .22-caliber pistol with obliterated serial numbers, Liciardello wrote.

After the search of the shop, Montgomery County detectives staged a coordinated raid on Layre's Conshohocken house and confiscated more guns and Layre's banking records, which eventually were used to seize his accounts.

Layre acknowledges that he is no choirboy. In his younger years, he said, he rode with Hells Angels and used drugs including methamphetamine and LSD. He says he cleaned up his life 17 years ago when his son was born.

Layre, in his court filing and in the interview, gave a significantly different account of the raid.

He said that he would have opened the garage door had police knocked, but that the officers used a battering ram.

Then, with guns drawn and without identifying themselves, the officers forced the men onto the floor, he said.

Layre identified one of the other officers as Brian Reynolds, a member of the narcotics unit who also has been transferred. He said Reynolds claimed to be an FBI agent and threatened to shoot him in the head.

Liciardello, Layre said, demanded to know where drugs and money were hidden and then hit him in the head with a metal pipe, knocking him unconscious.

As he regained consciousness, Layre said, Liciardello kicked him in the mouth, breaking his upper teeth. He later had a CAT scan and had the remains of the broken teeth pulled, he said. He does not yet have dentures and is missing his upper front teeth.

It was about seven hours after the initial raid that police obtained a search warrant and found the methamphetamine in the garage, Layre maintains in his filing.

Police paperwork from the case lists three other of the transferred officers involved: Perry Betts, Michael Spicer, and Brian Speiser.

The sixth officer in the narcotics unit who was transferred, Lt. Robert Otto, was not listed as involved in the raid. Otto, a supervisor in the unit, briefed reporters on the raid shortly after it occurred.

Layre said the drugs might have been stashed in the garage by an acquaintance. In the interview, he speculated that the man was a police informant.

As for the seized guns, he said that the .22-caliber pistol had legible serial numbers before the police raid and that he did not know why he was accused of obliterating the numbers.

He said most of the other guns were antiques or gifts from his father, a World War II veteran who brought two rifles back from Japan.

He provided a copy of a November 1945 letter from the Navy showing that his father had brought the guns to the United States legally.

Layre said the Police Department, with the approval of the district attorney's drug forfeiture office, seized $356,600 from his bank accounts - all from legal business investments, plus a gift that his mother gave to his son.

Layre said all his earnings were declared on his income tax filings, which were prepared by an accountant and held by his attorney. He provided a 10-year summary of his earning and investment returns.

The Inquirer was able to verify several property sales that Layre said were included in his earnings. He provided details of those property sales in his court filings as evidence that the seized funds were legally obtained.

There is also a discrepancy in the amount of money that was seized from the shop. Layre said police took about $41,000 from the garage. Liciardello reported $6,650.

The district attorney's spokeswoman, Tasha Jamerson, said, "We will review the petition and make the appropriate response after that review."

The six officers have not responded to requests for comment.

Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, said the department would not comment because it was conducting an internal investigation.


Contact Mark Fazlollah at 215-854-5831 or mfazlollah@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Allison Steele contributed to this article.

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