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Ex-Detroit cops challenge federal prison sentences for stealing from drug dealers

Former officers claim prosecutors misled a jury during trial

DETROIT – Two former Detroit police officers sentenced to long prison terms for conspiring to steal from drug dealers are fighting back.

David Hansberry and Bryan Watson are appealing their convictions and asking for a new trial. They've gone against the wishes of their attorneys and taken the case directly to the public.

In an exclusive interview with Local 4 Defender Kevin Dietz, Hansberry and Watson said prosecutors went too far to win a high-profile case.

The two former officers claim they're innocent and called for the FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office to be investigated for what they call an "overzealous prosecution."

Federal officials said the former officers were stealing money during drug raids to live beyond their means. Hansberry said the federal officials misled the jury.

"This was a case where the FBI and the United States attorney, along with the Detroit Police Department, set out to prove a narrative and to not actually get to the truth of what's going on," Hansberry said.

He accused the government of ignoring evidence the convicted cops said proves their innocence.

"How do you believe we'd commit this crime if in fact we went to Internal Affairs and told them?" Watson said.

Hansberry and Watson are veteran narcotics cops responsible for record-setting drug seizures. They said drug dealers and an admitted dirty cop, Arthur Lavells, lied about them to try to get lighter sentences for their own crimes. Hansberry and Watson said when these defendants were called to the stand to testify, their stories fell apart.

"The jury didn't find those people credible," Watson said. "They were lying, and some even acknowledge that they were lying on the stand."

Hansberry and Watson were found not guilty in nine of the 10 charges against them. They said the one charge they were convicted of is the result of questionable tactics by police and prosecutors.

"The job is for any investigator to get to the truth and the prosecutor is the gatekeeper," Watson said.

Hansberry and Watson believe they were convicted of conspiracy to commit crimes based solely on audio tapes played in court, in which they were secretly recorded talking about ripping off drug dealers.

"The tapes the government used to prejudice the jury against myself and Officer Watson were done disingenuously," Hansberry said.

"I believe there are overzealous people in the system," Watson said. "I believe there are renegade people. Just as I'm being portrayed as such a renegade rogue cop went south, I believe I know that I'm not."

The former officers claim they were intentionally pretending to be dirty cops as part of their job.

"Our skill set is to emulate criminals," Hansberry said. "This is what an undercover officer's job is. That's what he does. He emulates criminals."

They feel the prosecutors misled the jury into thinking it's against the law for police to lie.

"I've never heard anywhere in any state, in any city in this country that a police officer is not allowed to tell an informant, a citizen, a suspect or anyone they're in contact with anything that they need to tell them to get information on a crime," Hansberry said.

The officials claim documents with authentication numbers prove they reported the conversations to internal affairs.

"I know what I said and I also know that I went to Internal Affairs," Watson said.

They insist the last thing dirty cops would do is report to Internal Affairs.

"They omitted that from the case and that's why I'm here," Hansberry said.

They said the paperwork exonerates them, but prosecutors ignored it to get a win.

"All the while that's going on, I was always reporting to my supervisor," Watson said.

"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy, but I'm here today to bring truth to power and that may come with some consequences, but it's the right thing to do," Hansberry said.

In addition to omitting evidence, they accuse the federal government of calling known liars, perjurers and criminals as witnesses. They claim the government obtained audio recording that contradicts a convicted drug dealer's testimony in court that Hansberry and Watson stole nearly $1 million during a traffic stop.

"Needless to say, he did not say the Detroit Police Department or make any indications that the Detroit Police Department stole any money," Hansberry said.

They accuse the government of ignoring their own evidence.

"I know the FBI knows that, and I know the U.S. Attorney's Office knows it," Hansberry said.

In court documents, prosecutors deny the recordings exonerate the two former cops. They describe Hansberry and Watson as liars and thieves who instead of fighting drug trafficking, profited from it. They called them "thugs who carry badges" and further endanger Detroit neighborhoods.

"There is more than enough evidence to prove we did not take this money," Watson said.

"Stole a million dollars right from under the entire police department's nose and the FBI's nose and the DEA's nose and the U.S. Customs' nose?" Hansberry said. "Because they were all out there on the scene and somehow the United States attorney went along with this story."

The convicted cops know what they are saying could cause them problems.

"Doing this interview could have consequences," Hansberry said. "We don't know who we might upset."

They want the auditor general and a grand jury to investigate the issues.

"This is ultimately bigger than me and Officer Watson," Hansberry said. "It needs to lead back to the source of the problem."

"I think that in time we'll be vindicated," Watson said. "I really do. That's why I'm doing this. I'm standing here confident that in time I'll be vindicated in this."

WATCH: Full interview with Hansberry and Watson

The U.S. Attorney's Office said it wouldn't dignify the claims with a response and stood by the trial facts. An insider suggested the time for them to tell their story was on the witness stand, but they chose not to testify in their own defense.

Hansberry and Watson are appealing the conviction in hopes of restoring their reputations. In a written press statement after the conviction, the U.S. Attorney's Office praised the hard work of the FBI in taking down two dirty cops who tarnished the good names of honest officers.