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Miami cops lose appeal of drug-running convictions at 11th Circuit

Two officers who thought they were providing armed security to major cocaine traffickers but were really ensnared in an FBI sting operation argued their convictions should be overturned based on a lack of evidence and trial errors.

ATLANTA (CN) — An 11th Circuit panel on Monday unanimously rejected two former Miami police officers’ challenge to their drug-trafficking convictions.

Former officers James Archibald and Kelvin Harris were caught as part of an undercover FBI sting operation designed to root out dirty cops in the Miami Police Department.

Despite proof that the officers actively participated in a fake drug-running conspiracy – even going so far as to activate their police lights to help an agent posing as a drug courier navigate heavy traffic – Archibald and Harris claimed that the evidence was insufficient to convict them.

The Atlanta-based appeals court was unpersuaded.

Writing on behalf of the panel Monday, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus found that the evidence against the men was “ample.”

Along with a third officer, Archibald and Harris participated in three separate operations to protect FBI agents who they believed were drug dealers delivering cocaine to Miami hotels. Harris received a $10,000 cash payment for his efforts and Archibald received $6,500.

Both men were charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine and attempted possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Harris was also convicted of possessing a firearm during the commission of a drug-trafficking crime.

After a 10-day trial in June 2019, Harris was sentenced to 27 ½ years in prison. Archibald was sentenced to 10 years.

Marcus, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote that the men made many statements to an undercover agent and their fellow officers that they were “in” or “all in."

“[Harris] and Archibald also repeatedly discussed only involving people they could trust in the scheme and devised strategies for keeping their activities secret. [Harris] went so far as to caution the crew not to change their lifestyles to avoid detection, and even promised that the organization’s activities would 'live and die with [him],'” the judge wrote.

Archibald and Harris repeatedly affirmed their commitment to the scheme, the ruling explains.

After he was told that the organization had moved 100 kilos of cocaine in one month, the ruling states that Harris “seemed calm, and, notably, was not surprised at the amount of cocaine that had been trafficked.”

The panel also rejected Archibald’s arguments that he only agreed to participate in the scheme because he was scared and uncomfortable.

Archibald “appeared relaxed” and “showed no surprise” as one of the fake couriers counted 15 bricks of false cocaine in a hotel room, according to the ruling. He also did not make any attempt to contact any law enforcement agency about the illegal activity.

“Between September 28 and October 11, Archibald took no steps to walk away from what he admittedly understood was extensive criminal activity,” Marcus wrote.

Finding no evidence of perjury or prosecutorial misconduct during grand jury proceedings in the case, the panel rejected an argument made by Harris’ attorney during a hearing in May that the indictment against him should have been dismissed because another officer gave purportedly false testimony to the grand jury.

The defendants’ argument that the prosecutor unconstitutionally struck a Black prospective juror because of race was also rejected. The government excluded only one Black juror out of the seven peremptory challenges it made. Two Black jurors went on to serve on the jury.

Attorney Ashley Litwin of Seitles & Litwin, who represents Archibald, expressed disappointment in the ruling Monday but said her client “will continue to fight.”

“We strongly believe the facts and the law establish James Archibald was entrapped and committed the crime only under duress. We had hoped that his convictions would be overturned and he would be sent home,” Litwin said.

An attorney for Harris did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Marcus was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judges Jill Pryor, a Barack Obama appointee, and Kevin Newsom, a Donald Trump appointee.

Follow Kayla Goggin on Twitter

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