Two Police Officers Are Convicted Of Abusing Homeless People -- Transients Were Doused With Fluids

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - A federal jury convicted two former police officers of abusing homeless people by dousing them with oil, coffee and urine. A third officer was acquitted.

The jury deliberated just three hours yesterday before it found Steve Phillips guilty of conspiring to violate the civil rights of street people and using his authority as an officer to assault them. Kyle Shepard was found guilty of the assault charge, and Mark Gibby was acquitted of both charges.

Four other former officers from the Gastonia Police Department have pleaded guilty in the case.

All six will be together in January in U.S. District Court. Phillips faces a maximum of 11 years in prison and a $500,000 fine. Shepard faces a maximum of a year in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Street people began to complain about police harassment after officers allegedly poured lukewarm cooking oil on Norman Ben Hannah as he slept beneath a railroad bridge in October 1990. When Hannah pressed assault charges, police and the FBI began looking into the allegations and five officers were disciplined.

Hannah committed suicide in December 1990.

Prosecutor Gerard Hogan, in his closing argument, said the officers hunted down homeless people like animals.

"This is a classic case of one-upmanship," he told the jury. "After time, it starts to get boring just slapping people. You have to devise new methods and new tactics to revitalize the hunt."

A lawsuit filed in October 1991 said that as many as 29 officers were involved in a campaign of harassment and intimidation.

Last March, the city paid $98,250 to settle the lawsuit, with the money split among six street people and Hannah's estate.