ATLANTIC CITY — By the time a controversy over removing police dogs from the streets developed in 2010, former Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel believed the city was becoming dysfunctional.
His office had developed a contingency plan for taking over the Atlantic City Police Department, he told a courtroom Wednesday morning.
Among the reasons for concern that led to the plan: Housel believed Mayor Lorenzo Langford may have known about a city employee dealing heroin on city property. The former prosecutor was also disturbed to see the mayor talking to known drug dealers at the scene of a drug-related double homicide, he testified.
Langford responded Wednesday evening saying he was outraged by Housel's statements, which he characterized as reckless and a calculated attack against his integrity and his administration. Questions posed by The Press of Atlantic City on Wednesday were the first he heard of the allegations, the mayor said in a written statement.
"If this prosecutor had a legitimate belief that I was involved in some sort of improper activity, he had a duty to address it it," Langford said. "No doubt he would've loved to connect me to any kind of impropriety or criminal activity. Maybe stuff like this is the reason why he is the former prosecutor."
Housel, a witness in a lawsuit brought against the city by former Police Chief John Mooney, provided some of the of most unexpected testimony the case has seen over nearly two weeks before state Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson.
Yet most of the testimony was not heard by the eight member jury charged with deciding whether Mooney was targeted for a demotion in 2010 because he had been a whistle-blower against the city administration. The panel was instructed to disregard segments that had been heard, following Johnson's ruling Wednesday that statements about a possible takeover of the Police Department were not relevant to the case.
With the jury still present, Housel said the issue of K-9 removal was turning into a "political dog fight" in the midst of Langford's mayoral campaign. Taking over the department would have been a temporary measure to "get things back in order," Housel said, adding that the takeover was the beginning of a contingency plan that was never put into action.
Why the plan was discussed but never used was not revealed in court Wednesday. The state Attorney General's Office would have had to give its approval before such a takeover could occur, officials said.
Meanwhile, the jury had left the courtroom for an evidence hearing when Housel spoke about his concerns with Langford.
He told the judge and attorneys that he had reason to believe Langford might have been aware that Akbar Malik Salaam, a city employee, was dealing drugs out of the All Wars Memorial building and allowed the practice to continue. Salaam had been using security cameras at the building as a means of counter security to look for police in the area, Housel said
"It was my belief that there was a significant probability he might have been aware of it," Housel said.
Reached by phone after the testimony, Salaam's attorney, James Leonard Jr., said the mayor had absolutely no knowledge of Salaam's dealings.
"The mere suggestion that Lorenzo Langford had knowledge regarding the alleged illegal activities of Mr. Salaam is ludicrous and complete buffoonery," he said.
Salaam, now 60, who was supervisor at the All Wars Memorial building, was arrested in 2010 for dealing drugs while working out of both the building and his city-issued vehicle. He was convicted last year and is serving a 40-year sentence. He will be eligible for parole in 2037.
During the evidence hearing that the jury was not privy to, Housel also testified that at the scene of a double homicide involving a couple he became aware that the mayor was on the other side of police tape talking with two known drug dealers, one of whom was Salaam. The information was disturbing enough that Housel directed law enforcement agencies to take photos of the situation, he said.
Jan Lynette Williams, 28, and Marlon Thigpen, 25, were gunned down Sept. 8, 2010, while they sat on the stoop in the daylight outside a home on the 1300 block of Caspian Avenue. No arrests were ever made.
Robert Tarver, Langford's attorney, said it was "preposterous" to suggest that having a "less than savory" acquaintance or standing next to someone at a crime scene somehow implicated the mayor. The statements were "meant to smear" Langford, he said.
Housel also discussed concerns about the city's handling of an investigation into possible sexual misconduct by Atlantic City firefighters in 2009. At the time, the city administration was attempting to conduct its own investigation while the Prosecutor's Office was conducting its own criminal investigation.
Housel described the situation as "so political it was pathetic."
The Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office was not the only agency concerned with these events, Housel said. However, he did not say what other agencies might have been looking at the situation.
To discuss that information, Housel said the public would have to be cleared from the courtroom. Judge Johnson said it was not necessary to bring those details into the courtroom.
Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
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