By Carson Eschen
PHILADELPHIA, PA – In an unprecedented move, six motions to hold the Philadelphia Police Department in contempt of court were filed last week, following the department’s alleged failure to provide subpoenaed information about officers.
The motions were filed by District Attorney Larry Krasner and Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) Supervisor Patricia Cummings, and follow what Krasner said were “three and a half years of good-faith efforts to obtain the Philadelphia Police Department’s cooperation.”
In justification for the action, the Philadelphia DA’s office (DAO) pointed out systemic failures in the justice system: false convictions, the violation of legal rights, and the endangerment of even rightful convictions that involve a failure to report all relevant information.
The CIU has exonerated 23 wrongful convictions and the DAO has vacated 26 murder and rape decisions that involved misconduct by either the police or prosecution.
Krasner stated that judicial intervention and monitoring had seemed to become necessary for his office to fulfill its Constitutional obligations, though he hoped that PPD Commissioner Danielle Outlaw would collaborate on fixing these issues out of court.
He further remarked on the necessity of police officers in acting on behalf of the Commonwealth, but noted that the burden of upholding constitutional responsibility fell more heavily on the prosecutors themselves.
Cummings concurred with Krasner, stating that, given the “inconsistent, untimely, and insufficient transmission by Philadelphia Police… it is clear that judicial intervention and monitoring of PPD compliance will be necessary until such time as these issues are resolved.”
She also added that a contempt remedy would “help us resolve more promptly the tens of thousands of criminal cases the DAO prosecutes annually.”
The six motions were filed on the basis provided by Giglio v. United States, which mandates entering certain details into evidence. Cummings cited the police’s failure to adhere to Giglio as a major cause of many of the wrongful convictions.
The motions are each based on their own case, but are only a portion of the many subpoenas served to the PPD on May 21. The PPD generally responded to these subpoenas with inadequate information rather than contesting them.
In one case, the DAO identified a PPD officer whose disciplinary file contained sustained charges of document falsification, the details of which were not disclosed to the DAO. As a result, prosecutors were unable to provide the legally-required Giglio material to the defense counsel and to the court.
In another case highlighted by the DAO, they identified a PPD officer who had been given a “Training and Counseling” penalty by the Police Board of Inquiry for some misconduct, but were unable to ascertain anything about the nature of the misconduct.
The officer was the sole witness in an illegal firearm possession case, but the prosecution was unable to identify if the penalty was relevant to the officer’s reliability as a witness.