Acquitted Of Extreme Corruption, Former Officers Now Sue For Defamation
ARUN RATH, HOST:
Six narcotics officers accused of crimes like savagely beating drug dealers, stealing their money and drugs, then selling the drugs themselves for more money. Last August on this on this program, we told you about those allegations of extreme corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department. At the time, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter had this to say.
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MICHAEL NUTTER: I will not allow, in the most recent circumstance, six sick scumbags to negatively impact the reputations of 6,000-plus men and women who risk their lives each and every day.
RATH: But this may - the officers were found not guilty on all counts, and this past week, they turned the tables.
JEREMY ROEBUCK: Five officers filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the city's district attorney, its police commissioner and its mayor all jumped to judgment too quickly and said things publicly that irreparably damaged their ability to land jobs and their reputations in future.
RATH: That's Jeremy Roebuck from the Philadelphia Inquirer, who first brought us the story last year. We invited him back to explain what happened.
ROEBUCK: Well, federal prosecutors had indicted these officers, alleging a whole host of criminal activity, including beating up drug suspects, pocketing thousands of dollars in seized money and then falsifying on their reports to cover up their crimes.
RATH: Now, federal prosecutors came in pretty confident that they would win this case, but ultimately, the jury found the officers not guilty on all counts. Why was that?
ROEBUCK: I think it all came back down to how the prosecutors built their case. When you're a jury and listening to stories from a host of drug dealers and a former cop who admittedly would say on the stand that he was dirty - they just decided to side with the officers.
RATH: And the police commissioner - last year, when we reported on this, he said - he called this one of the worst cases of corruption that he'd ever heard. Has he had anything to say about the officers being reinstated?
ROEBUCK: Yeah, to be honest, since the acquittal, he's not really back down at all. He kind of halfheartedly said, you know, I bet these offices are going to be able to get their jobs back through the union arbitration process, but I'm not going to welcome them back to the force. The DA's office is still refusing to take on any of their investigations for prosecution, so that sort of limits the jobs that they can get on the department 'cause, you know, almost every job would end up in a criminal case. And perhaps the police commissioner has tempered his rhetoric a little bit, but he's not jumping for joy to have these officers back.
RATH: You mentioned the drug cases. There were hundreds of them that the Philadelphia DA threw out because these officers had worked on them. Now that they're back on the force, is the DA going to take them back up?
ROEBUCK: No. I mean, we're talking more than 450 cases that have gone through a review process where they said, either we're going to drop a case that's still going through the courts, or we're just going to withdraw the conviction. And the judges have signed off on that. At this point, the DA stands by all of those decisions. He continues to maintain that he had his own reasons, even prior to the criminal indictment, for not trusting the word of these officers and has shown no sign yet of changing his mind.
RATH: So the officers themselves now - are they back to their old jobs?
ROEBUCK: There back on the force. They're not necessarily back to narcotics jobs. You know, as I mentioned before, with the DA unwilling to take prosecution of any of your cases - limits what you can do in the force. Some of them have been reassigned to towing impound lots. Some are doing other small jobs. I would imagine they'd be thrilled to be back on the narcotics squad, but for the moment, I think they see that just the fact that they're able to get their jobs back at all is some sort of victory.
RATH: Jeremy, at this point, do you feel like there's been any effect on public trust and police in the area as a result of all this?
ROEBUCK: There's actually been a pretty song divide we've seen in reaction to the jury's verdict. You know, there are some that feel that the feds were so intent on bringing a case against these officers that they made a lot of basic mistakes in putting the case together and feel that these officers were wronged in a lot of ways. On the other side, there's a strong belief among many in the community that these guys are guilty, and maybe just the case wasn't proven to the jury. And they're not willing to forgive and forget.
RATH: That's Jeremy Roebuck. He's a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he joined us from member station WHYY. Jeremy, thank you.
ROEBUCK: No problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.