Responding to a judge’s order, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has released a secret list of current and former police officers whom prosecutors have sought to keep off the witness stand after a review determined they had a history of lying, racial bias, or brutality.
The names of the 29 officers were included among a larger roster of 66 provided to the Philadelphia Defender Association on Monday and obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News. The full list combined two groupings — the officers whose serious misconduct rendered them problematic as witnesses and 37 officers who have been charged with lesser offenses or have been involved in other legal conflicts, often while off duty. Under prosecution policy, the second group can testify, but defense attorneys must be told of their legal issues.
In a detailed fact summary about each officer on the “Do Not Call” list, prosecutors said that the 29 former and current officers had engaged in a wide range of wrongdoing and had, as a result, often faced criminal charges or been found guilty by the department’s internal Police Board of Inquiry. The offenses included numerous cases of lying to police investigators, filing false police reports, use of excessive force, drunken driving, burglary, and others.
The list included former Officer Ryan Pownall, 35, a 12-year veteran of the department who was fired last year after he fatally shot a man running away after a traffic stop in North Philadelphia; former Office Emmanuel R. Folly, 26, a three-year veteran fired last year upon his arrest on pending charges of sexual abuse of children and dissemination of child pornography; and former Officer Stanley Davis, a narcotics officer who pleaded guilty last year to giving heroin to women in exchange for sex acts.
The roster also included Sgt. Michael Spicer, 50, who was acquitted in 2015 with five other narcotics officers in a heavily publicized federal corruption probe. He and other officers were later awarded their jobs back by an arbitrator. A source familiar with the list said he had been added because prosecutors deemed some of his recent arrests problematic. His attorney declined comment.
The 29 officers collectively made more than 800 arrests in the last five years, records show.
Common Pleas Court Judge Tracy Brandeis Roman last week ordered that the names, badge numbers, and background information of the officers be turned over to the public defenders office. The defenders demanded the list from District Attorney Larry Krasner after the Inquirer and Daily News revealed its existence last month.
The list was drawn up by prosecutors in March 2017 at the order of former District Attorney Seth Williams. Before Williams pleaded guilty to corruption and resigned in June, he created a special Police Misconduct Review Committee to identify officers whose testimony might be problematic in criminal cases. In deciding whose testimony should be avoided, Williams limited the review, in large part, to those found by the Police Board of Inquiry, from the summer of 2016 on, to have committed serious misconduct.
Williams and his prosecutors did not reveal the existence of the list, treating it as an internal guide to determine when a potentially tainted officer’s testimony could be used. Under the office’s policy, frontline prosecutors were instructed to get top-level permission before calling such an officer as a witness in a criminal case.
The list was kept secret by Williams, prosecutors said, out of concern for the officers’ privacy rights and the broad impact it might have on past convictions involving the officers. In the aftermath of previous scandals involving allegedly corrupt officers, the city has faced costly wrongful-arrest lawsuits and seen many previous convictions overturned.
The most recent such scandal unfolded when prosecutors charged seven narcotics officers with corruption. While one officer pleaded guilty and cooperated with the probe, the six others were acquitted. So far, prosecutors have thrown out 800 cases of those officers. About 300 defendants have sued the city after the dismissals. With less than a third of those suits resolved, the city has agreed to pay out more than $2 million in settlements.
At last week’s hearing before Brandeis Roman, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock agreed that the list would be provided on Monday.
Krasner, a former top defense lawyer who came into office promising to be uncompromising when it came to bad police officers, pledged at a public meeting last month that he would release the list and finally faced a judicial command that he do so.
In an interview Tuesday, Krasner said all assistant district attorneys have been instructed to tell opposing lawyers about officers on the list if it affected their cases. He said his staff had “moved quickly” to share the list after learning of it.
“It’s a daunting task to reverse years of potential Brady violations,” Krasner said, referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland , requiring prosecutors to share evidence favorable to defendants with their lawyers.
In a statement, DA spokesman Benjamin Waxman said: “As we have made clear on several occasions, this list was compiled and maintained by a previous administration. We do not endorse the legal or factual validity of the information contained in the document. We also do not endorse any positions taken in regard to disclosure or non-disclosure of information contained in the document.”
Last week, in an interview, public defenders Bradley Bridge and Michael Mellon said the list was clearly covered by the 1963 Brady ruling.
Despite its existence, the list had never been used to bar an officer’s testimony, officials said. Instead, prosecutors have simply been dismissing cases involving problem officers.
For decades, critics, including former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, have complained bitterly about the police disciplinary system, saying a sluggish Internal Affairs Division, a weak police inquiry board, and an officer-friendly arbitration system have prevented the force from firing bad cops.
Beyond officers deemed too suspect to put on the witness stand, the DA’s Office had compiled a list of officers with their own legal cases pending. While those officers could still be called as witnesses, it was determined that defense lawyers needed to be told of their pending cases.
Of the 29 men and women on the more serious “Do not call” list, about half appear to be still on the force. The number includes a lieutenant, four sergeants, one corporal, and one detective.
The District Attorney’s Office has also released the protocol detailing how officers were put on the list and how they could be removed.
Under the protocol, prosecutors left it to the Police Department to explain to officers on the list why they would not be called to testify in court.
A spokesman for Commissioner Richard Ross, Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, said the department “never received this protocol.” As a result, officers were never told they were on the list, he said.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s police union, has said it also had never received the protocol. It had no further comment Tuesday.
While such lists of “rogue” police are unusual, they are not unprecedented.
In Seattle and 39 other towns in King County, Wash., with a total population of 2.5 million, prosecutors have made public such lists of officers for more than a decade. Mark Larson, a top King County prosecutor, said the public at any time can request a copy of its list, which contains the names of 214 former or current officers.