The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed motions to have the Police Department held in contempt for failing to turn over information pertaining to alleged police misconduct.
The motions, another sign of the rift between Philadelphia’s prosecutors and police administrators, were filed as part of six ongoing criminal cases.
But District Attorney Larry Krasner and Patricia Cummings, supervisor of his office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, said at an afternoon news conference that the problem is systemic.
“The only people being helped by the system are a small number of dirty cops,” Krasner said, adding that the “vast majority” of Philadelphia police officers don’t have a bad record and are “good and honorable.”
For years, the DA’s Office and police have been clashing over the collection of the information stored in the Conviction Integrity Unit’s Police Misconduct Disclosure Database.
Under Krasner’s predecessor, Seth Williams, a similar list contained dozens of current and former police officers that prosecutors had sought to keep off the witness stand due to an alleged history of lying, racial bias, brutality, or other misconduct.
Since Krasner took office in 2018, the misconduct database has expanded to include nearly 750 officers. Some are prohibited from testifying, while others have problematic histories that must be turned over to defense attorneys.
Under long-standing U.S. Supreme Court decisions, prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that might exonerate a defendant as well as information that could affect the credibility of a witness, such as a police officer. Cases can be dismissed by judges if evidence raising doubts about the integrity of an officer is revealed after the officer has testified in court.
Krasner says his office needs the information to prevent wrongful convictions and to ensure that solid cases don’t fall apart. He said he spoke to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw on Tuesday and felt “pretty hopeful” that a resolution could be reached.
The Fraternal Order of Police union, however, has been an impediment, prosecutors say. The FOP unsuccessfully sued Krasner, Mayor Jim Kenney, and then-Police Commissioner Richard Ross in 2018, claiming that the allegedly tainted officers had been placed on the list without due process and that it had harmed their reputations.
Krasner has previously said that the database includes officers with “histories of arrests, convictions, disciplinary violations or documented behaviors that warrant disclosure to defendants.”
The heavily redacted documents that the Police Department has been providing to Krasner’s office sometimes leave prosecutors unsure of what exactly happened in their past, Cummings said.
“There are times that the Police Department gives us such little information that, had they given us the entire investigative file, we might conclude that the officer did not engage in misconduct that affects their credibility, so we might not even put them in the [misconduct] database,” Cummings said.
In other cases, Cummings said, the Police Department has withheld information about officers with a clear history of misconduct. She referred to one case in which prosecutors were aware, based on a previous request for information, that an officer had lied in the past. But the Police Department later responded to a subpoena by saying it had nothing about the lying.
“An officer that gets in trouble for lying goes to the very core of what it means to be credible or not credible,” Cummings said.
In June, Krasner’s office released a report that criticized prior district attorneys and police officers for “horrendous abuses of power.” His office has overseen 26 vacated murder or rape convictions.
“We anticipated that we would uncover many cases where misconduct caused innocent people to go to prison. What we saw, however, has taken our breath away,” Krasner wrote in the report’s introduction.
The Police Department said it learned Tuesday the motions were being filed but had not seen them and declined to comment. The FOP declined to comment.