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Second case dropped against a former Philly police inspector accused of sexual assault

A second woman's case is withdrawn in the sexual assault charges against former Philadelphia police inspector Carl Holmes.

Former Philadelphia police Chief Inspector Carl Holmes leaves the Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City Philadelphia after a preliminary hearing on March 12, 2020. Charges have been dropped in two of three cases where Holmes was charged with allegedly sexually assaulting female officers.
Former Philadelphia police Chief Inspector Carl Holmes leaves the Stout Center for Criminal Justice in Center City Philadelphia after a preliminary hearing on March 12, 2020. Charges have been dropped in two of three cases where Holmes was charged with allegedly sexually assaulting female officers.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

In October 2019, Carl W. Holmes Jr., a former Philadelphia police inspector, was charged with allegedly assaulting three female police officers, based on an investigating grand jury’s recommendations. On Friday, the District Attorney’s Office withdrew the second case within a week, leaving just one before the court.

Holmes’ attorney, Gregory Pagano, also filed a motion to disqualify the prosecutor’s office from the case, saying that District Attorney Larry Krasner failed to disclose that he as a defense attorney had represented a man who robbed a West Philadelphia 7-Eleven in 1994, and was shot seven times by Holmes, one of the first officers on the scene.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on both of Friday’s developments.

The latest case withdrawn involved the sexual assault charges alleged by Christa Hayburn. Pagano said in an interview Friday that Hayburn had questionable credibility, but would not elaborate.

Hayburn read a statement in court via Zoom, saying that while she doesn’t agree with the decision to withdraw her case, she was a “willing participant throughout this entire process. And I continued to do so even though it has been re-traumatizing and I have been struggling with my mental health due to the grand jury investigation, testifying at the preliminary hearing, and all the other aspects of this criminal case.

“This case has been extremely difficult for my family and me but we were willing to endure it to make sure that there was finally some justice. This process has opened old wounds that were once starting to heal. And today’s hearing is like ripping off the scab and dousing it with alcohol and being told to slap the Band-Aid back on … I have a great deal of respect for the court, the court’s decision, and hope that my fellow survivors of Carl Holmes and I get the justice we deserve.”

Pagano argued that his client is innocent and has been the victim of what he likens to “a witch hunt.” In a motion to dismiss the case filed last September, Pagano contended that “the allegations in this case have received extensive local press coverage beginning approximately ten years ago. All of the complainants in this case have exhaustively litigated civil claims against the police department in the court system for approximately 10 years.”

Last week prosecutors withdrew the case involving former officer Elisa Diaz after she failed to appear during a preliminary hearing at the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. Those charges had previously been dismissed by Judge Karen Simmons for a lack of prosecution in January, but refiled the next month by the District Attorney’s Office.

The grand jury had accused Holmes, 55, a married father of two daughters, of sexually assaulting the police officers in 2006 and 2007 by kissing them, fondling their breasts, and digitally penetrating their vaginas. The years-old allegations involving Holmes and two of the officers had been detailed extensively by The Inquirer and the Daily News, and in court documents, but had not led to criminal charges until 2019.

The Police Department fired Holmes, a lawyer who once starred as an offensive tackle on Temple University’s football team, after the indictment.

The remaining case is that of Michele Vandegrift. She joined the Police Department in 2004 at the age of 22. In 2006, she noticed that Holmes was paying close attention to her around the office. He began calling Vandegrift, saying he fantasized about her, according to a grand jury presentment.

Vandegrift was working an overnight shift in early 2007 when Holmes summoned her to his office. According to the presentment, he made small talk, then commented on her thighs. He walked toward her and after making a lewd comment, he shoved his hand down her pants, and pushed a finger into her vagina.

In 2014, she filed an EEO complaint that outlined multiple years’ worth of sexual harassment that she said she’d suffered at the hands of male colleagues. A lawsuit that Vandegrift filed against the city over her alleged assault by Holmes settled in 2017 for $1.25 million.

The criminal case cannot move forward until Pagano’s motion to have the District Attorney’s Office disqualified is addressed.

The argument hinges on Krasner’s role in defending Christopher Butler, who was 19 when he robbed a West Philly 7-Eleven at 4 a.m. Dec. 3, 1994. “Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, DA Krasner has a duty to disclose that which is material to a defendant’s innocence,” Pagano wrote.

Holmes said that he fired his gun because Butler had pointed a gun at him.

But in a lawsuit Butler filed in 1997 against Holmes and his colleagues, Butler claimed that he had set his revolver on the counter to free both hands to put money in bags and that Holmes burst into the store, shouted “Freeze!” and immediately began shooting.

Butler was convicted of robbery and related offenses, including simple assault on Holmes. He alleged multiple civil-rights violations in a federal lawsuit, and the city settled the case in 1997 for $80,000.

Pagano argued that Krasner has been personally involved in the current prosecution of Holmes, and also played a major role in the criminal cases and civil suit related to Holmes.

“DA Krasner’s role, at best, has the appearance of impropriety, at worst, he had an actual conflict of interest, prejudice, bias and abused his discretion as a prosecutor,” the defense attorney wrote.