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Report: Philly narcotics cops faked paperwork to hide informants. Hundreds of cases may be challenged.

Defense lawyers say Philly narcotics cops adopted an explicit policy and culture of altering and destroying evidence, hiding witnesses and suspects, and fabricating paperwork to coerce people into acting as confidential informants.

Inspector Raymond Evers
Inspector Raymond EversRead moreDavid M Warren / File Photograph

In May 2017, Philadelphia Narcotics Bureau supervisors Inspector Raymond Evers and Chief Inspector Anthony Boyle called staff into a police conference room in Germantown for a mandatory meeting. Evers would later describe it as a “pep talk” to "get better-quality investigations.”

But what he outlined, according to a 177-page August 2018 Internal Affairs report obtained by the Inquirer, was a scheme to flip low-level suspects into off-the-books confidential informants through a process that would evolve into falsifying paperwork, as well as hiding information from the District Attorney’s Office.

Some officers at the meeting described the system that Evers outlined — and that he, in at least three cases, personally oversaw — as illegal and a violation of police directives, according to the report. It sustained allegations Evers abused his authority, failed to supervise subordinates, and then lied during the course of the investigation about it. Internal Affairs also sustained charges against Boyle for failure to supervise, and against two officers for false paperwork.

The Police Board of Inquiry, the department panel that ultimately determines guilt and administers discipline, has not yet held a hearing.

“I was shocked by what the inspector and chief said. … These officers were provided improper instructions involving illegality,” narcotics Capt. Laverne Vann told investigators.

Narcotics Staff Inspector Debra Frazier said the recipe was simple: “Inspector Evers was encouraging the officers to obtain informants by flipping. Persons with a small amount of drugs, he said to put it on a property receipt and say you found it on the highway.”

The Internal Affairs investigation was launched in response to an anonymous letter “from stressed black personnel of the Narcotics Unit.” It echoes claims in a lawsuit against Evers, Boyle, and the city filed by the Guardian Civic League, an organization representing black police officers, and three African American narcotics officers, including Vann and Frazier, who claimed they suffered retaliation for resisting.

In a Thursday interview, Boyle said that he adhered to “legitimate and long-standing law-enforcement procedures,” and that any informant activity he was aware of was properly logged and reported to the DA. He called the allegations baseless, and said he believed Evers, too, had acted properly.

“It is 100 percent about attempts to get nonproductive members of the bureau to become productive or to get rid of them, and definitely a large portion of it, if not the total impetus, is an antiwhite sentiment among some of the minority officers.”

Evers said he would not comment based on his attorney’s advice.

The internal rift could have far-reaching consequences, according to Michael Mellon at the Defender Association of Philadelphia, who said hundreds of arrests made during and after Evers' yearlong tenure in leadership at Narcotics could be tainted.

“We believe that for close to two years the Philadelphia police narcotics units adopted an explicit policy and culture of altering and destroying evidence, hiding witnesses and suspects, and fabricating police paperwork, in an effort to coerce people into acting as confidential informants,” he said. “We have uncovered additional evidence of such activity beyond what is reported in the Evers investigation. This practice clearly violates the law, police protocol, and often the constitution.”

The concern with off-book flipping is it can produce informants motivated to lie in order to evade arrest, and it sidesteps any type of oversight by the DA or police Internal Affairs. But, more than that, it raises questions about what evidence may be obscured in drug busts that involved “flipping” — for example, if police are hiding that there was a second suspect in a house who may have been in possession of drugs.

“It’s impossible to know what the police destroyed or never recorded," Mellon said. “How can the citizens of the city trust that we have not been convicting innocent people?”

Alexandra Natapoff, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, and author of the book Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, said there’s nothing illegal about a police officer declining to arrest a suspect in hopes of extracting information. But falsifying documents and deceiving prosecutors often leads to injustice, she said.

“The famous problems with the use of criminal informants are that they lead to wrongful convictions because they lie to get a good deal or to avoid arrests themselves," she said. “They continue to commit crimes themselves, because they obtain a kind of impunity as a result of collaborating with the government, so they escape liability and accountability for their own crimes and then the whole process generates a secretive culture in which rule-breaking, cutting corners, and sometimes corruption is more likely to occur, because everyone knows that it’s very unlikely that anyone will find out what the deal was.”

Previous Philadelphia police narcotics scandals have led judges to reverse at least 1,500 cases after it was learned that police lied. More than 890 cases were tossed out since 2012 after a group of narcotics officers were accused of planting evidence, falsifying records, and even committing robberies on the job. Another 125 cases were dropped in connection with Chris Hulmes, an officer who lied about narcotics arrests. More recently, the Defender Association has filed a petition for review of 6,400 cases involving officers on a District Attorney’s Office do-not-call list of problem cops whose testimony wasn’t considered reliable.

Civil rights lawyer David Rudovsky, who reviewed the key points of the Internal Affairs report, said the investigation seemed incomplete, because it failed to establish how widespread the practice Evers outlined was, or how many cases were affected.

A police spokesperson declined to comment.

Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League, said the District Attorney’s Office should also consider whether criminal charges are warranted, given that investigators found that Evers lied and presented false evidence.

“If it was an average person, they would be locked up,” said Bilal, who is also a candidate for Philadelphia sheriff. “They should not treat them differently.”

Bilal also said the District Attorney’s Office may need to put Boyle and Evers on the do-not-call list.

The District Attorney’s Office declined comment.

Evers — a 25-year veteran who rose through the ranks despite news-making scandals including a couple of public fistfights — was transferred out of Narcotics in March 2018. Boyle remains at the bureau, but has been on desk duty since October when Vann accused Boyle of assaulting her, an incident she said arose when Boyle sought to prevent Vann from arresting a defendant.

The damning Internal Affairs report highlights three cases in which arrests were averted to obtain cooperation and drug seizures were mislabeled.

Just a month after Evers' May meeting, Narcotics Strike Force Officer Nathanial Harper caught a crack cocaine buyer with drugs in his front pocket.

But that’s not the way the bust was recorded.

Harper told Internal Affairs investigators that “Evers told me the male would not be charged, because the male provided information.”

The next day, Harper said, a corporal told him Evers wanted the paperwork resubmitted, and gave him written instructions. Critically, he said, Evers did not want the case submitted to the DA for charges.

On the incident report, Harper noted that the suspect provided information on a stolen gun, and “as a result of this info the defendant was not charged.” On the property receipt, he logged the drugs as “recovered from the highway.”

The Internal Affairs investigation sustained the allegations Harper violated police policy. Harper has been transferred out of the Narcotics Bureau. He did not respond to messages requesting comment.

Harper told the investigators that he worried about the new practice: “There would be no official documentation that the person was arrested and in custody for possession of illegal narcotics.”

However, Harper said that, due to Evers' rank, he dared not question him.

But in at least one case, Evers was stymied by resistant staff.

In August 2017, alarmed to learn a defendant he had targeted to flip was set to be put into the electronic reporting system for charging, Vann said Evers told her to make a phone call to the 25th District to keep the arrest from being reported.

Vann resisted. “I tried explaining to [Evers], by him interfering with the arrest process it waters down the integrity of the overall arrest,” the report quoted her as saying. She advised Evers to follow proper procedure: wait until the preliminary hearing and speak with the DA about it, but Evers insisted.

So, Vann secretly called 25th District Sgt. Wali Shabazz, who was processing the bust, and did just the opposite: “I told him to hurry up and submit the [charges]," she told Internal Affairs.

Vann hung up when a reporter called. Shabazz declined to comment.

Use of off-book informants is by nature difficult to uncover. Yet, since the Guardian Civic League lawsuit was filed in September 2017, public defenders have in several cases sought the Internal Affairs report as impeachment evidence against Narcotics Field Unit officers, and sought information on the use of informants as exculpatory material the DA was legally required to turn over.

To Brian Mildenberg, who’s representing the black personnel in the civil suit, it was all an elaborate plan to avoid scrutiny by the district attorney and the highest level of the police department.

“They were falsifying police documents to avoid compliance with police directives — and therefore oversight of their activities,” he said. “To comply with the directives, you would have had to notify the district attorney.”