The Philip Nordo fallout may be mounting for the City of Philadelphia.
As the ex-homicide detective sits in jail awaiting trial on charges that for years he raped, assaulted, stalked, and intimidated male witnesses, more lawsuits have landed against him and the city.
In one filed Thursday, James Frazier says that after he rebuffed Nordo’s sexual advances, the detective coerced him into signing a false confession, and he served nearly seven years of a life sentence for a 2012 double murder in which he had no role. Two weeks ago, Frazier was freed from prison after the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said there was “insufficient credible evidence” to prove his guilt.
Frazier’s suit came one day after a civil claim from another man who was released from state prison in January after serving nine years of a 15-to-30-year sentence for third-degree murder. The lawsuit by Jamal Simmons, who says Nordo and other officers coerced witnesses to make false statements implicating him in a 2009 slaying, seeks $25 million from the city.
A 20-year veteran officer with a decade as an often-prodigious homicide investigator, Nordo, 52, was fired in 2017, and prosecutors launched a grand jury inquiry into his work. But it wasn’t until February that they charged him and detailed their allegations: that the detective had sexually targeted young men he encountered during the course of investigations, and intimidated them into silence.
They contend Nordo sexually abused men in interrogation rooms and prison visiting rooms, and went so far as to ask prisoners about gay inmates who might soon be released and whom he might volunteer to transport.
He is being held without bail in Northampton County Prison. Through his attorney, Michael T. van der Veen, Nordo has denied the charges.
"He screams his innocence — that is our defense,” van der Veen said in a telephone interview last week.
Prosecutors have not yet said how many cases could be impacted or reviewed because of Nordo’s involvement. The lawsuits last week were at least the second and third to be filed. Another plaintiff, Gerald Camp, 31, who spent nearly two years jailed before a gun charge was dropped, claimed in a February lawsuit that Nordo arrested him in an attempt to sexually woo another man.
All three suits contend that the city knew of Nordo’s misconduct but turned a blind eye and failed to stop him. (Mike Dunn, spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney, said the city would have no comment on the pending litigation.)
The paths of Frazier and Nordo crossed after the murders of Rodney Ramseur Jr., 21, and his girlfriend, Latia Jones, 21, on a drizzly night in May 2012. The couple were ambushed by a lone gunman as they sat on the front porch of Ramseur’s family home in Olney.
Ramseur, who was training to be a barber, was shot eight times, including a shot to the head at close range. Jones was shot three times.
Investigators believed the killing was retaliation: The week before, Ramseur had testified about a murder he had witnessed.
While investigating the slayings Nordo met Frazier, who lived in Ramseur’s neighborhood. According to Frazier’s lawsuit, the detective “saw an opportunity to cultivate [Frazier] as a sexual conquest.”
The lawsuit doesn’t specify how or when Nordo made sexual advances toward him, but says he did, and Frazier rejected them. He claims Nordo then “threatened and intimidated” him into signing a false confession in which Frazier identified a friend as the gunman who killed the couple, himself as the getaway driver, and his half-brother as a coconspirator.
The statement was the only evidence police had against Frazier — no other suspects were ever charged — but it was enough to persuade a jury to convict him of third-degree murder. Frazier was sentenced to life without parole.
Frazier already had an appeal pending when the prosecutors began their internal review of Nordo’s cases. On March 5, Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O’Keefe vacated his conviction and ordered a new trial after the Conviction Integrity Unit of the District Attorney’s Office conceded he was entitled to one.
“After a complete review of available files and a CIU investigation, this office determined that Mr. Frazier’s right to a fair trial was violated in several respects," said a statement from Patricia Cummings, supervisor of the unit. "The CIU review and investigation also revealed new evidence which establishes that there is insufficient credible evidence to prove Mr. Frazier committed the crimes for which he was convicted of.”
On April 4, O’Keefe granted the DA’s motion to withdraw the prosecution altogether, and Frazier was freed.
“James Frazier was only 18 when he was wrongfully arrested, tried and convicted of a crime he did not commit as a result of the misconduct of corrupt Philadelphia Police Detective Phillp Nordo,” said Frazier’s attorneys, Matt Casey and Joshua Van Naarden of the firm Ross Feller Casey.
Van der Veen, Nordo’s attorney, said the DA’s Office did not notify him of its decision to free Frazier, so he is not familiar with the case’s details. Still, he believes Nordo was wrongly blamed for Frazier’s exoneration.
“As far as I know, my guy has never fabricated any evidence," he said. "My guy is innocent. Any allegation that he fabricated evidence is bogus.”
Just how many of Nordo’s cases will get reviewed is not known, said Cameron L. Kline, a spokesperson for District Attorney Larry Krasner. “We are in the process of trying to identify all the Nordo cases that need to be reviewed,” he said.
Frazier’s exoneration also means that no one has been identified, caught, or punished for the murders of Ramseur and Jones — a sobering fact that Ramseur’s mother can’t forget.
“I’m just disgusted,” Nicole Hyman said in an interview as she and her husband, Christopher Hyman, sat on the porch of their Olney home last week. “I don’t have faith in the criminal justice system. Every time I hear about a cop or one of their children getting killed and there are no witnesses, no cameras, they can find who did it. But, my son? He didn’t deserve this. He can’t rest in peace because the person who did this is still out there.”