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59 more narcotics cases tossed in Phila. police scandal

With efficient precision, a Common Pleas Court judge on Friday dismissed 59 drug convictions of defendants arrested by a corrupt narcotics officer.

With efficient precision, a Common Pleas Court judge on Friday dismissed 59 drug convictions of defendants arrested by a corrupt narcotics officer.

Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper required only about a minute for each conviction she dismissed - an assembly-line treatment of cases, which the courts have perfected after years of police scandals.

"Actually, this is the worst police corruption since the 39th District," said Bradley S. Bridge of the Defender Association of Philadelphia, referring to the mass dismissals of about 300 cases in the late 1990s. Those cases involved six 39th District officers who were convicted of planting drugs and framing suspects.

The current police scandal - in which one former officer has pleaded guilty in federal court to corruption charges and six others are awaiting trial - involves more case dismissals than ever before in Philadelphia: 340 cases had been dismissed by the beginning of the year, and counting Friday's tally, 76 have been tossed this year.

The District Attorney's Office had said it is dropping the cases because the credibility of the officers was tainted. The office said it cannot pursue cases if it cannot trust officers as witnesses.

All of the cases in Friday's action involved arrests made by former Officer Jeffrey Walker from 2004 to 2013.

Walker, a 24-year veteran, was arrested in May 2013 in an FBI sting, in which he was caught planting drugs in a suspect's car, stealing the man's keys, and later burglarizing his house. He quickly pleaded guilty and has been cooperating with the investigation of the other six officers: Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser.

The 46-year-old Walker is in federal custody, awaiting sentencing.

Among those who had cases reversed Friday was Michael Hall, 47, of West Philadelphia, who said he was "very happy" with the result of the hearing. Hall, who has repeatedly been sentenced to prison for drug-dealing convictions dating back to 1987, said he had started the process of suing the city.

About 100 federal civil-rights lawsuits suits have already been filed against Walker and the six indicted narcotics officers.

Because the city is self-insured, Philadelphia taxpayers are expected to take a major hit from suits involving the officers.

In the 39th District scandal, there were fewer lawsuits, and the city paid about $4 million to settle them.

Woods-Skipper set a Nov. 7 date for reviewing at least 40 additional cases involving arrests made by Walker and the six other former officers.

During Friday's hearing, public defender Bridge told Assistant District Attorney Robin Godfrey that he intended to file an additional 1,000 appeals to overturn cases from Walker and the six awaiting trial.

"Wow," she responded.