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List of 'troubled' Philadelphia police filled with inconsistencies

Under court order, Philadelphia D.A. Krasner has released a list of 66 police with troubling histories. Now critics are raising question about the list - and about why only some officers on it would be discouraged from taking the stand.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has inherited a list from his predecessor that names 66 police with troubling records or pending criminal cases against them.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has inherited a list from his predecessor that names 66 police with troubling records or pending criminal cases against them.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

By the police account, it was a simple arrest.

Philadelphia Police Officer Brian Waters and his partner, William J. Farrell 3rd, stopped the driver of a Lexus CS-400 for failing to signal a turn. When the two officers approached the car, Farrell testified in court, they saw a stash of dope and a handgun inside.

But at least one key element of Farrell's testimony wasn't true. Waters was not there. He was in court.

"This kind of testimony happens all too frequently," defense lawyer David M. Walker said, referring to demonstrably false statements by police on the witness stand.

Walker, who represented the suspect in the 2013 case, dug up the court attendance logs to prove the falsehood. His sleuthing persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges against his client — and the Police Department to suspend Waters and Farrell, who both claimed on arrest forms that Waters took part in the bust.

Such lists, which are used in Seattle and a few other cities, are intended to warn prosecutors of police who might prove problematic as witnesses because of a history of false testimony or have legal troubles that court rules require be shared with defense attorneys.

The Philadelphia list divided the officers into three categories. The most serious group was made up of 29 whose misconduct was so serious as to bar them from testifying in court. Five other officers had disciplinary records or drunken-driving histories that needed to be disclosed to the defense bar if they were to be called to testify. Prosecutors said the remaining 32 — including Waters and Farrell — had troubled records but should face no restrictions in court.

The former aides who drew up the list saw it as an in-house reference sheet for frontline prosecutors to consult as they went over lists of potential police witnesses for cases. It ultimately was seen as a tool to eliminate testimony from officers who might lie on the witness stand.

The Philadelphia Defender Association and other critics are raising questions about the roster, and the seemingly inconsistent criteria for putting officers on it.

For instance, while the prosecutors put no restrictions on Waters and Farrell, other officers caught in falsehoods were banned from testifying.

Another area of confusion was the treatment of police violence. One officer, Robert Esack, who broke the facial bones of a suspect he pummeled, was barred from testifying. Another officer, Jose Cartagena, who was said to have done virtually the same thing, was permitted to testify.

Then too, the list seemed to offer only a partial look at the misconduct. Notably, the list failed to mention several citizen complaints and lawsuits against Waters' alleging improper arrests and abuse. The city settled those suits for $175,000.

Then there was the list's very limited scope.  From a pool of 6,300 serving police and a larger number of retirees, prosecutors would bar testimony from just the 29.

This reflected in part the narrow time frame used to select names. The roster only included officers found guilty of wrongdoing by the Police Board of Inquiry dating back to mid-2016.

But also at work was something far more systemic — the rarity with which police in Philadelphia are sanctioned for  misconduct.

Consider: Of nearly 1,100 citizen complaints alleging police violence from 2010 through 2014, a department study found Internal Affairs investigators in the Police Department saw merit in only 44 cases.

David Rudovsky, a Philadelphia defense lawyer who specializes in cases involving alleged police misconduct, said it was important to know the criteria used to categorize officers on the list — and even more essential, to determine why that criteria was not consistently applied.

The list, Rudovsky said, made "very haphazard distinctions between officers."

In an interview last week, Krasner, the new district attorney, likened the list to a stunt to "make you look like you're doing something." It had too few officers and relied too much on often lenient Internal Affairs investigations, he said.

A more rigorously vetted roster will be ready by May, he said.

"These are really serious attacks on the integrity of the court system," he said, referring to police who lie on the witness stand.

Biased, drunk, untruthful

The current list was compiled by top aides to Williams. They include Kathleen Martin, who became acting district attorney after Williams' indictment (and subsequent conviction) on corruption charges; John Delaney, deputy district attorney in charge of the Trial Division; and Angel Flores, then chief of the Juvenile Division and the only one of the group still working at the District Attorney's Office.

None would comment. People familiar with creation of the list and companion protocol said it was viewed as a "work in progress" meant to address a significant criminal justice issue — police lying in court to bolster cases.

The prosecutors saw themselves as balancing competing priorities as they built the list, sources said. They wanted to keep biased, violent, or habitually untruthful officers off the witness stand, while not losing the testimony of officers who might have blemished records but no pattern of serious misconduct.

For instance,  officers with drunken-driving arrests were put on the list, but generally not banned from testifying, the sources said. The thought was that driving drunk was not an indicator of someone's inherent truthfulness, but still a crime serious enough to alert defense lawyers.

As for cases of domestic violence, officers generally could still be witnesses provided prosecutors concluded the violence was a one-time event.

In one case on the list, prosecutors noted that one officer had "assaulted his girlfriend by grabbing her neck, choking her and biting her left hand." Still, they saw no need to keep him from the witness stand — or even to tell defense lawyers about his violent behavior — because, the list said, there was "no pattern" of domestic wrongdoing.

In all, at least five officers on the list were found guilty by the police disciplinary panel of assaulting girlfriends or wives. Only one was barred from testifying.

Carol Tracy, director of the city's Women's Law Project, said the policy protected abusers. "One certainly wouldn't want them to be witnesses in domestic-violence cases," Tracy said.

‘Stop hitting him’

In a motion filed in court last week, the Defender Association demanded more information about the Williams-era list and particularly about one officer on it: Brian Waters. "Officer Waters seems to have a troubling history of flouting and even breaking the law," the public defenders wrote.

Waters spoke briefly with a reporter last week but declined to talk on the record.

In that court pleading, the public defenders explored Waters' work history, including his time as Farrell's partner.

Farrell, 44, joined the department in 2000. He served in the Highway Patrol unit for a least seven years. Farrell could not be reached for comment and did not respond to a letter left at his home.

Waters, 34, became an officer in 2007. He is the son of former Philadelphia police commander and judge Joseph C. Waters Jr., who was imprisoned three years ago for trying to fix a case.

Waters worked first in a North Philadelphia district and later in the Highway Patrol unit. More recently, he has been assigned to the Seventh Police District in Northeast Philadelphia, where he was honored last year after making eight arrests in 12 days.

In 2014, a 25-year-old Kensington man sued Waters and officers, alleging they had brutally beaten him. The man contended that Waters drove his patrol vehicle into him, hit him at least seven times in the head with a heavy-duty flashlight, and then planted drugs on him. The man had a broken cheekbone and needed nine stitches to his face. The city spent $125,000 to settle the suit.

A judge also threw out the arrest, ruling that Waters had no legal grounds to stop the man in the first place.

In all, records show, eight witnesses told Internal Affairs investigators that Waters drove his car into the man. "They were kicking him while he was on the ground and then the police car came and they ran him over," one neighbor told Internal Affairs.

Said another neighbor: "We were hollering to stop hitting him. They were Tasing him. His whole face was gushing blood and they threw him in the wagon like he was a piece of meat. He just kept screaming, 'Please stop beating me.' "

Internal Affairs ruled that Waters had "physically abused" the man by striking him with his vehicle.

Waters acknowledged repeatedly hitting the man with his flashlight, saying he did so to stop the man from attacking another officer. Internal Affairs didn't fault him for the blows, but sanctioned him for using a heavier and longer flashlight than permitted by regulations.

In 2015, Waters, Farrell, and two other officers were sued for allegedly chasing down a 19-year-old man on a dirt bike and beating him.  Internal Affairs rejected the man's contentions after an investigation, but the city paid $27,500 to settle the suit.

The same year, Waters was sued again, this time by a man who said that Waters and another officer publicly stripped him and conducted an anal search, a violation of department policy. Waters and the officer denied the claim. The city paid about $22,000 to resolve this suit.

Waters has had trouble off the job as well. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to drunken driving after rear-ending a car on Frankford Avenue. He lost his license for a year.

None of the civil cases or Waters' DUI was mentioned in the district attorney's list. That document cites only the abortive 2013 drug and gun bust that led to Walker and Farrell each pleading guilty to conduct unbecoming an officer.

In that case, Farrell testified under oath that he was driving a squad car with Waters as a passenger when they stopped Louis Rios, 30, on Fifth Street in North Philadelphia. The officers seized 63 packets of cocaine and a .380-caliber, Kel-Tech handgun.

But attendance records showed that on the day of the arrest Waters had clocked in at the Criminal Justice Center in Center City.

A False Police Report

Philadelphia Police Officer William Farrell arrested a man around 1 p.m. on May 10, 2013, after spotting drugs and a handgun in the car. At 4:15 p.m., he and his partner, Officer Brian Waters, signed police paperwork declaring they made the arrest jointly.
A lawyer for the suspect later determined Waters had instead been in court at the time, and prosecutors tossed out the case. Waters and Farrell later pleaded guilty to conduct unbecoming an officer.
Farrell was suspended for 10 days, Waters for five.
Philadelphia Police Department
JARED WHALEN / Staff Artist

Confronted by the discrepancy, both officers told Internal Affairs that they had gotten confused because they had made so many arrests together. If so, their confusion came on quickly. Less than four hours after Rios was charged, Farrell and Waters each signed official arrest sheets claiming they both took part in the arrest.

Investigators asked the pair whether they had rigged the paperwork so Waters would get "overtime pay in the future by going to court." Both denied that.

Internal Affairs investigators concluded the misstatements were not deliberate but still cited the pair for filing a false report. In the end, the officers pleaded guilty to the Police Board of Inquiry to charges of conduct unbecoming an officer. Waters was suspended for five days, Farrell for 10.

Despite it all, prosecutors decided the misstatements were not significant enough to bar the two officers from testifying about future arrests. Prosecutors said their false claims were "not material" to the case against Rios, the alleged drug dealer.

The DA's Office took a different view in court. After Rios' defense lawyer confronted them over the officers' false reports, prosecutors dropped all charges.

Staff writers Dylan Purcell and Michele Tranquilli contributed to this article.