The Philadelphia Police Department has come under fire recently for its disturbing pattern of misconduct and officer complaints. In a tough job that involves interacting with the public in volatile situations, some complaints are inevitable. But recently unsealed files suggest the department is rife with problem-officers, many of whom have racked up multiple complaints, but faced no consequences.
If Philadelphia is to protect its citizens and promote public welfare, officers must be held accountable for misconduct. The rights of Philly’s residents depend on a safe, effective, and compassionate police force.
Thousands of Ignored Complaints
From June 2015 to June 2016 alone, Philly’s police department received over 750 complaints about officer conduct. Since April 2013, over 10,000 complaints have been received with almost 8,500 flatly rejected by the PPD. Of the complaints that were accepted, only 219 ended in guilty findings. The rest involved counseling and retraining.
What’s also telling is the obvious bias from the division responsible for investigating complaints based on the race of the complainant. While two-thirds of complaints came from Black victims, the Internal Affairs Bureau was 21% more likely to recommend disciplinary action when a white person filed the complaint.
Repeat Offenders Get Promoted
While the PPD ignored grievances, some of the officers with the most complaints continued to rise through the ranks. One would usually think that multiple violent altercations or repeated overreactions from an officer is a hint that he or she should hold a lower stress position. But apparently, not in Philadelphia. Instead, at least two officers with troubled histories were promoted to the Highway Patrol, an elite force that responds to high intensity situations.
Originally reported by WHYY News, officer Robin Song received a Merit Ribbon, despite being near the top of the complaints list. Another patrolman, Sharrod Davis, fatally shot a U.S. Army Veteran in 2006, Angelo Slaughter in what he claims was self-defense. However, witnesses allege that Slaughter’s hands were up, and Davis shot him at pointblank range.
That year also broke records for police shootings, with 22 civilians shot by police. But since the 2006 shooting of Slaughter, officer Davis has been investigated dozens of times for allegations of theft, abuse, multiple off-duty altercations and two other controversial shootings. These investigations apparently had little to no impact because he was promoted to the elite unit.
Another officer, Joseph Bologna of the PPD also made headlines recently for his aggressive altercations with civil rights protesters. During his time with the PPD’s Narcotics Field Unit, Bologna oversaw a team of officers who were infamously accused of robbing convenience stores. Later, as Captain of Philly’s 19th District, Bologna oversaw a tactical squad that went on to receive dozens of complaints in one year, with three officers racking up a combined 25 complaints and 47 departmental offenses in 18 months.
Early Warning System Faces Pushback
Philly’s police force has been troubled for decades. In 1996, a lawsuit by the ACLU led to the implementation of an Early Warning System, one that would catalogue officer misconduct in the hopes of catching repeat offenders before their misconduct could escalate.
Unfortunately, PPD leadership saw the system as a threat. In 2006, then-mayor John Street dissolved the early warning system, but current mayor, Jim Kenney has recently suggested an accountability program that sounds strikingly similar.
Pretrial Vulnerability for Defendants
In the wake of these revelations, local defense attorneys are more concerned than ever for the rights of their clients.
If police are willing to risk complaints and conduct violations to obtain evidence and secure convictions, and leadership are unwilling to hold officers accountable, the welfare and rights of defendants are at risk. In a recent win for Pennsylvania justice reform, hearsay by an officer on its own is no longer enough to establish prima facie at a Preliminary Hearing but law enforcement still has a variety of tools at their disposal.
Pretrial Options for the Accused
Unfortunately, police misconduct leads to people being charged too harshly or flat our false accused of crimes. When people are charged based on police malfeasance, pretrial motions are one way to deal with the situation.
Effective representation during the pretrial phase often lays the groundwork for your defense. From motions to dismiss a case to suppressing illegally obtained evidence, your attorney’s work can make a huge difference in uncovering misconduct that may otherwise end in a wrongful conviction.
Getting the Officer’s Record
A particularly relevant pretrial motion in Philadelphia right now is the motion to review police personnel files. Officer records are heavily protected, but the contents of a personnel file are critical for victims of police misconduct. If you have been wrongfully charged, brutalized, or mistreated by Philly’s officers, a record of misconduct by that officer may be a key component in your case.
An attorney can help you decide when this motion is appropriate and build a persuasive argument for access. A judge will rarely open a personnel file without good reason, so an experienced attorney is essential to getting this motion approved.
Contact Fienman Defense, LLC
If you’re facing criminal charges and feel as though police misconduct played a part, you need an effective attorney. Attorney Michael Fienman is a highly experienced and dedicated criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia, and believes the police should be held accountable when they are in the wrong.