Six former Philadelphia Police officers who federal prosecutors accused of routinely roughing up and robbing drug dealers have won their jobs back.
The reinstatements come after a federal jury cleared the six drug squad officers of all charges two months ago.
Even still, public defenders say, the officers tainted hundreds of cases, and many who were arrested and incarcerated from the group’s work are being set free.
Before a jury acquitted the six, public defender Bradley Bridge met with city prosecutors to strike a deal.
Being charged in a 26-count federal indictment with racketeering, conspiracy and extortion is enough of a reason to raise questions about the full scope of the group’s work, Bridge said, a jury acquittal notwithstanding.
And a state judge has agreed.
So far, the Public Defender’s Office has sought to reverse about 1,400 cases. Of those, a judge has tossed out 400 drug convictions. Around 80 charges have been sustained. The remaining cases are still being reviewed, one by one.
“If the prosecution can put on the case without these six police officers, then the conviction would be upheld,” Bridge said. “If they need one of these six police officers to be able to put on a legitimate case, then the prosecutor’s office has agreed with me that the case cannot be upheld. The conviction needs to be reopened and the charges dismissed.”
Overturned convictions can mean the end of probation for some, getting out of prison for others.
“The fact that they were charged with crimes, the prosecutor agreed with me, is sufficient to justify reopening the cases where any of these six police officers were involved in any critical way with the case,” Bridge said.
Official frustration with arbitration
The six officers landed their jobs back through arbitration, though lower in the ranks than the elite narcotics squad they had been.
It’s a common pattern.
The Police Advisory Commission examined 26 firings in recent years over issues such as retail theft, domestic disputes and intoxication while on duty. It found that of those, 19 officers were given their badges back through the arbitration process.
Reforming the disciplinary process for the city’s police officers has been long called for by the commission, which has sought answers about why so many officers accused of corruption wind up back on the job.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has expressed frustration with the arbitration process, saying those who have committed crimes, or acted with gross negligence don’t belong among the ranks of the city’s 6,600 uniformed officers.
Attorney Jimmy Binns, meanwhile, who represented officer Mike Spicer, said he’s not surprised that his client wanted to stay on the force.
“Mike has never stopped wanting to be a police officer. He’s always been a police officer, and he’s a heroic police officer,” Binns said. “So I didn’t ask him what went on in his thought process, and even if he told me, I wouldn’t share it with you.”