Hearing for fired Philly cop accused of sexual assault postponed after judge recuses herself

Former Chief Inspector Carl Holmes was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing three female officers. The city’s police union is not backing him.  (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Former Chief Inspector Carl Holmes was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing three female officers. The city’s police union is not backing him. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 12:31 p.m. Thursday

The preliminary hearing for former Chief Inspector Carl Holmes, a veteran cop accused of sexually assaulting three female officers, was postponed at the last-minute Thursday after the presiding judge recused herself from the case.

Municipal Court Judge Karen Y. Simmons said she is sending the case to another judge to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Simmons was legal counsel to the Philadelphia Police Department at the time Holmes’ alleged crimes were committed.

The hearing is now scheduled for March 12.

Prosecutors say Holmes, 54, developed mentoring relationships with young female officers through his position at the Philadelphia Police Department’s training academy, then abused them when they later came to him for guidance.

In two instances, Holmes allegedly “kissed them, fondled their breasts and digitally penetrated their vaginas” without their consent, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

Holmes is also accused of forcing himself on a third woman shortly after she joined his elite task force, a move he encouraged her to make.

Holmes’ defense attorney, Gregory J. Pagano, who was not hired by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said his client is innocent.

“We have a lot to say about the allegations, but it will be said in court, ” said Pagano in an email.

A spokesperson for the FOP declined to discuss the case or why the union is not providing legal representation to Holmes.

Holmes was arrested in late October after an investigating grand jury recommended charges against the 29-year department veteran. They include indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault and other sexual offenses.

The grand jury also found that Holmes’ rank, as well as the police department’s culture, insulated him from any meaningful investigation for years. All three female officers reported sexual assault or sexual harassment allegations to the department. And all three of them were subjected to investigations by the department’s Internal Affairs Division.

Holmes was suspended for 30 days with intent to dismiss.

“At present, these are allegations only, and Mr. Holmes remains innocent unless or until proven guilty in a court of law,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in a news release.

Holmes’ late-October arrest capped a scandal-plagued year for the department.

In June, the Plain View Project published a database of offensive social media posts made by former and current police officers across the country. Hundreds of officers in Philadelphia were allegedly linked to the posts, some of which poked fun at beaten criminal suspects or made light of domestic abuse.

Then-Commissioner Richard Ross placed 72 officers on desk duty as the department investigated the allegations. Ross said he had never seen more officers removed from the street at one time.

Fifteen of them were suspended with intent to dismiss. Four were fired. Others retired before they were disciplined.

In August, former Police Commissioner Richard Ross abruptly resigned amid allegations that he retaliated against a female officer with whom he allegedly had an affair more than a decade ago.

In an ongoing federal civil rights lawsuit, Corporal Audra McCowan maintains that Ross brushed off sexual harassment claims she brought against another officer because of the affair, which allegedly took place between 2007 and 2009.

Holmes’ preliminary hearing comes weeks before Danielle Outlaw — former police chief of the Portland Police Bureau — takes over the department’s top spot, and as the city and the FOP hash out a new contract for the force, a process reformers hope will bring substantive changes to the department, particularly around officer accountability.

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