Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has vowed not to hide the names of police officers who have a pattern of racial bias, lying and other abuse. He made that pledge Tuesday night after acknowledging that prosecutors have been internally circulating a secret list of more than two dozen officers whose troubling conduct may have tainted their testimony in court.
“If you want to restore any trust on the part of the public and the DA’s office, the DA is going to have to treat police the same way they treat other people and give up this information,” Krasner said.
Krasner’s comments follow a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer that showed staff under former District Attorney Seth Williams compiled a list of 26 allegedly misbehaving police officers whose court testimony was deemed potentially unreliable. Calling those officers to court to testify, according to the report, required permission from top-level prosecutors.
Krasner said his office is launching its own independent review of the allegations against the unnamed officers. If his office arrives at the same conclusion, he said, the identities of officers with questionable records will be publicly disclosed.
The list, Krasner said, “was compiled by an administration that cannot credibly claim it was terribly good at going after police. So we have to look at the names that are there, look at what else is written about them there and dig into whatever allegations there are.”
Prosecutors reportedly assembled the list to address the national problem of “testilying,” when an officer lies on the stand about an interaction with a suspect. Such deceit is considered perjury and, if exposed, can result in a judge tossing out charges against a defendant. And so, the list of alleged bad actors was a move to proactively prevent this outcome.
Longtime Philadelphia defense lawyer Paul Messing said it is smart of Krasner not to rush out the names of the officers before additional vetting.
“Police officers, like everybody else, have privacy rights, and if there’s no basis for the belief that an officer is not credible, then nobody has any business of making that information public,” Messing said.
But Messing said prosecutors have an obligation to turn over any evidence to defense attorneys that could prove someone’s innocence, known as exculpatory evidence in legal parlance. And information that undercuts a police officer’s credibility on the witness stand would be the kind of material that is improper to withhold.
Many contentious legal battles may await
Messing says one possible upshot of exposing the list: lawyers seeking to revisit closed cases if the investigation or arrest involved a compromised officer.
“It could result in the acquittal of a lot of charges,” he said.
A spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, which represents members of the Philadelphia Police Department, declined to comment. A spokesman told the Inquirer his members wanted to see the list and vet it.
Bradley Bridge with the Defender Association of Philadelphia said rumors of such a list have been whispered about in the city’s criminal courthouse for a while, but the list containing 26 names still surprised him, even if the specific identities have not been published.
“The list is an astounding revelation,” Bridge said. “It is something that should have been revealed to attorneys going forward to trials in which those officers were involved.”
While 26 officers out of a 6,300-member police force represent a very small percentage, depending on how long the cops have been with the department, the roster could potentially throw many hundreds of cases into legal uncertainty.
“One of the important questions, which is unanswered at the present time, is what information led the prosecutor’s office to place these officers on a list?” Bridge said.
The confidential list reportedly contains the names of detectives who have handled homicide cases, some of the most high-profile criminal cases.
Defense lawyer Michael Wiseman said — if Krasner confirms this and reveals those identities — many seriously messy legal battles could be in store.
“It really can throw cases into jeopardy,” Wiseman said. “If you have a homicide detective who is on that list, and he’s testified in 100 murder cases, I think you’d have to disclose that to 100 murder clients.
”And I’d expect all of them to file petitions.”