This is Part 1 of the trial recap showing how my investigation as a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia uncovered a controversial KKK association with one of the police officers involved and how it impacted the outcome for my client. Let’s start at the scene of the crime…
The Scene of the Crime
According to the police reports, three uniformed police officers in an unmarked car observed my client who is black, (L.H.), in an alleyway accepting money from a white male (R.A.).
The cops see L.H. walk into a clearing out-of-view of the officers for 10 seconds, return, and hand an unknown item to R.A. Based upon this instance, the police believe a drug transaction just took place.
One officer gets out of the car and stops R.A., who throws a packet of cocaine to the ground. L.H. is stopped by another officer with a twenty dollar bill in his hand. The third officer went to the area L.H. was seen going and that officer retrieved a lipstick container with an additional 28 packets of cocaine that matched what R.A. had in his hand.
According to L.H., he was suffering from a heroin addiction, withdrew his last 20 dollars, and walked to Stella and B Street in Kensington, Philadelphia, an area well-known for sales of heroin and cocaine.
Once on the block, a “runner” (lookout on a bike) told L.H. to wait in the alley to be sold the heroin.
R.A. claimed he received the same information from the runner. After waiting in the alley for several minutes L.H. sensed something was amiss and left without being sold any drugs. L.H. and R.A. exited on opposite sides of the alley.
2 officers spotted L.H. and asked what he sold “the white boy”. L.H. explained that he was “just copping” (picking up drugs), but the officers arrested him on a felony charge of Possession With Intent to Deliver.
While both men claim they were trying to buy drugs, based on my investigation, I believe my client (L.H.) was wrongfully accused of Intent to Deliver drugs.
Pre-Trial: Lead Investigator was Previously Suspended for Possessing Offensive Material
Prior to trial, the defense obtained Internal Affairs records that revealed the lead investigator had been suspended in 2009 from a Narcotics Unit for possessing offensive items in his police locker.
One sticker read “Whites Only”
The other depicted half a police officer and half a Ku Klux Klan member with the words “Blue By Day, White By Night.”
One sticker appeared to have been in the officer’s locker for months as his fingerprints were dotting it.
After being suspended, the officer moved out of the narcotics unit though he was still used in court to testify at drug cases. In this case, I believed we would need to combat dishonest police officers.
Trial: The Ku Klux Klan Material Presented
Shortly before opening arguments, the DA asked whether I had planned on introducing any evidence of the officer’s past (without ever mentioning what that consisted of).
When told I was going to use the KKK material as impeachment evidence to show the officer’s bias towards my black client, the DA complained to the judge that it should not be admitted because she wasn’t provided notice of my plan to use it!
However, Rule 404(b) only requires the Commonwealth to file notice of intent to use prior acts evidence, and it appears the DA’s Office had previous knowledge about acts of its own officer. This lead me to ask a few questions:
- Why did I have to get this information on my own?
- Why didn’t the DA provide it to me?
- And was the DA hoping I didn’t know about it?
In Brady, The United States Supreme Court placed a duty on prosecutors to turn over all evidence favorable to the accused in a criminal trial. When asked why this wasn’t a Brady violation, the DA stated it was because the officer who saw the exchange of money wasn’t the officer in dispute and therefore not relevant.
The trial judge strongly disagreed with the Commonwealth’s position and held that it could be used by the defense to impeach the officer.
Cross Examination: Officer Claims to See Defendant Exchange of Money for an Item
In the officer’s original reports, he claimed to see the defendant exchange an item for money, a statement the defense attacked on cross examination. A photo, shown here, displays there was no way the officers could have seen the defendants unless they were parked directly in the alleyway. As you can see by the picture, the alleyway is not visible unless you are parked directly in front of it.
If the officers had a clear line of sight of L.H. and R.A., the two men would have had a clear line of view of the uniformed cops. It is difficult to believe a drug dealer would make a sale in plain sight of uniformed officers.
The officer then testified that L.H. walked through the alleyway and exited on the opposite side from the cop, who went around the block and arrested him.
But R.A. was arrested in the alley.
Under this version of events, L.H. would have left R.A. (a drug addict) next to an unguarded stash of drugs, which doesn’t seem logical.
And Then the Controversial Lead Investigator was Called to the Stand…
Tune in next week to see additional defense evidence that cast doubt on the officers’ testimony as well as hear what the controversial officer’s “excuse” was for possessing the offensive stickers.
Read the results of this drug delivery and police corruption case!