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True Lies in Philly

Five current or former police officers from the 39th District of North Philadelphia were indicted by a federal grand jury this past February, accused of framing dozens of Philadelphians. The indictment accuses the officers of warrant less searches both inside and outside their district, during which they stole money, drugs and guns, beating handcuffed suspects, falsifying reports and records to hide evidence of their illegal searches and seizures, and maintaining a secret stash of drugs and narcotics paraphernalia which they used to "flake" (falsely accuse) individuals of drug dealing or possession. The attorney for one of the officers, Steven Brown, says his client would quickly sign a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. He says that Brown had acknowledged the wrongdoing and was willing to admit to all of the charges.

One case is illustrative of how Brown and his fellow officers operated. In 1988 Brown went to a judge to obtain a warrant to search Joe's Steak and Hoagie for suspected drugs. In order to establish probable cause he told the judge that while working undercover he observed a teenager sell drugs at a school, and then go to the steak house and hand the money over to the proprietor. He says he then observed the proprietor give the teenager a brown paper bag. Brown said he followed the teenager outside and purchased $5 worth of marijuana, which the youth produced from the same paper bag. This is a fairly compelling story, an evil drug dealer hiding behind the counter of his sandwich shop while sending underlings out to peddle drugs to school children. The warrant was issued. The only problem is the whole story was fabricated.

Brown and two other officers executed the warrant, found thirteen pounds of marijuana at the sandwich shop, and pocketed $1,000 of the suspect's money while they were at it. A defense witness at the trial refuted officer Brown's testimony about witnessing the exchange of drugs in the sandwich shop, stating that the clientele at Joe's was "basically 100 percent black," and that he would have remembered seeing Brown, who is of Chinese descent, standing in the sandwich shop. The proprietor of the sandwich shop, Joe Morris, was convicted, imprisoned and was still doing time when the arresting officers were indicted this February.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham asked a judge to dismiss the charges against Morris, who could be freed as soon as a hearing could be held. Abraham said that she filed similar motions to dismiss the charges in eleven other cases handled by the indicted officers. The federal indictment listed 26 other drug searches conducted by the officers from 1988 to 1991, but those did not result in convictions.

In another case two officers apprehended Arthur Colbert Jr., whom they mistakenly took for a drug dealer, dragged him out of his car and drove him to a crack house to interrogate him. While interrogating Colbert one of the officers took some bullets out of his gun, put it to Colbert's head, and played "Russian roulette" with him in an attempt to intimidate him into provide them with incriminating information. They then took Colbert to the 39th District headquarters and placed him in a holding cell for two hours while they conducted a warrant less search of his home. Colbert was released after two hours.

Colbert's complaint about the incident and his persistence in following up on it are said to have blown the lid off of the case. According to reports in the Philadelphia Inquirer the investigation is ongoing and could result in charges against as many as 11 additional 39th District officers.

Indicted officer Brown, speaking through his attorney, says the reason he falsified evidence in so many cases was in order to "go along with the flow," presumably implying that perjury and falsifying evidence are standard practice in the Philadelphia police department. It is notable that Mumia Abu Jamal is currently on death row in PA for allegedly killing a Philadelphia police officer. His conviction was based in large part on testimony and evidence provided by Philadelphia police officers, despite the fact that numerous other witnesses at the scene disputed the police version. Were the officers in Mumia's case just going along with the flow?"

The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 5-6, Law Enforcement News, March 31.

[Editor's Note: In the October '95 issue of PLN we reported on NY State police falsifying evidence The fact that police and/or prosecutors fabricate evidence and perjure themselves to gain arrests and convictions is probably not "news" to most of our prisoner readers.  What makes the above story "newsworthy" is the fact that the practice is brought to light and reported in the corporate mainstream press]