DA Larry Krasner has made steady progress on his campaign promise to hold police accountable for alleged criminal misconduct. In his first nine months in office, his office has filed charges against eight city officers for six alleged on-duty incidents.
Most of the alleged incidents were violent in nature: There was the case against two ex-SEPTA Transit officers over the 2017 beating of an intoxicated man on an El platform in Frankford, which a judge dismissed during a preliminary hearing last month for lack of evidence. Then there’s the ongoing case against a former Kensington officer who was captured on cell phone video body-slamming a handcuffed man. And highest-profile among the eight charged officers, Krasner is pursuing a murder case against former PPD officer Ryan Pownall over the 2017 shooting of David Jones.
While those cases have dominated headlines, the stop-and-frisk charges could have lasting effects on the city’s law enforcement agencies, regardless of the case’s outcome.
Two officers stand accused of making a pedestrian stop-and-frisk, detaining a citizen without cause, and then lying about it on official paperwork. While the police department itself has been sued over its rampant stop-and-frisk practices before, Philly officers have rarely, if ever, been taken to court over the department’s long-sanctioned policy, which critics say amounts to “stop first, justify later.”
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it before,” said David Rudovsky, one of the civil rights attorneys who has sued the department over the practice, about last week’s charges.
Such a case is unprecedented even on the national level, said Thomas Nolan, a Boston-based criminologist and a former senior policy analyst at the Department of Homeland Security.
“This will no doubt prove to be extremely unsettling to the police rank and file,” Nolan said after being briefed on the charges. “Overt acts of criminality — such as robbing a drug dealer or shooting an unarmed fleeing suspect — were always at least potentially prosecutable. But it was almost an article of faith that the police would often engage in stops and create the justification for them after the fact.”
Some experts dismiss the case as a lost cause. Some worry about it exacerbating the highly disputed “Ferguson effect” among city officers. Others call the charges necessary to ensure oversight in a police department entrenched in its own toxic culture. All agree: This is a strange, new ballgame for criminal justice.
14th District Officers Matthew Walsh and Marvin Jones stand accused of illegally detaining a man in East Mount Airy last April.
Investigating a civilian complaint filed by the detainee, the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau found video evidence that contradicted the officers’ legal justification for the stop. In official paperwork, the officers alleged that their suspect was “apparently using narcotics.”
Investigators determined that Walsh and Jones fabricated their cause for the frisk, which was that the man wouldn’t remove his hands from his pockets. “The citizen was fully compliant at the time of the stop,” police officials wrote in a press release announcing both officers’ arrest and impending dismissal.
Investigators said the officers detained the man for about 15 minutes, drove him around the block and released him. The detainee later filed a civilian complaint against the officers, triggering the Internal Affairs investigation that would result in their arrest.
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