PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia District Attorney's office is asking that the city's police department be held in contempt of court for failing to turn over information related to officers' misconduct and disciplinary histories.
Attorneys in the office filed motions in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and in Municipal Court Wednesday, as part of six ongoing criminal cases. District Attorney Larry Krasner and Patricia Cummings, the supervisor of the office's Conviction Integrity Unit, said in a news conference Wednesday that the files are necessary to ensure the office upholds its Constitutional responsibility to disclose misconduct to defense attorneys and also to prevent wrongful convictions and make sure strong cases aren't compromised.
"We are not receiving the information we should be receiving under the law," Krasner said. "What we really want is for them to comply... in such a way that we are able to live up to our Constitutional obligations."
Prosecutors identified 16 cases involving a Philadelphia police officer who had sustained charges of falsifying documents. But that disciplinary information had not been disclosed to the District Attorney's office, so prosecutors could not disclose it to the defense attorneys or court.
A spokesman said department officials hadn’t reviewed the motions and could not comment Wednesday afternoon. Krasner said he spoke to Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw on Tuesday to inform her of the planned legal motions, and he was hopeful that they could reach a resolution.
The police misconduct database kept by the Conviction Integrity Unit includes information on officers who have histories of allegations involving lying, racial bias or excessive use of force. The list includes some officers who the office seeks to prevent from taking the witness stand and other officers' whose histories of discipline or documented behaviors must be disclosed to defense attorneys.
Krasner said the lack of full disclosure from the department has been ongoing during his more than three-year tenure. His office had opened discussions with the department to try to find a better way of obtaining the information, but he said those discussions fell apart prior to Outlaw taking over in early 2020.
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Cummings explained the office and its attorneys would request information on officers from the police department and receive either notices that responsive files didn't exist, or receive only small portions of files like a conclusion of an investigation that had also been heavily redacted.
"Sometimes we would know there was a responsive document because they had told us there was in response to previous requests," Cummings said.
"The (police department) has been unilaterally making decisions about what we were entitled to have... and in what form we could have it," she added, noting the department is not legally qualified to determine what must be turned over to defense attorneys or what might pose an issue in a case.
The office started issuing subpoenas to get the information. Cummings said at one point they had filed thousands of subpoenas and after not receiving a response for two weeks, the department then turned over the same limited and redacted materials it had been providing prior to the court orders.
The police department also adopted disciplinary policies that erase most disciplinary findings after five years, or two years depending on the specific violation or allegation. Cummings said the office has wrestled with making the department understand that regardless of their internal policies, the district attorney has a Constitutional responsibility to turn over any issues an officer has had for the duration of their career.