Exclusive: Philly police release hundreds of disciplinary records for ‘Facebook cops’

It’s likely the largest records disclosure in department history.

policevan-miguelmartinez-02crop
MIGUEL MARTINEZ / BILLY PENN
Max Marin and Ryan Briggs Today, 6:00 a.m.
As Philadelphia police leadership deals with fallout over the Facebook scandal, WHYY and Billy Penn have obtained an unprecedented release of disciplinary records linked to hundreds of officers whose social media posts have come under fire.

The newly released records detail civilian complaint histories for 309 of the 323 active-duty Philadelphia officers who also appeared in a database of racist or otherwise offensive Facebook posts.

The database, published last month, spurred nationwide outrage and led to dozens of officers being taken off street duty. District Attorney Larry Krasner warned that an unknown number of police could end up being barred from testifying at criminal trials.

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, spokesman for the PPD, said the latest release of disciplinary records is the largest such disclosure in departmental history.

“As best as I can determine, we have not released this volume of [civilian complaint] numbers pursuant to a singular request,” Kinebrew said.

The records were obtained through an information request filed by WHYY and Billy Penn. They show that 153 of the officers who appeared in the Facebook database, compiled by a group called the Plain View Project, accrued at least one civilian complaint since 2015. Some of the officers have been previously identified for their extensive complaint histories.

In total, civilians lodged 338 complaints against this group of officers in the past five years. They alleged misconduct ranging from minor departmental violations to purportedly criminal acts.

However, 160 other officers named in the Facebook database had not received any civilian complaints at all. The department did not release records for 14 other officers, asserting that they could not be located.

Of those cited in the latest release, 12th District Officer Marc B. Marchetti tops the list. The patrolman has been named in 16 different civilian complaints since 2015 — about one complaint every three to four months. In that same period, the vast majority of PPD officers received zero or one complaint, according to a WHYY analysis of complaint data.

Grievances aimed at Marchetti include multiple physical abuse and harassment allegations, including several involving juveniles. Internal Affairs ordered training and counseling for Marchetti in three cases for violating lesser departmental guidelines.

Marchetti appears in the Facebook database for a 2015 comment he made on a post about a woman reportedly fending off home invaders with a firearm.

“Would have been better to see at least one guy shot in the head,” Marchetti wrote.

Police officials have condemned many of the more vitriolic posts cited in the database, while downplaying the severity of others. The head of the police union defended much of the content as merely “cops being cops and venting.” However, Commissioner Richard Ross has placed 72 officers on desk duty while their social media histories are under investigation.

Ross also promised that some of those benched officers, who remain unnamed, would be fired in an attempt to restore public trust in the scandal-rocked department. Spokesman Kinebrew declined to say if police brass are reviewing each officer’s disciplinary history in conjunction with their social media posts.

Despite swift backlash from departmental leadership, it is unclear if officers’ social media accounts were ever monitored for red flags. But the department does profess to monitor civilian complaints for warning signs of officers who may be unfit for street duty. It has also drawn criticism in the past for the failures of its internal disciplinary system, which rarely results in serious consequences, even in the few instances in which Internal Affairs sustains a civilian’s complaint.

Complaints and Facebook posts could impact criminal cases

There is no clear correlation between the volume of offensive Facebook posts an officer made and the volume of complaints they received.

Top complaint-getter Marchetti, for example, was flagged for just one comment by the Plain View Project, while some of his colleagues with no civilian complaints were among the most aggressive online posters.

Overall, police whose social media habits are now under intense scrutiny were more likely to be accused of misconduct. Of the officers that appeared in the Plain View Project database, 48% received one or more civilian complaint in five years, compared to 38% for the department as a whole.

Attorneys say the combination of these disciplinary records and social media posts will have a major impact on future criminal proceedings in which these officers are key witnesses.

“All of those officers are now vulnerable in court, they’re vulnerable in the DA’s office, they’re vulnerable with every criminal investigation they’re involved with,” said criminal defense lawyer Troy Wilson.

Officer Justin Donohue of the 35th District was one of the officers cited in the Facebook database. Working on the streets of North Philadelphia, he has been named in nine complaints lodged by civilians since 2015. That total makes him a significant outlier in a department where fewer than 2% of all officers receive as many complaints, according to a WHYY/Billy Penn analysis.

The department found Donahue guilty of verbally abusing a civilian in one case, as well as breaking unspecified departmental policy in three others. He was assigned training and counseling. Internal investigators dismissed four other complaints against him involving physical abuse and harassment.

The details of these allegations were recently scrubbed from the city’s public records. However, they won’t be hidden for long if Donahue ends up on the witness stand.

The North Philly district Donohue patrols is home to numerous mosques and a large Muslim community. In his Facebook posts, the patrolman urged a ban on face coverings for Muslim women. In 2012, he shared an article about protests in Iraq after a former U.S. Marine struck a lenient plea deal over his involvement in the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians.

“Who gives a flying F*** if the iraqi’s [sic] are pissed. F*** them and their country,” Donohue wrote. “They should take all the iraqi’s that were at the court hearing and piss on them outside the court room and broadcast it nationaly and tell the rest of the world who is mad to also go F*** them selves.”

To Wilson, the defense lawyer, these Facebook posts alone could have an impact on Donohue’s testimony in any criminal case in which the defendant is Arab or Muslim.

Add the pile of disciplinary priors to the mix, and the officer becomes a liability for the prosecution, Wilson said. Defense attorneys like himself will subpoena the grisly details of an officer’s complaints and introduce them as evidence alongside the Facebook posts.

“If my client is Muslim, I’m going to subpoena that officer’s disciplinary file with the City of Philadelphia, and I’m going to get the Facebook information, and I’m going to cross-examine that officer about his feelings about Muslims,” Wilson said. “If you’re the DA, good luck with winning that case against me.”

Kinebrew, the police spokesman, declined to make officers available for interviews.

 

Max Marin and Ryan Briggs, https://billypenn.com/2019/07/16/philly-police-release-hundreds-of-disciplinary-records-for-facebook-cops/

Advertisements

Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say

The Force Report is a continuing investigation of police use of force in New Jersey. Read more from the series or search your local police department and officers in the full the database.

Defense attorneys and the state Public Defender’s Office say the unprecedented release of police use-of-force data in New Jersey could significantly bolster the rights of defendants who for years have had the odds stacked against them in court.

In the wake of The Force Report, a 16-month investigation of police use of force by NJ Advance Media for NJ.com, the attorneys said they have been strategizing over how they could use the data to gain more access to police personnel records in their cases.

“Until (NJ Advance Media) published (its) work, there was no resource like this available,” said Sharon Bittner Kean, president of the Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys of New Jersey. “We’re delighted to have a tool that could bolster the rights of defendants.”

The investigation found that while the majority of police officers in the state barely used force at all, many departments had individuals who did so far more than their peers. The data revealed that multiple officers who were charged with brutalizing suspects and other types of misconduct would have raised red flags had a system been in place to track use of force trends.

The entire database is now available to the public at NJ.com/force.

The attorneys said that accessing police records can be difficult during discovery. They said cannot request a police officer’s entire disciplinary record when they can’t present proof that there’s anything relevant to the case in it. With the newly released data, they said they may now have a basis to request and receive more documentation.

“A lot of people think we can just go into court, ask and a prosecutor just hands it over. That’s not how it works,” said Jennifer Sellitti, director of training and communications for the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender. “Now we can use statistics to support our argument. We can say we know this exists. That gives us something we can put into a motion.”

Search officers in your town

Bittner-Kean said the defense attorney association plans to discuss The Force Report at its next board meeting and brainstorm how to use it in court. Sellitti said attorneys working for the Public Defender’s office already have been combing through the database, and the office has been crackling with excitement at the possibilities it presents.

“This is something we’ve been discussing for a long time, and (NJ Advance Media) just stepped on the accelerator for everyone,” she said.

Sellitti also believes the newly released use-of-force data could prove valuable in other aspects of criminal litigation, such as reinforcing the prosecution’s requirement to turn over evidence that may be favorable to the defense.

“It adds some teeth to what we’re asking prosecutors for,” she said.

Matthew Troiano, a defense attorney who spent years as a prosecutor for Hudson and Morris counties, said the database removed barriers to learning about an officer’s history.

That could especially impact cases where an officer’s testimony conflicted with the testimony of someone he or she had arrested, Troiano said, because the differing accounts could be more easily compared to that cop’s past arrests.

“In that type of situation, it’d be extremely helpful,” Troiano said.

To build The Force Report, reporters filed 506 public records requests, collected 72,609 paper records and spent more than $30,000 to create the most comprehensive statewide database of police force in the United States. The records — spanning 2012 through 2016, the most recent year available — cover every municipal police department and the State Police

Terence Jones, a civil rights investigator, said he hopes The Force Report will prompt state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal to push for more transparency in policing data and enact reforms that will allow for greater accountability.

“I think it’s an embarrassment that you have to have a news organization do the work of these agencies,” he said. “The police have proved they cannot police themselves. And right now, you have county prosecutors acting as if they are the personal lawyers of the police. The state is supposed to represent the people.”

Hours after the project was released, Grewal called it “nothing short of incredible” and promised to propose changes to the system. On Wednesday, he issued a rare joint statement with every leading law enforcement official in the state conceding they had failed to accurately track police force and setting forth reforms, including standardized electronic reporting.

We are continuing to make this dataset better. The numbers in this story were last updated Dec. 12, 2018.

Stephen Stirling | NJ Advance Media NJ.com, , 2018, “Alleged victims of police brutality have a powerful new tool in court, top N.J. defense attorneys say”

Former Officer Seeks Accountability With Police Crime Database

https://www.wnyc.org/widgets/ondemand_player/wnyc/#file=/audio/json/798078/&share=1

Click on the ‘Listen’ button above to hear this segment. 

Over the past 13 years, Dr. Phil Stinson has been researching police misconduct. In September, he launched Police Integrity Lost, a public database that details over 8,000 police arrests leading to 13,000 charges involving more than 6,500 officers across all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Before becoming a researcher, Stinson himself was a cop in New Hampshire and police dispatcher during his undergraduate years in Virginia. He also worked as defense attorney for 10 years. Knowing intimately the sub-culture of police forces, Stinson says some of things his witnessed in his past careers floored him. It inspired him to collect the data that the Justice Department doesn’t: Police crime, misconduct and consequences.

Using Google Alerts, court records, and news archives, he created an interactive database that he hopes will serve the public, including the police which he hopes can restore their integrity and improve law enforcement agencies with this data.

Dr. Phil Stinson is a associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He discusses his major findings here on The Takeaway.