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Hundreds of Philadelphia Drug Convictions Poised to Be Overturned in Wake of Officers' Guilty Pleas


October 1995

Five Philadelphia police officers pleaded guilty to a range of charges including planting drugs on suspects, robbing victims, and violating citizens' civil rights, opening the door for courts to overturn hundreds of drug cases (Debbie Goldberg, "Police Scandal Creates Storm in Philadelphia," Washington Post, August 17, 1995, p. A3).

The officers were employed in the predominately black 39th District. They were indicted on February 28 in federal court on charges that they stole drugs that were property of the government, planted them on suspects or on their property, violated the civil rights of arrestees, conspired to rob and steal, and obstructed justice. They pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on October 30.

Forty convictions had been overturned as of the middle of August with hundreds more expected. The Philadelphia public defender's office has found 1,400 cases, most of them drug cases, that will be reviewed because the officers were involved.

Sixteen lawsuits had been filed as of the middle of August seeking damages for victimization by the officers.

Betty Patterson, a 53-year-old grandmother, is suing for $7 million. She spent three years in prison on drug charges. The officers admitted planting drugs in her house.

George Porchea was sleeping in his girlfriend's house when officers burst in, rousing them and locking them in a van for six hours. The officers planted crack cocaine in the residence. When Porchea was taken to the police station, he was beaten until he confessed, Porchea's attorney said. Porchea is suing for an undisclosed amount as compensation for the two years he spent in jail.

Despite guilty pleas by the officers, the plaintiffs in the lawsuits are unlikely to see any compensation. The officers themselves do not have any money, and the city of Philadelphia cannot be held liable just because it employed the officers. The plaintiffs will have to prove that the city was negligent or consciously ignored the police officers' conduct.