Brooklyn DA moves to dismiss 378 convictions based on testimony from unreliable cops

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez is moving to overturn 378 convictions based on testimony from police officers now deemed unreliable.
File photo by Paul Frangipane

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez announced Wednesday that he would request that the Kings County Supreme Court dismiss 378 past convictions where the verdict relied on the testimony of officers deemed unreliable by the prosecutors, owing to their own convictions for on-duty misconduct.

The cases include 47 felony and 331 misdemeanor convictions based on the testimony of 13 cops with a wide range of misconduct under their belt. The DA’s office says that the vast majority of convictions that will be tossed consist of misdemeanor drug possession raps. Gonzalez will make a formal request this afternoon to Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Matthew D’Emic that the convictions be dismissed.

The DA’s Conviction Review Unit did not uncover misconduct in the cases themselves, but concluded that the magnitude of the misconduct the officers were involved in tainted the credibility of the convictions associated with their court testimony.

“These former police officers were found to have committed serious misconduct that directly relates to their official job duties, calling into question the integrity of every arrest they have made,” Gonzalez said in a statement. “A thorough review by my Conviction Review Unit identified those cases in which their testimony was essential to proving guilt, and I will now move to dismiss those convictions as I no longer have confidence in the integrity of the evidence that underpinned them. Credibility and honesty are at the heart of the justice system, and we cannot improve community trust without adhering to the highest ethical standards.”

A whopping 134 convictions set to be tossed are based on testimony from a single officer, Jerry Bowens, who lost his badge after stealing drugs from crime scenes and trading them to informants and was later sentenced to 40 years in jail for murdering his ex-girlfriend in 2009. Bowens is just one of four officers seeing their convictions tossed over a massive scandal in the Brooklyn South Narcotics division, where officers traded drugs stolen from crime scenes to informants in exchange for information.

Another 78 come from Richard Hall and Eddie Martins, who lost their badges in 2017 after admitting to having sex with 18-year-old Anna Chambers, whom they had arrested and trapped in a police van in Bensonhurst. The two were initially charged with rape, but those charges would later be dropped due to what the DA called “credibility issues” with Chambers. The two later pleaded guilty to lesser charges of accepting a bribe on duty, with each getting five years probation.

The incident led to a change in New York law barring cops from having sex with people in their custody, after Hall and Martins admitted to having sex with Chambers but claimed it was consensual. The new law declared any sexual contact between officers and those in their custody to be non-consensual.

Four convictions will be tossed based on the testimony of Richard Danese, who falsely imprisoned a 14-year-old boy, stripped him down to his socks and shorts, and abandoned him in a marsh in Staten Island. 43 come from Oscar Sandino, who pled guilty to forcing a woman in custody at a Queens station house to perform oral sex on him after threatening to have her kids taken from her.

The Brooklyn DA is looking to toss 378 convictions rooted in unreliable testimony, his office announced Sept. 7.Getty Images

The 378-case toss, which the DA says is the sixth-largest mass case dismissal in American history, comes a year after the DA threw out 90 convictions associated with Detective Joseph Franco, who faces perjury charges. That comes amid a yearslong reexamination into convictions connected with testimony from disgraced former Detective Louis Scarcella, who has seen 20 of his convictions overturned due to his bogus testimony.

Like the city’s other DAs, the Brooklyn DA keeps a list of officers whose testimony the office has deemed unreliable. Long an unofficial secret, the DA’s office ultimately released the list after its existence was uncovered by Gothamist in 2019.

In a statement, the Legal Aid Society applauded Gonzalez’s move to toss the tainted convictions, but said the office should conduct the reviews on an ongoing basis.

“The Legal Aid Society commends District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for his decisive action to dismiss these cases,” said Elizabeth Felber, director of the public defender agency’s Wrongful Conviction Unit. “While we applaud this decision, the people prosecuted in these cases were forced to endure hardships that should never have happened to begin with. Some individuals lost years of their lives serving prison sentences and many suffered collateral harm including housing instability, loss of employment, and severed access to critical services, all because of the words of these corrupt police officers.”

“We urge DA Gonzalez and all of the other New York City District Attorneys to conduct these reviews on an ongoing basis and with full transparency, not just in response to public pressure, but as their duty to ‘do justice,'” Felber continued.To do otherwise erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal legal system.”