Seeking Scandal's Victims A Small Staff Is Mounting A Large Search For People Wronged By Police In The 39th District.

Posted: October 11, 1995

One prison inmate carried the letter around in his pocket all day, touching it from time to time to reassure himself that it was real.

Another wrote to say that the letter from public defender Brad Bridge was ''an answer to my prayers."

Testimonials like these fuel the urgency Bridge feels about finding those wrongly convicted because of the criminal acts of six rogue police officers

from the city's 39th District; nine more drug convictions were thrown out yesterday. He thinks about the hundreds of people still sitting in jail, or dealing with criminal records they don't deserve.

But the mountain looms. Finding the bad arrests is like trying to stem an avalanche with a trowel. Working with one full-time assistant and four law- student volunteers, Bridge has managed to process less than 15 percent of the estimated 1,400 tainted cases.

That effort has meant painstakingly tracking file numbers from handwritten arrest books at police district headquarters, matching names and numbers with computer entries and card files, and then days of picking through hundreds of cardboard boxes on the floor of a cavernous back-file storage warehouse by the airport. With many more indictments expected and instances of police corruption surfacing in additional police districts, the number of files to be hunted down could double or triple before the year is out.

Reviewing cases at the current pace would last well into the next century, Bridge said. He says that his sense of urgency is not shared by those who secured the bad convictions. And he wonders why such a tiny engine is being used to unravel what may be the nation's biggest police scandal.

"To date I have seen no evidence that the District Attorney's Office is actively seeking out these old files," Bridge said. "It's a laborious process, and, to my knowledge, the legwork is all being done by our office."

Arnold Gordon, the first assistant district attorney, refused to comment on how his office was handling fallout from the police scandal. He said only that Bridge's accusation "is not accurate."

There is no doubt the process is particularly painful for prosecutors. For the city, each file uncovered is more bad news - a reversed conviction and potential civil lawsuit. It is also galling that many of those arrested by the rogue officers have criminal records. Defenders and prosecutors agree that ultimately hundreds of cases will be reversed.

Yesterday that number reached 55, when Common Pleas Legrome D. Davis threw out drug convictions against nine more defendants. Among those was Maurice Waller, who was cleared posthumously of a drug charge manufactured by John Baird, one of the convicted former officers. Waller, 18, had no previous convictions. He served three months on the bogus charge before he was shot and killed last year in a neighborhood dispute.

And fresh shock waves are coming from a similar police scandal in the 19th District.

On Friday, the city was hit with a new federal civil-rights suit for two corrupt officers from the 19th, Derrick Mayes and Kevin Daniels, convicted this year of making illegal arrests. Daryl Perry's suit contends that he spent 30 months in prison as the result of a bogus 1992 arrest involving a strip search by the two officers.

Bridge knows that these cases are just the beginning. The slender, gray- haired defense lawyer leafed last week through a selection of moving letters, both happy and bitter, from inmates whom he has reached. Word from Bridge means freedom and delayed justice for many of those arrested by these police officers, who have admitted framing suspects with planted evidence and lies.

"It's a gigantic blight that's only growing larger and larger," Bridge said. "These people were outrageously abused by the system."

But the system isn't exactly scrambling to make things right, he said. Except for the original 13 cases cited in the federal indictments and one additional case unearthed by a private lawyer, all of the cases thrown out so far have been found by public defenders.

"I think the D.A.'s office should be actively looking," said Bridge. ''They have a duty to reopen a case if a question arises about it. We have a responsibility, too, particularly where we represented the defendant. It may be that the D.A.'s office just figures that since we're doing it, they don't have to. Or it might be that they're just wishing this problem would go away."

District Attorney Lynne Abraham, who is out of the country and could not be reached for comment, has vowed to throw out any case in which there is evidence that one of the convicted 39th District officers, Baird, Steven Brown, Thomas DeGovanni, Louis J. Maier 3d, James Ryan and Thomas Ryan, lied or fabricated evidence - "even if it's a 1 percent taint," according to her spokesman William Davol. But to make that evaluation, every old case must be found and reviewed.

The Defender Association is funded by the city and represents indigent clients. With about two-thirds of the resources at the district attorney's disposal, it has assigned two lawyers to the project and has enlisted law students from the University of Pennsylvania and Temple Law School to help. Bridge has committed the staff to reviewing every arrest made by the convicted officers.

Gordon dismissed Bridge's suggestion that his office should be doing more.

"Look, we could be holding a hearing on every single one of these cases Brad brings to us," he said. "As it is, we haven't even been requiring the Defender Association to file a petition. We've been handling the paperwork ourselves."

Some legal experts say that is not enough.

Former U.S. Attorney David Marston said he knew of no case law on the subject, "but from an ethical standpoint, the obligation is not to convict but to do justice. I think the D.A. is obligated to be proactive."

Former federal prosecutor and Harvard Law School professor Lloyd Wienreb said he understands why prosecutors are reluctant to revisit old cases, "but their ultimate responsibility is to do justice."

"The obligation is fairly straightforward," Wienreb said.

For now, the effort appears to have landed in Brad Bridge's lap. Working out of crowded offices one block north of City Hall, he picks his way past desks and file cabinets and stacked boxes and computer work stations crammed in hallways. Lawyers work two to an office with law books and old files spilling off shelves and across the floor.

In the relatively few cases Bridge has found, the work has been highly rewarding.

"I was lied about, beaten and taken away from my mother and my kids," wrote one 27-year-old man who spent nearly two years in prison before his conviction was thrown out by the scandal. "I lost my job and my car. It just wasn't right. I don't know what happened to make these officers plead guilty, but whatever it was I am happy. I can't wait to shake your hand."

Another wrote, "After five years of appeals . . . my prayers have been answered. I was railroaded, robbed and set up by officers of the (39th District) because of their plants of drugs and false testimony. I hope my case will be brought to the attention of the authorities as soon as possible."

Cases like these have made Bridge a legend in lockup. In Graterford Prison, his name and address have been posted on a bulletin board under a sign that begins, "If YOU ARE INNOCENT AND WANT TO GET OUT OF JAIL . . . "

He's been getting a lot of mail from jail.

"Everybody has their own story," said Laurel Remington, a third-year Penn law student who has been satisfying the school's community-service requirement by working in the Defender Association's offices. "Unfortunately, the work we're doing right now is limited to the police officers who have already been convicted. But from the letters I've been reading, I think the police problem is widespread throughout the city."

Finding the wronged is tedious and time-consuming. And the legwork so far appears to have been left entirely to Bridge and his colleagues.

Achieving fairness in this instance is particularly laborious in a city where methods of tracking criminal cases and defendants have not changed much in 100 years.

To find the roughly 200 files currently under review, Bridge and his colleagues began in April by checking old police arrest ledgers for the 39th District and the Highway Patrol Unit, where one of the convicted officers later worked. Squinting through thousands of handwritten entries, they noted all the arrests these officers made over the last seven years.

Armed with arrest numbers and the names of defendants, they were able to locate court file numbers for the cases generated by those arrests on a computer. The court file numbers from the computer were then matched with file cards that reveal the Defender Association's own file numbers. The newer cases were filed in the office's upstairs stacks.

But finding the older cases meant wading through hundreds of boxes at Pierce Leahy Archives, a warehouse near the airport.

"They rolled out eight pallets stacked four boxes across and about five boxes high," said Bridge, holding his hand up to indicate the height of the stacks.

It took teams of five and six lawyers, law students and paralegals three long days to find 180 files.

Bridge and his colleagues then reviewed those files to determine how critical a role the currupt officer had played in the arrest and conviction. If one of the officers was responsible for the arrest warrant or search warrant, or if his testimony at a preliminary hearing was central to charges being filed, the case is deemed tainted, and referred to the district attorney.

Each case forwarded by Bridge to the district attorney must then be located in that office's filing system, which is every bit as antiquated as the Defender Association's, according to Gordon. Gordon refused to comment on how his office screens cases - "I know in certain instances they've brought police officers in to see if they can independently corroborate information originally supplied by one of the convicted cops," Bridge said.

In cases where an unindicted officer supplied the same information as the convicted one, prosecutors have refused to throw out the conviction. So far the District Attorney's Office has agreed to throw out all but 16 of the cases Bridge has submitted.

"And in most of the ones where they don't agree with us, we have reason to believe the other cop might well be indicted down the road," Bridge said.

In addition to police who have been convicted of similar offenses in local courts, there are many more implicated in the ongoing joint federal/local police probe. Each new indictment of an officer multiplies the task exponentially. Bridge said he would do his best to keep up.

"Even if we have to do it all ourselves," he said.

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