Legal limbo continues for fired homicide detective

Detective Ronald Dove was fired in November amid allegations that he helped his girlfriend cover up a murder, but he hasn't been charged with a crime.
Detective Ronald Dove was fired in November amid allegations that he helped his girlfriend cover up a murder, but he hasn't been charged with a crime.
Posted: March 04, 2014

SINCE Philadelphia homicide Detective Ronald Dove was fired in November amid allegations that he helped his girlfriend flee the city after she became a murder suspect and that he had been less than forthcoming with information in two other unsolved murders, the question marks have been piling up.

Unlike the scandal involving disgraced narcotics cop Jeffrey Walker, who was arrested last spring for ripping off drug dealers and pleaded guilty last Monday, Dove, 41, has not been charged with any crimes.

His lawyer, Brian McMonagle, said last week that despite media reports, he's not even sure if Dove is the subject of a grand-jury investigation because he has not been called to testify or even been contacted.

The Police Department declined to say how many cases Dove was working on - and thus could be tainted - when he was fired.

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, did not respond to a Daily News request to learn if any of Dove's cases would be dismissed, as more than 70 of Walker's cases have been.

But not in dispute is the fact that all the uncertainty surrounding the once-hard-charging murder sleuth is not good for him or for the credibility of the Police Department.

"Having been involved in reopening cases in Philadelphia involving police corruption since 1995, anytime I hear of serious allegations regarding police officers I have to pay careful attention to those allegations, and here there have been serious allegations against Detective Dove," said lawyer Bradley Bridge, of the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

"Whether those allegations result in criminal charges remains to be seen, but the seriousness of the allegations should cause anyone involved in the criminal-justice system serious pause," added Bridge, who on Friday successfully petitioned to have 11 more of Walker's cases overturned.

Dove, who in 2004 survived a sidewalk shoot-out at 33rd and Cumberland streets while investigating a shooting, is taking his status as a fired detective and possible criminal defendant pretty hard, McMonagle said.

"It's hard, the loss of a job that he loved and a career that he embraced," McMonagle said of his client. "It's hard. Every day is a struggle.

"I don't know what questions there are concerning his credibility," the lawyer said. "I mean, he hasn't been charged with anything. I know what I read in the newspaper. I don't have any reason to believe that what I read in the newspaper is even accurate. I don't know why they terminated him. I can only tell you that he's one of the best detectives that I've ever confronted, and I thought one of the brightest guys they had on the force."

A slaying in September

Dove's 16-year career started to unravel on Sept. 8, when his girlfriend, Erica Sanchez, 33, allegedly plunged a knife into the chest of Cesar Vera, her ex-boyfriend.

Dove allegedly moved her car from the crime scene, drove Sanchez to upstate New York, booked her a hotel room and asked his detective colleagues to go easy on her.

Sanchez, a mother of six, turned herself in more than a month after the slaying and has been charged with Vera's murder.

In announcing in November that Dove would be terminated, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey cited his lack of cooperation in the Sanchez case, and in two other cases:

* The July 1, 2010, fatal shooting of Leslie Delzingaro at an Olney bar owned by Sanchez's father. Dove was assigned to the case, which prompted Delzingaro's family to file a complaint with police Internal Affairs, questioning if a conflict of interest existed.

* The May 2012 slaying of Melanie Colon. She last was seen with Reynaldo Torres, who later vanished. Based on information on Dove's iPad, investigators are exploring the possibility that Torres was killed. A now-deceased man who fathered at least one of Sanchez's children may have killed Colon and Torres, sources said.

A fruit vendor's death

Dove was working to solve the puzzling murder of Don Ly, 68, a fruit vendor who was savagely stabbed in front of his home on Vollmer Street, in South Philly, while preparing his cart at 5 a.m. April 18. The case remains unsolved.

A month after Ly's slaying, Dove led the investigation that resulted in the capture of a suspect in a Craigslist-related murder.

During a preliminary hearing Aug. 15, Dove, in a clear, authoritative voice, explained to a Philadelphia judge how he had come to suspect that Thomas Coffee was the prime suspect and how he had tracked him down and arrested him in Willow Grove.

Dove, who became a homicide detective in 2005, spoke of cellphone messages and calls that linked Coffee, 23, to Daniel Cook, 27, who was fatally shot June 21 after being lured to the city to buy an all-terrain vehicle that Coffee had advertised on the Craigslist website.

Dove spoke of using cellphone towers to trace Coffee's phone activity from near the West Oak Lane crime scene the night of the slaying to near the suspect's home in Willow Grove.

He re-created how he and other officers surrounded Coffee's home, arrested him and found in his bedroom a .40-caliber bullet that matched the three spent cartridges found near Cook's body.

Dove, the lead detective on the case, made it sound easy. But now that he's a suspect himself, what's to become of this case?

"It does give me pause as Mr. Coffee's lawyer to find out that Detective Dove was the lead detective on the case, given what I know about the allegations against Detective Dove," defense lawyer William Spade said.

"Certainly, it raises the question of whether the integrity of the investigation was in any way compromised, and it's something that I will pursue," Spade said.

Coffee is awaiting a trial that could result in a death sentence.

The Center City lawyer's inquiry of Dove goes beyond the Craigslist case. He also represents the families of Colon and Torres.

"They're suffering because they want justice, they want to know what happened to their loved ones," said Spade, who is investigating Dove's actions in preparing for a lawsuit against him and the city.

"It looks to me like he obstructed justice. . . . It seems to me like he was protecting his girlfriend, who seemed to be implicated in one or both of these murders," Spade said. "And he was obstructing justice, meaning he was suppressing evidence, he was tampering with evidence in order to protect somebody else."

On Twitter: @MensahDean

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