Narcotics officer who lied insists he's being truthful

Posted: August 21, 2014

Two years ago, a veteran police narcotics officer was labeled a liar by a Philadelphia judge who tossed evidence seized from an alleged drug dealer, destroying the prosecution's case.

The Philadelphia Police Department has removed Christopher Hulmes from street duty pending the outcome of an Internal Affairs investigation; the city has paid $150,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit against him, and another is pending in federal court.

But Hulmes told another Philadelphia judge on Tuesday that he was telling the truth about the June 14 arrest of alleged Kensington drug buyer Richard Hill.

Hulmes testified before Municipal Court Judge T. Francis Shields on a defense motion to bar prosecutors from using evidence in the Hill case.

Prosecutors say police seized six packets of "Good Luck" heroin when they stopped Hill's green Dodge Intrepid on Lehigh Avenue near A Street.

Defense attorneys Eric Zuckerman and Elizabeth-Ann Tierney insist that the evidence against Hill, 55, is tainted because Hulmes admitted lying during the earlier case. Shields said he would rule Friday.

Hulmes, 42, admitted that he lied in the 2010 drug case against Arthur Rowland, 33, but said he wanted to protect a confidential source. Hulmes said he feared that his source, who worked for Rowland's drug business, would be harmed if identified.

"I didn't want him killed," Hulmes testified. "Would I do it the same way again? No."

In addition to lying to obtain an arrest warrant for Rowland, Hulmes also admitting lying during Rowland's parole hearing.

Zuckerman argued that there was no way to know if Hulmes was telling the truth about Hill's arrest.

"He chose where and when not to tell the truth in taking the oath," Zuckerman said. "It doesn't mean he always lies in every case, it means we don't know when he chooses to lie."

The District Attorney's Office has not barred Hulmes from testifying, as it has other officers, such as Thomas Liciardello and five narcotics officers under federal indictment for preying on drug dealers.

Assistant District Attorney Lauren Murray argued that Hulmes' testimony in the Hill case was distinguishable from that in Rowland's.

Murray said no confidential source was involved in Hill's arrest and that Hulmes was in a stakeout vehicle radioing information to patrol officers about drug buys.

Murray cited corroborating testimony of narcotics officer Daniel Wright, who said he arrested Hill - heroin packets in his hand - 11/2 minutes after Hulmes' radio call.

"Two times giving false testimony doesn't make Officer Hulmes a liar in every other situation in which he testifies," Murray argued.

The stakes involve far more than the criminal case against Hill.

One of the oldest legal instructions jurors get is that if they believe a witness lies about one thing, they may disregard all the witness' testimony.

Criminal defense lawyers have already begun circulating transcripts of Hulmes' sworn deposition in the federal civil-rights lawsuit filed by Rowland, which the city settled last year for $150,000.

"This is just the beginning," said Guy Sciolla, attorney for Rowland, earlier this week.

Zuckerman and Tierney cited the deposition Tuesday and others are sure to raise it in more cases in which Hulmes, an 18-year veteran officer, 13 of them on the Narcotics Strike Force, gave sworn statements.

In how many drug investigations have you been involved? asked Murray, trying to establish Hulmes' bona fides.

"Thousands," replied Hulmes.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/crimeandpunishment

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