60 criminal cases are thrown out because of 3 detectives’ misconduct

New York, United States Published: Nov 09, 2021, 02:23 PM(IST)

US court (representation image). Photograph:( Others )

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The review in Queens is part of a broader movement to reassess criminal cases and convictions, some decades old, over concerns about official misconduct and perjury by police officers

The Queens district attorney’s office asked a judge Monday to toss out 60 criminal cases that relied on work by three former New York Police Department detectives who were later convicted of perjury, sexual assault or official misconduct.

The move is part of the office’s review of cases that involved police officers who had committed crimes or workplace misconduct and who had served as “essential witnesses” in Queens prosecutions, District Attorney Melinda Katz said.

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“We cannot stand behind a criminal conviction where the essential law enforcement witness has been convicted of crimes which irreparably impair their credibility,” Katz said.

The office’s review stems from a letter sent in May by the Legal Aid Society and other legal defence and civil rights organisations to the city’s five district attorneys and the special narcotics prosecutor, identifying 20 police officers who had been convicted of crimes and two others who had engaged in work-related misconduct. The letter asked the offices to erase convictions in which the officers played a role.

The Brooklyn district attorney’s office was reviewing the Legal Aid letter as part of its broader efforts to examine problematic convictions, a spokesperson, Oren Yaniv, said. “Our review is nearing its end, and we expect to dismiss a number of cases,” Yaniv said.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office said a review of cases involving the identified police officers was ongoing, and the Bronx district attorney’s office said cases involving seven police officers were under review.

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A representative for the Staten Island district attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

After receiving the letter, Katz, who took office in January 2020, launched a review of the borough’s cases. It found that 10 officers on the list had played roles in Queens criminal cases, Katz said Monday, adding that hundreds of cases remained under review.

In a hearing Monday afternoon in Queens Supreme Court, Justice Michelle Johnson vacated 59 convictions and cleared one person of pending charges and a warrant issued for an arrest. Most of the cases were misdemeanours or violations, but seven were felonies.

Some of the people cleared Monday had served prison terms, while others had lost jobs and licenses; one man was still on parole at the time of his dismissal, and one woman had died, Legal Aid Society lawyers said.

Of the 60 cases, 34 were based on the work of former detective Kevin Desormeau, a street cop once held in high regard, who in 2018 was convicted of lying about witnessing a Queens drug deal that had not taken place. At the sentencing, Justice Michael Aloise gave Desormeau no jail time and criticized the prosecutor’s office for its conduct during the former officer’s trial.

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Desormeau later pleaded guilty in Manhattan to separate charges that he fabricated facts concerning a 2014 gun possession arrest in Washington Heights, a case that also led to charges against his former partner on the force, Sasha Cordoba.

The Queens district attorney asked Monday to dismiss 20 cases involving Cordoba, who pleaded guilty in Manhattan in 2018 to perjury and official misconduct charges in connection with the gun possession arrest. Cordoba was also convicted of a misdemeanour in the Queens drug sale case, but the judge threw out her verdict, citing lack of evidence.

Six of the cases dismissed Monday stemmed from the work of former Queens detective Oscar Sandino, who pleaded guilty in 2010 to federal civil rights charges related to the sexual assault of people in custody. In one instance, Sandino sexually abused someone under arrest in the bathroom of the 110th Precinct in Queens, the district attorney’s office said.

“Criminal convictions largely based on the work of corrupt former or active NYPD officers who engaged in misconduct while executing their duties flies in the face of oaths officers take to protect and serve New Yorkers,” said Elizabeth Felber, director of the Legal Aid Society’s wrongful conviction unit. “This unconscionable and inexcusable behavior corrodes the public’s trust in law enforcement,” she said.

The review in Queens is part of a broader movement to reassess criminal cases and convictions, some decades old, over concerns about official misconduct and perjury by police officers.

In April, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez asked the court to dismiss 90 convictions — nearly a third of them felonies — that was based on the work of a former narcotics detective, Joseph E. Franco, who had been charged with perjury and other offences in connection with his undercover work and testimony for prosecutors.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office had charged Franco in 2019 with 26 criminal counts, saying he had lied about witnessing drug buys. The Manhattan and Bronx district attorney’s offices, as well as the special narcotics prosecutor, have moved to vacate scores of convictions in which Franco was involved.

Franco was fired by the Police Department in April 2020. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

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