|First Assistant D.A.: "I'm tired of their shit."|
An amended complaint filed in federal district court charges that the indictment of six Philadelphia narcotics officers was a "perverse retaliation" provoked by a "petty and childish" feud between the narcs and the district attorney's office.
"The Plaintiffs, mainly [Lt. Robert] Otto and [Officer Thomas] Liciardello, had been battling with the District Attorney's Office for more than a year over the issue of the proper handling of confidential informants, and, the system of proffers," lawyer Christopher D. Mannix wrote in a second amended complaint filed today.
"The District Attorney's Office's positions on these aspects was unprofessional and often petty and childish," Mannix wrote. "These disputes had nothing to do with the integrity of the Plaintiffs, and nothing to do with the charges eventually brought -- although the disputes later prompted the charges in what was a perverse retaliation against the Plaintiffs."
The defamation and false light suit was filed on behalf of six former narcotics officers and their supervisor against District Attorney R. Seth Williams, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, and Mayor Michael A. Nutter. The suit seeks monetary and punitive damages for irresponsible "grandstanding" allegedly done by the three city officials.
The complaint tracks the origin of the defamation to a Dec. 3, 2012 letter sent by D.A. Williams to Police Commissioner Ramsey, a letter subsequently leaked to reporters. In the letter, the D.A. stated he would no longer prosecute cases involving five of the narcs and their supervisor. In the complaint, Mannix described the letter as a "direct and false attack on the credibility of the Plaintiffs."
Less than a week before the letter was sent, "First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann said, with regard to the Plaintiffs, approximate words or approximate words to the strong effect: 'I'm tired of their shit. Enough is enough,'" the amended complaint states.
"The 'enough' had nothing to do with integrity or credibility," Mannix wrote. Instead, Lt. Otto "called into question the actions of Chief Brian Grady and Chief Jan McDermott of the District Attorney's office on the issues of the treatment of cooperating witnesses, and proffering," Mannix wrote.
Lt. Otto on Feb. 12, 2012, wrote a memorandum "critical of the unprofessional conduct" of Grady and McDermott, a memorandum subsequently read by District Attorney R. Seth Williams, and First Assistant McCann, the amended complaint states.
"Meanwhile, the FBI itself was upset with certain of the Plaintiffs, especially with respect to a major drug case where the Plaintiffs had proceeded not knowing or having any reason to know that their subject was also an FBI subject of investigation," Mannix wrote.
"The Corruption Task Force that investigated the events recounted in the indictment were prodded to do so by reason of the long-standing bureaucratic squabbles involving the Plaintiffs on the one hand, and the D.A.'s office and Certain Police Department personnel and the FBI on the other hand," Mannix wrote. "The latter parties prodded the Task Force because of the unrelated disputes."
On May 14, 2015, all six defendants were found not guilty by the jury on all 47 charges of a 26-count RICO indictment. On July 10, 2015, an arbitrator reinstated all six defendants to their jobs. A month later, in August, one of the defendants, Perry Betts, voluntarily retired after he flunked a drug test.
"The reinstatements ordered by the Arbitrator do not in any sense make those Plaintiffs whole," Mannix wrote. "Among many other things, their good names have not been reinstated and they will each lose out on almost an average of $50,000 in overtime pay a year."
"The D.A. and [Police] Commissioner had no legitimate evidence of credibility issues with the Plaintiffs, and, the letter of Dec. 3, 2012 did not arise out of credibility issues," Mannix wrote. "The unmistakable message communicated by the Dec. 3, 2012 letter was deliberately and maliciously unrelated to the real, petty reason for the letter."
"D.A. Williams was not exercising legitimate prosecutorial discretion in the writing of the letter," Mannix wrote. "D.A. Williams and Commissioner Ramsey were effectively working in concert with respect to the no-just cause transfers that were the immediate result of the Dec. 3, 2012 letter."
After the D.A.'s letter was released, the officers were transferred out of the Narcotics Field Unit.
On April 25, 2013, a district attorney's investigation revealed that out of 53 complaints against the officers, 39 complaints were "either exonerated, unfounded, declined, not sustained, closed" or cleared, Mannix wrote. Thirteen complaints remained open. One complaint resulted in an adverse finding as in "not sustained but PO was found guilty in front of Police Board."
Additionally, Plaintiff Otto, after 27 years of service "has never had an adverse finding as a result of a citizen complaint and has no official disciplinary record," Mannix wrote.
In the complaint, Mannix ridiculed the "literally laughable case put on by the United States Attorney," using as an example an allegation that Officers Liciardello and Spicer had wrongfully arrested a woman on narcotics violations and that her wallet and money was missing.
"It turned out that the 'stolen' money and wallet were accurately placed on property receipts," Mannix wrote.
The amended complaint charges continuing defamation by city officials against the plaintiffs. For example, right after the jury verdict, Commissioner Ramsey told reporters, "I thought the U.S. Attorney had a good case, but unfortunately the jury didn't agree."
"That was a devastatingly effective double-barreled shot at the outcome of the trial and the names of the Plaintiffs," Mannix wrote about Ramsey's comments.
On May 27, 2015, First Assistant District Attorney McCann tweeted, "A not guilty verdict means the prosecution didn't prove it's case. Doesn't mean you are innocent or owed an apology and parade in your honor."
Seventeen days after the cops were reinstated, the Philadelphia Daily News quoted Commissioner Ramsey as saying, "The real problem was that the case was lost in court. It is very, very unfortunate that the U.S. Attorney's Office did not win that case."
In the same article, Cameron Kline, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, was quoted as saying, "the result of the criminal trial therefore does not alter our approach concerning these officers." Kline told the newspaper that new matters involving these officers would be reviewed on a "case-by-case basis."
McCann subsequently tweeted, "The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. Winston Churchill."
"It is difficult to top Churchill, but as to First Assistant District Attorney Edward McCann's invocation of the 'malice' and 'ignorance' of others, it is easy: The First Assistant surely 'doth protest too much,'" Mannix wrote. "Malice and ignorance have been the very constants in the cruel farce the Plaintiffs have been subjected to by the Defendants."
"While Defendants have been crushing any idea that the names of the Plaintiffs have been cleared, the press is doing the same," Mannix wrote. He quoted in the amended complaint a May 20, 2015 editorial in the Inquirer that implied the former narcs were still guilty.
In that editorial, the Inquirer repeated the comments that inspired the suit: Mayor Nutter calling the accused "sick scumbags," and that Police Commissioner Ramsey describing the indictment of the narcs as "one of the worst cases of corruption that I have ever heard."
A spokesman for the district attorney's office, as usual, did not respond to a request for comment.