Why does DA keep calling lying cop to testify?

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

Prosecutors persist in calling a police officer who admitted to lying in open court.

Why does DA keep calling lying cop to testify?

Evan M. Lopez

In December 2011, Philadelphia Police Officer Christopher Hulmes made the startling admission that he had lied to court officials in statements he gave during a narcotics case against Arthur Rowland, whom he had arrested in Kensington. 

“I changed it,” Hulmes testified, saying he had moved by three hours the time he allegedly set up surveillance of a suspected drug corner. It was one of a few misrepresentations he made, including false statements as to what activity took place prior to Rowland’s arrest. “I told you, I concealed [my informant’s] identity. I changed the times. I changed the times because I did not want him hurt or harmed in any way.”

Common Pleas Court Judge James Murray Lynn condemned Hulmes’ lying and granted the defense’s motion to suppress evidence of seized drugs, a gun and money. The district attorney dropped charges against Rowland as a result. Assistant District Attorney Tracy Piatkowski, present to receive Judge Lynn’s ruling, said that she would “review it with my supervisors.” But nothing seemed to come of it. 

City Paper has learned that prosecutors have continued to call Officer Hulmes to testify and have failed to turn over evidence to defense lawyers of his admitted lying — even amid the explosive federal indictments issued last week against city narcotics officers. An unknown number of cases involving Officer Hulmes could be subject to challenge now that his admitted lying has been uncovered.

“I think the cases in which he testified after Judge Lynn made his ruling — in which the prosecutor did not disclose that ruling to the defense — ought to be reexamined,” says civil rights lawyer David Rudovsky. “And beyond that, both the Police Department and the District Attorney ought to consider whether Officer Hulmes should be investigating and testifying in narcotics cases.” 

The District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Officer Hulmes, whom it has called to testify in narcotics cases as recently as June. The Police Department says that Internal Affairs is not familiar with Judge Lynn’s ruling.

“They don’t have it,” says police spokesperson Officer Tanya Little. “They can’t comment on something they haven’t investigated.”

Officer Hulmes, according to Judge Lynn’s explanation of his Jan. 24, 2012, ruling, “forthrightly testified to the Court that he lied consistently throughout to the [warrant-]issuing magistrate and that he lied at the preliminary hearing and that he lied to his K-9 officer, all because he was trying to protect the identity of the confidential informant.”

Hulmes also admitted that he lied about the time of Rowland’s arrest, saying that it was somehow related to “trying to maintain a timeline so [my informant] wasn’t indicated as a snitch.”

Judge Lynn chastised the District Attorney’s Office, insisting that “you cannot put an officer on the witness stand who is going to say, ‘I lied to an issuing magistrate.’ You cannot do that.”

He called Hulmes’ testimony “reprehensible,” saying “you cannot lie to the judges and expect the judges to do justice. It cannot be done. It is not the way this country was founded; it is not the way this country works.”

Hulmes could not be reached for comment.

“I’ve walked into courtrooms in the last months and I’ve seen him on the witness stand,” says Rowland’s attorney, Guy Sciolla. “And it just blows me away.”

Protecting an informant is not grounds to lie, as Judge Lynn pointed out. And the hearing testimony suggests questions about Hulmes’ true motivation. Among other problems, Hulmes only obtained the search warrant for Rowland’s vehicle many hours after he first searched it and claimed to have found crack cocaine inside. The vehicle was then removed to a nearby parking lot, against department regulations, where it was subject to a second warrantless search by a K-9 dog. 

In his testimony, K-9 Officer John Snyder contradicted Hulmes, stating that Hulmes had told him they had consent from the owner to search. 

The alleged informant, whose name City Paper is withholding, also contradicted Hulmes’ account in an Internal Affairs investigation that took place prior to the December 2011 hearing.

He told Internal Affairs investigators that he had given Hulmes and Officer Patrick Banning the names of two purported drug suspects, but not Rowland’s, after the officers had harassed and threatened to jail him. Internal Affairs found that Hulmes violated Police Department regulations by using an informant who was not officially registered with the Police Department. Sciolla pointed out that Officer Banning, who took part in Rowland’s arrest, then arrested the alleged informant in November 2011 on drug charges. Sciolla suggested it was retaliation for speaking to Internal Affairs against Hulmes.

Rowland, says Sciolla, spent 37 months in jail awaiting trial. 

The fact that Officer Hulmes remains in the Narcotics Strike Force and continues to testify against drug defendants raises questions about the DA’s commitment to rooting out bad officers. 

“Now here you got a cop that admitted that he lied,” says Sciolla. “Yet you’re going to put this guy on a witness stand?” 

The DA has failed to provide this evidence of Hulmes’ lack of credibility to defense attorneys. Such disclosure is likely required by the Brady rule, stemming from a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires the government to turn over any material exculpatory evidence in its possession to the defense.

Defense attorney Christopher P. Phillips is one of only a few lawyers who has recently managed to find out about Officer Hulmes’ lying. In August 2013, he filed a motion requesting that evidence of Hulmes’ lying be admitted into evidence in the case of Terrance Clark, who faces drugs, weapons and assault charges after being arrested by Hulmes in 2010. Phillips says that the district attorney never provided this information to him and that he only found out about it when he encountered Guy Sciolla in a Criminal Justice Center hallway.  

“I just happened to run into an attorney who litigated the motion,” says Phillips. “I know other lawyers will be very interested that have cases involving this officer.”

Jessica Kourkounis

TRIAL LIST: District Attorney Seth Williams’ Office has used Officer Hulmes as a witness as recently as June.

At the time of Rowland’s hearing, Assistant District Attorney Joe Schultz seemed uncertain about Hulmes’ testimony against the defendant. Schultz declined to call the officer to testify. Instead, Sciolla called him to the stand and examined him as a hostile witness. 

Sciolla says that the District Attorney’s Office appears to know Hulmes’ liability — but insists on calling him to testify nonetheless. He says the prosecutor who was handling the Terrance Clark case, Assistant District Attorney A.J. Thomson, argued to his superiors that it was wrong to put Hulmes on the stand.

“I was informed that he confronted his supervisor and told them that he didn’t want to put the case on,” says Sciolla. 

Thomson, who has retained Rudovsky as his lawyer, for unclear reasons no longer works at the DA’s office. Thomson declined a City Paper interview request.

Last week, the U.S. Attorney announced charges against Thomas Liciardello and five other narcotics officers who are accused of robbing and beating suspected drug dealers. The officers had been frequently accused of falsifying evidence, conducting illegal searches and other wrongdoing for years. The Police Department only transferred Liciardello and his fellow officers out of narcotics in December 2012 because District Attorney Seth Williams’ office announced that they would no longer call them as witnesses due to concerns about their credibility.

But the DA only moved against the officers after civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner accused them of misconduct before Municipal Court Judge Charles Hayden, who then ordered police and the DA to turn over records on 11 officers. And federal law enforcement had reportedly refused to prosecute cases involving the officers since years before the DA decided to follow suit.

It is unclear how many cases that Officer Hulmes has testified in. His admitted lying could make any case in which he testified a target for defense attorneys and for plaintiffs’ lawyers who bring suit against Hulmes and the city. 

Stephen O’Hanlon is one plaintiff’s lawyer already suing Hulmes. But he says he had no idea that Hulmes’ was an admitted perjurer before being contacted by City Paper. 

“This is all very strange,” O’Hanlon said. Police Internal Affairs told him it would provide Hulmes’ file to him, he says. But soon, someone from the office called back and said, “Oh, there’s some problem with this file. There’s sensitive material. I need to go through it with superior officers.”

O’Hanlon’s client, Roblette Baker, claims that Hulmes and Officer Harry Wenger entered her home to search for drugs without probable cause or a warrant. He now plans on using Hulmes’ 2011 testimony, and Judge Lynn’s ruling, in his case.

“It’s always said to be a couple of rogue officers, a few bad apples, but it seems to be a lot more than that,” says O’Hanlon. “The Philadelphia District Attorney knows that they’re putting on allegedly corrupt police officers. Or at the very least, they should know.” 

*Clarification: The original story stated that Officer Christopher Hulmes testified that "he had moved back by three hours the time he allegedly set up surveillance of a suspected drug corner." It was while testifying in Arthur Rowland's motion to suppress hearing in December 2011 that Hulmes stated that the actual time when police initiated surveillance was 5:30pm. The search warrant affidavit had stated that surveillance was initiated at about 8:50pm.

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