Philly narcotics officer to be charged with perjury after City Paper investigation
Officer Christopher Hulmes admitted lying under oath in 2011.
In 2011, Philadelphia Police Officer Christopher Hulmes sat in a witness stand and admitted that he had lied multiple times under oath in a drug-and-gun case. Cops are frequently accused of lying, but they are rarely proven in court to have done so, making Hulmes' startling admission all the more remarkable. Tomorrow, according to a law enforcement source, District Attorney Seth Williams' office will announce that Hulmes has been charged with perjury and other offenses.
The charges come more than three years after Hulmes admitted to perjury, after an investigation initiated in the wake of an August 2014 City Paper story.
Hulmes, a longtime member of the department's Narcotics Strike Force, testified in December 2011 that he lied on search-warrant applications, and later in a preliminary hearing, in the case of Arthur Rowland, now 33, and his half-brother, Paul Ricks, 31. Yet, Hulmes still insisted at trial that police found drugs and a gun in Rowland's vehicle — 26 packets of crack and a .40-caliber Glock handgun fitted with a laser sight and loaded with nine rounds — after detaining the pair on May 7, 2010, in Kensington.
Hulmes had lied about several details, he said, to serve the noble purpose of protecting the identity of Joshua Torres, a reputed Kensington drug dealer whom Hulmes described as a confidential source. (Torres has since died, according to sources). Hulmes' partner, Officer Patrick Banning, signed two allegedly false search-warrant applications which, amongst other apparent lies, included the fabricated timing of a suspected drug transaction. Hulmes took responsibility for writing the applications (this may be one reason why Banning won't be charged).
"I changed it," Hulmes testified, without explaining how the lie would protect Torres. "I told you, I concealed Mr. Tores's [his name appears to be misspelled in some court documents] identity ... I changed the times because I did not want him hurt or harmed in any way."
The evidence suggests, however, that Hulmes may have lied to cover up illegal searches of Rowland's vehicle and to create a false pretext for his arrest.
Rowland and Ricks both had criminal records, but neither man had been arrested for years at the time they encountered Hulmes, says their attorney, Guy Sciolla. Rowland and Ricks say there was neither a gun nor crack in the vehicle.
"Somebody's lying," says Sciolla, in an interview in his Center City law office. "And you got a cop who's already admitted that he lied about what happened on Thayer Street," the block where Hulmes claimed to have witnessed Rowland in an apparent drug transaction.
But Rowland, a Black man with multiple tattoos and a criminal record, fit the profile: His word was worthless against that of a police officer.
"I finally got my life on [track]. I felt like I was being successful," says Rowland, who had just had a daughter and was enrolled as a student at Alvernia University. "I still owe them money for going delinquent cause I couldn't put my loans in deferment."
Rowland hasn't been back to school since his arrest in 2010 and now works as a barber. When he tells his side of the story, he frequently reaches to touch my knee to emphasize a point he finds particularly surreal. He sees a sort of grim humor in the ordeal. "When you can say, 'Oh my God, like, they put drugs in my car,'"even friends and fellow prisoners doubted him, he says.
"Do you understand what this did to my family and my life?...It crushed me. I have never been the same [because the ordeal] put me in a dark place emotionally."
Hulmes' admission of perjury wrecked the prosecution. In January 2012, Common Pleas Court Judge James Murray Lynn ordered that the evidence be thrown out, forcing the DA to drop charges against Rowland. But at this point, he had already been incarcerated for 19 months.
"The police officer 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 source," said Judge Lynn, excoriating Officer Hulmes for lying under oath and the DA for putting him on the stand. "You cannot put an officer on the witness stand who is going to say, 'I lied to an issuing magistrate; you cannot do that.'"
The arrest constituted a parole violation, and the state Board of Probation and Parole resisted letting Rowland go free. In all, he spent 28 months behind bars.
The case raises troubling questions for District Attorney Williams. Though Hulmes openly admitted to committing a felony, he was not prosecuted for more than three years. Instead, the DA continued to put Hulmes and Banning on the stand, and failed to disclose Hulmes' role in the admitted perjury to defense attorneys in cases involving the officers.
Some lawyers, including prosecutors, had known about the case since at least December 2011. But it was not widely publicized until August 2014, when City Paper published an investigation into the admitted perjury. After publication, the Police Department quickly took Hulmes and Banning off the street, and initiated an investigation. But the DA continued to call them as witnesses in the months that followed, insisting they were credible despite defense lawyers' objections. Prosecutors were, however, clearly eager to keep the two officers from testifying, letting many defendants charged with felonies plead to lesser misdemeanor charges or dismissing the charges altogether.
After City Paper's story was published, the DA did hand defense lawyers a thick packet of discovery materials detailing Hulmes' admitted lies, detailing testimony from Rowland's case and related Internal Affairs investigations. But that was information that they had likely been required, under what is known as the Brady Rule, to turn over since Hulmes first admitted to lying — in December 2011.
Correction: Due to an editing error, it was incorrectly stated that Rowland had been arrested in 2011. As it states elsewhere in the story, he was arrested in 2010.