Friday, August 07, 2009

No Ham Sandwich

A New York Judge famously joked that a prosecutor could persuade a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich.

That's because the DA decides which evidence to present to the grand jury (and what is not presented). The Prosecutor decides which witnesses to call, and which questions to ask -- or not to ask. And then there's the fact that defense lawyers are not permitted in the grand jury room, so there is no cross-examination or way to point out any flaws in the government's presentation.

The result is as carefully orchestrated as opening night on Broadway, with the closing act carefully calculated to reach the desired result. If the DA wants an indictment, she will get one.

Unfortunately, that Judge didn't know Philly's Lynn Abraham -- at least when it comes to prosecuting cops.

Lynne Abraham, the long time DA of Philadelphia, has been called a "tough cookie" over the years and was crowned the Deadliest DA a few years ago because she's so fond of the death penalty. See Lynne Abraham: for better or worse, an institution in Philadelphia.

Yet she's also notorious for her failure to aggressively prosecute police brutality cases.

In the latest example of that, unlike the ham sandwich, she wasn't able to get the Grand Jury to indict the police in an egregious police beating case. As the Inky reports, Grand jury exonerates Phila. police in beating video:

To Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, then newly arrived in Philadelphia, last year's news video of police officers beating three suspects was a black eye for the department.

In the days after May 5, 2008, when police stopped a fleeing car and arrested the three men, the Fox29 news helicopter video was telecast locally, nationally, and internationally. Ramsey took prompt action, firing four officers and disciplining four others.

Yesterday, a Philadelphia grand jury vindicated the officers who arrested Dwayne Dyches, Brian Hall, and Pete Hopkins. The grand jury recommended that no criminal charges be filed and decided that the officers used only the force necessary to subdue three men they had reason to believe were armed and had just fired into a crowd, wounding three others.

"The video, in fact, did not speak for itself," District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said in announcing the grand jury report.

"We found that the design of the force applied by the police was helpful rather than hurtful," the grand jury report concluded.

"The kicks and blows, in other words, were aimed not to inflict injury, but to facilitate quick and safe arrests. We found that the kind of force administered was completely consistent with police training and guidelines and the laws of the commonwealth."

When I heard the news that the Grand Jury declined to prosecute, it was just what I expected from Abraham. There was no doubt in the outcome in my mind. Likewise, if things had been reversed -- the victims had attacked the police -- she would have aggressively pursued them, with an array of charges.

And once again, Abraham's propensity to take a dive for the police is being questioned. As observed in Cops-D.A. ties questioned:

Close ties between the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney's Office, which presided over a grand jury investigation into a police beating caught on tape, have led some to question the jury's findings.

The D.A.'s office announced yesterday that a grand jury found that a group of police officers did not commit a crime while trying to subdue three shooting suspects last year.

Now, some, including attorney Paul Messing, who specializes in civil rights litigation including cases related to police misconduct, are asking whether the grand jury was unduly influenced by the D.A.

Lucky Abraham will be retiring soon. Unfortunately, it's not soon enough.

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