The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office will vacate hundreds of convictions that were secured based on testimony from corrupt cops, including NYPD narcotics officers who planted drugs on innocent suspects. Prosecutors appeared in court on Wednesday to request dismissals in 47 felony cases, and have plans to visit the Brooklyn Criminal Court later this month to ask for an additional 331 misdemeanor convictions to be vacated.
The cases are related to 13 NYPD officers that have been convicted of committing crimes while on duty. The vast majority of the convictions to be vacated were drug-related and involved illegal conduct including planting drugs on suspects or supplying narcotics to confidential informants. Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said on Wednesday that while a review did not reveal misconduct in the cases to be vacated, his prosecutors “no longer have confidence” in the work of the tainted cops.
“These former police officers were found to have committed serious misconduct that directly relates to their official job duties, calling into question the integrity of every arrest they have made,” Gonzalez said. “A thorough review by my Conviction Review Unit identified those cases in which their testimony was essential to proving guilt, and I will now move to dismiss those convictions as I no longer have confidence in the integrity of the evidence that underpinned them.”
Cases Connected to Corrupt Brooklyn Drug Squad
Many of the dismissed cases, a total of 134, involved testimony from former NYPD narcotics officer Jerry Bowens, who is serving a 40-prison sentence for murder after killing his girlfriend. In 2008, while assigned to Brooklyn South Narcotics Division, he illegally stole crack from suspects and provided the drugs to an informant in exchange for information. He shot and killed his girlfriend and wounded another person in 2009 while awaiting trial on the corruption case.
Bowens was one of four officers with the Brooklyn South Narcotics squad convicted in a massive corruption scandal. More than half of the cases slated for dismissal involved testimony from the four officers.
Another 14 cases were dismissed due to their connection with Jason Arbeeny, a Brooklyn South Narcotics officer who was convicted of official misconduct and other charges for planting drugs in 2007. Sean Johnstone, also a Brooklyn South Narcotics officer, was convicted of conspiracy for paying informants with drugs, leading Gonzalez to seek dismissal of 40 cases that relied on his testimony.
Tainted Convictions Resulted in Prison Time
Gonzalez and the Legal Aid Society noted that many of the cases resulted in prison time for those convicted.
“These convictions continue to hang around people and impact them in all kinds of ways,” Gonzalez said. “Had we known about these officers, we would never have brought these cases.”
Elizabeth Felber of the Legal Aid Society commended Gonzalez’s move to dismiss the cases and noted that many of those convicted have suffered ongoing repercussions of their criminal record. She also urged prosecutors to continue reviewing past convictions as a matter of policy.
“While we applaud this decision, the people prosecuted in these cases were forced to endure hardships that should never have happened to begin with,” said Felber. “Some individuals lost years of their lives serving prison sentences and many suffered collateral harm including housing instability, loss of employment, and severed access to critical services, all because of the words of these corrupt police officers.”
“We urge DA Gonzalez and all of the other New York City District Attorneys to conduct these reviews on an ongoing basis and with full transparency, not just in response to public pressure, but as their duty to ‘do justice.’ To do otherwise erodes the public’s trust in law enforcement and the criminal legal system,” Felber continued.
The Brooklyn DA’s office spent 10 months reviewing hundreds of cases that the disgraced police officers had participated in, marking for dismissal those in which testimony from the former cops was the primary evidence presented to the court. Prosecutors said about 100 convictions were kept in place based on other evidence that corroborated the former officers’ testimony.
A.J. Herrington is a San Diego-based freelance writer covering cannabis news, business, and culture.