A Detective Was Accused of Lying. Now 90 Convictions May Be Erased.


Over practically 20 years as a police officer and narcotics detective, Joseph E. Franco made 1000’s of arrests, many for the possession and sale of medication. Mr. Franco typically labored undercover, and his testimony secured convictions for prosecutors across the metropolis.

However officers who as soon as relied on Mr. Franco are questioning his accounts. After he was accused of mendacity about drug gross sales that movies confirmed by no means occurred, Mr. Franco was charged with perjury in Manhattan in 2019.

Now, the fallout over Mr. Franco’s police work is spreading: As many as 90 convictions that he helped safe in Brooklyn can be thrown out, prosecutors plan to announce Wednesday. Many extra instances in different boroughs might comply with — a reckoning that legal professionals stated seems bigger than any within the metropolis’s authorized system in latest historical past.

On Wednesday, the Brooklyn district legal professional, Eric Gonzalez, will ask judges to dismiss years-old drug instances during which Mr. Franco served as an important witness. The workplace didn’t uncover new proof of doable misconduct — and not one of the individuals concerned nonetheless stay behind bars. However Mr. Gonzalez stated he had misplaced religion in Mr. Franco’s credibility.

“We’re in a second of speaking about legal justice reform,” Mr. Gonzalez stated in an interview this week. “It’s clear that we couldn’t responsibly depend on his testimony to face by these convictions.”

The transfer represents one of many largest dismissals of convictions within the state over considerations about official misconduct, and comes amid a heightened nationwide dialog about holding police accountable and curbing abuses among officers. In New York Metropolis, legislators lately made it easier to sue officers for conducting unlawful searches or utilizing extreme pressure.

Mr. Franco was charged in 2019 with 26 legal counts, together with perjury and official misconduct, after investigators within the Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace stated that he had testified to witnessing a number of drug buys that video footage confirmed didn’t occur or that he couldn’t have seen.

He has pleaded not responsible to the costs in opposition to him.

Mr. Franco’s lawyer, Howard Tanner, stated his shopper is presumed harmless and stated he can be “vigorously defending” the case in Manhattan.

“I might subsequently ask that the general public withhold judgment till all of the information are heard,” Mr. Tanner added.

Practically the entire individuals whose convictions that Mr. Gonzalez is in search of to dismiss have been charged with drug-related crimes, together with many for low-level possession offenses. The group — largely males arrested between 2004 and 2011 — spanned generations: A number of have been underneath 20 years previous on the time of their arrests, and dozens have been older than 40.

Mr. Gonzalez’s workplace was not sure of the racial breakdown, however believed that many have been Black and Latino, teams who’ve represented a disproportionate bulk of many drug expenses within the metropolis.

Most of those that confronted extra severe expenses for drug gross sales — 27 individuals in whole — spent between six months to a yr behind bars. It was unclear how typically the crime represented their first or solely conviction, the district legal professional’s workplace and public defenders stated.

Even those that didn’t serve prolonged sentences have been left with legal data, which might have long-term consequences for housing and work prospects. In recent times, consideration on these lasting results has grown. In New York and elsewhere, data of some minor convictions have been expunged — an try and make amends for what’s now seen as overly aggressive policing of drug crimes up to now.

However erasing data can solely go to this point, public defenders say.

“The harm is completed on the level of arrest,” stated Tina Luongo, a lawyer who heads the legal protection observe on the Authorized Support Society. “They possible had bail set on them, hung out at Rikers Island, misplaced jobs, have been separated from their households — it doesn’t matter what occurs, these harms have been performed.”

One man who was arrested thrice by Mr. Franco is ready to have every case dismissed, legal professionals stated. The person, who spoke on the situation of anonymity due to privateness considerations, stated he was charged with a number of low-level drug crimes that he didn’t commit. Confronted with the prospect of a police officer’s testimony, he pleaded responsible.

The person was contemporary out of highschool, with a younger son and a second baby on the way in which, when he was arrested in 2005, he stated. He spent a number of years behind bars. The person, now 35, stated the transition residence was rocky, and the arrests proceed to have an effect on him.

“I received the decision that this was occurring and it was alleged to be excellent news,” he stated. “However truthfully, I don’t know that I really feel any higher. It affected my complete mind-set. That stuff modifications you.”

Mr. Gonzalez stated that his workplace couldn’t totally reinvestigate lots of the 90 instances: Video proof had typically lengthy been misplaced, and potential witnesses from over a decade in the past couldn’t be tracked down.

After expenses have been introduced in opposition to Mr. Franco in Manhattan, it was not instantly obvious that the detective additionally had labored in Brooklyn, Mr. Gonzalez stated. The workplace ultimately pulled collectively an inventory of instances Mr. Franco was concerned in and flagged those who couldn’t have been prosecuted with out his accounts, he stated.

The priority over officers making false or deceptive statements about crimes is not new. Between January 2015 and March 2018, an investigation by The New York Times found more than 25 instances during which judges or prosecutors decided {that a} central facet of a New York Metropolis police officer’s testimony was possible unfaithful.

The fallout has echoed the Brooklyn district legal professional’s workplace’s reassessment of dozens of murder cases investigated by Louis Scarcella, a former murder detective who dealt with a number of the borough’s most infamous crimes, after considered one of his investigations unraveled. In that occasion, nevertheless, the workplace threw out only a handful of cases and stated in 2017 that Mr. Scarcella broke no legal guidelines.

Different states have confronted related issues in recent times. In Massachusetts, for instance, 1000’s of low-level drug instances were dropped in 2017 after prosecutors stated a state chemist mishandled drug samples and returned constructive outcomes on ones she by no means examined.

Christopher Slobogin, the director of the legal justice program at Vanderbilt Regulation College who has studied false testimony by the police, stated the problem is commonest in low-level drug instances.

The Police Division fired Mr. Franco, 48, final April. However discipline is often rare.

Main questions first surfaced round Mr. Franco’s report in New York in the summertime of 2018, when the Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace launched a overview after discovering inconsistencies between Mr. Franco’s statements and proof in sure instances, stated Danny Frost, a spokesman for the district legal professional.

In a single episode on the Decrease East Aspect, a person was arrested in February 2017 after Mr. Franco stated he witnessed the person promoting medicine contained in the foyer of a constructing. However prosecutors stated safety video confirmed the transaction by no means befell — and Mr. Franco had by no means even entered the constructing.

In an identical arrest 4 months later, Mr. Franco stated he noticed a lady promoting medicine in a constructing’s vestibule on Madison Road. He had not gone into the vestibule, nevertheless, and was too removed from the lady to look at any sale, prosecutors stated after reviewing safety footage.

Each individuals have been serving sentences at state prisons for the crimes when the brand new proof was found — and each convictions have been thrown out by the Manhattan district legal professional’s workplace.

In a 3rd case, Mr. Franco stated he witnessed a person promoting cocaine to a different girl. Prosecutors stated new video proof confirmed the person — who was not in jail on the time, however whose case was additionally dismissed — had solely held open a door for her.

The three individuals every pleaded responsible. Prosecutors later recognized one other case with two arrests during which they stated proof confirmed Mr. Franco had made false statements.

In Brooklyn, Mr. Franco additionally labored undercover in narcotics, buying drugs and arresting the people who sold them. All however one of many 90 individuals entered responsible pleas. The district legal professional’s workplace didn’t discover proof of innocence in its restricted investigation, however Mr. Gonzalez and public defenders famous that innocent defendants could take responsible pleas for a number of causes.

“Individuals perceive that when it’s their phrase in opposition to the phrase of an officer, the system is just not designed to present them the advantage of the doubt,” stated Maryanne Kaishian, a senior coverage counsel at Brooklyn Defender Providers, which represents a number of of the instances. “Many individuals will determine that it’s not value it to them.”

The steps by the Brooklyn district legal professional’s workplace intensify strain on district attorneys in different boroughs to re-examine Mr. Franco’s instances. Shortly after becoming a member of the division in 2000, Mr. Franco was an officer for a number of years within the Bronx.

The Bronx district legal professional’s workplace has been reviewing about 150 instances within the borough that Mr. Franco was concerned in between 2011 and 2015 to find out if the convictions are nonetheless dependable, Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the workplace, stated on Tuesday.

Sheelagh McNeill contributed analysis.



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