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DA dismisses 378 convictions relying on corrupt officers

CRU’s examination causes DA office to overturn cases, 6th largest mass exoneration in U.S. history

September 8, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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On Wednesday, the district attorney’s office announced that the Conviction Review Unit asked the court to exonerate 378 total convictions – 47 felony convictions and 331 misdemeanor convictions – based directly on the work of 13 NYPD officers and their “essential testimony” in trials where the conviction relied on their trustworthiness. 

The Conviction Review Unit component of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office had carried out the investigation, found no evidence of misconduct but lost confidence in the officers’ witness testimony. 

“The Legal Aid Society commends District Attorney Eric Gonzalez for his decisive action to dismiss these cases. While we applaud this decision, the people prosecuted in these cases were forced to endure hardships that should never have happened to begin with. 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” said Elizabeth Felber, director of the Wrongful Conviction Unit at The Legal Aid Society in a statement on Wednesday,

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“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.”

In this April 24, 2019, file photo, former New York City Police Department Detective Joseph Franco, center, leaves a Manhattan Supreme Court courtroom, in New York. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office said Thursday, April 15, 2021, that in the coming weeks, it will move to vacate and dismiss about 100 cases in which ex-Detective Franco served as a key witness. Alec Tabak via AP, File

Most of the exonerated cases are misdemeanors, including possession of a controlled substance and other drug offenses. The second-largest category of convictions were vehicular and traffic law violations. 

One-hundred-ninety-one of the arrests were performed by officers implicated in the Brooklyn South Narcotics corruption scandal. Another 78 arrests were made by two officers who pleaded guilty in 2019 to receiving a bribe in the form of sexual acts from a detainee. Most of the officers were convicted of crimes in federal and borough courts. 

The dismissal is the sixth-largest mass dismissal in U.S. history, according to the DA’s office and the National Registry of Exonerations. The writ of coram nobis issued establishes in the court that the prosecutors had “not identified any information or evidence indicative of innocence or of fabricated evidence and that probable cause existed for defendant’s interest, but that, nonetheless, in the interests of justice, which includes enhancing community trust in the criminal justice system and the proper preservation and prioritization of limited prosecutorial and judicial resources and pursuant to prosecutorial discretion” and as such the DA office agreed to dismiss all charges. 

District Attorney Gonzalez said, “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. 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. Credibility and honesty are at the heart of the justice system, and we cannot improve community trust without adhering to the highest ethical standards.”

The CRU’s review of the cases is downstream of the DA’s decision in April of last year to dismiss 90 convictions relying on the work of Det. Joseph Franco who was indicted in Manhattan for multiple perjuries. Franco’s case had inspired the review of similar past cases in which officers were convicted of misconduct related to their job duties. 

The officers in question include: 

  • Jason Arbeeny (14) – convicted of official misconduct and related charges for planting drugs in 2007 while assigned to the Brooklyn South Narcotics Division.
  • Michael Arenella (3) – convicted of petit larceny for taking money from an undercover in 2007 while assigned to Brooklyn South Narcotics Division.
  • Michael Bergmann (1) – pleaded guilty to perjury in connection with a 2019 incident in which he testified falsely to the grand jury that a suspect almost ran him and his partner over with a car; video obtained by the Brooklyn DA’s Office showed this didn’t happen.
  • Jerry Bowens (134) – pleaded guilty to murder and falsifying business records. While assigned to Brooklyn South Narcotics Division in 2008, he supplied drugs to an informant in exchange for information. While his criminal case was pending, in 2009, he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend.
  • Richard Danese (4) – pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in Staten Island in connection with a Halloween 2007 incident in which he and his partner unlawfully imprisoned a 14-year-old boy suspected of misconduct and abandoned him in a marsh.
  • Sasha Diaz (15) – pleaded guilty to perjury in Manhattan for falsely testifying to a grand jury about observing a firearm in 2014; also convicted in Queens of offering a false instrument for filing, in which she lied about observing a drug deal.
  • Michael Foder (27) – pleaded guilty to federal perjury charges in the Eastern District of New York for testifying falsely at a 2018 hearing about when and how he conducted photo arrays of two robbery suspects in Brooklyn.
  • Richard Hall (18) – pleaded guilty to bribe receiving and official misconduct for releasing a woman from custody in exchange for sexual favors from her in 2017.
  • Sean Johnstone (40) – convicted of conspiracy for paying off informants with drugs in 2007, while assigned to the Brooklyn South Narcotics Division as an undercover.
  • Admir Kacamakovic (14) – pleaded guilty in federal court for civil rights violations for assaulting a bar patron with pepper spray and unlawfully detaining him while in uniform in 2008.
  • Eddie Martins (60) – pleaded guilty to bribe receiving and official misconduct for releasing a woman from custody in exchange for sexual favors from her in 2017.
  • Oscar Sandino (43) – pleaded guilty to deprivation of civil rights for forcing a woman he arrested to perform oral sex in a Queens stationhouse bathroom in 2008; also pleaded guilty to assaulting an off-duty court officer who was in custody.
  • Henry Tavarez (5) – pleaded guilty to offering a false instrument for filing for making false statements regarding a buy-and-bust operation in 2009 while assigned to Queens South Narcotics Division as an undercover.

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