When police are shot in the line of duty, it is a tragedy pure and simple. We all depend upon police to protect us and help us when we are in distress. We all want police to be safe in their duties, and never to suffer at the hands of a criminal.
Last Friday I met with a man who has been in prison for thirteen years for a crime that he swears “in the eyes of God” he did not commit. In 1997 a police officer was shot in the back after the patrol car he was in drove into a drug shootout in North Philadelphia. He was fortunately wearing his bullet proof vest and so the injury was nowhere near as severe as it may have been. One of the officers got a look at one of the men involved in the shootout, and the next day the man I met in prison was arrested for matching the description of the shooter.
At his trial, two years later, he was given a lawyer who was strikingly unprepared; his alibi witness was arrested on the day she was supposed to testify, and the defendant was the only witness called for the defense. The one prosecution eyewitness, a police officer with a history of misconduct, testified that he saw this man running from the crime scene, despite the fact that he was unable to walk without the help of a cane due to an injury sustained in car accident just days before the shooting. Another officer’s testimony even placed him fifteen minutes away from the scene of the shootout five minutes before the gunfire began. While to this day he maintains his innocence and desperately wants to get out of prison, he is surprisingly positive. He told me that all he wants to do is get out in time to see his children and grandchildren and perhaps leave something to them before he passes.
The most tragic thing about this case, however, is that aside from his positive demeanor, his case is not really remarkable or unusual. Many of those now in prison were convicted on very little evidence or unreliable sources of information. While there can be no real statistical accuracy to this number, the studies that have been done have indicated that somewhere around 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. could be falsely convicted. These numbers are astounding, if not nauseating when you consider how many people in the United States are currently incarcerated. The sad truth is that in any legal system, justice is more of an ideal than a reality. I will continue to review the case fully and determine what, if any evidence can be used to hopefully one day grant this man his freedom.
- Chris Park; Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law, Class of 2015