Philadelphia Paying Millions to Resolve Allegations of Police Misconduct

Undated photos, from top left to right, show Philadelphia police officers Thomas Liciardello, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman and from bottom left to right, Brian Reynolds, John Speiser, and Michael Spicer.

Marcia Hintz was working a full-time job caring for mentally challenged adults, raising a grandchild, and providing medical assistance to her longtime companion when members of a Philadelphia police narcotics squad busted into her Mayfair home in 2006 and arrested her for selling drugs.

Roger High, on the other hand, already had a lengthy criminal record and was out on bail awaiting trial on drug charges when that same narcotics squad picked him up that year on a new case.

Hintz and High would seem to have little in common, but their stories intersected three years ago when the courts began overturning convictions built by the squad amid accusations of fabricated evidence, illegal searches, and other misconduct.

And they converged again in recent months, when each received payouts from the City of Philadelphia.

Their checks — High for $15,000, Hintz for 40 times as much — come as the city has quietly begun settling the more than 300 lawsuits against onetime members of that infamous narcotics squad. And they are just a part of what could be an onslaught of payments by the city to resolve police misconduct lawsuits, according to interviews and an Inquirer and Daily News review of court records and financial documents.

The price tag for just three high-profile examples could approach $24 million, according to a city bond document — up to $8 million for the narcotics squad cases, and a combined $16 million for two unrelated claims of wrongful murder convictions. The murder case lawsuits may take months or years to resolve, but the city has already paid more than $2 million to settle 75 cases against the narcotics officers.

All of that comes on top of the $9 million typically paid each year to settle dozens of less publicized civil rights claims against the police.

The amount, in millions, that Philadelphia has spent on police-related civil rights cases for the last five years. The figure for 2017 is year-to date.

The fact that three potentially costly examples of alleged police misconduct are cresting in court around the same time may be no more than a coincidence. But Alan Yatvin, liaison counsel for the dozens of lawyers representing hundreds of plaintiffs against the narcotics officers, contends those payouts are a consequence of years’ worth of unchecked abuses.

“The real issue in this case was how the city, the police department responded,” Yatvin said.

The District Attorney’s Office agreed several years ago, when allegations against the squad began swirling in the news. Prosecutors have since thrown out 1,000 criminal convictions the officers helped build, with 240 or so still under review, according to Bradley Bridge, a public defender involved in the process.

Still, the city’s decision to settle so many civil cases with five- and even six-figure payouts — ultimately shouldered by taxpayers — is complicated by one unique factor: Six of the officers were vindicated in a 2015 criminal trial that aired many of the same accusations against them, such as theft, beatings, and evidence-free raids.

And five of them — Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser — are back on the force.

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