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E-mails could taint police credibility in court

Written by Subject: Criminal Justice System
E-mails could taint police credibility in court

By DARYL JAMES

TRIBUNE CONTACT WRITER: (480) 898-6533 or djames@aztrib.com

Racial e-mails that circulated in the Mesa Police Department could come back to haunt the city when officers have to testify against minorities in court.

“There’s no doubt that can be useful for defense attorneys,” Chandler defense attorney Marc Victor said. “Especially in situations involving traffic stops.”

He said the e-mails released to the public on Friday show not only poor judgment among the police employees who face discipline, but the racial jokes could also help legitimize minority complaints of unequal treatment.

Phoenix defense attorney Richard Gierloff agreed — especially in cases where minority defendants can point to additional evidence of racism.

“I would think it might show bias or prejudice,” Gierloff said.

But Mesa prosecutor John Pombier said he doubts the emails would carry much weight in a courtroom.

“That’s a lot of wishful thinking on the part of the defense attorneys,” Pombier said.

He said he has been impressed with the Mesa officers who testify during trials, and it would be unfair to paint someone as racist because the person forwarded a racist email — something that can be done in a few seconds during a lapse in judgment.

Tempe defense attorney David Cantor agreed that anybody can have a lapse in judgment. But he said society holds police officers to a higher standard, and jurors don’t want to see evidence of prejudice or insensitivity among police witnesses.

“They’re supposed to be the consummate professionals,” Cantor said. “People don’t want to see that.”

He said O.J. Simpson’s acquittal in 1995 shows what can happen when jurors see evidence that a police witness has racial motives. “All you have to do is look at Mark Fuhrman,” Cantor said.

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