For years, more than 4,000 wrongful convictions were tied to the wrongful conviction of police officers. In 2013, then-L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey called wrongful convictions the department’s “hugest legacy.”
Last week, Ms. Lacey announced that she is preparing to commit $6 million to reopening more than 1,000 cases involving police officers and thousands of the department’s nearly 12,000 employees. Some of these cases date back to the 1970s, according to Ms. Lacey’s office.
So far, Ms. Lacey has committed more than $400,000 from the Lacey Award program to the efforts. And her office has made the funds available to 200 prosecutors who chose to reopen cases. One attorney, Harold P. Brodsky, of Kings County, is doing so for 46 convictions of police officers that her office is now calling into question.
“The exoneration of wrongfully convicted persons is a victory for all of us, especially victims of the criminal justice system,” Ms. Lacey said in a statement. “L.A. County Department of the District Attorney will use this $400,000 to prosecute cases of the old, flawed system of law enforcement, which we already intend to examine.”
The Lacey Award is named for former Los Angeles Assistant D.A. Stephen A. Lacey, who was exposed as one of the nation’s worst prosecutors at the time of his death from cancer in 2004.
The cases of police officers have been reopened around the country. Since 2005, more than 700 state and federal judges have called for review of alleged wrongful convictions involving police officers.
According to statistics compiled by Begunball Project, an organization focused on forensic scientific integrity issues, 140,561 African-American defendants were convicted from 1985 to 2009 in cases involving police officers, a rate that’s roughly seven times higher than the rate for white defendants. Yet, African-American defendants are less likely to receive a life sentence than white defendants.
In September, a federal judge in New York overturned the case of officers who were convicted of kidnapping, forcible confinement and murder in the 1980s. The judge ruled that they did not receive a fair trial, and had received an unfair and racially biased handling of evidence. And in June, more than 40 years after Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, a federal judge in California ruled that one of the officers engaged in unlawful police brutality and ordered his case reopened.
Some 37 percent of police officers convicted since 1985 have been acquitted.
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