Friday, August 22, 2014

Tainted Justice: Why An Accused Philadelphia Police Officer Is Still On The Force

Mike Newall and Aubrey Whelen at the Philadelphia Inquirer offer a piece on why a Philly cop remains on the force after being accused of several crimes that were covered in a Philadelphia Daily News series and subsequent true crime book called Busted.

The woman in the emergency room at Frankford Hospital told the detective that the police officer who sexually assaulted her was named Tom. After the attack, she said, the officer scrawled his cellphone number on a torn piece of paper and handed it to her.

Through personnel records, police traced the number to a 10-year veteran of the force, Thomas Tolstoy. Within hours of the alleged assault on Oct. 16, 2008, the officer was pulled off the street.
Three women who did not know one another would eventually accuse Tolstoy of assaulting them under strikingly similar circumstances. Of the three cases, only the one involving the woman from Frankford Hospital led to a full-blown inquiry.

The allegations were investigated by the Philadelphia Police Department's Internal Affairs bureau, the FBI launched an exhaustive inquiry, and the U.S. Attorney's Office convened a grand jury, yet no criminal charges were filed. When news broke this year that there would be no prosecution after years of investigation, many expressed outrage.

The city has paid $227,500 to settle lawsuits brought against the officer by two women who accused him of groping their breasts. But unless city prosecutors determine that there is sufficient evidence to file charges against Tolstoy in the Frankford woman's case - the only one in which the statute of limitations has not expired - he soon could be cleared to return to street work.

An Inquirer review of an extensive investigative file - along with detailed interviews of people directly involved in or familiar with the case - reveals how Tolstoy emerged from a joint local and federal investigation unscathed.

The documents show that in seven interviews with investigators, the then-24-year-old woman, from Frankford, never wavered on the central tenet of her story: that she had been sexually assaulted, and that an officer was responsible.

But the woman's case presented a challenge from the start. DNA evidence did not match Tolstoy, according to the documents. The woman was fearful of police, initially lied about her name and criminal history, and at one point changed certain details of the assault - all of which could be used to undermine criminal prosecution of her assailant.

The documents also show that actions the victim ascribed to two Philadelphia Daily News reporters who wrote about her assault further undermined the criminal case by damaging her credibility and complicating a federal investigation.

The woman told investigators that the reporters - whose account of the assault and other police abuses would go on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2010 - provided her with gifts, paid her bills, offered her money to hire a lawyer, and told her that she could collect a financial windfall if she talked to them and not to law enforcement officials, according to the documents.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

I reviewed Busted for the Washington Times and I interviewed the Daily News reporters.

You can read my interview with the reporters via the below link: 

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