News10NBC Investigates: Hundreds of cases under review after 2 officers’ credibility called into question
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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — A litany of criminal cases are being reviewed right now to determine if their convictions should be overturned.
All of them are tied to two Rochester Police officers. In the past, judges found those officers didn’t tell the truth, and evidence was tossed as a result.
Look at this list. Hundreds of convictions under review because they’re connected to 2 RPD officers the DAs office says we found not to tell the truth in previous cases. One of these is a murder case where 1 of the cops in question found the weapon. @news10nbc investigates at 6. pic.twitter.com/lvYwT5GPpL— Berkeley Brean (@whec_bbrean) September 30, 2021
Now the District Attorney’s Office is warning former defendants that those cops are linked to their case.
News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean got a list of those cases this week, and one of them is a murder case that happened eight years ago.
Two convictions have already been dismissed because of this.
Jermaine Hohnston is serving life in prison after he was convicted of murder in 2013.
The Rochester Police officer who allegedly found the murder weapon was Ryan Hartley.
Two years before Johnston’s trial, video proved Hartley’s report on a traffic stop was wrong. A year before the trial, in a gun case, a judge said Hartley’s "credibility is called into question" and threw out the evidence.
Now Johnston’s case is one of 275 linked to officer Hartley under review.
Attorney Don Thompson is handling Johnston’s case.
Thompson: “And the question is going to be what role did that officer play in the criminal prosecution?”
Brean: “Was he a material witness?”
There are 292 cases linked to RPD Officer Robert Osipovitch.
In the same traffic stop with Officer Hartley, Osipovitch’s sworn testimony was "found to be in error" and the evidence was "suppressed."
This year the state ordered police to unseal the discipline records of officers and ordered prosecutors to share impeachable information about police.
So in the spring, the DA’s Office started writing letters to defendants, many of whom are in prison.
They told them either officer Hartley or Osipovitch was involved in their case.
The DA’s Office created these master lists and gave them to the Public Defender’s Office and the Conflict Defender’s Office.
In almost every case, the defendant pled guilty.
Mark Funk runs the Conflict Defender’s Office.
“If the witness is this police officer and we know there are credibility issues with the police officer we can take that to our clients and say this is something that needs to be factored in your decision whether to plead guilty or not,” Funk said.
He and the public defender are going through the cases trying to see if the officers played a major role. They’re assigning some cases to other lawyers, like Thompson.
Brean: “So we’ve got roughly 500 cases with two officers. We could be looking at dozens of convictions or guilty pleas that will be reopened?”
Thompson: “Easily. Easily. I think dozens might be low.”
Two convictions have been overturned and the DA’s Office agreed to start the trials again. They sent News10NBC this statement:
"In light of the 50-a repeal as well as the criminal justice reforms, our office has been systematically collecting impeachment information in order to better comply with the automatic discovery provisions of CPL 245.20. As we’ve been collecting this impeachment information, we’ve also been reviewing older cases to see if the nondisclosure of this information may have affected the ultimate outcome of previous cases.
"During our collection process, older judicial decisions involving these officers were identified. Although these decisions were the subject of robust media attention at the time they were issued, approximately 10 years ago, out of an abundance of caution our office began reviewing old cases to ensure the defendant had been made aware of this information through our office during discovery.
"The first cases we reviewed were those where a defendant was currently in custody for the case at issue. Where there was no record of the defense being made aware of this impeachment information, and where the information may have been material to the case, we notified the defendant and his or her attorney so that they could review and make any applicable postconviction motions, erring on the side of disclosure even where a motion would likely be unsuccessful. We also provided a list of potential cases to both the Public Defender’s Office and Conflict Defender’s Officer in the name of transparency. So far, we have consented to new trials for two previous convictions.
"The District Attorney’s Office is dedicated to ensuring the fair and equitable administration of justice. As we continue to review old files, we expect more notifications will be sent out."
RPD said officers Hartley and Osipovitch are employed, but not on the road.
The lawyers believe there will be more lists with more officers.