This article was originally published on The Legal Intelligencer by P.J. D’Annunzio on June 7, 2016
Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams at a press conference Dec. 16
Calling their claims “implausible,” a federal judge has dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Philadelphia government officials filed by city police officers accused of operating a scheme to shake down drug dealers.
The lawsuit against Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, retired Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Mayor Michael Nutter stems from the high-profile prosecution and ultimate acquittal of six narcotics officers hit with extortion, robbery and conspiracy charges in July 2014.
The officers, who were transferred and later fired as a result of the grand jury’s indictment, sued on the basis that their reputations were damaged because of the case. A seventh man who was not charged or terminated but removed from street duty was also a plaintiff.
Specifically, the officers claimed in court papers their integrity had been attacked in a letter from Williams to Ramsey informing the commissioner that the District Attorney’s Office would no longer use the officers as witnesses in drug prosecutions. They also took issue with statements made in the press by Ramsey, describing the matter as “one of the worst corruption cases that I have ever heard,” and Nutter, who called the officers “sick scumbags.”
Ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said the officers’ case had “no basis in law” and read “more like a press release than a pleading.” Because the officers were eventually reinstated, their records were expunged, and they were awarded back pay through a police union arbitration, Diamond reasoned that their names were cleared.
The judge’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit followed the officers’ motion to withdraw their claims against Williams, leaving only due process claims against Ramsey and Nutter intact.
However, Diamond saw fit to dismiss the claims against all the defendants.
“Plaintiffs’ decision to withdraw wholesale their most incendiary claims before any discovery has been taken is troubling, to say the least,” he wrote. “This highly unusual action suggests that even though there is no reasonable basis to prosecute the claims, plaintiffs nonetheless wish to retain the right to bring them again.”
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