Most opponents of “police reform” use the tattered and by now the thoroughly discredited argument that police misconduct is the byproduct of “just a few bad apples” among the ranks of the police who are committed to the “protect and serve” mantra.” The occasional video of a police officer pulling a child from a burning vehicle, helping with a birth delivery on the side of the interstate, or saving the life of a person having a heart attack with CPR are good stories to end a national network news program.
But are these heroic police actions the norm or the exception?
Reality and perception of reality are sometimes so intertwined that it is difficult to distinguish between the two.
Take, for example, the rogue cop masquerading as an honest police officer. The dishonest cop carries a presumption of being a good apple in the blue barrel until some event or a series of events reveal that they are rotten to the core.
Gerald Goines: Bad Cop
That was the case here in Harris County with Gerald Goines, a narcotics detective in the Houston Police Department, who HPD Chief Art Acevedo hailed as a “hero” in January 2019 following the disastrous “Harding Street drug raid.” The now infamous raid that left two innocent people killed and four HPD officers wounded was later determined to be based on intentional, false statements Goines.
An ensuing investigation revealed that Goines had lied about information leading to the Harding Street raid. Additionally, the investigation revealed that Goines had been lying over the previous decade, sending scores of innocent people to prison. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg was eventually forced to support reversing convictions or dismissing charges her office had obtained through the officer’s perjured testimony.
Lessons Not Learned from Tragedy of Tulia, Texas
Then there was Thomas Coleman, a team member of the Panhandle Regional Narcotics Trafficking Task Force. According to a 2003 New York Times report, the task force was a “federally financed consortium of 26 Texas Counties that helped hire and supervise Mr. Coleman.” Coleman’s lying and fabricated evidence led to the convictions of 38 innocent people in the small town of Tulia, Texas. In seeking a reversal of all the wrongful convictions, Prosecutors and defense attorneys alike said that trusting and relying upon Coleman was a “catastrophic mistake.” brought about by Coleman’s “uncorroborated testimony.”
Lying Cop Joseph Franco
On April 7, 2021, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales announced that after an investigation by his Conviction Review Unit, he would move the court to dismiss 90 convictions (27 felonies and 63 misdemeanors) obtained through the testimony of a former New York police detective named Joseph Franco. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has indicted Franco for perjury and other acts of official misconduct involving his intentional lies that led to false charges and wrongful convictions. In a public statement, Gonzales said:
“Knowingly and repeatedly framing innocent people obliterates the credibility of any police officer, and proving perjury in such circumstances is rare. After a grand jury reviewed the evidence and indicted former Detective Franco, I have lost confidence in his work. His cases in Brooklyn are over a decade old, which limited our ability to reinvestigate them, but I cannot in good faith stand by convictions that principally relied on his testimony. Integrity and credibility are at the heart of the justice system and prerequisites for community trust.”
DA Gonzales’ statement misses the more significant point in his focus on just one bad apple.
A 2019 investigation by USA Today revealed that at least 85,000 police officers over the previous decade in this country were either investigated or disciplined for official misconduct. The investigation found that:
“Officers have beaten members of the public, planted evidence and used their badges to harass women. They have lied, stolen, dealt drugs, driven drunk and abused their spouses.
“Despite their role as public servants, the men and women who swear an oath to keep communities safe can generally avoid public scrutiny for their misdeeds.
“The records of their misconduct are filed away, rarely seen by anyone outside their departments. Police unions and their political allies have worked to put special protections in place ensuring some records are shielded from public view, or even destroyed.”
Systemic Reforms Necessary to Regain Public Trust
In a nutshell, the “few bad apples” defense does not hold up under serious scrutiny. Police misconduct is a real, legitimate, and growing cancer in policing across Texas and the rest of the country. The general public now knows what communities of color have always known, that systemic reform is necessary to build public trust in law enforcement. This is why the Texas Legislature must pass the George Floyd Act currently pending before that body. There are too many officers like Gerald Goines, Thomas Coleman, and Joseph Franco. The “few Bad apples” defense rings hollow and lacks any reasonable basis in reality. There must be accountability, no matter how few or how many bad apples there are.
The Texas George Floyd Act will: abolish the defense of qualified immunity in Texas, create a duty for police officers to intervene and render aid, limit the use of force and ban chokeholds, and require corroboration of undercover police testimony in narcotics cases. These may be just the first steps, but they are indeed steps in the right direction.