The trial of a former narcotics detective for the New York Police Department, who was accused of using false evidence to build cases, ended abruptly on Tuesday after a judge found that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence to the detective’s lawyers.
The dismissal of the charges against the detective, Joseph Franco, a 20-year department veteran who became a symbol of police misconduct, dealt a major blow to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. The agency immediately removed the prosecutor handling the case, Stephanie Minogue, from her position as the deputy chief of its Police Accountability Unit, which reports directly to the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg.
Mr. Franco had been charged in 2019 with 16 criminal counts, including perjury and official misconduct. Prosecutors said that he had lied about witnessing drug transactions that he could not have seen. In Manhattan, more than 100 convictions were vacated based on his involvement in the investigations, as were more than 130 in the Bronx and another 90 in Brooklyn.
The prosecution of Mr. Franco was cut short when Ms. Minogue’s team failed on three occasions to hand over evidence to the former detective’s lawyer, a major ethical violation. The case was dismissed with prejudice: The office will not be able to prosecute Mr. Franco for the same crimes again.
Mr. Franco’s trial was meant to shine a spotlight on police misconduct at a time when prosecutors were concerned with showing that they were capable of holding their law enforcement partners to account. Instead, the trial will be remembered as a highly public case of wrongdoing by prosecutors, one that all but ensures that the ex-detective will not face justice despite the hundreds of cases that have been dismissed because of his involvement.
The trial’s abrupt ending was an embarrassment for Mr. Bragg, who campaigned on improving police accountability. Though Mr. Franco was charged by the district attorney’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., his trial, which began two weeks ago, was the most significant proceeding against a police officer that Mr. Bragg had overseen.
It is unlikely that other prosecutors who have moved to vacate cases related to Mr. Franco’s work will be in a position to bring charges. The statute of limitations for the felony charges that the ex-detective faced is five years. Mr. Franco stopped working in Brooklyn in 2011, and in the Bronx in 2015.
A lawyer for Mr. Franco, Howard Tanner, said in a statement that his client was relieved at the outcome but asked, “How does he get his reputation back?”
“A decorated police officer who honorably served this city for 20 years, he never did anything wrong,” Mr. Tanner said, calling the case against his client “baseless.” He added that prosecutors had repeatedly withheld and destroyed evidence, and that they had misrepresented facts.
Some of the withheld evidence included videos from surveillance footage, memos from investigators, communications between prosecutors and cellphones from people arrested after Mr. Franco identified them as drug dealers, Mr. Tanner said in an interview. He described the evidence as “potentially exculpatory.”
“The irony isn’t lost on me that this is the public corruption bureau and they conducted themselves in this manner,” Mr. Tanner said.
The Police Accountability Unit is assigned to prosecute criminal misconduct by law enforcement officers in Manhattan, “including use of excessive force, illegal stops, searches and arrests; and the theft of personal property.”
In a statement, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, Doug Cohen, announced Ms. Minogue’s removal, saying, “New Yorkers must know that law enforcement, including prosecutors, are acting with the utmost integrity. We hold ourselves accountable to that standard.”
Mr. Cohen’s statement said that prosecutors had consented to a motion from Mr. Franco’s lawyer to dismiss the case, which was immediately sealed. He added that the office’s Post-Conviction Justice Unit, which reviews wrongful convictions, would continue to scrutinize cases in which Mr. Franco was involved.
The office said that it would analyze what had gone wrong in the case against Mr. Franco, though it did not immediately say whether that would involve a review of other cases in which Ms. Minogue was involved, such as the successful convictions in March of two officers who stole money during a periodic “integrity test” that the Police Department conducts. She remains employed by the office.
Mr. Tanner said that prosecutors in court blamed their failure to turn over evidence on “gross negligence,” but said that he did not trust that their actions had not been willful.
“I attribute it to bad faith,” he said.
A juror on the case, who asked to speak anonymously because she planned to become a lawyer and did not want the case to affect her career, said that she and her peers had been dismissed in less than five minutes on Tuesday.
The juror said that problems with evidence being withheld had come to light on Thursday, and that Mr. Tanner had asked for extra time to examine the new material. Shortly thereafter, jurors were told that a witness, Tameeka Baker, who was arrested by Mr. Franco in 2017, was no longer a part of the case and that charges related to her arrest were being dropped.
On Tuesday, jurors were brought into the courtroom where they saw Mr. Franco, red-faced and crying at the defense table. He hugged Mr. Tanner.
Ms. Minogue was not seated at the prosecutor’s table.
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