I just saw this story about how Petersburg police and prosecutors have been under fire after an internal memo surfaced from 1st Sgt. Carl Moore, telling officers not to speak with defense attorneys and suggesting that they could lose their jobs if they help strength defense cases even by telling the truth to counsel. Petersburg City Manager William Johnson (left) is making no statement at this time: he was recently arrested for allegations of assault and domestic battery against his wife. Petersburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Cassandra Conover (right) was also criticized for thanking Moore despite the memo’s conflict with ethical rules governing prosecutors. However, I have not been able to find anything more recent on this story about the instructions or the ethical review.
Notably, Conover was copied on the memo and sent a thank you to him for the memo. That is a bit of a problem since prosecutors cannot interfere with defense counsel speaking with officers and the memo potentially abridges the rights of defendants. The Virginia ethical rules state: “Prosecutors shall not instruct or encourage a person to withhold evidence from the defense.” Yet, Conover just thanked an officer threatening the jobs of police who speak with the defense. She insists that she was just thanking him for addressing communication issues. The bar is investigating.
City Attorney Bill Hefty for his part seems to be defending the memo rather than calling for its recall and possible discipline for those behind it. He said that “The intent of the emails was to ensure officers make contact with the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office in advance of speaking with defense counsel. This was an internal communication, and nothing in the emails indicated that the police should do anything illegal or not testify truthfully.” That clearly sends a message to officers supporting the thrust of the memo to refuse to talk to defense counsel at least until Conover approves — causing delay and sending an implied message that they should say no.
You will note that none of them explains the danger in officers answering questions from defense counsel. These cases often have little time for preparation or investigation by the defense. The memo, and Hefty’s defense, seem calculated to harass efforts to learn the record and the truth about charges. Defense counsel talks to officers to simply confirm facts and evidence in preparation for trial. That should be viewed as a good thing for the rule of law, right?
Does anyone have an update on this story which first broke in 2012?