POWER Town Hall Series: Imagining Civilian Oversight of Police


Part 6: September 23, 2020

Part 6 (September 23) of the series was “The Best Of” the Town Hall Series sponsored by #POWER #LiveFree

The full video is below.


Part 5: September 9, 2020

For Part 5 (September 9) of the series, members of the Philadelphia City Council’s Public Safety Committee joined the conversation to express their support for a meaningful civilian oversight with real authority and funding.

The full video is below.


In Part 4 of “Imagining Civilian Oversight of Police,” The panel was joined by activists from Oakland who shared their experiences building community-law enforcement cooperation to increase public safety.


In part 3 of the virtual town hall series, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey and Mike Mellon, from the Defender’s Police Accountability Unit joined State Rep. Donna Bullock, Harvard University’s Aaron Bekemyer, and Chantelle Helm, from Black Lives Matter- Louisville to discuss statewide legislative obstacles to meaningful police reforms
The full video is below


In part 2 of the virtual town hall series, Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey joined Hassan Bennett; author Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve; and Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa.
The full video is below



Part 1: Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey joined a nationwide panel of clergy, activists, elected leaders, and justice system reform experts to discuss how to bring more accountability to police departments in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The full video is below



July 16 Panel Discussion: Fixing PCRA

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On July 16, the Defender Association of Philadelphia hosted a panel of legal experts, activists, and elected leaders to discuss how to reform the Post-Conviction Relief Act and provide hope to thousands of incarcerated Pennsylvanians.


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The PCRA is an indirect appeal asking the courts to reconsider the conviction after a direct appeal is unsuccessful. The goal is to get a new trial and give convicted defendants an opportunity for review of any claims of error or miscarriage of justice. Unfortunately, state law changed in 1996, placing a 1-year time limit on filing these appeals.

This has left people with legitimate claims trapped for years in PA prisons, with no way to appeal their convictions.


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Sharif Street,
PA State Senator

Joanna McClinton,
PA State Representative

Marissa Bluestine, 
Quattrone Center,
UPENN Law School

Nilam Sanghvi, 
Pennsylvania Innocence Project

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Bradley Bridge, 
Defender Association of Philadelphia

Mikal Twiggs, 
Defender Association of Philadelphia

Patricia Cummings,
Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office

Jules Epstein, 
Temple Law School

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Steve Austin,
Mothers in Charge Participatory Defense Hub

Donnell Drinks,

John Pace,
Youth Sentencing and
Re-entry Project

Terrance Lewis, 
Liberation Foundation

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June 23 – City Council Testimony

On June 23, 2020, Mike Mellon, from the Defender’s Police Accountability Unit, testified before City Council’s Public Safety Committee on issues of police accountability and transparency. The full written testimony is below.


Dear Members of the Public Safety Committee,

My name is Michael Mellon and I work in the Police Accountability Unit at the Defender Association of Philadelphia where we focus on representing clients who are victims of systemic police misconduct in the City of Philadelphia.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia supports legislation for a public comment period regarding the labor contract with the police union. Police are meant to be members of the public entrusted with guarding the health and safety of the communities they serve, which entails the immense powers of arrest, detention, and deprivation of liberty – powers that no other citizen possesses.  Yet, in Philadelphia and across the country, police have become occupying forces whose procedures and policies are shrouded in secrecy and jealously guarded. This opacity has delegitimized policing in the eyes of massive swaths of the citizenry, particularly communities of color, the poor, and the young. Consequently, there is a deep, generational mistrust of the police in our city. We must redefine policing as guarding the safety of our communities with the support of the people, not despite their opposition. This requires independent, transparent oversight so that Philadelphians can feel confident that this power is not being abused. 

The public comment period is but one piece of a larger accountability framework that creates a check on those who are given powers that, if abused, can trample on the human dignity and constitutional rights of those they are sworn to serve. The public needs input in any contract negotiations but they also need the power to be informed about the behavior of their police.  An informed public requires transparency in the disciplinary system from beginning to end, including a publicly accessible database that tracks disciplinary actions by officer name.  And for the public to trust that the disciplinary system is fair, the accountability system must be overseen by an independent, civilian oversight commission with a substantial budget, robust investigatory duties, and clear disciplinary powers. These last weeks have given us an unprecedentedly clear vision of both the stunning lack of accountability of the Philadelphia Police Department and how transparency and community engagement can make all the difference.  

It was the people who indicted Staff Inspector Bologna. Yes, he was charged by the District Attorney’s Office, but not because the Police Department decided to hold Bologna accountable. It only happened because of the work of the people – it was the people who identified him; it was the people who disseminated the videos of his violence on every imaginable platform; and it was the people, both everyday citizens and journalists, who brought his long history of misconduct to light. Despite what we all saw as a crime, and what the Police Department would call a crime if one of our clients had been caught on video doing the same thing, the Police Department could not figure out how to bring charges against him as if he were any other citizen.

There’s yet another officer that has not been charged despite clear evidence of inexcusable assault. The officer that pulled down the masks of two kneeling people – unarmed, hands in the air – and pepper-sprayed them directly in the eyes at point-blank range. The people who were pepper-sprayed were not resisting. They did not pose a threat. The use of pepper spray in this situation is not only against Police Department policy, but it’s clearly against the law, and “following orders” is not a defense.  

If that had been a regular citizen, he would have been arrested and charged with felony aggravated assault. And he would likely be in a cell. Our clients get charged much faster with much less evidence.  We know, we see it every day.

Yet, here we have all the evidence except in this case the public does not know the officer’s identity. Despite the video evidence provided by the public, and despite knowing all the officers deployed to this particular protest, the Police Department will not tell who he is. So here we are, weeks after the incident occurred on video, still waiting for the Police Department to bring charges, or at least identify this officer to the District Attorney’s Office for charging.

In the meantime, the Police Department has brought charges to the District Attorney against hundreds of people for their alleged actions during the protests. Many had no prior records. Many were young. Many were people of color. Our office has been working diligently to represent these people despite the limitations of the current pandemic. It didn’t take the Police Department any time to bring these charges to the District Attorney.

Some of these arrests required officers to investigate, obtain video, use social media, and search government records to bring charges. Clearly, the Police Department has the investigatory power and resources to find and charge the officer who pepper-sprayed protesters but is choosing not to. The Police Department is actively protecting this officer from accountability, they are not being transparent, and they cannot be trusted to do the right thing.  In short, they provide more due process protections to themselves then they do to ordinary citizens.

That’s why the investigation and discipline of officers must be independent from the Police Department and transparent to the public. For far too long, the Police Department and the FOP have been able to use the secrecy of the contract process, the disciplinary process, and the arbitration process to hide the actions of its officers from the public. The Police Department and the City constantly complain about the arbitration process, but that is just one piece of an accountability system that is broken from beginning to end.  I have read the Internal Affairs investigative procedures, and they are designed to fail. I have listened to the testimony of a superior officer who casually admitted withholding evidence from Internal Affairs but giving it to the FOP at the Police Department’s internal misconduct trial called Police Board of Inquiry – hearings that are routinely held without public access or comment.  In just the last year our unit obtained video evidence that substantiates allegations of perjury against six officers.  The Police Department has not brought charges against any of them.  I guarantee you that Bologna and this other officer are just the tip of the iceberg.

We cannot have public safety without public trust in the Police Department. To that end, the Defender Association supports the public comment period as one part of a broader strategy to reform the disciplinary and arbitration processes and hold police accountable to the communities they serve. We look forward to the opportunity to review and provide input on the next contract.


Systemic Racism Town Hall on Power 99/WDAS-FM

On June 10, Keir Bradford-Grey joined a panel discussion on the massive protests around the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death, what that means for the City and the Nation moving forward, and specific actions we can all take as we address racism, reform and reconciliation in our City.

Other panelists : 

  • Andrea Lawful Sanders – Philadelphia Sunday Sun and diversity consultant
  • State Representative Jordon Harris
  • Deputy Managing Director Cynthia Figueroa
  • Imere Williams, Philadelphia Board of Education Student Representative
  • City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sanchez

Watch the video from the discussion below

Photos: Defenders March for Black Lives

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On June 8, The Defender Association of Philadelphia joined a national coalition of public defenders leading protests and marches for Black Lives. Hundreds of public defenders and community allies joined the march to call for an end to systemic racism in our justice system.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Click any image below to enlarge the slideshow.

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Monday, June 8: Philly Defenders March for Black Lives

June 8, 2020 – 3:00 PM: 
Defenders March for Black Lives




On Monday, June 8 at 3:00 p.m., The Defender Association of Philadelphia is joining a nationwide coalition of public defenders who will be marching to protest the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and Ahmaud Arbery, and the systemic injustices faced by Black and Brown communities 




Here in Philly, our march will follow the tumultuous, painful journey too many of our clients endure when they encounter our justice system:
We will meet at the Constitution Center, 525 Arch Street at 3:00 p.m. From there, our march will proceed along the following route, making stops at:
  1. the Roundhouse at 8th and Race;
  2. ICE detention on North 8th Street;
  3. Federal Detention Center;
  4. Family Court; and 
  5. end at the CJC where we take a knee for 8 minutes 46 seconds


Defender Secures Releases for Over 1,000

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Defender representation has secured the release of over 1,000 people since the courts closed on March 16. 
Continue reading “Defender Secures Releases for Over 1,000”

COVID-19 Pandemic: Weekly Expedited Hearing Data

On March 20, three days after the courts closed, the Defender was directed by the FJD that all emergency requests for bail reductions, detainer lifts, and early parole must be filed as written petitions with the court. Since then, the Defender has filed over 1,000 written petitions. Many clients required more than one petition to resolve multiple issues, and some petitions had to be re-filed after the FJD changed its filing rules for emergency petitions on March 23.

As of May 1, 716 of 1,215 petitions that have been decided (58.93%) have been granted.

The FJD agreed to hold expedited release hearings between April 7-9, wherein the Defender and DAO could make oral arguments for bail reductions, detainer lifts, and early parole. The hearings were held in four virtual courtrooms each day, with one Public Defender handling the cases in each room. The cases listed were taken from “presumptive release” case categories created by the DAO in conjunction with the Defender.

The following are weekly summaries that track the success rate of the Defender’s petitions and motions, as well as release numbers: 

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