Friday, February 19, 2021

How the Philadelphia DA’s office suppressed Pedro Polakoff’s crime scene photos that document police tampering with evidence

--Please sign our Color of Change petition to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner: Stop Defending Mumia Abu-Jamal's Unjust Conviction

(This is one segment of the original artwork created by Seth Tobocman to support our petition campaign. It is the centerpiece of our newspaper and can be viewed on the website here.)

Written by the Jamal Journal

On Dec. 6, 2008, several hundred protesters gathered outside the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, where Pam Africa, coordinator of the International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, spoke about the newly discovered crime scene photos taken by press photographer Pedro Polakoff. Africa cited Polakoff’s statements today that he approached the DA’s office with the photos in 1981, 1982 and 1995 but that the DA had completely ignored him.

Polakoff states that because he had believed Abu-Jamal was guilty, he had no interest in approaching the defense, and never did. Consequently, neither the 1982 jury nor the defense ever saw Polakoff’s photos. “The DA deliberately kept evidence out,” declared Africa. “Someone should be arrested for withholding evidence in a murder trial.”

Advocacy groups called Educators for Mumia and Journalists for Mumia explain in their 2007 fact sheet, “20 FAQs,” that Polakoff’s photos were first discovered by German author Michael Schiffmann in May 2006 and published that fall in his book, “Race Against Death.” One of Polakoff’s photos was first published in the U.S. by the San Francisco Bay View newspaper on Oct. 24, 2007.

Reuters followed with a Dec. 4, 2007, article, after which the photos made their television debut on NBC’s Dec. 6, 2007 Today Show. They have since been spotlighted by National Public Radio,, Counterpunch, The Philadelphia Weekly and the 2009 documentary Justice On Trial which features an interview with Polakoff.

Beginning in May, 2007, displayed four of Polakoff’s photos, making the following key points:

Photo 1: Mishandling the Guns – Officer James Forbes holds both Abu-Jamal’s and Faulkner’s guns in his bare hand and touches the metal parts. This contradicts his later court testimony that he had preserved the ballistics evidence by not touching the metal parts.

Photos 2 and 3: The Moving Hat – Faulkner’s hat is moved from the top of Billy Cook’s VW and placed on the sidewalk for the official police photo.

Photo 4: The Missing Taxi – Prosecution witness Robert Chobert testified that he was parked directly behind Faulkner’s car, but the space is empty in the photo.

The Missing Divots – In all of Polakoff’s photos of the sidewalk where Faulkner was found, there are no large bullet divots, or destroyed chunks of cement, which should be visible in the pavement if the prosecution scenario was accurate. According to that account, Abu-Jamal shot down at Faulkner – and allegedly missed several times – while Faulkner was on his back. Also, citing the official police photo, Michael Schiffmann writes: “It is thus no question any more whether the scenario presented by the prosecution at Abu-Jamal’s trial is true, because it is physically impossible.”

Pedro P. Polakoff was a Philadelphia freelance photographer who reports having arrived at the crime scene about 12 minutes after the shooting was first reported on police radio and at least 10 minutes before the arrival of the Mobile Crime Detection Unit that handles crime scene forensics and photographs. In Schiffmann’s interview with him, Polakoff recounted that “all the officers present expressed the firm conviction that Abu-Jamal had been the passenger in Billy Cook’s VW and had fired and killed Faulkner by a single shot fired from the passenger seat of the car.” Polakoff bases this on police statements made to him directly and from his having overheard their conversations.

Polakoff states that this early police opinion was apparently the result of their interviews of three other witnesses who were still present at the crime scene: a parking lot attendant, a drug-addicted woman and another woman. None of those eyewitnesses, however, have appeared in any report presented to the courts by the police or the prosecution.

It is undisputed that Abu-Jamal approached from across the street and was not the passenger in Billy Cook’s car. Schiffmann argues that Polakoff’s personal account strengthens the argument that the actual shooter was Billy Cook’s passenger Kenneth Freeman, who, Schiffmann postulates, fled the scene before police arrived.

--For more information, read: From The Archives: The Pedro Polakoff Crime Scene Photos: 20 FAQs --written in 2007 by Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Journalists for Mumia

(CAPTION: Three photos by Pedro Polakoff displayed at a Journalists for Mumia slideshow on Dec. 8, 2007.)

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