June 1724, 1999
Hero to Zero
An honored cop loses his career after ratting on his partner.
by Noel Weyrich
When a Common Pleas Court jury acquitted former police officer John DeVore last week, a handful of the jurors for the case did something very unusual. They asked to meet with the defendant.
"The sheriff there said I was the first defendant hed ever seen sit down and talk with the jurors," says DeVore. "Even the alternate jurors came back to the courtroom to see the outcome."
DeVore had been charged with theft, but not your everyday, garden-variety theft. He had been arrested for logging $762.58 worth of overtime pay on six days when the trials he was assigned to were finished long before he signed out. For three grueling days last week, DeVore sat slumped in a chair, looking sad and broken, while his attorney struggled to convince the jury that police abuse of court "slide time" was not only a common practice in the department, but that DeVore had been singled out for one solitary reason: He had ratted on another cop.
No Philadelphia police officer, to anyones knowledge, had ever before been arrested and criminally prosecuted for abusing court overtime. DeVores attorney, Brian McMonagle, told the jury that it was hardly a coincidence that DeVore was also a rare individual who had broken with the departments "code of silence" about misconduct and corruption. The jury took less than three hours to acquit.
"The whole thing was absurd," says McMonagle. "The real story is that if you asked anybody who works in City Hall or the justice center over the last three decades, Did you ever hear of a cop being prosecuted for punching out late? theyd laugh in your face. This was handled this way because of who he is and what he did."
Just four short years ago, there was nothing to suggest that John DeVores police career would end in such ignominy. In 1995, then-Commissioner Richard Neal considered DeVore one of the best cops on the streets of Philadelphia, selecting him as the departments sole nominee in an international officer-of-the-year awards competition.
DeVore at the time was in his first year out of the academy, but he had already cemented a reputation as a cop who took crime-fighting very seriously. In his two years as a patrol officer in South Philadelphias 17th District, DeVore received six commendations for catching dangerous felons, including one whose gun misfired while pointed right at him. DeVore also received a heroism commendation for carrying a woman out of a burning building and a medal of valor, the departments highest award, for stopping an armed carjacker while off-duty, exchanging gunfire with the suspect and shooting him three times.
DeVore says his supervisors counted on him to show the ropes to younger officers, which is why he was assigned 27-year-old James Floczak as a partner in early 1996.
One afternoon that June, DeVore and another officer were chatting with Floczak on a street corner when a young man came up and accused Floczak of stealing his cell phone. Later, DeVore says, Floczak proudly showed off the cell phone he had taken from the kid, claiming a friend had altered the phone to make it usable.
The police code of discipline states that officers must report any misconduct or corruption as soon as they become aware of it. But DeVore says he tried to handle the situation by first warning Floczak to turn in the phone and fill out a property receipt for it. Floczak ignored him, says DeVore, so he went to his supervisors.
What happened next is an experience commonly related by Philadelphia police officers who report their colleagues for wrongdoing. Disciplinary code notwithstanding, Internal Affairs investigators often give off-the-record warnings to whistleblowing cops that they should feel free to back out of giving a formal statement. DeVore says he went ahead with his statement anyway, but once he was finished, Internal Affairs chief John Norris stared at him for a few moments and said, "That was a very brave thing you just did."
The troubles began for DeVore the very next day. He was suddenly detailed to the police academy in the Far Northeast. Later he was transferred there permanently and began training as a firearms instructor. His days as a street cop were over.
By November 1996, Floczak had been fired and arrested for theft, criminal conspiracy and other crimes. DeVore was heartbroken, he says, to be off the streets, "but after a while you keep your mouth shut and you roll with the punches."
No Philadelphia police officer, to anyones knowledge, had ever before been arrested and criminally prosecuted for abusing court overtime.
The Floczak trial was set for January 8, 1998. The assistant district attorney later testified that she didnt think the trial would move forward that day, so she told DeVore and the other police officer witness to leave, though she took their beeper numbers just in case. DeVore went home to West Philadelphia, and later picked up his son and daughter at school. He assumed he was on call, he says, waiting for his beeper to ring. In fact, the case had been continued earlier that morning. DeVore returned to the justice center late in the afternoon, signed out, and headed off to his evening shift at the police academy.
DeVore didnt know it, but that very day he was under surveillance by a two-car team of Internal Affairs investigators. According to Internal Affairs documents, DeVore and his wife had rented a catering hall for a New Years Eve party the previous week, and gotten into a dispute with the owner over the accommodations and the bill. The catering hall owner not only charged DeVores wife with assault (she was later acquitted) but filed a citizens complaint against DeVore, claiming he had sold alcohol illegally that evening and then stopped payment on the hall rental check. These charges, Internal Affairs claims, prompted the surveillance, although its unclear what the investigators hoped to find by spending a day tailing him.
Floczak was later found guilty in a Municipal Court trial in which DeVore was not called as a witness. Floczaks appeal was scheduled for court later that summer, but on July 20, 1998, just weeks before the trial, DeVore was suddenly arrested on 18 counts of theft, theft by deception and theft by receiving stolen property. Testifying last week, assistant district attorney Karen Grigsby acknowledged that DeVores arrest made the prospect of convicting Floczak more difficult, since he was no longer a credible witness. That testimony convinced some of the jurors that DeVores arrest had been a form of witness tampering on the part of the police, that someone in the department wanted to help Floczak. (Floczaks conviction was upheld, though he was sentenced only to probation.)
Meanwhile, in building a case against DeVore, Internal Affairs had gone back over more than 300 trials in which DeVore had testified, just to find five other instances in which he had punched out several hours after his case was finished for the day. He was convicted in Municipal Court earlier this year, and sentenced to a year in prison. That conviction was overturned by his Common Pleas jury trial last week.
Police Commissioner John Timoney bristles at the suggestion that DeVore had been singled out. "This is a clear case of putting in for overtime and not even appearing. Thats larceny, as far as Im concerned," he says. "The allegation is that if he had shut his mouth, this wouldnt have happened. I dont have an answer for that. Just because you give somebody else up shouldnt give you a free pass."
But DeVore, who is black, says he knows of at least 10 instances in which white officers have been either lightly disciplined or not disciplined at all for the same conduct. In one notorious case, an assistant district attorney wrote up phony subpoenas for four narcotics officers who drew half a day of court overtime while helping the prosecutor move from one house to another.
District Attorney Lynne Abraham defends her decision not to prosecute anyone in that case, even though there was a conspiracy to defraud the police department. "That would be a very difficult case to prove, that they had an intent to steal court time," she says. DeVore, she adds, has no excuse for repeatedly taking pay for time when he wasnt in court.
DeVores case is only the latest in a series of alleged retaliatory efforts by the department against police whistleblowers. Earlier this year, a federal jury found in favor of a black officer, Aisha Perry, who claimed she had been denied a promotion after reporting the attempted cover-up of a car crash caused by an intoxicated off-duty officer. DeVore is now talking to Perrys lawyers about a civil suit of his own.
But John DeVores legal problems arent over just yet. In May he was arrested again, this time for alleged auto insurance fraud involving a car that was stolen more than two years ago. His preliminary hearing on the charge is in August.
"What was the motivating factor for building a case like this, and why this guy?" asks McMonagle. "You will never convince me that the reason didnt have everything to do with Floczak. And when I start scratching the surface, Im going to find out more than anyone wants to know."
Since his firing last year, DeVore says hes lost many of his friends in the department and discovered what its like "to answer yes to that question on job applications, Have you ever been arrested?" United Parcel Service, he says, turned him down for a job "just picking up boxes."
"But God has a way of teaching through certain situations," he says. "We have not lost anything. We have not starved and this whole ordeal has brought us together as a family." He now has time to play basketball with his 7-year-old son, he says, and his 10-year-old daughter, he laughs, has been teaching him to cook.
Last Wednesday, while DeVores jury was deliberating, Timoney was two blocks away at a promotions ceremony in which he announced a new Integrity Control Unit. Staffed by 10 under John Norris, Deputy Commissioner for Internal Affairs, the new units duties include monitoring "court overtime and attendance at court hearings by officers, looking for fraud and abuse of overtime."