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THE POLAKOFF PHOTOS
New Photos of the Crime Scene of the Shooting Death of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner
21 FAQs - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
by Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal, in consultation with Dr. Michael Schiffmann
Mumia Abu-Jamal has been on Pennsylvania's death row for over a quarter of a century. His 1982 conviction for the shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, has been contested by jurists, human rights organizations, and peoples of conscience the world over. Even though he is arguably the most famous political prisoner in the United States, his case and struggle for justice distills many of the issues that racially stigmatized groups and others have faced in the United States for decades: police brutality and violence, racist applications of the death penalty, prosecutorial misconduct, suborning of witnesses, and the use of wealth and political privilege in criminal justice systems to service the ideological interests of groups and classes in power.
Within the last year, some 26 photos have been discovered by researcher Dr. Michael Schiffmann of the University of Heidelberg, showing the crime scene where Officer Faulkner was killed. These photos were offered to police and prosecutors from the beginning, but were never considered at Abu-Jamal's 1982 trial, or in any judicial phase of his struggle for justice thereafter. Indeed, they were unknown even to Abu-Jamal's defense team, until very recently. To widen public knowledge about these photos and to answer many of the basic questions about them, Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal and Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal have collaborated to produce this document of "21 FAQs about the Polakoff Photos." We stress that while it is important for the public to have knowledge about these photos, and to debate them in the media and public forum, the most important and necessary move is for the court system to give Abu-Jamal a new trial and deliberate officially on this evidence and all evidence that is potentially exculpatory for Abu-Jamal.
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1. Why are these photos coming out just now, and how were they discovered?
The photos were discovered by University of Heidelberg linguist and translator, Michael Schiffmann, during an unrelated internet search in late May 2006. Schiffmann first found two photos taken by a freelance photographer, Pedro Polakoff. Later he would have access to over 26 of Polakoff's photos of the crime scene. Previous researchers and those debating the Mumia case, in court or outside of court, seem to have had no knowledge of these photos until this discovery, and until Schiffmann's later discussion of the photos in his 2006 book, Race Against Death: The Struggle for the Life and Freedom of Mumia Abu-Jamal (published only in Germany, with an English manuscript presently available). Educators for Mumia Abu-Jamal (EMAJ) and Journalists for Mumia Abu-Jamal (J4M) have been instrumental in circulating knowledge of Schiffmann's discovery.
2. Is there any chance these Polakoff photos could be fake or doctored?
Schiffmann has responded to this query directly: "Polakoff has preserved the original negatives, from which the images viewed on the internet were directly scanned, with a negative scanner. As the negatives show, Daniel Faulkner's hat started on the top of the VW, and only later showed up on the sidewalk, where it would then remain for the official police photo. There isn't a scintilla of a doubt about its authenticity, [...] and there isn't the slightest doubt about the time sequence of the photographs, a question that I've gone through with photographer Pedro Polakoff again and again and again."
3. Who is this photographer?
Pedro P. Polakoff was a freelance photographer in Philadelphia who got to the crime scene just 12 minutes after the shooting was first reported on police radio, and apparently at least 10 minutes before the Philadelphia Police Mobile Crime Detection (MCD) Unit that handles crime scene forensics and photographs.
4. How could Polakoff get access to the crime scene for these photos?
Polakoff was himself surprised about how he could move and photograph freely everywhere at the crime scene, even after the PPD Mobile Crime Unit arrived. Polakoff told Schiffmann that it was the "most messed up crime scene I have ever seen." It was completely unsecured, a fact testified to also by Philadelphia journalist, Linn Washington, Jr.
5. How did Schiffmann get his information from Polakoff?
After the first contact, first by telephone, and then by email with Polakoff, Schiffmann amassed over 60 pages of email notes from questioning Polakoff. He also had over six weeks of other contacts with Polakoff, "without ever revealing more to him," writes Schiffmann, "than the fact that I was working on a book on the case." Only relatively later in the conversations with Polakoff did Schiffmann reveal his own views and suspicions about the prosecutors' version of the case. Schiffmann also has studied Polakoff's many responses at different points during his contacts, and Schiffmann finds that Polakoff is both detailed and consistent each time.
6. What is most important about the 26 Polakoff photos?
This question must be approached both as a procedural question and as a substantive question. Procedurally , there is the fact that Polakoff offered the 26 photos to the police and DA's Office, and they showed no interest in them. The photos surely never entered the court record of Abu-Jamal's case to be set before a jury's deliberation. Let us grant that photos can enter as evidence in many ways, and a photo which very clearly shows one thing to one person can show something very different to another person, often depending on context (of other evidence, knowledge, personal experience and ideological interests, and so on). Nevertheless, the key procedural point is that the Polakoff photos, which were available and offered to police and prosecutors in both 1981/1982, and in the 1990s, never even made it into the evidentiary record of this case. They were omitted, left out, of all procedures for investigating Officer Faulkner's death.
Substantively , the Polakoff photos enable defense attorneys, and by extension the court, to raise significant reasonable doubt about the basic scenario of Officer Faulkner's death - a scenario that prosecutors constructed to argue for Abu-Ja-mal's guilt. In light of the Polakoff photos, that scenario could be completely destroyed by attorneys. In particular, testimony for the prosecution about that scenario, provided by Cynthia White, Robert Chobert and Michael Scanlon, becomes incredible.
----- At the 1982 trial of Abu-Jamal, they all testified that the killer stood over the officer who was lying defenselessly on the sidewalk and fired several .38 caliber bullets down at him, one of which hit him between the eyes and killed him instantaneously, whereas the other shots missed.
----- These missing shots would have produced traces in the sidewalk that it would have been impossible to overlook, since bullets of that caliber would have left large divots, or even holes with concrete broken away, in the sidewalk.
----- Neither the one police photo of where Faulkner allegedly lay, nor a full nine other Polakoff photos taken of the same area from various angles, show any traces of such shots into the sidewalk.
----- Even if we grant that interpreting photographs can at times be a complex endeavor, the apparent absence of any such divots renders the prosecution witnesses' testimony highly problematic, to say the least.
7. Couldn't the other shots have glanced off the sidewalk or hit at such an angle that they might not have left any trace?
This is highly unlikely. In the first place, the prosecution witnesses and prosecutors' summary of the crime claim that a killer stood directly above Jamal, straddling him even, and fired downward. From that angle any missing shots are most likely discharged in a downward direction that would leave divots. In the second place, a highly qualified ballistics expert who was consulted by Schiffmann has informed him that firing .38 caliber bullets in this way would "inevitably" produce divots in the sidewalk.
8. Are there other significant problems for the prosecution case raised by the Polakoff photos?
Yes, many, but two more should be noted, especially. First, the testimony of taxi driver Robert Chobert is further discredited. He claims to have been parked just behind the slain police officer's squad car, with a direct view of the killing. The Polakoff photos show the space behind the officer's car and there is no sign of Chobert's taxi, giving fuller support to the conjecture that Chobert's probationary status for a past act of throwing a Molotov cocktail into a grammar schoolyard, and the fact that he was driving his cab without a license on account of repeated DUI violations, might have made him vulnerable to police pressure to say he saw what he didn't see.
Second, the photos raise further questions about police contamination or manipulation of evidence at the crime scene. One Polakoff photo shows police officer Faulkner's hat on the top of the VW he had pulled over, whereas the official police photo, taken later and used at the trial has the hat on the sidewalk where prosecutors say Faulkner was slain (and a later Polakoff photo has it moved to the ground also, which corresponds with the official police photo). Several Polakoff photos show police officer Steve Forbes at the crime scene holding the recovered weapon in his bare hand, even changing the guns from one hand to another, whereas at trial Forbes had denied touching the guns metal parts for the full one-and-a-half hours he held them. Again, these matters were not heard by a jury.
9. Wouldn't the police and prosecutors be interested in such early photos of the crime scene?
One would think so. Polakoff reports, however, that the police showed no interest. After Polakoff's photographic work had been so obvious to police at the crime scene in 1981, he expected to be contacted by the police or by the D.A. He was not. Polakoff also phoned the DA's office in 1982. Then, in the 1990s, Polakoff says, "when there was this big fuss about a new trial for Abu-Jamal, I contacted them myself and asked them to get back to me. They didn't even answer me."
10. In spite of their failure to respond to Polakoff, is there any evidence that the police and prosecutors did know about his photos?
As noted above, the police were very much aware that he was shooting these photos during the early moments at the crime scene in 1981. There is no way they would not be aware of that basic fact. Moreover, according to Schiffmann, three of Polakoff's photos did appear in different Philadelphia newspapers during the days just after the shooting. Schiffmann summarizes: "It is a breathtaking lack of investigative zeal that they didn't get back to him all by themselves despite the fact that the cops knew him well and his name was clearly visible on the photos, at least in the editions of them I came across on the internet in May 2006."
11. Were any of the photos used in the trial of 1982?
No, they were not used at the 1982 trial where Abu-Jamal was convicted, nor at any of his later appellate hearings, nor at the PCRA Hearings of the 1990s.
12. If these photos are potentially helpful to Abu-Jamal's case, why didn't Abu-Ja-mal's several teams of attorneys make use of them?
The answer to this query is simple: the Abu-Jamal attorneys did not know then that the Polakoff photos existed. Now that they do know, it's a different story. Present attorney, Robert Bryan, has said he "could have a field day in court with those photos" - provided, of course, that Abu-Jamal gets a new trial.
13. Why didn't Polakoff contact Abu-Jamal's defense team about his photos, after he had not received any responses from the police or prosecutors?
In the period of the shooting, and right up to the recent present, Polakoff was very supportive of the police view of the case, having, according to Schiffmann, "not the slightest doubt that Mumia was the murderer."
14. Why was Polakoff so sure Mumia was the shooter? After all, even though he was an early arrival to the crime scene, he wasn't early enough to see the shooting.
Polakoff simply believed the police who told him that a fellow cop had been shot and that they "had the motherfucker who did it."
15. Was Polakoff told anything else by the police about the killing of Daniel Faulkner?
Yes. In fact, Polakoff says, "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."
16. At Abu-Jamal's trial, police, prosecutors, and defense were all agreed that Mu-mia approached the scene from his own cab through a parking lot across the street. So, where did the police get this early version of the crime that the shooter emerged from the passenger seat of Billy Cook's VW?
Polakoff told Schiffmann that the early police opinion was the result of interviewing three other witnesses who were still present at the crime scene (a parking lot attendant, a drug addicted woman, and another woman) - none of whom, however, seem to have "appeared in any report presented by the police or the prosecution."
17. Has anyone else ever claimed that there was someone else riding with Abu-Ja-mal's brother that night in the passenger seat?
One person to indicate that a passenger was riding in Billy Cook's car was one of the prosecution's own witnesses, Cynthia White. She testified in the trial of Billy Cook himself, where Abu-Jamal prosecutor Joseph McGill functioned in the same role as in the Abu-Jamal trial. One of her remarks was highly problematic for the pro-secution, whose murder case against Abu-Jamal had always been based on the presupposition that only three persons were present at the scene: Faulkner, Abu-Jamal, and Cook:
----- White: And the police got out of the police car and walked over to the Volkswagen. And he didn't get all the way to the Volks-wagen, and the driver of the Volkswagen was passing some words. He had walked around between the two doors, walked up to the sidewalk.
McGill: Who walked?
White: The passenger - the driver. The driver and the police officer.
McGill : When the officer went up to the car, which side of the car did the officer go up to?
White: A. The driver side.
McGill: The driver side?
McGill: What did the passenger do?
White: He had got out.
McGill: What did the driver do?
White: He got out of the car.
McGill: He got out of the car?
The language of this dialogue seems to point pretty clearly to the presence of another person at the scene, namely, a passenger in Billy Cook's VW. The driver of a car and the passenger of a car are notions that are hard to confuse, but moreover, White also says that the driver "got out of the car," while the passenger "had got out of the car," which once again points to the driver and the passenger as being two distinct persons. The prosecution never clarified this question.
----- That other man, who would have been a third man at the crime scene (in addition to Billy Cook and Abu-Jamal), was never acknowledged by prosecutors or police at Abu-Jamal's trial.
----- Even though it is almost certain that Cynthia White didn't observe the shooting itself, she may very well have seen the beginning of the events, since in her testimony regarding Abu-Jamal, she mentioned a fact that was both true and inconvenient for the prosecution, namely, the beating of Billy Cook by Officer Faulkner.
18. Why would Abu-Jamal and his brother, Billy Cook, not themselves emphasize the presence of the third man, Kenneth Freeman, at the crime scene and thus a potential suspect?
Schiffmann argues that the identity of the third man, Kenneth Freeman, means that if Abu-Jamal and his brother fingered him as the killer they would have been pinning blame not only on a friend of theirs, but on a friend of their family. Freeman would then have had to face the same fate that Abu-Jamal did - for an action that might have been considered as legitimate self-defense and the defense of others on the part of Abu-Jamal and Billy Cook.
The background to this is that according to Schiffmann, all the available evidence points to the conclusion that the December 9, 1981 shootout was triggered by the life-threatening shot that Officer Faulkner fired into Abu-Jamal's chest. With Mumia Abu-Jamal already incapacitated, most likely the third man on the scene, Kenneth Freeman then sprang into action and began firing at the officer, in what he probably conceived as defense of Abu-Jamal, his brother, and not least himself. But of course there was no guarantee, to put it mildly, that the Philadelphia courts would interpret this as self-defense. So Freeman ended up being left out of the picture by the two other men involved, Mumia Abu-Jamal and Billy Cook.
19. Is there any evidence that Kenneth Freeman was the kind of person who could be considered a threat to a police officer?
In a deposition by Philadelphia journalist Linn Washington, Jr., he stated that Kenneth Freeman frequently reported his experiences of police brutality to the Philadelphia Tribune where Washington worked. Washington knew Freeman as a frequent victim of police abuse.
20. Is there any evidence that Officer Faulkner that night had any interchange with a third person such as Kenneth Freeman?
Yes, in the shirt pocket of Officer Faulkner was a driver's license application in the name of Arnold Howard, which Howard later testified was paperwork he had given to Kenneth Freeman. We don't know quite why Freeman was given the paper work or what Freeman would do with it, but the fact that he was known to have it, and that it ended up in Officer Faulkner's shirt pocket, suggests that Faulkner and Freeman had some interchange on the night of the shooting.
Six people, Robert Chobert, Dessie Hightower, Veronica Jones, Deborah Kordansky, William Singletary, and Marcus Cannon, reported at various times that they saw one or more men run away from the scene, in the direction of a nearby alleyway which would have been a very suggestive escape route for anyone who would want to avoid being caught by the police.
----- One of these people was prosecution witness Robert Chobert. There is every indication - see for this, inter alia, question 8 - that Chobert did not observe the shooting itself and was not where he claimed to have been, behind Police Officer Faulkner's car, but he may very well have observed the person that fled the scene after the shooting. Chobert first simply said that the shooter had run away. Shortly after this, after he had identified Abu-Jamal, he said the shooter had run away but did not get very far - 30 to 35 steps and was then caught. At the trial, Chobert said the shooter made it no further than ten feet. Actually, Abu-Jamal was right next to the dead officer and thus fit neither of the accounts given by Chobert. Interestingly, in his first descriptions after the shooting, Chobert described the shooter as large, stocky, weighing 220 to 225 pounds and wearing dreadlocks - a description that fits Kenneth Freeman as he is remembered by acquaintances almost perfectly.
21. Where is Kenneth Freeman himself now?
He was found dead on the night of May 13/14, 1985, the night of the firebombing of the MOVE house. Freeman was found "handcuffed and shot up with drugs and dumped on a Grink's lot on Roosevelt Boulevard, buck naked."
Given the actual flimsiness of the case against Abu-Jamal - lying eyewitnesses, a phony confession, distorted or non-existent ballistic evidence - the police at the scene had to suspect that someone else was involved and probably the actual shooter. Since they were aware of the Howard license in Faulkner's shirt, an immediate trail led to none other than Kenneth Freeman. Given the revengefulness and propensity of the Philadelphia police for deadly violence, as well as the date and extremely suspicious circumstances under which the dead Freeman was found, the conclusion that he was killed by the police as part of a general vendetta against its perceived "enemies" (remember that 11 MOVE members were killed the same night) doesn't seem far-fetched.