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15 Criminal Cases Dismissed Over Alleged Pittsburg Police Misconduct

PITTSBURG (CBS SF) -- Prosecutors Wednesday announced the dismissal of 15 cases involving criminal defendants who were arrested by two former Pittsburg police officers accused of misconduct, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office.

The officers, Michael Sibbitt, Jr. and Elisabeth Ingram Terwilliger, claim they were instructed by higher-ups to falsify crime reports by not documenting the use of force and recording crimes as less serious than they were in order to keep the city's crime statistics artificially low.

The District Attorney's Office subsequently reviewed cases that involved the officers from as far back as 2013, according to Deputy District Attorney Lynn Uilkema.

"I went through (the cases) with a fine-tooth comb," Uilkema said.

Ultimately she found the 15 cases, most of which involved plea deals with the defendants, where the outcomes could have been different if the defense attorneys had known about the accusations against the officers.

"It could have changed the outcome of the proceedings and we're trying to be fair," Uilkema said.

Only in three of the dismissed cases did the defendants' public defenders ask for the pertinent personnel documents that would have revealed any accusations of misconduct concerning the officers, Uilkema said.

In those cases, the Pittsburg police department failed to provide the documents.

In all 15 of the cases, either Sibbitt or Terwilliger or both together were the primary witnesses to the alleged crimes and because their credibility has been significantly damaged by the accusations against them, prosecutors decided that whatever plea deals or convictions were obtained are no longer sustainable, Uilkema said.

The cases involved three felonies, 10 misdemeanors and two infractions. The defendants were charged with various crimes, including being a felon in possession of a firearm, vehicle theft, possession of stolen property, burglary, resisting arrest, providing false information to police and possession of controlled substances.

Several of the defendants were sentenced to jail time and the longest time served was 245 days for the firearms charge.

Several other cases involving the officers were not dismissed because in those instances either other officers were present and could serve as credible witnesses, body camera footage was available to verify Sibbitt's or Terwilliger's accounts or there were other ways to confirm their versions of events, Uilkema said.

So far, all of the dismissed cases involve defendants who used the county's public defender's office, and Uilkema says she is reviewing other cases involving private defense attorneys in order to determine if similar problems exist.

"I'm optimistic that there won't be that many," Uilkema said.

In August, Terwilliger and Sibbitt filed federal wrongful termination lawsuits against the city of Pittsburg and police Chief Brian Addington.

They claim they were whistleblowers who tried to bring attention to the department's crime reporting practices and, as a result, they were forced out of their jobs.

"Both officers believe the Pittsburg Police Department is attempting to 'throw them under the bus' to cover up its own misconduct," their lawyer Scott Brown said in a statement today.  "Officers Sibbitt and Terwilliger adamantly deny using excessive or unwarranted force during any apprehension or arrest."

A Pittsburg police spokesman declined to comment for this story.

© Copyright 2016 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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