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Phillip Washington

Summary of Benton Harbor Misconduct
On June 4, 2007, Officer Andrew Collins and Corporal Bernard Hall Jr. of the Benton Harbor Police Department in western Michigan arrested Phillip Washington and charged him with possession of a controlled substance (crack cocaine) with intent to deliver.

On July 9, 2007, Washington, who was 24 years old, pled guilty in Berrien County Circuit Court to the possession charge, and separate charges of possession of marijuana, weapons possession, and obstruction of justice. Available records don’t indicate the sentence he received.

In February 2008, Collins was fired after a supervisor found a lockbox under a desk that contained cocaine, heroin and marijuana. The cocaine was already packaged in small baggies. Collins was indicted on a single count of drug possession by a federal grand jury on November 26, 2008. Hall was indicted on July 16, 2009 on three counts: conspiracy to violate civil rights, giving false declaration to a grand jury and giving a false statement to the FBI.

After the indictments, Berrien County Prosecutor Arthur Cotter began reviewing cases where Collins and Hall were the arresting officers. Cotter filed a motion to vacate Washington’s convictions and dismiss his charges on July 14, 2009. A judge granted the motions that same day, and Washington was released from prison.

Approximately 65 defendants had their convictions vacated based on misconduct by Collins and Hall.

Collins pled guilty in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan on January 26, 2009 to his single possession count. He was sentenced to 37 months in prison. Hall pled guilty in U.S. District Court on August 25, 2009 to the conspiracy charge and was later sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Collins testified at Hall’s sentencing hearing that he and Hall embezzled from the police department by receiving reimbursement for drug buys that never happened. They also began taking money from defendants, and then under-reporting the amount of cash recovered in the evidence reports.

“I think it got to the point where we would talk about it,” Collins said. “So I asked him, I said, ‘Do you think God cares if this is drug money that we are stealing?’ And he kind of, you know, shook his head and said, ‘I know, I know, it’s been hitting me too.’ We both said, ‘let’s stop, let’s stop, let’s start doing things right.’ Then, you know, just the addiction to the money, the next person we would arrest would have a couple thousand dollars on him, and we would take money from him. It just kept happening that way. We would try to stop, and then we wouldn’t.”

In the wake of the scandal, 85 plaintiffs – some whose charges were dismissed prior to trial – filed lawsuits against Collins, Hall, and the city of Benton Harbor. Washington said in his lawsuit that the two officers submitted fraudulent evidence and falsified the arrest report that led to his conviction.

Court records suggest about 90 percent of the plaintiffs settled their lawsuits. Most of the settlements, including the amount received by Washington, have not been publicly disclosed, although the handful that have been made public range between $28,800 and $176,160.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 1/9/2023
Last Updated: 1/9/2023
Most Serious Crime:Drug Possession or Sale
Additional Convictions:Weapon Possession or Sale, Other
Reported Crime Date:2007
Age at the date of reported crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No