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Ex-Philadelphia Cop Charged In Beating Of Now-Exonerated Man Who Spent 11 Years In Prison
Former Philadelphia Police detective James Pitts is facing a number of perjury charges related to the alleged assault of Obina Onyiah during a police interrogation in 2010.
A former Philadelphia detective suspected of violently assaulting a wrongly convicted man more than a decade ago was arrested on perjury charges this week.
James Pitts, 51, is charged with three counts of obstructing administration of law and two counts of perjury, according to prosecutors. He was arraigned on March 3 after a grand jury indicted him in February.
Pitts is accused of beating Obina Onyiah during an interrogation and then lying about the alleged assault. Onyiah was suspected in 2010 murder of jewelery shop owner, William Glatz.
Onyiah was found guilty of murder after the violent interrogation and spent 11 years behind bars. He was cleared of all charges last year.
“The grand jury recommended charges related to the conduct in the interrogation room: punching with a closed fist, poking ... in the chest, and grabbing him by the neck and forcing his head down between his legs,” Michael Garmisa, supervisor for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, told reporters on Thursday, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Detective Pitts is also charged with perjury for lying about those physically coercive interrogation tactics when he testified.”
Glatz was gunned down in his jewelry store on Oct. 21, 2010 following a shootout with two robbery suspects. One suspect was also fatally shot. Surviving witnesses described the gunman who escaped as being of a “very slight of build.” They estimated the suspected shooter stood at either 5’7” or 5’8”.
Oniyiah, who is 6'3" tall, was implicated by a jailhouse informant’s erroneous statement, which Pitts also obtained.
“Homicide Detective James Pitts not only obtained Onyiah’s purported confession to the crime, he also served as a critical witness for the Commonwealth at trial,” a grand jury presentment stated. “During his trial in 2013, Onyiah argued unsuccessfully that the purported confession obtained by Detective Pitts had been physically coerced, making it both involuntary and illegal."
Oniyiah was exonerated in 2021 after detectives re-examined video footage and sourced secondary interviews with crime scene witnesses regarding Glatz’s murder.
“I cannot calculate the damage that was done to a public sense of trust in law enforcement by those kinds of tactics,” District Attorney Larry Krasner also said. “As we increase that trust in the community we will have more victims come forward. We will have more victims cooperate. We will have juries whose minds are open that we are presenting the evidence, that we are presenting the truth.”
Pitts had been suspended from the Philadelphia Police Department for 30 days and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw indicated he will be terminated after serving the suspension. The department described Pitts alleged conduct as “unbecoming” of the agency’s standards.
A police spokesperson declined to comment further on the open case on Friday morning.
Pitts became a police officer in 1996, according to a police press release. He joined the city's homicide unit in 2006. Pitts was employed through the duration of Onyiah’s 2013 trial.
Onyiah’s defense counsel said the newly filed charges against Pitt brought his victim a small sense of closure.
"[Onyiah] feels that this is an opportunity, not just his own vindication, but also to bring this matter and the fact this is not an isolated incident to light,” Onyiah's attorney, Teri Himebaugh told WPVI.
Oxygen.com was unable to immediately reach Himebaugh for comment on the case on Friday.
Pitts has a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 17, according to court documents.
Pitts has no prior criminal history, according to court documents. His court-appointed attorney, David Seth Glanzberg, wasn’t immediately available for comment this week.