Elroy Phillips Dug Up Evidence From Prison, but He Still Might Not Get a Chance to Prove His Innocence

On May 4, 2009, he received a copy showing 84 times that cops took out "investigative funds" in the days before and after his arrest. Nobody had checked out cash on April 6, 2001. Ghent hadn't checked out funds since two weeks before the arrest, and then, the $40 he had taken wasn't for undercover drug work.

The log from the Property & Evidence Section of the department also showed that nobody checked in evidence on April 6. The next time anyone checked in narcotics was ten days later.

Police department regulations also dictated that all employees must clock in using a system called Oracle Payroll. So Phillips asked for records of officers who had worked on his case. According to the records, only one of the five cops who had been working on the case had been working that day. Ghent wasn't on duty.

Elroy Phillips was known as "Eighty-Six" on the streets of South Florida. In prison, they call him "Law."
Eric Barton
Elroy Phillips was known as "Eighty-Six" on the streets of South Florida. In prison, they call him "Law."
Private investigator Ralph Marston helped Phillips dig up documents and scored a key interview with the government's lone witness.
Michael McElroy
Private investigator Ralph Marston helped Phillips dig up documents and scored a key interview with the government's lone witness.

Figuring he might be on to something, Phillips requested Ghent's personnel record and received a copy in early 2010. In it, he discovered that Ghent had been at a hostage negotiations class at Palm Beach State College the night of the bust. Ghent took a final exam that night and later took a $50 bonus from the police department for completing the course.

Finally, Phillips had hard evidence that cast doubt on Ghent's word. "Ghent is a liar," Phillips says, holding a copy of the personnel record, "and this document right here proves it."

Phillips then dug into the court records on his case. He found one document he'd never seen before. It revealed the name of the CI who supposedly witnessed Ghent buy the drugs. (New Times is not printing the informant's name because she could be the victim of retribution if it were revealed that she worked for police.)

Phillips didn't recognize the woman's name, so using $300 sent from his mom, a retired seamstress in Jacksonville, Phillips hired private investigator Ralph Marston last year. He asked Marston to track down the CI. Phillips hoped the informant could reveal that she was never there.

But cops and the prosecutor on the case heard that Phillips was asking around about the CI. They needed to make sure she didn't change her story.


For years, the CI had been helping the West Palm Beach Police Department pull off undercover drug buys and identify the big players in the local drug trade. She was paid for her services, often thousands of dollars to tag along with undercover cops as they bought crack rocks in the neighborhood west of downtown West Palm Beach.

She received an unexpected call last July from cops who told her she needed to come down to the station, according to court documents. She had filed an abuse complaint against the father of her child, and she was told she needed to give a statement. She arrived at 7:30 p.m., and she was sent to wait in a second-floor conference room.

Officer Brian Arlotta sat down with her and asked about the abuse complaint. After they spoke, Arlotta told her there were others who wanted to speak with her. In walked Capt. Kevin Coppin, who supervised the Western Division of the department, and Janice LeClainche, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Phillips.

The CI recognized Coppin; he sometimes showed up to pay her for information. But she hadn't met LeClainche. It was rare for a federal prosecutor to be at the police station late on a Friday night, and the CI figured this was about something more serious than her abuse complaint.

Coppin told her there was a problem with a case the CI had worked on. Her name had been accidentally revealed in the court papers; LeClainche had forgotten to redact her name from an exhibit she filed. This could put the CI in danger. Coppin told her Elroy Phillips could be after her.

The CI said there must be a misunderstanding. She said she had known Phillips for years and had never bought drugs from him. "He's my homeboy," she said.

LeClainche handed the CI a copy of the police report Ghent wrote, the one that had mysteriously materialized at trial. In the report, the CI was named as the witness of the drug buy. She hadn't testified at Phillips' trial, and the CI claimed this was the first she had heard about the case. Coppin told her that several officers had been there that night and would testify that she was involved. Again, she denied it.

Later that night, the CI called Phillips' sister, Yvelle. The CI's name had been revealed in the court papers, but it didn't identify her by her street name. Yvelle and the CI had been close friends and even watched each other's kids.

"Look," the CI told Yvelle, "I didn't snitch."

Yvelle passed along the CI's name to her brother, who asked Marston to interview her. The private detective had the CI come to his office two days later. Marston recorded the conversation and then had the CI sign a declaration—a legally binding document that could hold enough weight to refute the evidence that put Phillips away.

In the declaration, she claims that LeClainche and Coppin threatened to take her children away if she didn't help. She claims that the prosecutor even offered her cash to testify that she had been the witness that night.

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11 comments
ElRonbo
ElRonbo

Even *if* he's guilty, spending over half a million dollars to lock someone up for selling $50 worth of drugs is beyond stupid. We should be cutting these sentences instead of cutting education and services for seniors and the disabled. 

Courtney H
Courtney H

Wild read! I hope this guy's case gets a second look. 

Tammy Sanford
Tammy Sanford

Well I wish you all the best and will pray for you and yours. I beleive in your innocent and 2nd chances. I am a Mom of an Inmate in federal prison that was set up by the DEA and Lied to They never even tryed to get the big guy's running the show even with their name given not by my son but his girl freind. I have a friend in the feds he says that the DEA is not interested in catching the big guys they just want knoches on their belts the more the marrier. Our Justice System is broken and Washington broke it. May God Bliss you with your freedom

DeathFrog3
DeathFrog3

Good reporting. I am not so sure that I believe that Phillips is innocent but the facts as related in this article prove that the police lied in their reports. The mere fact of the timeline refutes a major component of this case.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

Having spent years now looking at the evidence in this case, I'd agree, DeathFrog3. Who knows, Elroy Phillips may or may not have been a drug dealer, but the evidence presented on this case was shaky at best.

 
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