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

It claimed Ghent had taken out $50 for an undercover drug buy. The new record included the right case number for Phillips' drug investigation. But still, the date was off — it showed Ghent hadn't taken out the $50 until a week after Phillips allegedly sold him crack.

The so-called corrected document is indicative of the declarations filed by federal prosecutors in the fall of 2010 in an attempt to keep Phillips from getting his evidentiary hearing. (The officers and LeClainche did not return phone calls from New Times. Capt. Coppin, reached on his cell phone, said he'd call back but never did.)

On September 2, 2010, Coppin signed a seven-page declaration meant to put to rest the court filings Phillips kept submitting.

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.

Phillips had claimed in court documents that the personnel records proved Ghent was in class the night he claimed to have bought drugs from Phillips. But rather than concede that the dirty cop could not be trusted, Coppin conducted a little experiment. He got into his city-issued Ford Crown Victoria and drove to Palm Beach State College's Criminal Justice Institute at 4200 S. Congress Ave. in Lake Worth. He started at 8:52 p.m., which was about when Ghent might have gotten out of class the night of Phillips' arrest. Then he drove 9.9 miles north to the West Palm Beach Police station at 600 Banyan Blvd. It took him 16 minutes. The captain argued in his statement that Ghent had plenty of time after his class to get to the bust at 9:30.

But Coppin's experiment ignored several simple facts. Ghent may have been able to make it to the bust if he had driven straight there. However, police and prosecutors say he made several errands first. Department policy required him to stop at the police station to clock in and check out money from the evidence locker. If he skipped those steps, violating department policy, and used money out of his own pocket, he still wouldn't have been able to make it to the bust after his next step.

Statements from Sgt. Bradley Emmons and Lt. Brian Kapper claim that Ghent then met them at the parking lot of a closed building in the north end of the city. That's where they met the CI. Ghent then frisked her (this would have violated department rules, which specify that a female officer must frisk a female CI). The crew then drove to 625 Eighth St. and tested the wire Ghent was supposedly wearing that night. Emmons and Kapper allegedly parked around the corner in hopes of listening in as the deal went down.

Considering Coppin took 16 minutes to get just from the college to the police station, it's impossible that Ghent could have completed all the necessary steps and bought drugs from Phillips just 22 minutes after leaving his class.

LeClainche, a federal prosecutor since 1991, also filed a declaration to refute Phillips' evidence. LeClainche wrote that she got involved in the Phillips case when she was assigned to work with the DEA. LeClainche denies ever offering money to the CI or threatening her children during the meeting in the police department's conference room. In fact, LeClainche and Coppin claim that during that meeting, the CI called Phillips a killer and said she was afraid of him.

Linda McDermott, manager of the police department's Fiscal Services Department, gave a declaration too. McDermott argued that the payroll system used by the department was unreliable and not an accurate record of the hours Ghent worked that night. McDermott claimed Ghent worked ten overtime hours the week Phillips was arrested, although she offered no documents to support the claim. Department policies required that any overtime or corrections to a payroll record must be made in the Oracle system.

Many of the declarations filed by LeClainche include an identical, boilerplate defense of Ghent. Several of the cops wrote: "During my time I spent working with Agent Ghent on the CAT [Criminal Apprehension Team], I found Ghent to be reliable and trustworthy. Based on my years of experience as a law enforcement officer, I have seen individuals under the influence of narcotics. While working with Ghent on the CAT team, I never saw Ghent under the influence of narcotics." It had been three and a half years since Ghent had been arrested and forced to turn in his badge.

Phillips' records requests and subsequent appeals to the courts resulted in mixed results. Based on the CI's assertion that LeClainche had pressured her into saying she'd witnessed the crime, Phillips filed a complaint with the Florida Bar against the prosecutor for tampering with a witness. The U.S. Attorney's Office has since removed her from the case.

But his other maneuvers were met with setbacks. Phillips filed a 99-page motion in October 2008 asking for his sentence to be set aside and has followed it up with dozens of documents detailing his new evidence. Judges are inundated with requests like this, and Lenard could have quickly denied it with a one-page ruling. Instead she turned the filings over to U.S. Magistrate Judge P.A. White for a second opinion. White returned with a 67-page report on June 14, 2010, and it wasn't good for Phillips.

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My Voice Nation Help

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


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.