PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - Three judges in Petersburg make an unusual move in a drug case where there are accusations of police misconduct.
All of the judges in the Petersburg Circuit Court recused themselves from the case, meaning they don't think they should make any more decisions involving it.
The case involves a family that took a viral cell phone video a year ago of Petersburg Police making controversial arrests on their front porch on Rome Street.
Several month later officers went back to that house to execute a search warrant. A confidential informant told Detective Shane Noblin he observed Jeffrey Fisher selling drugs at the home. Police found cocaine and guns. Fisher even entered an Alford plea in court, meaning he does not admit guilt, but admits there is enough evidence to convict.
A day before he was to be sentenced his defense attorney, Daniel Hall, notified the court he had received information and he began raising questions about possible coercion and possible illegal police tactics. Detective Shane Noblin stopped working for Petersburg Police and Hall requested more information from the Commonwealth's Attorney to find out why.
The Commonwealth's Attorney's office accused the defense of a "fishing expedition" because Hall is "seeking to explore the possibility that some form of official misconduct by government agents led to the production of evidence which induced the defendant to enter his Alford pleas." The defense asked for a special prosecutor and that's when all three judges decided they should no longer hear this case.
"Judges don't lightly recuse themselves," says NBC12 legal analyst Steven Benjamin. While Benjamin has no inside knowledge on this case, he reviewed the motions before the court. He says judges frequently deal with all sorts of allegations of misconduct, but don't often take this action. "That tells me there is something sufficient substantive here that needs to be decided. That the judges, in their discretion, thought it would be better to bring in a special judge."
In their order, the judges don't say why they are stepping aside, but Benjamin says the fact that they are is significant.
"What do we know from that? Something is afoot. That's about all we know," said Benjamin.
The Supreme Court of Virginia will have to appoint a special judge to hear this case.
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