A federal lawsuit filed by the former head of Atlanta’s crime lab accused the Fulton County district attorney and the Atlanta chief of police of being lawbreakers who acted to secure convictions at the expense of justice.
Donald Mikko pulls no punches in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court. In it he accused District Attorney Paul Howard and Chief George Turner and one of Howard’s top prosecutors of obstruction of justice and racketeering.
The lawsuit contends Howard lobbied Turner to fire Mikko because the crime lab chief agreed to testify for the defense in a Florida trial and provided an evidentiary report contradicting the prosecution.
Mikko also contends Turner and Howard also conspired to violate his First Amendment rights by punishing him and interfered with a valid contract he had as an expert witness in the Florida case.
“Prosecutors have a duty is to seek justice, not merely to convict,” said attorney Matthew Billips, who is representing Mikko. “What Paul Howard was doing to that defendant in Florida was trying to help another prosecutor convict irrespective of whether it was justice.”
The case became a racketeering case, the lawsuit contends, because Howard and Assistant District Attorney Sheila Ross conspired with the Florida prosecutor to obstruct justice by interfering with Mikko assisting the defense.
Ross told APD brass that Howard was angry at Mikko’s attacks on the Florida case, the lawsuit said. Mikko exposed actions by police and prosecutors that exposed “mishandling of evidence” and “misfeasance or malfeasance.”
Turner, Howard, and Ross retaliated against Mikko, said the lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 27. It doesn’t say if the city gave a reason other than the testimony for the firing in June 2013.
Howard’s office referred questions to Attorney General Sam Olens, who is defending the civil lawsuit. Olens declined to comment. APD declined to comment.
The case has its genesis in a telephone call between Howard and a Florida prosecutor who had read Mikko’s expert opinion on a criminal case, the lawsuit said. Howard contacted Turner with his outrage that Mikko was testifying for the defense in Florida, the lawsuit said.
“The thing that is very interesting about this—in light of recent events all over the country —you have a prosecutor who views the police as being necessarily on his side and you have a a police department that is given that same message,” Billips said.
Billips said the interesting thing is that Mikko — like other forensic examiners around the state — had written permission from Atlanta police to testify privately in trials as a forensic examiner as long as they didn’t conflict with a City of Atlanta case.
It only became a problem when Mikko’s testimony created aqn issue for a Florida prosecutor, who complained to Howard and Ross, Billips said. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that testimony was protected under the First Amendment, he said, and contended it was critical for fairness in trials for witnesses such as Mikko to be available for the defense.
A court in a previous Georgia civil case also defined pressuring an expert to keep him from testifying as obstruction of justice, Billips said.
“Prosecutors don’t always do what they are supposed to do,” Billips said. “In this circumstance you had a prosecutor who did not want Mikko testifying and exposing the bad things that happened in their investigation. So he calls the prosecutor in Atlanta, and he calls the chief of police. And they have a meeting and they decide to fire Mikko.”
It wasn’t the first time an employee for the Atlanta police department has been disciplined for testifying for a defendant, the lawsuit said. Billips said he has already successfully represented Officer Brian Reid who testified on behalf of his brother-in-law in a criminal case in U.S. District Court and was later suspended and reduced in pay grade by the APD because he testified.
In that case, the city of Atlanta paid a $200,000 settlement, Billips said.