Ex-police officer acquitted of perjury

After deliberating just 45 minutes, a Philadelphia jury on Tuesday acquitted former Police Officer Steven Lupo of charges that he lied under oath about a warrantless 2011 search of a drug suspect's car.

Lupo, 38, fought back tears as he and his wife, Valerie, left the courtroom after the Common Pleas Court jury of eight women and four men announced its verdict.

"I'm just thankful the jury made the right decision," said Lupo, who testified in his defense. "I'm very humbled by it."

The verdict is not the end of Lupo's legal problems. When he was charged in March 2014, Judge Edward C. Wright ordered separate trials on allegations involving the 2011 car stop and another Lupo made in 2010.

The perjury charge involving the 2010 case remains, and Wright set a status hearing for July 14.

Assistant District Attorney Sybil Scott-Murphy said, "The jury has spoken. Obviously, I saw the case differently than the jury did. But I appreciate their attention and respect their verdict."

Scott-Murphy said she would evaluate with her supervisors the remaining charges against Lupo and announce at the next hearing whether the case will proceed.

"I assume we will go forward," she added.

The jury heard two days of testimony and argument in a case that confronted them with the question of whether Lupo lied or forgot when he testified that he never opened the trunk of drug suspect Amiraria Farsi's 1998 Buick Regal sedan after Farsi ran a stop sign Aug. 5, 2011, at Baynton and High Streets in East Germantown.

When Lupo was testifying at Farsi's Municipal Court trial on Oct. 18, 2011, defense attorney Michael Diamondstein surprised prosecutors and Lupo by producing a video from an outside surveillance camera showing Lupo and a police sergeant opening the trunk of the Buick and looking inside for about 20 seconds before closing it.

Municipal Court Judge Lydia Y. Kirkland ruled that Lupo had performed an illegal warrantless search; she quashed the evidence, and the prosecutor withdrew the charges against Farsi.

Scott-Murphy argued that it was improbable that Lupo forgot that he and his supervisor opened the trunk just two months after a stop that kept them on the scene for about 100 minutes.

Defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle called Lupo "a good cop" who had followed his father onto the force and was in his sixth year when he and partner Matthew Crosson stopped Farsi.

"His great sin is that he forgets that he opened the trunk for 23 seconds," McMonagle told the jury.

Two prosecution witnesses praised Lupo's work as a police officer: Crosson and Sgt. Lawrence McKinney.

McKinney testified that he ordered Lupo to open the trunk because he feared Farsi's two passengers might have stashed weapons in the trunk using a rear-seat pass-through.

Crosson testified that the Buick reeked of marijuana. Ultimately, the car was confiscated and searched by police after a warrant was secured. Two pounds of marijuana was found in the trunk.

In 2011, it was illegal for police to search a vehicle without a warrant unless the owner consented. In May 2014, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that police may search a vehicle - including the trunk - based on probable cause or the officer's reasonable belief that the car contained drugs, illegal goods, or evidence of a crime.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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