DeCoatsworth changes lawyers

Officer Richard Decoatsworth outside the CJC after Antonio Coulter the man accused of shooting him in September 2007 plead guilty to the shooting the officer. Photo taken at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday, May 20, 2008. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS

In the 15 months since he was arrested and charged with raping two prostitutes and holding them at gunpoint, former Philadelphia Police Officer Richard DeCoatsworth has maintained his innocence, pleaded guilty, withdrawn his guilty plea and once again says he wants to clear his name at trial.

So it’s no surprise that he’s in the process of rehiring defense lawyer L. George Parry, the lawyer he replaced with A. Charles Peruto Jr., who negotiated what even prosecutors called a “sweetheart” of a guilty plea agreement that the 28-year-old ex-hero cop soured on and rejected.

News of the switch-back – confirmed by Parry and Peruto – surfaced Friday during a pretrial hearing before Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Ehrlich. The deal with Parry isn’t final yet and Ehrlich set a reality-check hearing for July 21 to be sure.

DeCoatsworth has been in prison since he was arrested May 18, 2013 following a chaotic armed standoff with police at his Port Richmond house. He was subsequently charged with raping two female prostitutes some time from late on May 14 to early May 15, 2013 after he held them at gunpoint and forced them to take drugs. If he's convicted, the crimes could put DeCoatsworth in prison for decades.

When he was DeCoatsworth’s lawyer the first time, Parry insisted the ex-cop would be acquitted because the two prostitutes’ credibility would evaporate on the witness stand. But last Nov. 26, Parry was suddenly out and Peruto was in and word was that Peruto and the prosecutor’s office were negotiating.

On Feb. 25, DeCoatsworth went before Ehrlich and pleaded guilty to simple assault, a drug count and promoting prostitution. Peruto argued that DeCoatsworth’s erratic behavior was the product of years of emotional turmoil and addiction to prescription painkillers after he took a shotgun blast to the face from a suspect in 2007 during his rookie year.

Although Assistant District Attorney Ashley Lynam said she would seek a state prison term of at least two years, Peruto maintained that DeCoatsworth had already served the 10-month minimum sentence in prison on $3-million bail and should be released.

Despite the plea bargain’s benefits, DeCoatsworth appeared reluctant and his family complained to reporters that they wanted a trial to fully air the facts behind the ex-officer’s personal meltdown. On April 1, Ehrlich granted DeCoatsworth’s request to withdraw the guilty plea and go to trial, which is set for Nov. 3.

When he was wounded in 2007, DeCoatsworth was hailed as a hero after chasing his assailant for blocks and calling in information resulting in an arrest. The officer was invited to sit next to First Lady Michelle Obama during the President’s 2009 State of the Union address.

Still, there were warnings DeCoatsworth was having emotional difficulties. There was a 2009 shooting death of a mentally ill man during a scuffle, the shooting and wounding of a man accused of trying to run over him with a motorcycle, and scuffles with civilians and fellow officers.

DeCoatsworth retired on disability in December 2011 after it was determined the lingering effects of the 2007 shooting prevented him from continuing to work as an officer.