Rebecca Stewart: 513-479-3335


How Many Convictions of Innocent Black Men Are Enough? CPI Calls on Lawmakers to Reject ‘Victim-Centered’ Investigations

WASHINGTON / May 24, 2021 – Recently Louisville, KY detective Mark Handy was sentenced to one year in prison for investigative misconduct (1). Handy’s actions resulted in Edwin Chandler, a Black man, being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. One year after the tragic death of George Floyd, the Center for Prosecutor Integrity calls on lawmakers to bring an end to biased investigative methods known as “victim-centered.” (2)

Detective Handy was the lead investigator in the 1993 murder of Brenda Whitfield, a convenience store employee. Consistent with conviction-oriented “victim-centered” methods, Handy tampered with the store’s surveillance video, obscuring the identity of the real killer. During the interrogation, police told suspect Chandler that his fingerprints had been found at the scene and that he had failed the polygraph test – statements that were not true (3).

On October 13, 2009, based on recent fingerprint analyses, Percy Phillips was convicted as the real killer of Brenda Whitfield. Chandler’s conviction was vacated on the same day. “Nothing can replace what I have lost,” Chandler later lamented.

Analyses show that 40% of all wrongful convictions arise from police investigative misconduct with Black male defendants (4). The flawed investigative methods include misconduct in interrogations, witness tampering, making false statements at trial, or concealment/fabrication of evidence (5).

On February 1, 2021, Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN) and John Cornyn (TX), and Representatives Tom Emmer (MN) and Annie Kuster (NH) introduced the Abby Honold Act (S. 119 and H.R. 649). The bill promotes the use of a victim-centered method known as “trauma-informed.” The bill announcement made no mention of “impartial investigations,” “due process,” or the “presumption of innocence.” Bill sponsors touted how the bill would increase the likelihood of “successfully” prosecuting crimes (6).

The Abby Honold Act was later inserted in the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill, H.R. 1620. On March 17, the VAWA bill was approved by the House of Representatives. During the House debate, there was no mention of the problem of wrongful convictions of Black men, or how the bill’s victim-centered provisions could worsen the problem.

The Center for Prosecutor Integrity urges federal and state lawmakers to vigorously reject any criminal justice proposals that compromise the impartiality of criminal investigations and worsen the long-standing biases of the criminal legal system against Black men.