Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia on Thursday. (Matt Rourke/AP)
By Reis Thebault, July 18
The Philadelphia Police Department will fire 13 officers who paired endorsements of violence with racism and homophobia in a slew of derogatory Facebook posts unearthed by an advocacy group, the city’s police commissioner said Thursday.
In Philadelphia, the Plain View Project identified some 3,100 offensive or potentially offensive posts from 328 active-duty police officers. Of that number, the most offensive were placed on leave while a department-hired law firm probed the matter, Commissioner Richard Ross said at a news conference. In addition to the officers that will be dismissed, four others will be suspended for a month.
Their conduct, Ross said, “demonstrates the officers have little or no regard for their positions as police officers.”
“I continue to be very disappointed and angered by these posts, many of which violate basic human decency,” Ross said. “We need to move past this ridiculous hate that has consumed this country and has done so for centuries.”
The most egregious posts, he said, included Islamophobic cries such as “death to Islam,” references to African Americans as “thugs,” homophobic slurs, advocating violence against trans people and generally encouraging police brutality.
“The posts were deeply disturbing,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “Our police officers are entrusted to serve and protect the people of Philadelphia — everybody, all the people of Philadelphia.”
The mayor and commissioner both pledged the city would do “better” going forward, and Ross announced a panoply of trainings that officers have already done or will undergo in the near future — including anti-bias and anti-racism workshops with input from the Anti-Defamation League. The department will also purchase or develop software that will allow officials to “data mine” officers’ social media accounts and flag hateful or harmful posts.
John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia police union, said in a statement that the Fraternal Order of Police is “disappointed that our officers will be terminated without due process” but added that they “condemn racist and hateful speech in any form.”
“We are currently meeting with each officer to prepare an appropriate response to protect our members’ rights under the contract,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of our members serve this city with integrity and professionalism.”
McNesby has previously said that, while “there may have been a few” racist posts, “a lot of this stuff, though, I think is just cops being cops and venting.”
Ross said the 13 officers, whom he did not name and who will be fired after a 30-day suspension, will probably be the last ones let go as part of this investigation, though he did say that officials were still looking into posts deemed less urgently offensive.
The commissioner conceded that, even after the department punished its worst offenders, the episode inexorably frays relations between the police and the community.
“We’ve made significant inroads, but this takes us back,” he said. “I’d be disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge that.”
Kenney defended his commissioner’s handling of the investigation and reaffirmed that he remains confident in Ross’s leadership of the department, which he has helmed for 2½ years.
“I think people who have hate in their hearts have hate in their hearts,” Kenney said. “And I don’t think there’s anything they can do to get the hate out of their hearts other than fire them, discipline them and train them.”
It’s likely the largest records disclosure in department history.
Max Marin and Ryan Briggs Today, 6:00 a.m.
As Philadelphia police leadership deals with fallout over the Facebook scandal, WHYY and Billy Penn have obtained an unprecedented release of disciplinary records linked to hundreds of officers whose social media posts have come under fire.
The newly released records detail civilian complaint histories for 309 of the 323 active-duty Philadelphia officers who also appeared in a database of racist or otherwise offensive Facebook posts.
Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, spokesman for the PPD, said the latest release of disciplinary records is the largest such disclosure in departmental history.
“As best as I can determine, we have not released this volume of [civilian complaint] numbers pursuant to a singular request,” Kinebrew said.
The records were obtained through an information request filed by WHYY and Billy Penn. They show that 153 of the officers who appeared in the Facebook database, compiled by a group called the Plain View Project, accrued at least one civilian complaint since 2015. Some of the officers have been previously identified for their extensive complaint histories.
In total, civilians lodged 338 complaints against this group of officers in the past five years. They alleged misconduct ranging from minor departmental violations to purportedly criminal acts.
However, 160 other officers named in the Facebook database had not received any civilian complaints at all. The department did not release records for 14 other officers, asserting that they could not be located.
Of those cited in the latest release, 12th District Officer Marc B. Marchetti tops the list. The patrolman has been named in 16 different civilian complaints since 2015 — about one complaint every three to four months. In that same period, the vast majority of PPD officers received zero or one complaint, according to a WHYY analysis of complaint data.
Grievances aimed at Marchetti include multiple physical abuse and harassment allegations, including several involving juveniles. Internal Affairs ordered training and counseling for Marchetti in three cases for violating lesser departmental guidelines.
Marchetti appears in the Facebook database for a 2015 comment he made on a post about a woman reportedly fending off home invaders with a firearm.
“Would have been better to see at least one guy shot in the head,” Marchetti wrote.
Police officials have condemned many of the more vitriolic posts cited in the database, while downplaying the severity of others. The head of the police union defended much of the content as merely “cops being cops and venting.” However, Commissioner Richard Ross has placed 72 officers on desk duty while their social media histories are under investigation.
Ross also promised that some of those benched officers, who remain unnamed, would be fired in an attempt to restore public trust in the scandal-rocked department. Spokesman Kinebrew declined to say if police brass are reviewing each officer’s disciplinary history in conjunction with their social media posts.
Despite swift backlash from departmental leadership, it is unclear if officers’ social media accounts were ever monitored for red flags. But the department does profess to monitor civilian complaints for warning signs of officers who may be unfit for street duty. It has also drawn criticism in the past for the failures of its internal disciplinary system, which rarely results in serious consequences, even in the few instances in which Internal Affairs sustains a civilian’s complaint.
Complaints and Facebook posts could impact criminal cases
There is no clear correlation between the volume of offensive Facebook posts an officer made and the volume of complaints they received.
Top complaint-getter Marchetti, for example, was flagged for just one comment by the Plain View Project, while some of his colleagues with no civilian complaints were among the most aggressive online posters.
Overall, police whose social media habits are now under intense scrutiny were more likely to be accused of misconduct. Of the officers that appeared in the Plain View Project database, 48% received one or more civilian complaint in five years, compared to 38% for the department as a whole.
Attorneys say the combination of these disciplinary records and social media posts will have a major impact on future criminal proceedings in which these officers are key witnesses.
“All of those officers are now vulnerable in court, they’re vulnerable in the DA’s office, they’re vulnerable with every criminal investigation they’re involved with,” said criminal defense lawyer Troy Wilson.
Officer Justin Donohue of the 35th District was one of the officers cited in the Facebook database. Working on the streets of North Philadelphia, he has been named in nine complaints lodged by civilians since 2015. That total makes him a significant outlier in a department where fewer than 2% of all officers receive as many complaints, according to a WHYY/Billy Penn analysis.
The department found Donahue guilty of verbally abusing a civilian in one case, as well as breaking unspecified departmental policy in three others. He was assigned training and counseling. Internal investigators dismissed four other complaints against him involving physical abuse and harassment.
The details of these allegations were recently scrubbed from the city’s public records. However, they won’t be hidden for long if Donahue ends up on the witness stand.
The North Philly district Donohue patrols is home to numerous mosques and a large Muslim community. In his Facebook posts, the patrolman urged a ban on face coverings for Muslim women. In 2012, he shared an article about protests in Iraq after a former U.S. Marine struck a lenient plea deal over his involvement in the 2005 Haditha massacre of Iraqi civilians.
“Who gives a flying F*** if the iraqi’s [sic] are pissed. F*** them and their country,” Donohue wrote. “They should take all the iraqi’s that were at the court hearing and piss on them outside the court room and broadcast it nationaly and tell the rest of the world who is mad to also go F*** them selves.”
To Wilson, the defense lawyer, these Facebook posts alone could have an impact on Donohue’s testimony in any criminal case in which the defendant is Arab or Muslim.
Add the pile of disciplinary priors to the mix, and the officer becomes a liability for the prosecution, Wilson said. Defense attorneys like himself will subpoena the grisly details of an officer’s complaints and introduce them as evidence alongside the Facebook posts.
“If my client is Muslim, I’m going to subpoena that officer’s disciplinary file with the City of Philadelphia, and I’m going to get the Facebook information, and I’m going to cross-examine that officer about his feelings about Muslims,” Wilson said. “If you’re the DA, good luck with winning that case against me.”
Kinebrew, the police spokesman, declined to make officers available for interviews.
A Pennsylvania police sergeant is under investigation after a video showed him hitting a woman in the face with a stun gun during a St. Patrick’s Day street brawl.
A 10-second clip posted to Twitter on Saturday shows an unidentified Chester police sergeant striking Dominique Difiore, 20, of Brookhaven, with what appears to be a Taser as cops tried to control several people who were fighting in the street.
Police Chief James Nolan said Difiore struck the sergeant first but that cannot be seen on the footage.
“A partial video of the event is circulating on various social media platforms,” Nolan said in a statement. “The incident, the video, and level of force used in connection with the event are all currently under investigation.”
The fight took place in the 800 block of East 16th Street at about 5 p.m. Saturday. Officers responding to the scene were told a “riot” had broken out after several people were turned away from a nearby house party on East 15th Street, Nolan said.
Jaylene Westfall, 19, of Levittown, assaulted one of the residents at the home after being turned away, prompting the partygoers and residents to lock themselves inside the home. But Westfall and other suspects managed to kick in the home’s front door and assaulted several people once inside, Nolan said.
In all, four people were arrested and charged with aggravated assault and alcohol-related offenses. In addition to Westfall and Difiore, they were identified as Shawn Connelly, of Philadelphia, and Tess Herman, 20, of Springfield.
Investigators are still looking into whether other people will be charged in connection with the incident.
Sources told CBS Philly that the fight happened during a Widener University pub crawl. But university officials told the station that it was not a “university-sanctioned event” and said the four people arrested were not students at the school.
“It was just very hectic,” said Zachary Whalen, a senior at Widener. “I would say probably 30, 40 people were just running around here, beating the crap out of each other.”
Several witnesses said they saw the officer use his Taser on Difiore once she fell to the ground.
“I was shocked,” witness Latine Bethea told CBS Philly. “I was really shocked. I couldn’t believe a man hit a female like that.”
One man who lives nearby said he thought the officer’s blow to Difiore was a clear example of excessive police force.
“I think it was ridiculous to do something like that, no matter how frustrated you get,” neighbor Matt Pfaff said. “They’re trained to do better.”
A message seeking comment from Chester police early Monday was not immediately returned.
Philadelphia Police Department headquarters – image from Docomomo.us
Seven years ago, Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall was pursuing Carnell Williams-Carney on foot through the streets of the city’s Frankford neighborhood. The suspect, who had a lengthy rap sheet, had been carrying an illegal firearm when he saw Pownall and his partner closing in. He tossed his weapon and ran.
During the chase, police opened fire. A single bullet struck Williams-Carney in the back, permanently paralyzing him from the waist down.
Investigators would find 10 shell casings from several different guns littering the ground, but Pownall later testified that he had fired the round that hit Williams-Carney. In an ensuing lawsuit, the officer said he didn’t see the suspect drop the weapon and thought the man would turn and open fire. A jury ruled the shooting justified.
Regardless of that outcome, the Philadelphia Police Department’s own policies state that the near-fatal shooting should have been a red flag: an “early warning” sign indicating Pownall’s use-of-force needed closer supervision.
Instead, new records obtained by City & State PA and Philadelphia Weekly show that PPD brass effectively ignored that incident, along with 30 other allegations of misconduct filed by 15 different civilian complainants against Pownall. Pownall’s identity was recently made public by the department, along with a cadre of other problematic officers named in hundreds of complaints between 2013 and 2017, after reporters filed a series of information requests.
These records show Pownall drew more complaints than nearly any of the other 6,300 sworn officers employed by the department – a rate five to six times higher than the average Philly cop.
Former Philadelphia Police Officer Ryan Pownall
Although investigators from PPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau ruled that three of these complaints were credible, the worst punishment he received was unspecified retraining. And, thanks to the secretive nature of Philadelphia’s civilian complaint system, the public remained unaware of the growing stain on Pownall’s record.
This relative anonymity would come to an end in 2017 after Pownall opened fire on a second man – David Jones – this time fatally. The officer claimed the man had reached for a gun during another chase, but surveillance footage later contradicted that story. The incident sparked protests across the city and led Commissioner Richard Ross to take Pownall’s badge away.
But in the years leading up to that fatal shooting, Pownall was named in dozens of complaints, accused of everything from unjustified car stops to using racial epithets to excessive use of force. In one incident alone, which was not sustained, Pownall and other officers allegedly dragged a man out of a vehicle, struck him in the groin with a flashlight and stole cash from his wallet.
“It’s outrageous that any police officer with as many complaints as Pownall was still on the force,” said Paul Hetznecker, a veteran civil rights attorney. “I don’t care if they take the position that the complaints are unsustained. They should raise serious concerns within the department.”
Indeed, records show that it’s unusual for most Philly cops to garner more than one complaint a year – regardless of whether they are ever ruled credible. This roughly mirrors data from other big cities: A Boston Globe investigation from 2015 found that the worst officers in that city received roughly one civilian complaint a year.
An analysis of complaint records showed that at least 30 PPD officers appeared to have drawn 10 complaints or more over the past five years. These records also show some, like Pownall and Officer David Dohan, received far more. Dohan is listed in 19 separate complaints since 2013, averaging nearly four a year.
Internal Affairs provided the names of 14 police officers who had together accounted for 158 complaints and 257 alleged offenses over the past five years. While only about 12 percent of the 4,000 complaints filed by civilians since 2013 allege physical abuse, a full third of those made against these 14 officers allege violent misconduct.
All of these officers are male, most are white, and several were even partners or assigned to the same elite units in a few select police districts. A number, like Pownall, were notably linked to excessive-force lawsuits or other questionable shooting incidents that have cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlements and litigation expenses. Pownall had notably landed on the district attorney’s “do not call” list – cops kept off the stand in criminal cases due to past misconduct.
And all earned at least three complaints or more in a single year, theoretically triggering the department’s own threshold for “early warning” intervention – in Pownall’s case, he averaged three complaints a year, every year, for five years. But records show few of the most-complained-about officers ever faced serious internal disciplinary action, suspension or reassignment.
To date, only Pownall has been fired. But even in the rare instance where the commissioner has sought to fire troubled officers, union arbitrators for the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 have proven successful getting even the most tainted officers reinstated to the force.
Pownall is likely to be next.
“I remember an FOP person looking me right in the eye and saying, ‘The reality is [Ryan Pownall] will be back,’” said Hans Menos, director of the city’s civilian Police Advisory Commission. “He said it matter-of-factly…They’re very confident.” Early warnings
When Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney ordered the public release of civilian complaint data last year, he said it would increase transparency and trust in the police department. But, citing safety concerns, his administration also quietly redacted the identities of officers and complainants to their first and last initial – and, in certain cases, no identifying markers whatsoever – rendering the database largely useless. Worse, the department took this release as a cue to begin denying requests for specific officers complaint histories.
Beginning in January 2018, City & State PA and Philadelphia Weekly attempted to match officer names with personal characteristics contained in complaint records – initials, rank, district assignment, race, sex – in an effort to identify individual officers with a high frequency of complaints. In April, under pressure from the Mayor’s Office, Internal Affairs agreed to confirm complaint ID numbers associated with a list of officer names compiled by reporters and submitted, at the department’s request, by fax.
However, because the identities of some officers could not be winnowed down from complaint data alone, this process amounts, at best, to a guessing game. The resulting names are only a partial list of police who topped the department for civilian complaints. Over a dozen other still-anonymous officers appear to have recorded as many or more complaints as the police named in this story, but could not be identified by reporters for verification.
This continued lack of transparency means the media and the general public are still in the dark about problem officers, even those ultimately found guilty of misconduct. But the identities of officers released by Internal Affairs do show that brass knew that at least some, like Pownall, were being hit with complaint after complaint, year after year.
The department’s own policies say these complaints are supposed to alert supervisors once an officer has hit the threshold for various incident types. A PPD policy memo reviewed by reporters outlines a so-called “early intervention” policy, designed to flag errant behavior. That threshold varies from offense to offense, but its baseline policy states that if an officer accrues three civilian complaints in a year, supervisors should review the officer’s conduct for possible disciplinary action.
But a damning 2015 report on the PPD’s use-of-force policies by the US Department of Justice noted that such chain-of-command intervention systems are “largely untested and unverified.”
Additionally, attorneys, police watchdogs and even a former police captain interviewed for this story said this alert system often amounts to little more than a stern sit-down with supervisors.
“The warning system provides no mechanism for that officer to be disciplined,” Hetznecker said.
PPD spokesman Capt. Sekou Kinebrew insisted the department has “several internal mechanisms” in place to identify problem officers, but declined to elaborate. He acknowledged that 10 to 20 complaints in a few years’ time “could be” a significant number for one officer to accrue, but stressed officer assignments and the nature of the individual complaints should be taken into consideration.
A spokesperson for Philadelphia Police Public Affairs declined to facilitate interviews with the officers listed in this story. But Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna, who oversaw some of the officers named in this report as captain of the 19th District, said complaints often reflect time spent in certain high-crime districts. In other words, a high number of civilian complaints could simply be a sign of proactive police work.
“A lot has to do with their assignment – how many contacts they are having with people, the number of interactions they have,” he said.
While he feels sheer volume of complaints alone isn’t necessarily indicative of a rogue officer, Menos said his commission’s audits of Internal Affairs have raised deeper concerns about an investigatory process that failed to sustain 82 percent of all complaints and 98 percent of civilian complaints over physical abuse.
In past investigations, Menos said, Internal Affairs often discounted witnesses who are relatives or friends of the alleged victim.
“Say your brother was a witness,” Menos said. “Your brother,” in the eyes of Internal Affairs, “will most likely be deemed not independent and therefore not credible, which basically means you have to find a stranger to witness and then come forward about your complaint against police – or have it on camera.”
Conversely, Menos added, an officer’s account of his partner’s conduct is often taken as “a reliable statement” to investigators. Yet, as complaint data shows, sometimes partners are named in the same incidents.
Other discrepancies abound. In its 2015 report, the U.S. Department of Justice admonished Internal Affairs for recording officer interviews through typed notes, rather than audio or video recordings. The practice can lead to “incompleteness, inaccuracies, or unintentional bias,” federal investigators noted.
Other complaints are simply never resolved. Despite his firing, several years-old complaints associated with Pownall are still marked in police records as “pending investigation.”
Experts, like John Jay College criminology Professor Jon M. Shane, said the failure to react to repeated complaints about the same handful of police raised issues about the upper echelons of the department.
“It calls their supervision into question,” he added. “It calls into question what officers are working on and who they’re working under.”
The Five Squad
During his tenure as captain in West Philadelphia’s 19th District, Bologna supervised four of the officers identified by Internal Affairs. Three were assigned together to elite tactical units in the district, which outsiders say earned a track record for unwarranted stops and seizures under Bologna.
A 29-year veteran of the department, Bologna is perhaps best known to the public for his role in the decade-old “Tainted Justice” corruption scandal, which saw members of a narcotics unit accused of stealing cash from corner stores. Infamous video footage shows Bologna instructing his subordinates to disable a security camera during a raid at one bodega, although no officers were ever charged with a crime.
Bologna, however, was later suspended by officials for failing to properly supervise an officer accused of conducting warrantless searches. In the wake of the scandal, he moved to the 19th District.
A proponent of controversial “broken windows” policing, he ordered his new command to ramp up car and pedestrian stops over minor infractions in the hunt for more serious crime. Complaint data suggests no officers were pressed harder to carry out these dictates than members of the district’s tactical squads, plainclothes officers that patrolled neighborhood trouble spots in unmarked cars.
These units were known informally as “Tac-1” and “Tac-2” or, sometimes just the “Five Squad” – a sometimes-troubled nickname for specialized vice or narcotics units operating under the close supervision of district captains. Tac unit Officers Reuben Ondarza Jr., Thomas D’Alesio and Ian Nance – who served on a related narcotics strike team – would together rack up a combined 25 civilian complaints yielding 37 departmental offenses in just an 18-month window between 2014 and 2015.
D’Alesio alone drewfive physical abuse complaints during that time. In court proceedings, he acknowledged the unit’s near-total purview over the West Philly neighborhood.
“We have pretty much free rein over the entire district,” D’Alesio later said in court proceedings when asked to describe the unit.
Although then-captain Bologna said he was constantly on the lookout for “patterns” of misbehavior by his officers, today he recalls officers as some of his best. He says they did “a nice job handling complaints from the community” while assigned tough street work.
“On tactical, I would suspect they see more (complaints),” he said. “They worked wherever there were issues and complaints about gang members. The 19th had a number of historic gangs.”
Officer Thomas D’Alesio, right, with Capt. Joseph Bologna
While the 19th District does rank fourth out of 25 police districts for reported crime, its officers generated far more civilian complaints than even higher-crime districts. While Bologna noted that civilian complaints had declined over his tenure – from 73 in 2013 to 54 in 2016 – his district also saw more complaints overall during this time than all but two other police districts. Only Pownall’s old 15th district in lower Northeast Philadelphia, the largest geographically in the city, saw more civilian complaints.Further, nearly half of the complaints filed in this short span of time detail abuse allegations against the trio often feature similar details: thinly premised car, pedestrian and house searches that escalated into beatings, vandalism, threats or thefts. Some echo the warrantless searches that led to Bologna’s suspension, several more contain another specific pattern: Tac squad officers breaking into locked glove boxes during car stops.
Some complainants had trouble distinguishing the undercover unit from common criminals. In one instance, a man said he fled from officers because he “thought he was about to be robbed” – only to be beaten by Nance and others, fracturing his jaw.
Another woman said men “dressed in black with weapons drawn” entering her home without identifying themselves “while she was doing her taxes.” Believing “a home invasion was taking place,” she attempted to shield her daughter from the mysterious invaders, a team of police that included Nance. One officer grabbed her by the hair, threw her down and ordered her into her basement.
Both of those complaints were ruled unsustained by Internal Affairs. But a prior complaint involving Nance bears yielded still more similarities. A complainant said officers ordered him off the porch of his own home and, when he refused, they allegedly struck him in the chin and dragged him down the steps in handcuffs. The officers entered his residence without a warrant or his permission and, finding no contraband, released him.
Bologna insists the department did “a really nice job in reference to red-flagging” problem officers, but, when briefed on the number of complaints lodged against these officers in the 19th, he said it was the first he’d heard of any issues.
The former captain said he was hesitant to “put a number” on how many complaints an officer would need to garner in order to draw his attention.
“I mean, it could be one complaint,” he said. “Instead, you want to look to see any parallels. You look for civilians saying the officer is saying the same thing over and over again.”
Priors and payouts
Notably, all three officers have also been successfully sued in court either just prior to or during their time in the 19th District, often over similar instances of alleged misconduct.
Nance was sued by a woman named Angelique Gerald-Porter in 2011 over an incident in which she said he punched her for filming a police stop and, once again, grabbed her hair and dragged her down her front steps and over her 2-year-old child, pinning the toddler in the process. That case was settled out of court for a $25,500.
Officer Ian Nance
D’Alesio was taken to court in a wrongful death suit for fatally shooting a man named Efrem Carr after he allegedly fled a car stop in 2012. A subsequent police investigation was inconclusive, but Carr’s mother said her son had been unarmed. The city eventually paid $95,000 to settle the suit in 2013.Ondarza would eventually be taken to court over a stop in which officers pulled over motorist Angel Seagraves “because her handicap placard was obstructing her view.” Seagraves alleged officers beat her, fractured her ankle, and forcibly searched her vehicle and family members. Police then charged her with a variety of offenses, all of which were thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
Bologna said that as a commander, seeing the “same officer getting sued all the time, that’s also a pattern.” But he also said he was unfamiliar with the suits mentioned in this story.
He asserting that district captains, and even sometimes the officers themselves, were often left in the dark about pending litigation.
“The city solicitor handles that. Unless they need something from me, I wouldn’t know about it,” Bologna said. “If they’re going to fight it, they might want the officer to testify. But sometimes the officers don’t even know they’re being sued.” (The city’s Law Department later disputed this, asserting that officers are informed at the start and end of lawsuits.)
Yet by 2015, the pattern of apparent misconduct by these officers had been pieced together even by those well outside the department, like public defender Michael Mellon, who was assigned to handle criminal defense cases in the 19th District during the years the trio of officers and several others were part of the district’s tactical units.
“We used to see these guys work together all the time. We saw that something was going on with these guys, but we couldn’t figure out exactly what it was because [the PPD] never gave us any additional information,” Mellon said. “Then, they stopped. We never figured out why.”
That year, the tactical unit officers were suddenly reassigned. Coincidentally, an Internal Affairs investigation that year found Ondarza and six other officers had falsified information and ignored departmental guidelines in yet another car stop that had ended with officers allegedly jimmying open a locked glove box. Reached for comment, Ondarza said the complaint against him was sustained because he “turned in paperwork late.”
While some other members of the tactical squads were promoted or rotated into other districts, Ondarza and Nance stayed in the district. D’Alesio also remained in the 19th, where he has continued to rack up civilian complaints – two so far in 2018, one of them for physical abuse.
But it’s unlikely that the reassignments were a reaction to years of alleged abuse. Bologna said that he had “no memory” of the falsification incident. But Bologna defended his overall track record in the 19th. He said he could not immediately recall any instances in which he had ever re-assigned an officer in connection with a pattern of civilian complaints or other alleged misconduct.
Bologna would himself receive a merit promotion to a staff inspector position in 2017, where he still serves today. He maintains that he emphasized discipline during his time in West Philadelphia.
“If I would see any type of pattern that could possibly cause detriment to the officer or command, I took immediate action,” he said. “The discipline could be sitting them down with their supervisor – to me, that’s still discipline. You talk to them and say, ‘This is going to get you fired.’ You say, ‘We don’t treat people like that.’ It’s like ‘Scared Straight.’”
In June 2017, shortly after Bologna left the 19th for greener pastures, Internal Affairs investigators sustained yet another complaint against D’Alesio. He is alleged to have participated in the beating of a man who had been restrained and pushed up onto the trunk of his car by a group of officers, following another stop.
A witness had apparently photographed the officers and, faced with irrefutable evidence, investigators found the complaint to be credible. But D’Alesio has yet to face disciplinary action for the beating, according to city records.
He remains on patrol duty in the 19th District.
A pattern of abuse
This pattern of behavior was also mirrored by another handful of officers across the city in the 14th Police District, situated in Northwest Philadelphia.
Officers Charles Klink Jr., David Dohan, Lucas Lesko and Brad Momme, who served together under Capt. John Hearn, were similarly charged with conducting high-volume car and pedestrian stops. Together, the four officers would garner 49 civilian complaints in five years under Hearn, whom sources described as another “old-school” police captain. Internal Affairs recorded 80 offenses stemming from those complaints.
As in the 19th District, many of the complaints described searches or other minor encounters that escalated into police beatdowns, sometimes with multiple officers named in the same complaints.
Klink and Dohan were both named in another incident, profiled in an earlier joint investigation, in which one officer was accused of pistol-whipping a man pulled over during a car stop, while screaming, “Fuck your pretty teeth!”
Klink and Lesko were separately named in a pending investigation into an incident in which officers gave chase to a suspect who fled after being caught urinating in a back alley. The pair, along with two other officers, allegedly caught and beat the young man before dumping him at a hospital, the complaint said.
Momme and partner David O’Connor are listed in another complaint in which they accused a suspect of attempting to conceal narcotics by swallowing a baggie of drugs. When the man denied the accusations, one of the officers allegedly choked him out.
And, as in the 19th District, these officers would similarly face few repercussions, even as allegations of misconduct wound up in lawsuits or frustrated other criminal prosecutions.
Momme and O’Connor have also been subject to repeated questioning over their credibility as witnesses due to a pattern of unlawful stops and searches.
They were sued by a former Philadelphia police officer, Herbert Spellman, who said he had been racially profiled and roughed up by the pair in 2013. Although Spellman lost that case on retrial, a separate pro sé litigant won a new trial on charges stemming from an arrest made by Momme and O’Connor, citing Spellman’s claims and yet another, earlier wrongful arrest case. Separately, the city recently shelled out $25,000 to settle a fourth lawsuit involving Momme and O’Connor in which a disabled man alleged the pair dragged him out of his car during a stop and kicked him in the legs.
Klink, meanwhile, was profiled in an Inquirer story about unlawfully searching suspects’ underwear, dooming at least one drug prosecution. Another man alleged he was stopped, searched and beaten by Klink for no reason; the city settled the case out of court for an undisclosed amount.
Officer Charles Klink
The cheesesteak incident
Numerous other complaints paint more consistent portraits of isolated patrolmen abusing their power in ways big and small.
Other officers topping the department’s complaint list include:
Officer Joe Ferrero Jr., a patrolman in eastern Center City’s 6th District, has received at least 12 complaints totaling 17 misconduct allegations since 2013. The officer’s record shows an uncanny volume of harassment allegations, three of which were made over the course of a year by the same complainant, a 35-year-old black male identified in records only as “RC.” That complainant charged Ferrero routinely threatened to plant narcotics on him and issued threats after he refused to be the officer’s confidential informant. A separate harassment complaint, filed by a 29-year-old black male in 2014, alleges Ferrero “constantly harasses him every time he sees him and is the source of all his arrests.” Not a single charge has been sustained.
In North Philly’s 35th District, Officers Eric Ruch, Jr., and David Tamamato accrued 4 complaints together for allegedly unjustified car searches and roughing up suspects during arrests. Of the 14 offenses tied to those complaints, Internal Affairs sustained five of the least serious charges against the duo.
Ruch Jr. and Tamamato also racked up complaints on their own. According to one complaint, translated from Spanish, Ruch and other officers responded to a call from a 34-year-old Hispanic male who, along with a family member, had gotten into a scuffle at a local bar. “The police laughed at them and threatened to call Immigration (ICE) if they didn’t leave the bar; they said they were going to shoot and kill them one by one,” the complainant wrote. Investigators ruled the claims unfounded.
In Southwest Philadelphia’s 12th District, Officer Marc Marchetti has garnered at least 16 complaints (21 alleged offenses) since 2013, which run the gamut from snide remarks to violent arrests. One of his complainants appeared to be a Facebook user, who claimed last year that “she noticed several officers posting inappropriate messages in reference to the District Attorney-elect [Larry Krasner], referring to him as a weasel and scumbag, etc…the officers also posted that they crank-called a law firm associated with the DA to ‘congratulate’ them on the win.” That investigation remains ongoing.
Officer Kevin Lewis, who also served in Bologna’s 19th Police District, had 11 complaints describing 23 alleged offenses filed against him in just over two years. Bologna said Lewis had done “a nice job” in the district, but said he was eventually taken off patrol duty due to an injury.
The majority of these complaints, none of which were sustained, detail allegations of physical abuse. But one complaint is striking less for its alleged brutality than its bizarre specificity.
A complainant claimed Lewis slapped a cheesesteak out of his hand during a 2009 altercation and, years later, recognized him on the street. The officer stopped his police vehicle and jokingly asked, “Aren’t you the n**ga I slapped a cheesesteak out of your hand? We still talk about it until this day.”
Lewis then reportedly taunted the complainant and blocked his path with his patrol vehicle in an attempt to provoke an altercation, the complaint stated. The complainant said he ignored the remarks and began walking away.
But, according to the description, Lewis then slowly followed the man down the street, making taunting remarks.
“I should get out of my car and punch you in the face,” Lewis said, according to the complaint. “I should slap the shit out of you … I wish you would try something.”
Road to reform
Shane, from John Jay College, said it’s important to keep in mind that policing a city the size of Philadelphia – which records tens of thousands of violent criminal complaints every year – is not easy.
“You’re working in an environment that is fraught with uncertainty, ambiguity, discretion and a constitutional provision that allows anyone to complain about anything you do,” he said.
These facts are also why so many police unions have fought to keep investigations into misconduct in-house. Complaints filed by police and staff within the department and complementary records of investigations into these complaints have never been made public.
But Shane added that a completely closed disciplinary system inevitably creates conflicting interests when it comes to actually punishing bad cops.
“I think it’s largely rooted in the culture of ‘I’ve walked in your shoes,’” he explained. “Internal Affairs wants to have a heart for officers who have a difficult job.”
Yet the issue of even naming officers associated with misconduct remains controversial, even amongst some nominal reformers.
Menos, the Police Advisory Commission director, cautioned against unrestricted access to officer’s identities, recalling protesters who showed up at Pownall’s family home last year in Northeast Philadelphia after the killing of David Jones. He worried that outing officers over complaints without any contextual information would result in similar outbursts.
Menos instead advocated in favor of encouraging department brass and FOP members to commit themselves to more serious disciplinary reforms, but also acknowledged that identifying officers associated with repeated misconduct could encourage these reforms.
“What I’d prefer is for confidence to be built in the current system, which says that they hold people accountable through due process and thorough investigations. But if that can’t happen … other methods might be more effective,” he said. “Maybe this will have a good, chilling effect.”
Sean Williams sat on the curb in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, arms outstretched following the officers’ commands, at times conflicting, while being threatened to be shocked with a taser. The white male officer, Philip Bernot, the one with the black and yellow Taser, trained on Williams’s back, repeatedly told him “legs out!” and “straight out!”The female officer, Shannon Mazzante, off-camera but just as insistent, was shouting, “Put your legs straight out and cross them now!”
Their wording and Williams’ sudden moves made headlines because by about 10:30 Thursday morning, their commands became threats. “Legs straight out, or you’re getting tased,” Bernot warned.
Moments later, Williams, whose legs were not fully extended, shifted his legs. Bernot then squeezed the trigger, sending taser prongs and a current of electricity through Williams’s body — and sparking virulent protests about what many claim is an abuse of power against a person who never posed a threat to officers.
He was arrested on drug possession and public drunkenness charges, both from a warrant unrelated to Thursday’s call.
The moments before unarmed black teen Antwon Rose was shot
An East Pittsburgh police officer fatally shot 17-year-old Antwon Rose on June 19. Here’s what we know about the encounter.(Allie Caren/The Washington Post)
By Eli Rosenberg and Alex Horton
June 22, 2018
Protesters took to the streets for the third straight day in Pittsburgh as anger mounted after a 17-year-old was fatally shot by police while running away from an officer.
Allegheny County officials told The Washington Post that protests were expected in locations around the city. Early in the evening, a large crowd marched across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, which spans the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh’s downtown toward its baseball stadium to protest Antwon Rose Jr.’s killing. Afterward, the crowd circled back toward downtown, stopping in a square where they conducted a moment of silence and listened to speakers.
Later, they linked arms as they planned to march on to a highway. The night before, another group of protesters shut down an interstate for hours before riot police dispersed the crowd in the early morning. Other protests and vigils were expected around the country over the weekend.
Rose was killed Tuesday night after being shot by a police officer who was investigating a shooting in which a 22-year-old man was injured when someone fired nine .40-caliber rounds at him from a car. The vehicle that Rose was traveling in matched a witness description of the drive-by car, police said, and it was pulled over about 15 minutes later.
Graphic video shows two men fleeing the car after it was stopped, with one of them falling to the ground after shots ring out. Police said Rose was struck by all three bullets fired by the officer, whom officials identified as Michael Rosfeld, but have declined to say whether Rose was shot in the back.
The Allegheny County Police Department is investigating the two incidents for a potential homicide referral to the county district attorney.
Rose did not have a weapon on him when he was shot, officials have said. On Friday, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala told reporters at his office that Rose was found with an empty 9-millimeter clip in his pocket.
Officials said they found two guns in the car, which they said they were confident was the same vehicle that had been involved in the drive-by shooting. Amie Downs, a spokeswoman for the county police, said she did not know whether the weapons found in the car were the same caliber used in that shooting.
Zappala said the 20-year-old driver of the car, whom police had interviewed but later released, may be charged with a crime later.
“I’m not sure that it was appropriate to release him,” Zappala said.
He said there was compelling evidence from the crime scene of the drive-by shooting in North Braddock that preceded the officer’s shooting.
“There’s video; in fact, there’s video from a bus. There’s video from a stationary camera,” he said. “It’s good evidence, and then it explains exactly what happened in North Braddock.”
Rosfeld did not initially cooperate with police, Zappala said, but he was hopeful the interview would happen by the end of the day on Friday. It was not immediately clear whether it had.
Pat Thomassey, who is Rosfeld’s lawyer, according to Zappala’s office, did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.
The East Pittsburgh Police Department declined on Thursday to provide details about the officer.
The shooting has prompted calls by some activists for the state’s attorney general to take over the case from Zappala, whose office’s work overlaps with that of the East Pittsburgh Police Department as well as many other departments in the county.
“Our local district attorney has an inherent conflict of interest” because he must depend on testimony, cooperation and support from police officers for other prosecutions, said Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project in Pittsburgh. “When they have to intentionally prosecute one of the people in blue, it could produce negative reactions from other officers.”
Zappala acknowledged the potential for the appearance “of some kind of conflict” because of that but said it was up to the state legislature to change the procedure for police shootings.
Officers have fatally shot at least 495 people in 2018, according to The Post’s database, but Rose appears to be the first person killed by the small police force in East Pittsburgh since 2015, when the data collection began. Even as outrage and attention generated by police shootings and other uses of fatal force has become a near-constant part of the news cycle in recent years, it is rare for officers to be charged and rarer still for them to be convicted.
Zappala estimated that he had charged more than 150 police officers for various offenses during his tenure as district attorney and cleared seven of the nine police officers his office has reviewed over the use of deadly force.
“The police community, as any other aspect of our community, they have problems,” he said. “I’m not looking for a particular conclusion; I’m not looking to protect anybody to the extent that people would suggest that. There’s some people in this community that just if a police officer uses deadly force, then he’s committed a criminal act. That’s not the way the law is written.”
The Allegheny County police also denounced some local media accounts citing anonymous “police sources” about a video that purportedly shows Antwon Rose firing a gun during the drive-by incident and that gunshot residue was found on his hands.
“While ACPD does have a video showing the North Braddock incident, that video does NOT show Antwon Rose firing a gun,” it said in a statement Friday night. “The information about gunshot residue is also false. Crime Lab reports are still pending and have not yet been issued.”
People who knew Rose have stepped forward with kind words in recent days.
Family attorney Fred Rabner said the discovery of the ammunition clip after the shooting should not be conflated with a reason to use deadly force. Civil rights attorney S. Lee Merritt, who also is representing the family, has said he’s struggled to find any justification for the shooting.
“These facts, without more, simply leave very little room to justify the use of deadly force by this officer.”
On Friday, he shared a poem written by the teenager.
“I am confused and afraid / I wonder what path I will take,” it read. “I hear that there’s only two ways out / I see mothers bury their sons / I want my mom to never feel that pain.”
Protesters block Pittsburgh highway after shooting of unarmed black teen
Pittsburgh activist Leon Ford explains in his new book, Untold, how to get lifted up, and how to lift a city up, even after being shot by its police.
Leon Ford Jr. was in the hospital where and while his son was being born, but he wasn’t able to see him. Ford’s family was at the hospital for the baby’s delivery, also, but they weren’t able to see Ford. He was in an undisclosed wing recovering from getting shot by a Pittsburgh police officer on November 12, 2012.After doctors stabilized Ford, he was arraigned on charges of aggravated assault against a police officer. Ford was in convalescence for months, often handcuffed to his bed, through multiple surgeries, and with no guarantee that he would survive.
The night police shot Ford, an African American, he was pulled over by two officers who mistook him for a suspect with a similar name. Ford, 19 at the time, had complied with the officers’ requests for his license, insurance, and registration. However, another police officer who was called to the scene, David Derbish, jumped into Ford’s car while stopped, but with the engine still running, which is against Pittsburgh police protocol. The encounter ended with Ford’s car crashed into someone’s front porch a few yards away, and Ford arrested despite, as they’d later find out, a bullet piercing his spine.
He survived, though he can no longer walk. Ford was acquitted of charges that he had assaulted the police, and in January, a jury awarded Ford $5.5 million from his lawsuit against the city. But none of the police officers involved in Ford’s shooting have been convicted for their role in it. Derbish is still on the force.There have been numerous high-profile police shootings and killings of African Americans around the U.S. in the years since Ford’s ordeal. His case is one of the rare instances where an African American has survived a police shooting and obtained some measure of justice.
He’s been working ever since, helping the victims of police violenceand their families, and by giving speeches all over the country on how to improve police relations. In an era of fiery protests and uprisings, as seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, Ford is focused on continuing that energy into crafting more progressive laws and policies. In an open letter to the city Ford wrote:
We have seen how young people are reacting to the negligence of police misconduct all over the country. On August 9, 2014 Michael Brown was tragically murdered by a Police Officer in Ferguson, Missouri. That led to civil unrest that was almost uncontainable. We saw the same reaction with the death of Freddie Gray, killed while in custody of Officers employed by the Baltimore PD. With the #JusticeforLeon Movement, I worked to prevent Pittsburgh from being the next Ferguson or Baltimore. Emotions ran high, but we kept the movement positive and inspirational to keep the city from following suit. For this, I end up treated with scorn, not commended for loving courage.
It hasn’t been all scorn, though. Last year the alt-weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, crowned Ford the “Pittsburgher of the Year” for his activism. He’s also been invited to meet with celebrities, professional athletes, and tech titans in Silicon Valley to discuss police problems. Last month, Ford released his first book, Untold, with a foreword from native Pittsburgh novelist John Edgar Wideman. It doesn’t go into great detail about his injury or the court trials. Instead, it focuses on his journey toward taming the pain and anger that built inside of him while he was recovering from the shooting.
In the heat of an uprising, when politics and emotions are running high, it’s not hard to lose sight of the humanity of the victims who are being fought for. Ford has been reminding the public that beyond being a symbol of a movement, he’s also someone’s friend, nephew, son, and father. He was not able to see his son born, but his son has been a part of his life since he got out of the hospital, joining him at “almost every” protest and demonstration Ford has been involved in.
When you get shot by a police officer 5 times–and docs say that you will ever walk but your son says keep pushing Untold 11•11•17
CityLab spoke with Ford about his new book on improving policing, and being a change agent for his city:
How do you talk to your son about the police, particularly given what you’ve been through?I’m basically preparing a platform right now for him to decide what he wants to do with it later, because one thing that I don’t want to do is put too much emphasis on “the talk”—like, preparing my son to get pulled over by a police officer. My mom and my dad did that for me, and I did everything they told me to do. But I still ended up shot. It doesn’t work. “The talk” is not strength-based, it’s really just a fear talk. I’m not trying to put fear in my son’s heart. This is why I do the work that I do and this is why I’m not opposed to building relationships with police officers and people who are in positions of power. I’m working towards preparing the world for my son.
“The talk” should be more about: What does a prosperous community look like to you? When we continue to have these conversations around fear, then people will continue to run away from each other and step on each other. I don’t want to build a community where people are stepping on each other. That’s not a healthy community.
You did the photo shoot for your book cover at the site where police shot you. How difficult is it for you revisit that space?
It used to be a painful reminder, but now I just view my life differently. I’ve had that paradigm shift where, before, even thinking about the day that I was shot, that used to be super emotional. But now it’s like a celebration because I could’ve lost my life on that block. However, I survived and so I view my life like a vessel to make people aware, to educate, and to inspire. And that’s really empowering.
What’s your relationship with Pittsburgh police like today?I’m still going through my healing process, and there’s certain things that were done even after I was shot that I’m still dealing with psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Just the way that the city handled my case—I was fighting for six years and it’s like being in the belly of the beast of a system that was designed to destroy me. It made me feel like I wasn’t an American. The laws, the Constitution, and these documents that Americans praise—it felt like they didn’t work for me.
What kind of documents do you mean?
Like the Declaration of Independence, you know, those type of documents. These are good ideas, but [this ordeal] made me question who they were written for. What I went through, it made me feel like America was this house, and, I felt like the dog in the backyard that’s chained up all the time. You know? And kids come and pick on me and tease me and I get rained on—that’s how I felt, you know what I mean? Being a young man feeling like that, it’s like finally you get let out, they let you off the leash and you almost want to bite somebody. But gratefully, regardless of my circumstances, I realized that I was stronger than that, and just because someone else’s moral compass was pointing in the wrong direction, that didn’t mean that mine had to also.
Is it hard pushing a message of compassion and forgiveness in such a suffocating climate for discussions around police and racism?
My message is to channel that anger into educating yourself. Educate yourself about the history of this country, and different policies at the local, state and federal levels. We’re behind the ball because these people are changing policies and stripping our rights away every single day. If we let our emotions get the best of us, before we know it we ain’t going to have any rights and they’ll continue to do whatever that they want to us. But the more we educate ourselves, the more we can use the system that has been working against us, to make it work for us.I encourage young people to run for office. I meet a lot of young people who are fed up with police officers and go to college and don’t know what they want to do in life. Well, if you don’t want to go to work delivering furniture or working at Panera Bread, or you just don’t like your job, then become a police officer. I think that’s where activism meets mentorship, especially in our communities. I had a few football coaches growing up who were police officers, but I never viewed them as police officers because they were mentors in the community.
What are your plans now for creating the kind of change you want to see in the city of Pittsburgh?
I’m getting involved with real estate development and leveraging my platform and resources to provide affordable housing for people here in Pittsburgh. One of the problems that I see, especially here in Pittsburgh is access. A lot of young African-American men and women don’t have access to resources to capital. There’s a lot of great things happening in Pittsburgh, but if you go to [the neighborhoods of] Larimer, or Homewood, or East liberty and Garfield, they don’t even know or understand what’s happening. There’s a disconnect there. So, I’m in a unique position right now to leverage my platform to give other people access so that they can understand things like: What does it really mean for Amazon to come to Pittsburgh?
I’m wondering as an entrepreneur, if Amazon is going to bring a lot of money to Pittsburgh, or, as an activist, what does that look like for the average household given what we’ve seen in Oakland, California and San Francisco? The average apartment rent has gone up to $2,500-$3,000 [in those cities] and that has the potential to happen in Pittsburgh. So, how are people going to afford to live within the city?Navigating the city from your vantage point now, what do you think Pittsburgh should prioritize for change?
Affordable housing policy. Also, accessibility. I love Pittsburgh, however Pittsburgh isn’t as accessible as I want it to be. There are still buildings within the city that aren’t really that handicap accessible.
Also police training. There’s really an accountability issue. I think police officers should have to live within the city. That’s a policy they recently changed that I think is just asinine. If you can drive an hour to go to work then you don’t have to be a part of any of the repercussions from people living in a neighborhood where you’re policing at. You don’t really have a heart for the people.
I believe that [the police] should have mental health evaluations. A lot of them come from the Army, and being a police officer, you’re sitting in a car for the majority of the day, not getting a lot of sleep because of the shifts that they put them. So police officers have very poor health, and there needs to be some changes within that structure. If police officers could be happier and healthier and more culturally competent that may help with some of these issues that we’re having as well.
Philadelphia police officer Natasha Chestnut was seen in a 2017 video hitting the teen repeatedly while she was on the ground.
By Victor Fiorillo·
More than a year after a Philadelphia police officer was seen on video repeatedly hitting a teenage girl in West Philadelphia, the girl is now suing the cop and the city over the incident.
The 17-year-old girl and her father John Pendleton, both of Bryn Mawr, have filed a federal lawsuit against Philadelphia police officer Natasha Chestnut, accusing Chestnut of assault and battery, false arrest, and false imprisonment, among other offenses. (The girl’s father has asked that we withhold her name.)
The events in question took place on January 3, 2017, when a street brawl broke out between two families and their friends.
Here is video of what went down between the girl and Chestnut, who can be seen hitting the girl repeatedly while she is on the ground:
And this video contains footage of that but also of what was happening prior to their interaction:
According to the lawsuit, the mother of the girl’s friend was arrested on the scene. The girl says that she approached the cop and said that the woman had done nothing wrong. She claims that another cop came up to her at that point and stuck his baton in her face and told her to “back the fuck up.” The girl says she told him that he had no right to do that.
That’s when things quickly escalated.
She alleges that Chestnut grabbed her by the shoulders and then began pushing her. She says she told Chestnut to keep her hands off of her but that Chestnut responded by grabbing her by the hair, throwing her to the ground, and punching her over and over again in the face.
Then, claims the suit, Chestnut pulled her up by her hair and threw her into a police car, allegedly telling the girl, “Get your fucking leg in the car or I will punch you in the face again.” The teen says that she complied but that Chestnut punched her in the face anyway, while she was handcuffed in the car.
The girl was originally charged with assault, but those charges were quickly dropped once video of the incident got out.
“It’s just an ugly situation from start to finish,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross told press at the time. “There’s no denying that.”
Ross claimed that the girl refused to comply with Chestnut’s commands and that she admitted smacking Chestnut and knocking her glasses off of her face. He added that Internal Affairs would investigate the matter. Chestnut remains on the force.
In the suit, the girl insists that she did nothing wrong and that nothing she did could have been considered threatening to Chestnut or anyone else, for that matter. She says she sustained facial lacerations, a concussion and a shoulder injury.
“This is another troubling example of police officers ignoring their obligations under the Constitution and the oaths they take,” says the girl’s attorney, Patrick Geckle. “Thank God there was video or my client could be dealing with a felony on her record. Officer Chestnut’s assault is bad enough, but to falsely charge this young lady with aggravated assault is even worse.”
Responding to a judge’s order, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has released a secret list of current and former police officers whom prosecutors have sought to keep off the witness stand after a review determined they had a history of lying, racial bias, or brutality.
The names of the 29 officers were included among a larger roster of 66 provided to the Philadelphia Defender Association on Monday and obtained Tuesday by the Inquirer and Daily News. The full list combined two groupings — the officers whose serious misconduct rendered them problematic as witnesses and 37 officers who have been charged with lesser offenses or have been involved in other legal conflicts, often while off duty. Under prosecution policy, the second group can testify, but defense attorneys must be told of their legal issues.
In a detailed fact summary about each officer on the “Do Not Call” list, prosecutors said that the 29 former and current officers had engaged in a wide range of wrongdoing and had, as a result, often faced criminal charges or been found guilty by the department’s internal Police Board of Inquiry. The offenses included numerous cases of lying to police investigators, filing false police reports, use of excessive force, drunken driving, burglary, and others.
The list included former Officer Ryan Pownall, 35, a 12-year veteran of the department who was fired last year after he fatally shot a man running away after a traffic stop in North Philadelphia; former Office Emmanuel R. Folly, 26, a three-year veteran fired last year upon his arrest on pending charges of sexual abuse of children and dissemination of child pornography; and former Officer Stanley Davis, a narcotics officer who pleaded guilty last year to giving heroin to women in exchange for sex acts.
The roster also included Sgt. Michael Spicer, 50, who was acquitted in 2015 with five other narcotics officers in a heavily publicized federal corruption probe. He and other officers were later awarded their jobs back by an arbitrator. A source familiar with the list said he had been added because prosecutors deemed some of his recent arrests problematic. His attorney declined comment.
The 29 officers collectively made more than 800 arrests in the last five years, records show.
Common Pleas Court Judge Tracy Brandeis Roman last week ordered that the names, badge numbers, and background information of the officers be turned over to the public defenders office. The defenders demanded the list from District Attorney Larry Krasner after the Inquirer and Daily News revealed its existence last month.
The list was drawn up by prosecutors in March 2017 at the order of former District Attorney Seth Williams. Before Williams pleaded guilty to corruption and resigned in June, he created a special Police Misconduct Review Committee to identify officers whose testimony might be problematic in criminal cases. In deciding whose testimony should be avoided, Williams limited the review, in large part, to those found by the Police Board of Inquiry, from the summer of 2016 on, to have committed serious misconduct.
Williams and his prosecutors did not reveal the existence of the list, treating it as an internal guide to determine when a potentially tainted officer’s testimony could be used. Under the office’s policy, frontline prosecutors were instructed to get top-level permission before calling such an officer as a witness in a criminal case.
The list was kept secret by Williams, prosecutors said, out of concern for the officers’ privacy rights and the broad impact it might have on past convictions involving the officers. In the aftermath of previous scandals involving allegedly corrupt officers, the city has faced costly wrongful-arrest lawsuits and seen many previous convictions overturned.
The most recent such scandal unfolded when prosecutors charged seven narcotics officers with corruption. While one officer pleaded guilty and cooperated with the probe, the six others were acquitted. So far, prosecutors have thrown out 800 cases of those officers. About 300 defendants have sued the city after the dismissals. With less than a third of those suits resolved, the city has agreed to pay out more than $2 million in settlements.
At last week’s hearing before Brandeis Roman, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock agreed that the list would be provided on Monday.
Krasner, a former top defense lawyer who came into office promising to be uncompromising when it came to bad police officers, pledged at a public meeting last month that he would release the list and finally faced a judicial command that he do so.
In an interview Tuesday, Krasner said all assistant district attorneys have been instructed to tell opposing lawyers about officers on the list if it affected their cases. He said his staff had “moved quickly” to share the list after learning of it.
“It’s a daunting task to reverse years of potential Brady violations,” Krasner said, referring to a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brady v. Maryland , requiring prosecutors to share evidence favorable to defendants with their lawyers.
In a statement, DA spokesman Benjamin Waxman said: “As we have made clear on several occasions, this list was compiled and maintained by a previous administration. We do not endorse the legal or factual validity of the information contained in the document. We also do not endorse any positions taken in regard to disclosure or non-disclosure of information contained in the document.”
Last week, in an interview, public defenders Bradley Bridge and Michael Mellon said the list was clearly covered by the 1963 Brady ruling.
Despite its existence, the list had never been used to bar an officer’s testimony, officials said. Instead, prosecutors have simply been dismissing cases involving problem officers.
For decades, critics, including former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, have complained bitterly about the police disciplinary system, saying a sluggish Internal Affairs Division, a weak police inquiry board, and an officer-friendly arbitration system have prevented the force from firing bad cops.
Beyond officers deemed too suspect to put on the witness stand, the DA’s Office had compiled a list of officers with their own legal cases pending. While those officers could still be called as witnesses, it was determined that defense lawyers needed to be told of their pending cases.
Of the 29 men and women on the more serious “Do not call” list, about half appear to be still on the force. The number includes a lieutenant, four sergeants, one corporal, and one detective.
The District Attorney’s Office has also released the protocol detailing how officers were put on the list and how they could be removed.
Under the protocol, prosecutors left it to the Police Department to explain to officers on the list why they would not be called to testify in court.
A spokesman for Commissioner Richard Ross, Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, said the department “never received this protocol.” As a result, officers were never told they were on the list, he said.
The Fraternal Order of Police, the city’s police union, has said it also had never received the protocol. It had no further comment Tuesday.
While such lists of “rogue” police are unusual, they are not unprecedented.
In Seattle and 39 other towns in King County, Wash., with a total population of 2.5 million, prosecutors have made public such lists of officers for more than a decade. Mark Larson, a top King County prosecutor, said the public at any time can request a copy of its list, which contains the names of 214 former or current officers.
Internal Affairs investigated. The allegations held up. But the PPD’s internal justice system remains slow-moving and mysterious. (Photo: Maria Young/Philadelphia Weekly)
On a clear September night in 2016, a 20-year-old black man and a female companion were driving through the darkened streets of Northwest Philadelphia when they noticed a 14th District patrol car tailing them. After a few blocks, two officers in the cruiser used their PA system to order the couple to pull over.
It’s unclear exactly what transpired next, but the male driver later affirmed in a formal complaint that one of the cops pistol-whipped him after he stepped out of the car. According to the complainant, he was struck in the mouth so hard that it chipped one of his teeth. As the driver’s companion panicked, the officer reportedly said, “Fuck your pretty teeth.”
Although the Internal Affairs Division rejects nearly 98 percent of physical abuse complaints lodged against Philadelphia police, they found this account to be credible. But nearly a year and a half later, neither officer has ever faced any disciplinary action over the use of excessive force.
They are hardly alone. A Philly Weekly and City & State PA analysis of 8,555 newly released civilian complaint records, dating from 2013 to the present, found that hundreds of allegations ruled credible by Internal Affairs have languished – sometimes for years – with no resolution.
Between 2013 and 2016, 138 cases that sustained allegations of misconduct against city police have no listed punitive action. Despite a requirement that Internal Affairs complete investigations within 75 days of receiving a complaint, an additional 172 cases have remained open for a year or more – and some may never be resolved.
“Any police department, institution or employer wants a procedure by which they can investigate wrongdoing by employees. But the unfortunate history of Internal Affairs in Philadelphia is that they don’t do a very effective job,” said attorney David Rudovsky, of the firm, Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP, who has sued the city over police misconduct. “It’s police officers investigating other police officers.”
Even when Internal Affairs hands off credible cases to the Police Board of Inquiry for punishment, records show that the majority of officers still walk away with nothing more than recommendations for additional unspecified “training or counseling.” Even in cases that include potentially criminal allegations, many officers are ultimately ruled not guilty.
But most cases never get that far.
“The last time we looked at physical abuse complaints, around 2003 or 2004, something like 1 percent of complaints were sustained. Little meaningful punishment has ever been imposed by Internal Affairs in Philadelphia,” said defense attorney Paul Messing, who is Rudovsky’s law partner. “It’s substantially below the average of most big-city internal affairs units.”
But 15 years after Messing’s initial examination of police disciplinary complaints, records show that little has changed.
Philadelphia has had a checkered history of police disciplining their own.
After a series of misconduct scandals in the late 1990s, then-Commissioner John Timoney promised to reform the Internal Affairs unit, which had long been treated as a stepchild by the department. At the time, a handful of staffers were split between tiny, crumbling offices scattered in different parts of the city.
“In some cases, we didn’t know if more than one unit was investigating the same person,” said John “Ziggy” Norris, a respected Internal Affairs inspector, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998.
Timoney centralized the unit under Norris, pledging to ramp up discipline. But from the beginning, critics questioned how committed the department was to policing itself.
The new unit was banished to an office in a distant pocket of Northeast Philadelphia, where many members of the department live. Norris would soon retire and his successor would be quickly removed by new commissioner Sylvester Johnson – who, news reports indicate, had a reputation for leniency – in the early 2000s over a residency requirement violation.
In the late 2000s, Johnson’s replacement as commissioner, Charles Ramsey, once again beefed up staffing at Internal Affairs, promising to crack down on dirty cops. But even in cases where the commissioner directly intervened in disciplinary actions, he butted heads with the Fraternal Order of Police, which seeks to shield officers from punishment.
“At times, Internal Affairs has operated well…but the unfortunate fact in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia is that the police have ‘super’ due process through union arbitration,” Rudovsky said.
More recently – and following another wave of corruption scandals – Mayor Jim Kenney named a former Internal Affairs deputy, Richard Ross, as his police commissioner. Last year, in an apparent effort to increase transparency, Kenney also ordered the online publication of thousands of complaint records filed by civilians against police officers.
Previously, certain unredacted records were only available via direct requests to Internal Affairs. But to critics’ dismay, the newly released records do not explicitly identify offending officers – or their victims – by name, reducing their identities to simple initials.
In a questionably timed move, since the release of the online complaint data, Internal Affairs has stopped disclosing the identities of any police officers named in complaints.
Today, not even the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian board established by the Mayor’s Office to independently investigate complaints against officers, has access to unredacted complaint records, and public defenders are forced to subpoena individual records. Moreover, records relating to investigations launched by Internal Affairs itself have never been made public.
Police department spokesperson Capt. Sekou Kinebrew declined to confirm the identities of any officers named in complaints mentioned in this story. The Kenney administration declined to explain the rationale behind the partial release of records.
Delays in discipline
Despite those redactions, data analysis suggests that a small number of police officers are likely responsible for a disproportionate number of complaints. Out of the department’s 6,500 staffers, some 2,000 officers received just a single complaint over a five-year period. Thousands of other officers appear to have received no complaints at all during that time.
Police officers interviewed for this article concurred that it was unusual for the average patrol officer to receive more than a few complaints over a five-year period, either due to good behavior or victims’ reluctance to file formal grievance.
“A lot of people say, ‘What’s the point?’ You file the Internal Affairs complaint and you don’t get anything, even if it’s sustained,” Rudovsky said. “I think most people who do file legitimate complaints do it because they think they’ve been wronged and maybe want the police officer fired or retrained.”
It is also worth noting that many of the 8,555 complaints lodged against officers are frivolous on their face: one officer rolled his eyes, another spoke too curtly. Other complaints detail terrifying abuses of power – officers allegedly beating their spouses, stealing money, using racial epithets, beating suspects – but have been deemed not credible by Internal Affairs for unknown reasons.
But in the rare instances when claims of extreme misconduct are sustained, consequences may never come – leading criminal justice advocates to question both the sluggish resolutions and the lack of punitive outcomes.
In one harrowing case, an officer facing domestic abuse charges was able to leave the department without facing disciplinary action.
A woman, identified in records only as “Ms. P,” said she had been repeatedly terrorized by an abusive ex-boyfriend who happened to be one of the department’s own higher-ups: a 15th District sergeant identified by the initials “JT.”
According to the 2013 complaint, “JT” repeatedly threatened to kill “Ms. P” when she sought to end their relationship – and later slashed her tires. One night, he used a copied key to enter the woman’s house uninvited while her teenage daughter was home alone.
Internal Affairs sustained portions of that account, including allegations of domestic violence. But Kinebrew, the department’s spokesperson, said that “JT” retired that same year prior to facing the disciplinary board.
But in potentially criminal cases, department policy says that both Internal Affairs and the Police Board of Inquiry have a responsibility to refer cases to the district attorney for review.
“If Internal Affairs develops credible information concerning off-duty misconduct or situations like domestic violence, they have a responsibility to report it. And if they don’t, they’re in dereliction of duty,” Rudovsky said.
Ben Waxman, spokesperson for DA Larry Krasner, said that it is “absolutely appropriate” for Internal Affairs to share information about problem officers.
The police department declined to identify specific cases that had been referred for criminal prosecution. But the District Attorney’s Office stated that between 2012 and 2017, Internal Affairs had referred 660 such cases – either from civilians or internally – for criminal charges. Just 62 resulted in arrests.
Despite internal findings that an officer may have trespassed and committed domestic abuse, “Sergeant JT” was never arrested over the incident or otherwise disciplined. Today, five years after he retired, police records still list the case’s resolution as “pending.”
In other cases of violent misconduct, both disciplinary action and Internal Affairs investigations appear to drag on with little urgency, including another physical abuse case involving a different police sergeant that is fast approaching its one-year anniversary.
Last April, according to this complaint, an 18-year-old white male and his female friend were driving the streets of Northeast Philadelphia on their way to pick up some groceries when they were stopped by an 8th District officer listed in city records only as “Sergeant FB.”
He accused the pair of making unspecified “offensive” hand gestures in his direction. During an ensuing altercation, the sergeant decked the 18-year-old and choked his female friend before arresting them both. Inspectors eventually sustained a charge of physical and verbal abuse against “FB” – but no punishment has been meted out to date.
The department offered no timeline for resolving that complaint and declined to identify the officer involved.
Police sources, who were not authorized to speak on the record, said it is also not unusual for a year or more to pass between the start of an internal investigation and a final disciplinary hearing.
Department spokesperson Kinebrew said delayed verdicts can be caused by the complainant or the accused officer’s unavailability due to illness, injury or extended leaves of absence.
But records indicate cases have stalled out even when multiple witnesses identified themselves in the initial complaint.
In November 2016, a registered nurse claimed to have witnessed officers pulling over two parents for erratic driving. The nurse reported that the couple tearfully explained to the police that they were taking their gravely ill child to the emergency room.
As the hospital’s chief of staff and other employees watched, the father was allegedly removed from the vehicle at gunpoint, handcuffed, cursed at, and placed in the officers’ patrol vehicle.
The father was released only when hospital security intervened on the family’s behalf, at which point one officer reportedly commented: “You should be glad I have a heart.”
Nearly a year and a half later, that investigation is still technically ongoing.
“I think that a lot of time, you find investigations are not up to par,” Rudovsky said. “We’ve looked at a lot of instances where witnesses were never interviewed or evidence was never collected.”
Internal Affairs sustained only 15 percent of all 8,555 civilian complaints filed over the last six years – more than some big cities, like Chicago or Baltimore, but fewer than places like New York City or Washington, D.C. But the occasional case does make it before the Police Board of Inquiry, a three-member panel comprised of a rotating cast of sworn officers.
The PPD has previously barred members of the public from attending these hearings, which departmental edicts describe as “informal” tribunals where “strict rules of evidence shall not apply.” After reviewing each case, the panel makes a disciplinary recommendation to the police commissioner.
Complaint records list these outcomes as “guilty,” “not guilty” or “training/counseling,” but do not specify the police commissioner’s subsequent actions – if any.
Over the last five years, internal investigators have sustained 1,122 complaints against officers. 95 officers – just over 8 percent of the sustained complaints – were later found to be not guilty by the board, another 840 were referred for retraining or counseling. Only 160 cases yielded a guilty verdict.
“(The process) rarely imposes punishment, even when there is a finding,” said Messing. “I don’t think there is a rationale to it. The disciplinary system was long ago found to be ineffective – and still is ineffective.”
Yet Philadelphia officers facing disciplinary threats still often retain counsel through their union, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. Under its recently renewed contract with the city, the FOP wields outsized power to arbitrate cases and reinstate police officers who have been terminated for misconduct – though it remains unclear how many dismissals have stemmed from civilian complaints.
Union reps did not return multiple requests for comment on this story.
Advocates say the city needs to go further than releasing partially censored complaint records to right police discipline in Philadelphia. Some, like Marcel Bassett, the Police Advisory Commission’s public affairs specialist, say effective discipline can ultimately build relationships with those policed by the department.
“(The release of civilian complaints) helped by creating more transparency with the police department,” Bassett said. “But it alone did not and will not fully repair the bridge of trust we are tasked with repairing.”
*Editor’s note: Following publication, the Police Advisory Commission clarified that it does, in fact, have access to unredacted complaint records, although the commission declined to provide further details.