Coard

Above, the 1978 beating of Delbert Africa. All officers were acquitted by a judge. Below right, an Instagram screenshot of 15-year-old Jahvon Beener being arrested without probable cause on 9/12/19. Below left, acting Police Commissioner Christine Coulter wearing a t-shirt (LAPD- We Treat You Like A King) ridiculing the 1991 beating of Rodney King.

— Photo sources: Jacqueline London / George D. McDowell, Temple University Libraries, Special Collections Research Center / Asia Wilkerson

On July 17, 2015 in my Tribune column, I proposed some solutions to ending police brutality and corruption in Philadelphia, starting with the abolition of a police brutality/corruption-enabling arbitration law called Legislative Act 111 of 1968. Since the publication of that column more than four years ago, things have gotten worse.

But before I address the recent outrages, allow me to start at the beginning. Municipal police departments, as they are now known, began as slave patrols. In fact, the first official one started in 1704 in the Colony of Carolina and then spread throughout the South until 1865. The laws creating those patrols required white men to ride the roads and- as documented by Western Michigan University history professor Dr. Sally Hadden in her book entitled Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas- engage in the “monitoring… [of] rigid pass requirements for blacks…, breaking up large gatherings… of blacks, … searching slave quarters randomly, inflicting impromptu punishments….”

In 1979, Philadelphia became the first city in the country to be sued by the U.S. Justice Department for committing and condoning “widespread and severe” acts of police misconduct. Human Rights Watch reported in 1998 that the “Philadelphia police department [in terms of]… brutality… has one of the worst reputations of big city… departments in the United States. Moreover, the persistence… of the [brutality and corruption] cycles indicate that between the front-page news stories, the City and its police force are failing… to hold… police accountable. The result is an undisturbed culture of impunity that surfaces and is renewed with each successive scandal, as each new generation of police officers is taught through example that their leadership accepts corruption and excessive force.”

For example, on May 14, 2015, Narcotics Field Unit Police Officers Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, Linwood Norman, and John Speiser were incredibly and inexplicably found not guilty in federal court (by a predominantly white suburban jury) despite very strong evidence from civilian witnesses and a police witness that those cops routinely engaged in outrageous brutality and corruption. And it wasn’t just those witnesses who provided that strong evidence. It was also the District Attorney’s Office that requested and a Common Pleas Court judge who granted the reversal of nearly 500 drug convictions that those six officers were directly or indirectly tied to. Even the U.S. Attorney’s office presented testimony that those cops stole money, planted evidence, viciously beat up people while sadistically keeping score on which cop could cause the most serious injuries, violated constitutional rights, lied on police reports, threatened to seize homes, held people for days against their will in hotel rooms, and shockingly dangled at least one person over a balcony. Even former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who suspended then fired all of them, described this entire situation as “one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever seen.” And he had been in law enforcement for 47 years!

But less than two months later on July 10, 2015, it was announced that, despite such evidence and action by the civilians, the DA, the judge, the federal prosecutor, and the police commissioner, those officers- through the arbitration system that will I explain later in this column- got their jobs back. Oh, by the way, each one also got $90,000 in back pay.

Those officers, and many like them, are the reason that arbitration system must be abolished. Here are more egregious examples.

Officer Rodney Hunt in 1990 killed a man that court testimony indicated had been shot nine times in the back and buttocks and also had been shot at least once while lying face down. This same cop in 1991, when a grand jury was investigating that 1990 homicide, while off-duty at a 3:00 a.m. party fired 14 shots, wounding an innocent female bystander during a gun battle. Although he was incredibly and inexplicably acquitted in the 1990 killing, the City paid a $900,000 civil settlement. But even more incredibly and inexplicably, he was reinstated in 1994 with back pay.

Officer Christopher Rudy in 1993, when hanging out and drinking with friends in a warehouse, helped one of those friends out by luring a man to that warehouse and then watched him get tortured, menaced with a gun, and threatened with homosexual rape while he personally beat the man, poured beer in his face, and ignored police radio calls, including one “officer needs assistance” call. After receiving a 12-day suspension slap on the wrist for failing to take police action, for inflicting physical abuse, for providing false statements, and for engaging in conduct unbecoming a police officer, he was returned to active duty.

Six foot, 3 inch, 290 pound Officer Carl Holmes in 1992, after seeing a man urinating in an alley, tackled the man, kicked him, hit him in the head, slammed him into a car, and stepped on his penis. I should mention that the man was a kidney patient who was six inches shorter and 100 pounds lighter than Holmes. His 20-day suspension was reduced to five, and he was later promoted to lieutenant.

Lt. Jonathan Josey, during Puerto Rican Day festivities in 2012, was videotaped brutally punching a small Latinx woman named Aida Guzman in the face, bloodying her mouth and nose, and knocking her to the ground apparently because he mistakenly thought she had intentionally splashed a little water on him. The City, probably realizing that a jury might- and should- view such brutality as cowardly and misogynistic and therefore render a million dollar verdict, decided to settle Ms. Guzman’s lawsuit for $75,000. Despite Josey having been suspended, fired, arrested, and charged for the vicious assault (but incredibly and inexplicably acquitted despite the incriminating video), he was reinstated a year later with back pay.

Every single year from the time of (and even before) those four aforementioned cases up to and including 2019, Philadelphia police officers have engaged in the type of systemic brutality and corruption that make the Bloods and Crips look like pansies.

The Philadelphia police arbitration system is based on a state law known as Legislative Act 111 of 1968. That act allows a civilian arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association to “ignore findings of fact” regarding brutality, corruption, and other misconduct deemed founded by Internal Affairs Division (IAD) and the Police Board of Inquiry (PBI). The act also allows the arbitrator to “reject the punishment” assessed by IAD and PBI “even if the facts as charged have been proven.” For more information about the brutality/corruption-enabling arbitration act, read a powerful and meticulous legal analysis by the Philadelphia Bar Association regarding the act’s inherent and intentional flaws. It can be found at https://powerinterfaith.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Arbitrations-of-Philadelphia-Police-Discipline-2002-article.pdf. Although it was written in 2002, it is remarkably timely and prescient in 2019 and beyond.

Here are the three easy ways to end police brutality and corruption.

1. A state law must be immediately passed to abolish brutality/corruption-enabling Legislative Act 111 of 1968. Accordingly, you must demand that each Philadelphia-based state legislator introduce or co-sponsor legislation to abolish it. In addition, you must demand that the Mayor, the District Attorney, the Sheriff, each City Council member, and each Philadelphia-based congressperson officially and publicly go on record as having fully endorsed this proposed abolition via resolutions, proclamations, or formal office correspondence. For information regarding the name and phone number of each of the pertinent local, state, and federal elected officials, call Committee of Seventy at (215) 557-3600.

2. A state and federal law should be passed to make individual police officers personally liable (along with the city government’s deep pockets) for their own brutality, thereby requiring that at least half of their own salary be garnished to pay a portion of any civil judgments/settlements in connection with meritorious brutality lawsuits.

3. Download the “Mobile Justice Pennsylvania” app that allows you to permanently videotape and audiotape all encounters with police. For more details, log on to aclu.org.

Michael Coard can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and at AvengingTheAncestors.com. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD 96.1FM and his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.

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