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Philly's Keystone Kop Follies

Police Brutality and Cover-Up

by LINN WASHINGTON, Jr.

The savage beating of three suspects by Philadelphia police recently that captured news headlines internationally exposed big problems within the scandal plagued department involving core functions of cops.

The beating incident forced Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to institute new procedures for retraining all police officers on permissible use of force.

Ramsey, in an unprecedented move for a Philadelphia Police Commissioner, quickly disciplined officers involved in that 5/5/08 beating, including firing four officers who Ramsey determined engaged in impermissible brutality.

However, internal Police Department documents about this beating incident expose problems far more pervasive than excessive use of force against unarmed persons – brutality that routinely occurs outside the glare of television news cameras.

Police documents in this beating case and several others show that police fail to follow supposedly standard operating procedures.

Equally egregious – documents detail how police fail at a core function for cops: being observant.

Police contend the three men shown in the beating video participated in a shooting prior to their frenzied arrest.

Yet, police failed to perform the standard tests to determine if any of the trio had fired a gun following the trio’s arrest.

Such tests are routinely performed on shooting suspects.

Further, police never attempted to question the trio despite police officials telling the public that a fourth person involved in this shooting escaped capture.

Official police arrest reports on that pre-beating shooting incident stated “four” men exited a Mercury Grand Marquis and confronted a group standing on a street corner.

“One of these males…began shooting a handgun,” the arrest reports for each of the trio stated. “Three of the males from the Gold Marquis got back into the vehicle and the fourth, possibly the shooter fled…eluding capture.”

Curiously, police who observed the car “pull up to the corner” and recorded this vehicle’s license plate number before the shooting failed to provide the public with any physical description of the fourth person, that gunman who escaped, armed and presumed dangerous.

Police had the corner under surveillance due to a fatal shooting on that same corner the previous night. Police claim rumors circulating about retaliation for that fatal shooting prompted their surveillance.

Even more curious than the failure to perform standard gunfire tests and conduct investigative questioning is the changing stories of the surveillance officer who declared in the arrest reports that he observed the entire shooting, participated in chasing after the allegedly fleeing Mercury and was at the scene of the trio’s arrest.

This surveillance officer, after nine days of maintaining that four men were in the Mercury, suddenly changed his story on the eve of a court proceeding for the trio to claim that only three men – not four – conducted the shooting he observed.

The changing stories, failure to follow standard operating procedures and serious irregularities in official documents related to the trio’s arrest leads Philadelphia attorney Scott Perrine to one conclusion: authorities are framing his client and the two other beating victims.

“They are asking us to believe that a highly trained narcotics officer skilled in surveillance operations was at the scene, watched the car pull up, saw three people instead of four…and by the way, this officer forgot to tell us about this for nine days,” said Perrine, a former Philadelphia prosecutor.

Perrine represents Pete Hopkins, one of the beating victims.

Police now claim the shooter is Hopkins – not the fleeing fourth person listed in arrest reports.

Changing stories are seemingly standard procedure for Philadelphia police.

During the last televised, national headline grabbing beating by Philadelphia police, officials initially said the victim in that July 2000 beating had shot a policeman while attempting to escape capture.

Authorities backed off that claim when evidence provided the slightly injured policeman was shot accidentally by his partner.

Additionally, authorities ignored eyewitnesses who said the car-jacking suspect was being beaten by police prior to commandeering a police car used to escape the first beating that ended with that second beating caught by a news helicopter.

Changing stories and stonewalling were the official responses to the 8/78 televised beating of an unarmed suspect surrendering following a shootout where a Philadelphia policeman was fatally shot.

Curious events and/or coincidences continue in the wake of the 5/5/08 beating.

Nearly one month after the beating, police announced they had recovered the gun used in that pre-beating shooting.

Police said they found the weapon – under a blanket – in a field near the arrest/beating site.

For days after that shooting/beating police said they found no weapon despite hundreds of officer searching for this weapon.

The police reports make no mention of the trio tossing anything from their vehicle while it was being chased by police much less any one of the trio exiting the vehicle to enter a field.

“The police initially said they found the gun in a sewer and were testing it for DNA. Now they say they found it in a field…under a blanket,” said a disbelieving Karen Miller, an anti-police-brutality activist in Philadelphia who lives in the same community as the trio beaten by police and now facing attempted murder charges.

Also, initial police reports make no mention of shell casings at the shooting scene. Days later, police announced recovery of shell casings – a belated discovery that attorney Perrine contends is suspicious.

Police have twice detained the father of Pete Hopkins, also named Pete, on suspicion of intoxication without ever giving him the standard sobriety tests to determine drunkenness.  

Mr. Hopkins and his wife have publicly criticized police and prosecutors in addition to participating in protests opposing their son’s arrest.

Activist Miller says the detentions of the elder Hopkins is pure police harassment.

Family and supporters of the now incarcerated trio say the beating arose from a case of mistaken identity and authorities filed charges against them to evade responsibility for the beating.

One of the trio, Dwayne Dyches, physically resembled a man police sought for the murder of a policeman days before the trio’s beating.

The trio admits being in the area of that 5/5 street corner shooting but say they were visiting with the mother of the man fatally shot the night before their beating.

The Philadelphia Daily News interviewed this mother and relatives of that fatally shot man who confirmed the trio was visiting with them.

The Daily News also interviewed one of the men shot during that 5/5 street corner shooting who said that while he fled the shooting scene – wounded – police tackled him, stomped and shot him with a taser before he convinced them that he was a shooting victim.

This victim told the Daily News he did not see the shooter.

A police report about this shooting victim states “5 B/M’s” were in the Mercury.

Philadelphia police and prosecutors deny any improprieties in the proceedings against the trio.

Philadelphia’s District Attorney Lynne Abraham indicates she might file disciplinary charges against defense lawyer Perrine for his wildly false accusations.

Perrine claims prosecutors failed to lodge assault against police, resisting arrest and attempted escape charges against the trio as asserted in initial police arrest reports because of prosecutor’s covert attempts to block the beating video being used in criminal court proceeding against the trio.

“This entire incident…has been so far beyond what anyone would expect or tolerate from law enforcement it cannot be described,” Perrine said. “These guys are getting beaten and stomped on all over again and no one is realizing it.”

Recently Perrine blasted prosecutors for intentionally delaying court proceedings seeking to get his client released from custody – a charge denied by prosecutors.

Pennsylvania’s Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers states it is not reasonable to delay proceedings “if done for the purpose of frustrating an opposing party’s attempt to obtain rightful redress.”

Those Rules also states that prosecutors have “specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice…”

Perrine’s criticism came when prosecutors sought to postpone proceeding on his Writ of Habeas Corpus for Hopkins contending that failure to provide Hopkins with his preliminary hearing weeks violates Hopkins’ constitutional rights.

Delays by prosecutors and judges resulted in Hopkins not receiving his preliminary hearing within the mandated ten-day period following his arrest.

Philadelphia activists are currently gearing-up for a campaign to get local and federal action against the District Attorney Lynne Abraham for her alleged failure to aggressively address police brutality.

Philadelphia, in 1979, became the first American city in history to have its top City Hall officials, including its mayor, sued by the federal government for aiding police brutality.

Nearly two decades later, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued separate reports in 1998 blasting brutality and corruption among Philadelphia police.

Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune who has covered police brutality in that city for thirty-years.

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