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Sexual Assault and Other Philadelphia Police Scandals

by LINN WASHINGTON JR.

Philadelphia — A January 7, 2014 police assault on Darrin Manning that resulted in the 16-year-old honor student’s needing emergency surgery to repair a ruptured testicle, is outrageous but hardly unusual in this city.

That sidewalk assault on Manning began with a physical attack by a Philadelphia policeman with a record of citizen complaints. It was followed by separate abuse to his testicle by a policewoman. Doctors fear the damage to Manning’s testicle may leave the teen permanently sterile.

That double assault is consistent with an infamous history of brutality by police in Philadelphia. As far back as 1998, a report by Human Rights Watch said the Philly cops “have earned one of the worst reputations of big city police departments in the United States.” Things haven’t changed much in the intervening years.

And, consistent with incidents of police brutality here, cops in Philadelphia routinely charge their victims with assault on police and resisting arrest – two of the criminal charges police slapped on Darrin Manning.

Fatal shootings and vicious beatings by Philadelphia police during the 1970s prompted an unusual 1979 federal lawsuit, the first-ever filed by the U.S. Justice Department charging a mayor and top city officials with openly aiding police abuse. Philadelphia police fatally shot 162 persons during the nine years before that federal lawsuit. Between 2007-2012 Philadelphia police fatally shot 65 people, with 15 of those fatalities coming in 2012.

Perhaps the worse brutality incident occurred in 1985 when Philadelphia police dropped a bomb from a helicopter on a house that they had under siege. That attack on a home known to have children in it at the time, killed five children, six adults and burned down 61 surrounding homes.

This legacy of police brutality in Philadelphia, spanning over a century, routinely includes high-profile assaults on teens, primarily blacks and Latinos. In January 2010, for example, a police assault on a teenaged student left that concert violinist beaten and missing dreadlocks which were torn from his head by officers. Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner defended a June 2012 vicious assault on a teen stopped for a minor traffic violation. That assault, Commissioner Charles Ramsey said, was as an appropriate use of force because that 18-year-old suspect had allegedly resisted arrest. In the Manning matter, Ramsey belatedly launched an investigation into the assault but only after news coverage of the incident and public complaints.

Philadelphia officials routinely contend abuse by city police is an isolated incident and not the endemic scourge that the numbers and history suggest. Yet, a federal judge’s 1973 ruling in a class-action lawsuit against police abuses stated violence by Philadelphia police, from physical assaults to fatal shootings, occurred with such frequency they could not “be dismissed as rare, isolated incidents.” That ruling noted that Philadelphia officials did “little or nothing” to punish or prevent police abuse.” Every year the City of Philadelphia pays out millions of dollars in claims arising from lawsuits filed against police misconduct. Surprisingly, those costly settlements do not result in any discipline against the offending police, even in a city that has elected a black mayor and district attorney, and that has a black police chief.

During a six-year period between 2005-2011, Philadelphia residents filed 3,218 complaints against city police with Philadelphia’s Police Advisory Commission –- a civilian review agency that is constantly assailed by Philadelphia’s police union. The majority of those complaints filed with the PAC have alleged physical abuse and/or abuse of authority. The PAC definition for abuse of authority includes illegal searches, illegal arrests and verbal abuse. The police district where the assault on Darrin Manning occurred persistently ranks among the police districts generating the highest number of civilian complaints to the PAC.

The alleged assault (by two white police officers) on Darrin Manning included both physical assault and abuse of authority (an illegal search and illegal arrest). Further, that incident evidenced a police reaction criticized in that 1998 HRW report: a “tough attitude toward suspects, responding with violence to what officers perceive to be disrespect.” That 1973 federal court ruling listed the most likely targets of police abuse as being poor blacks and persons who challenged their initial police contact.

That January 2014 incident involving Manning occurred while the straight-A student was enroute to a basketball game with his high school basketball teammates. All of the teens were dressed in their basketball uniforms. A police officer approached the teens and a snide remark was allegedly made as the teens ran. But Manning alone stopped and returned to the officer, following his mother’s directives to respect police.

“I did nothing wrong,” Manning said.

According to Manning’s attorney, that policeman assaulted and handcuffed Manning. Then a policewoman came up and roughly performed a pat-down search in violation of Philadelphia Police Department procedure that restricts pat-downs to officers of the same sex as the suspect. That policewoman grabbed and yanked Manning’s genital area with such force it ruptured one of his testicles, requiring emergency surgery after Manning’s release from hours in police custody.

“The police officers saw this sexual assault and the prior physical assault and did nothing but laugh. They laughed! Police did nothing to stop this abuse,” Manning’s attorney Lewis Smalls said. Smalls wants a federal investigation into the incident.

Attorney Smalls said the initial police contact that prompted the assaults shows that Philadelphia police continue to violate a federal court consent degree to scale back its controversial Stop-&-Frisk program. A March 2013 ACLU report criticized Philadelphia police for continually conducting Stop-&-Frisks without the legally required probable cause -– reasonable suspicion of an illegal activity. The predominate targets of Stop-&-Frisk in Philadelphia are young black and Latinos males.

According to police, an officer approached Manning and his teammates due to suspicion of seeing a gang of youth wearing ski masks. Police said Manning punched the arresting officer three times and then ripped off the officer’s radio. While police released the name of the arresting officer, Thomas Purcell, police have refused to name the policewoman who damaged Manning’s testicle.

The head of Manning’s charter school, Veronica Joyner, disputes police accounts of her students wearing ski masks. Joyner said her basketball team members were wearing hats, scarves and gloves she supplied them before they left for the game because it was one of the coldest days in Philadelphia history. “I gave them warm items to wear. These boys did nothing to warrant that police assault,” Joyner said. “My students told me the police called them ‘Hood Rats.’”

The Philadelphia chapter of the National Action Network (NAN) founded by Rev. Al Sharpton, is working with Manning’s family to get the charges against him dropped and to have charges filed against the police who assaulted him.

“Use of excessive force by Philadelphia police is a continuing problem. The District Attorney refused to meet with us about this matter,” Philadelphia NAN chapter official Paula Peeples said. NAN has requested that the DA drop the “false” charges against Manning.

Peeples castigated the silence on the Manning assault from Philadelphia’s top officials. “Their silence is protective of police,” Peeples charged. “This is offensive given the history of police abuse in this city.”

Commissioner Charles Ramsey and DA Seth Williams decline comment due to the ongoing investigation. A spokesman for Mayor Michael Nutter said police are investigating the incident and “there is a process” Manning can follow: filing a lawsuit and/or complaint with the PAC. The spokesman declined further comment. Stop-&-Frisk, a practice that has produced much alleged abuse by police, is the signature anti-crime strategy of Mayor Nutter.

It was also a signature policy of New York City’s last mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and opposition to the policy was a key part of progressive Democrat Bill De Blasio’s successful election campaign to replace him. A federal judge in New York had last year ruled that the policy, which heavily targeted young minority males, was unconstitutional and blocked it, but an appellate court last fall ordered her to reconsider the case. De Blasio, elected last November, recently short-circuited that appellate ruling by using his authority as mayor to halt the program.

The Philadelphia NAN branch has requested a federal probe into brutality by Philadelphia police since 2008. Bush Administration officials, Peebles said, had told NAN there was a solid case against police but they deferred to the incoming Obama Administration. Obama officials have refused to act on NAN’s request, Peebles said. Obama Justice Department officials told NAN, according to Peeples that pressure from Pennsylvania’s [then] Democrat Gov. Ed Rendell had stalled their action. Rendell, before becoming the state’s governor, was Philadelphia’s Mayor and before that, its district attorney.

“We will keep working for a federal investigation,” Peeples said.

Manning’s mother, Ikea Coney, is particularly distraught, faulting herself. “I blame myself,” Coney said. “I taught my son to respect cops, not fear them. Maybe if he was afraid, he would have run like the other boys and he would have been okay.”

Manning returns to court in March to face charges that he attacked Officer Thomas Purcell. According to police records Purcell has had complaints filed against him regarding false arrests but was cleared by internal Police Department investigations.

Linn Washington Jr. is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues JOHN GRANT, DAVE LINDORFF, LORI SPENCER and CHARLES M. YOUNG, can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Linn Washington, Jr. is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He lives in Philadelphia.

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