What is the price of protecting racism in a police department?
For the City of Philadelphia, a federal jury recently set the price tag for protecting racist police at $10-million dollars.
This record setting jury award for a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia ended an unusual trial involving three white former policemen suing the City for savage mistreatment by Police Department personnel for simply reporting racism and other misconduct.
The jury awarded Ray Carnation $2-million, William McKenna $3-million and Michael McKenna $5-million – a trio fired from the police jobs they loved. The McKenna brothers’ father served in Philadelphia’s Police Department.
“The jury sent a resounding message to the City and the Police Department that racism has no place in the Police Department,” said Brian T. Puricelli, the attorney for this trio.
“The jury’s verdict stated the City has no business covering up and going after people who complain about racism,” Puricelli said.
Trouble for former Philadelphia 25th Police District officers Carnation and the McKenna brothers began in the late 1990s when they objected to misconduct by fellow officers like fraudulently obtaining overtime-pay by falsely claiming involvement in arrests. This scheme enables payment for testifying in court while off-duty.
Ostracism against the trio escalated when they objected to a police sergeant referring to black officers as “critters” and “niggers.”
Police Department officials ignored complaints about this racist slur spewing sergeant from the trio, black officers and civil rights activists. Officials promoted this sergeant to his current rank of lieutenant.
The trio’s objections to misconduct violated the ‘Code of Silence’ among police – that unofficial creed that bars officers from revealing wrongdoing by fellow officers.
Cops in the 25th District put “graffiti on the walls of the bathroom” haranguing the trio as ‘snitches’ and ‘rats’ stated a federal appeals court ruling in this case.
Retaliation against the trio ranged from fellow white patrol officers refusing to provide backup to top Department officials sanctioning punishments against the trio.
The malicious campaign of retaliation also included the arrest and conviction of Bill McKenna’s wife on the specious charge of harassing a Deputy Police Commissioner when she appeared at this official’s home one night begging him to stop the police harassment of her husband.
McKenna’s wife, Cynthia, testified during the recent week-long federal trial that then Deputy Commissioner Thomas Nestel “grabbed me” as she attempted to leave his property as he ordered.
“He threw me against a brick wall, pulled my arms behind my back and handcuffed me.” Cynthia McKenna said.
Nestel charged Mrs. McKenna with disorderly conduct despite PPD policy at the time stating off-duty officers “will not take police action…in minor offenses such as disorderly conduct…”
Philadelphia prosecutors pressed the disorderly conduct and harassment charges Nestel filed.
While a judge dismissed the disorderly conduct charge against Mrs. McKenna, Nestel’s harassment charge produced her first ever conviction carrying a $100 fine and three months reporting probation.
“I was convicted and had to report to a probation officer,” Cynthia McKenna testified. “Drug dealers don’t have to report to probation officers.”
Ironically, this civil rights trial began hours before a TV news helicopter captured Philadelphia police viciously kicking and beating three suspects. This brutality incident topped national headlines…even meriting mention in a Jay Leno monologue.
One of the 25th District tormentors of Carnation and the McKenna brothers was an officer who’s cost Philadelphia’s City Hall over a million dollars in settlement costs for brutality lawsuits.
Evidence exposed during the trio’s trial graphically reveals that police misconduct from brutality to corruption continues roiling because police have confidence their Department supervisors will cover for them.
Then Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney was among the Department officials berating the trio numerous times in public.
This trial revealed that rooting out police culture protecting brutality and other misconduct will be difficult because this protection reaches into the highest ranks of police and prosecutors.
Prosecutors pursued that harassment charge against Mrs. McKenna even though Pennsylvania’s crimes code defines harassment as “repeatedly” communicating with or following a person…circumstances that seemingly did not occur the night Mrs. McKenna went to Nestel’s house.
One of those ranking police supervisors the jury faulted for protecting racist officers played a prime-witness role for City attorneys during the trio’s trial.
This supervisor is a former Captain at the 25th, William Colarulo – now a ranking Chief Inspector with the Police Department.
A federal appeals court ruling nearly two years ago rejecting a legal attempt by Philadelphia City Hall attorneys to dismiss this civil rights suit critically references actions by then Capt Colarulo.
While discussing aspects of volatile events inside the 25th station house during February 1998, the appeals court ruling found strong evidence of “retaliatory animus” in Colarulo reportedly threatening to make Ray Carnation’s life a “living nightmare” if Carnation pursued a EEOC complaint against that sergeant for mistreating black officers.
Colarulo’s “message was clear – opposition to Maroney’s racial discrimination needed to stop, and Colarulo was going to make it stop by silencing these officers rather than by disciplining or removing Maroney,” the appeals court ruling stated.
Colarulo told the jury that racial slurs are “never permitted” and denied having any “meetings” with the trio or others like Philadelphia’s black police officers organization about issues regarding racism within the 25th District station.
Two days after Colarulo’s denials, the head of Philadelphia’s black officers organization – the Guardian Civic League – gave testimony contradicting Colarulo’s claims.
While Colarulo said he did not see any racism among officers under his then command, he did see numerous job-related infractions by this trio.
These infractions caused Colarulo to keep extensive files on the trio, files that subsequently produced a multi-day interview with Police Internal Affairs investigators against the trio that when reduced to paper spanned 71-pages.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this trial was it providing another example of Philadelphia City Hall’s willingness to spend money to protect ‘the system’ – a system populated by those who protect lawless behavior by law enforcers that costs ‘the system’ plenty.
Philadelphia officials spent $24.5-million on police misconduct lawsuits including brutality between late 2002 and January 2008.
Philadelphia officials spent $47.1-million on police misconduct lawsuits during eight of the nine years between 1988 and 1997.
A 1987 report from an investigative task force appointed by the then Police Commissioner term the Philadelphia Police Department “unaccountable.”
A Philadelphia Daily News editorial regarding that nationally televised beating and published the day before the jury’s verdict in the Carnation/McKenna trial referenced “the need for accountability” among Philadelphia police.
Philadelphia’s City Solicitor brushed off the jury’s verdict as a disappointment – still asserting that City Hall continues “to believe that [the trio’s] claims” have no merit.
Police abuse persists from New York City to Los Angeles because officials fail to consistently crackdown on police misconduct.
Linn Washington Jr. is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune newspapers who has covered police abuse issues in that city for thirty-years.