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Defending Crooked Cops

The ethics reforms Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter implemented recently covering most workers in that city’s perennially corruption-plagued government has a curious gap: there is no measure prohibiting retaliation.

Could that have anything do with a federal lawsuit that names the Hizzoner as principal defendant, alleging that Nutter engaged in retaliation against a city employee who helped expose corruption in press?

This federal civil rights lawsuit accuses Mayor Nutter of sacking a city employee who alerted a Philadelphia Daily News reporter about corruption within that city’s Police Department – long a cesspool of corruption and brutality.

The resulting series of articles about the rampant corruption within a squad of narcotics cops resulted in the Daily News winning a Pulitzer Prize last year.

The plaintiff in that lawsuit, Wellington Stubbs, is formerly the chief inspector for Philadelphia’s civilian police review agency. Stubbs alleges that
Nutter initiated retaliatory actions against him because of his directing a police informant whistleblower to the Daily News. Those actions eventually “forced” Stubbs to resign in November 2009.

Nutter, the suit alleges, was angered that Stubbs had directed that police informant to a reporter at the Daily News. That informant had initially approached Stubbs’ review agency but he was fearful of physical harm from the corrupt cops.

A top aide to Nutter allegedly told Stubbs in February 2009 that “The Mayor is very upset with you about this and it is going to cost the City a lot of money,” according to allegations contained in Stubbs’ lawsuit. The case has yet to go to trial.

The discharge of Stubbs, the lawsuit charges, was “retaliation” for Stubbs making good faith reports of “wrongdoing and waste.”

Nutter’s ethics reform impacting 87% of Philadelphia municipal workforce bars nepotism and political fund raising in city owned facilities like box seats at sports stadiums but barring retaliation is not among the provisions.

Ironies abound in the pending case Stubbs filed last summer.

The review agency where Stubbs once worked, the Police Advisory Commission, is an entity created in the mid-1990s by Nutter himself when he served on Philadelphia’s City Council.

Then Councilman Nutter beat back stiff opposition to that long-sought abuse monitoring agency from the city’s police union, the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and from the city’s then Mayor Ed Rendell, a liberal Democrat who just finished serving two terms as Pennsylvania’s Governor.

That lawsuit filed by Stubbs added another wrinkle recently when Nutter’s name surfaced in a controversy over the resume of a ranking Philadelphia police commander at the center of a dirty employment discrimination scandal that lead to a federal jury’s issuing a $10-million verdict two years ago.

It was the largest such verdict in history against the Philadelphia Police Department and it grew out of an episode of retaliation.

The police commander in question, William Colarulo, listed Nutter among eight references on his resume for a police chief position in suburban Radnor Township.

But a Nutter spokesman said the Mayor’s Office had “no official request on record” from Colarulo for such a reference.

The Nutter Administration is in fact currently appealing that $10-million jury verdict which was awarded to three white policemen who were found to have been driven from Philadelphia’s Police Department because they had reported racist mistreatment of black officers as well as multiple incidents of misconduct such as officers fraudulently obtaining overtime-pay by falsely claiming involvement in arrests.

The retaliation against those ex-officers began under Colarulo’s command.

A few days before Nutter announced his ethics reforms, the Philadelphia Weekly reported that City Hall had paid private lawyers nearly $1-million to fight the lawsuit filed by that trio of fired officers who are now widely known as the “Courageous Three.”

That trio, Ray Carnation and brothers Michael and William McKenna, endured gross mistreatment in the late 1990s during the mayoral tenure of Ed Rendell.

Their mistreatment included disciplinary actions plus the procedurally flawed disorderly conduct arrest of Bill McKenna’s wife during an incident involving Colarulo, when she sought relief from police harassment of her husband.

Philadelphia prosecutors secured a conviction of the wife on that frivolous charge for an arrest that additionally violated Police Department policies.

Nutter’s appeal of that $10-million damage award, in addition to wasting additional taxpayer resources, continues the obscene practice of protecting police whose abusive and corrupt behavior produces costly verdicts or settlements.

Days before Mayor Nutter’s ethics reform announcement, the City of Philadelphia also settled a wrongful police shooting lawsuit for $500,000. A policeman had fatally shot the female victim twice in the back and in three other places, claiming he feared the woman was going to stab him.

An attorney for the victim’s family, called that shooting “an assassination.” The Philadelphia DA’s Office and Police Internal Affairs, however, had called the murderous action “justified,” and took neither criminal nor disciplinary actions against the officer involved.

Colarulo and two other policemen mainly responsible for the mistreatment of the “Courageous Three” continue to draw combined salaries totaling $276,384 annually.

Costs for compensating the victims of police misconduct strains the budgets of revenue-starved cities nationwide. While cities like Philadelphia cut services from fire stations to libraries and recreation centers trying to compensate for budgetary shortfalls, those cities continue to shell out money by the truckload for lawsuit settlements, without disciplining or discharging errant officers.

Philadelphia spent nearly $25-million settling civil rights complaints against police between 2007 and mid-2010, alone.

Chicago spent an average of $39.1-million per year settling similar claims against police between 2004 and 2006.

New York City spent an average of $96.4-million between 1999 and 2008.

Police culture, particularly its no-snitching insularity, is “in part responsible for the prevalence of police misconduct and impedes meaningful police reform,” stated a 2010 article in The Catholic University Law Review.

The outsized political power of police unions like the FOP compounds difficulties of policing police.

The Nutter Administration in Philadelphia is not commenting on the Wellington Stubbs case citing policy against commenting on pending litigation.

Previously, the Administration contended Stubbs had been terminated for job-related infractions like violating the city’s residency requirements by living in New Jersey.

However, City authorities had cleared Stubbs of residency issues two years before they instituted another residency investigation, the second one coming three months after Nutter’s aide confronted Stubbs about his directing the informant to the news reporter.

Stubbs, in his lawsuit claims the City of Philadelphia has a practice of misusing its “disciplinary system” to chill free speech rights.

Misusing the disciplinary system was a core issue in the lawsuit filed by the “Courageous Three,” where the jury specifically found they were victims of disciplinary abuses.

The trio endured a welter of disciplinary actions after they filed employment discrimination complaints with state and federal agencies, in part to seek relief from Police Department harassment that included disciplinary actions.

Some of those disciplinary actions were initiated by Colarulo when he commanded Philadelphia’s 25th Police District, where the “Courageous Three” worked.

When Police Department authorities reassigned Colarulo from the 25th to commanding a detective unit, another dispute over disciplinary action emerged.

A white female detective filed a federal anti-discrimination lawsuit claiming among other things that Colarulo had refused to act against the gender discrimination she was enduring from a supervisor.

That detective’s lawsuit stated Colarulo filed disciplinary charges against her one day after she informed him of her intent to file a federal EEOC employment discrimination complaint.

A 2006 federal appeals court ruling in the lawsuit filed by the “Courageous Three” found that the evidence indicated Colarulo “wanted to suppress or undermine any discrimination lawsuit that might arise, and was willing to take action against [the trio] for having complained in the first place.”

Radnor Township officials suspended their decision approving Colarulo’s hiring late last month. Colarulo, who holds a masters degree, worked his way up from a patrolman to Chief Inspector, one of the highest ranks in the Philadelphia Police Department.

The township officials, according to published reports, said Colarulo had urged them to examine concerns raised about him involving the cases of the “Courageous Three” and detective Denise Szustowicz, because he didn’t want any controversy overshadowing his police chief job.

Township officials, who did not respond to requests for comment, may be a little extra sensitive to race- and sex-related issues. The town got considerable bad press when, two years ago, local police charged a black female high school honor-roll student with assault for an after-school fight she didn’t even participate in.

That fight between two male teens, one a white Radnor student who had harassed that girl in question with racist remarks, and one a black youth who was friends with the girl, resulted in no serious injuries beyond the bruised ego of the muscled Radnor student who lost the fight.

Regardless, Radnor police filed nine serious criminal charges against the girl basing those charges on the unsubstantiated claims of white students.

Radnor police ignored such facts as that Radnor student provoking the fight and his partying hours after the fight with alcohol although he swore that he sustained serious injuries requiring extensive medical treatment.

Curiously, Radnor police ignored Facebook postings of that student drinking with friends the night of the fight that contradicted his injury claims.

A Delaware County judge, astonishingly, convicted that honor roll student of conspiracy, after dismissing the eight other charges lodged by Radnor police.
That ruling left her with a criminal record for an incident that at worse merited no more than in-school discipline.

That lawsuit by Stubbs and other lawsuits charging retaliation within the Philadelphia Police Department for reporting corruption and discrimination leave a big question hanging.

Mayor Nutter is running for reelection this year projecting his cultivated image of an ethics reformer. This evidence that the mayor is hammering whistleblowers and protecting corrupt cops certainly undermines his image…but will it harm his reelection in a city known as corrupt but content?

LINN WASHINGTON is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent, collectively-owned, journalist-run, reader-sponsored online alternative newspaper.

 

 

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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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