The controversial acquittal of a Philadelphia policeman caught on video violently punching a woman at a Puerto Rican Day parade last fall quickly produced a second stink bomb.
The Philadelphia judge who freed fired Lt. Jonathan Josey during a non-jury trial where that jurist brushed aside compelling evidence recorded on that video is married to a Philadelphia policeman.
The wife of Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Patrick F. Dugan was among the 100-plus police officers who jammed Dugan’s courtroom during Josey’s one-day trial in mid-February.
Judge Dugan neither revealed his marital relationship nor removed himself from the case – formally known as recusal.
Dugan presiding at Josey’s trial seemingly flaunted provisions of Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct, particularly provisions prohibiting the “appearance of impropriety” by judges and judges not allowing “family to influence” their judicial judgment.
Dugan issued his acquittal verdict two weeks after Josey’s trial. When ruling, Dugan said he was troubled by Josey’s conduct captured on a cell phone video but he was impressed by the testimony from other police officers plus character witnesses for Josey who supported his claims of innocence.
Judge Dugan’s ruling favoring Josey, and his unwillingness to consider the video evidence contradicting Josey’s courtroom accounts, continues an infamous judicial tradition across America of jurists bending both law and logic to excuse police misconduct, giving breaks to cops generally withheld from civilians facing comparable criminal charges.
Last September, weeks before the assault producing Josey’s arrest, Arizona Judge Jacqueline Hatch sparked outrage when sentencing a policeman to probation after a jury had convicted that officer of sexually groping a woman in a bar while off-duty and drunk. When refusing to impose the possible two-year prison sentence, Judge Hatch bashed the victim for being in a bar.
Months before Hatch’s ruling, New York City judge Gustin Reichbach gave a disgraced NYPD detective probation for planting drugs on an innocent couple after that officer cried during his sentencing and begged for mercy.
In 2009 Chicago Judge John Fleming sentenced a fired policeman to probation following that burly, 250-lb officer’s conviction for beating a female bartender half his weight for her refusal to serve him more alcohol.
Ironically, Philadelphia Judge Patrick Dugan declined to comment on either his ruling or his failure to reveal his wife’s occupation by citing a provision of the same judicial ethics code that he had just trashed.
One section of Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct does require judges to abstain from public comment about court cases. However, the core of that Code insists that judges avoid “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” stating clearly that public confidence in the judiciary is “eroded by irresponsible and improper conduct by judges.”
Reactions to Dugan’s acquittal and his wife’s occupation among members of the public and civic leaders showed eroded confidence in the judiciary – the problem that the code was intended to eliminate.
Zack Stalberg, president of Philadelphia’s civic watchdog Committee of Seventy, told a local television station that it was “inappropriate” for any Philadelphia judge to hear the Josey case. He said an out-of-town jurist should have presided during the trial over an incident that had sparked protests and public criticisms.
Judicial code prohibitions in Pennsylvania against judges serving as character witnesses in criminal trials resulted in part from the practice of Philadelphia judges vouching for police in brutality cases.
Lt. Josey’s videoed assault on Aida Guzman, a woman less than half his size, led to his firing and it produced an unusual public apology to Guzman from Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter, who termed the officer’s conduct, as displayed seen on the video to be “particularly appalling.”
During a raucous period at Philadelphia’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, the video showed Josey taking steps toward Guzman, who was not threatening him or any other officer, and then punching her with force enough to knock her to the ground, where he then grabbed the bloodied woman and slapped handcuffs on the clearly dazed Guzman.
Although Guzman’s only “offense” appeared to be spraying foam streamers, police arrested her for disorderly conduct, but later dropped that charge when the video of Guzman’s assault and arrest went viral last September. Police later charged the arresting officer who had struck her with simple assault, discharging him from the police force.
At trial, Josey maintained that he was trying to smack a beer bottle from Guzman’s hand and inadvertently punched her in the face. He declared his hitting of Guzman was an accident not assault.
Pennsylvania’s simple assault law is real simple: a person is guilty of simple assault if that person “…recklessly causes bodily injury to another.” But in this case, it was Guzman, not the officer or anyone else, who sustained injuries.
Josey attempting to swat a bottle from Guzman’s hand in any event violated Philadelphia police procedure. Such an act posed a reckless endangerment to Guzman and others from a flying bottle and/or broken glass if Josey had knocked the bottle to the ground as he claimed he was attempting to do.
Josey’s handcuffing arrest of Guzman contradicts normal handling of an accident which prompts a quick apology, a point raised by Guzman’s lawyer, who plans to sue the City of Philadelphia for Josey’s assault.
Judge Dugan said he believed Josey’s testimony about what he called an “accidental” punch, and he dismissed the video with the assertion that “this is not a social media contest.”
Dugan is not the first Philadelphia judge to embrace contradictory contentions from a police officer facing brutality charges.
In 1987, for example, judges dismissing charges in three police abuse cases in a ruling which triggered outrage from Philadelphia’s then District Attorney.
“I know that judges will bend over backwards to use whatever reasons they can to throw a case out against a police officer…It’s been historical,” said then DA Ronald Castille, who later became the state’s presiding top judge.
Interestingly, a year after Castille’s outburst, his office issued a report absolving police of any criminal misconduct charges arising from a May 1985 police bombing and burning during a shootout with the MOVE organization that left 11 MOVE members dead, including five children. 61 homes were destroyed in the ensuing fire, leaving 250 people homeless.
And nearly a decade after Castille’s 1987 criticisms, when he was serving on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, Castille voted to reject evidence of egregious brutality and abuses by Philadelphia police in the contentious murder case involving Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In voting in 1998 to reject Abu-Jamal’s second appeal of his internationally denounced murder conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman, Castille rejected legal requests for his recusal that cited a Conduct Code provision that required removal of a judge who “served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy.”
As Philadelphia, DA Castille had fought to sustain Abu-Jamal’s conviction, yet as Supreme Court justice Castille claimed, improbably, that while DA he had been unaware of any facts about Abu-Jamal’s conviction, and had simply signed legal papers to sustain that conviction as an administrative duty.
Lt. Josey has the full support of Philadelphia police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, in seeking to regain his position in Philadelphia’s Police Department, an effort Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner vows to oppose.
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