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Philadelphia police who shot fleeing man got commendations, but aren’t cleared to testify in his arrest

The Defender Association of Philadelphia, in a July 30 court filing, alleged Jason Reid has a pattern of “fabricat[ing] evidence to support the use of force that he applies to people that come in contact with him.”

A Philadelphia police car at a crime scene.
A Philadelphia police car at a crime scene.Read moreChris Palmer / File Photograph

In January 2018, Philadelphia police officers stopped a car driving the wrong way up a street in Kensington, and noticed that the passenger, 22-year-old Stefon Crawley, had a gun.

Video footage of the incident, viewed by The Inquirer, shows Crawley and Officer Timothy Stephan struggling. Then, Stephan gains control of the weapon and Crawley flees. But then, Stephan shoots him, and Officer Jason Reid, who had happened upon the scene moments before, also opens fire. Between them, they shoot Crawley five times in the head and torso.

This June, each officer was awarded a Medal of Bravery, a commendation the department reserves “for the performance of an outstanding arrest where the officer’s effort is met by an armed and dangerous adversary.”

As for Crawley, he was charged with assaulting police and with gun offenses — but, in May, the case was dismissed.

According to the criminal docket, the police officers were not “cleared” to testify.

Why would the Police Department give officers a commendation for an arrest — while at the same time prosecutors are unwilling to call those officers to testify about it in criminal court? And why does the police news release on Crawley’s arrest state that Crawley was armed until police shot him, when he “dropped his firearm ... and fell to the ground,” while the video appears to show Stephan holding Crawley’s weapon before he was shot?

A police spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, citing ongoing litigation. A District Attorney’s Office spokesperson said the office also could not comment, as an investigation into the shooting remains open. Reid said that Crawley was armed when he was shot, and that the episode itself was so frightening that, after 16 years in tactical units on the police force, it was what finally prompted him to take the sergeant exam. Both he and Stephan have since been promoted to that rank.

The Defender Association of Philadelphia, in a July 30 court filing, advanced its own theory: alleging Reid has a pattern of “fabricat[ing] evidence to support the use of force that he applies to people that come in contact with him."

The motion was filed July 30 in the case of Jean Ramos, a man whom Reid and another officer, Victoria Ayres, arrested in November 2017 in connection with selling drugs. The officers reported that Ramos became combative during the arrest, requiring force to subdue him before he ultimately got hold of Ayres’ Taser and Tased himself.

The filing includes documentation of 10 complaints of physical abuse against Reid since 2009, and one $55,000 civil settlement between the city and a man named Kevyn Thomas, who alleged that Reid and other officers physically assaulted and Tasered him during a wrongful arrest. In five of the complaints, Reid was accused of punching people in the face or head. According to Internal Affairs summaries, no allegations against him have been sustained.

The Defender Association’s filing also notes Reid fired his gun on four previous occasions while on duty — episodes that left four people wounded and one dead. In each, Internal Affairs found he acted within department guidelines.

It points to a 2011 encounter as a particular cause for concern. In 2011, Reid responded to a call in North Philadelphia and shot David Patterson, who, Reid reported, was shooting at him. The Internal Affairs report on the incident notes, “Although P/O Reid thought David Patterson discharged a firearm, there was no evidence Patterson discharged a firearm.” The gun found at the scene was fully loaded. Even so, the report found that Reid had acted in accordance with policy.

Reid told The Inquirer unfounded civilian complaints are common and are often legal tactics by defendants. When it comes to arrests, he said: “These are mostly good people having a bad day. ... But there are some people who don’t want to go to jail.” That, he said, is what happened with Ramos, who was flailing wildly because he was high on K2, requiring officers to restrain him.

About 73 percent of police officers in the United States have never fired a gun while on duty, according to the Pew Research Center.

“The fact that someone would have a discharge is unusual. More than once is extremely unusual. Five is extremely unusual,” said Hans Menos, who heads the Police Advisory Commission, a civilian body that participates in a Use of Force Review Board with the Police Department. But, he added, “All of that is mediated by climate.” That is, certain units — including the highway patrol unit that Reid was part of — are far more likely than others to see gunfire.

The Use of Force Review Board, Menos said, does not take into account an officer’s record in determining whether a use of force is justified, though supervisors or Internal Affairs could review that information to assess training needs.

A U.S. Department of Justice analysis of officer-involved shootings in Philadelphia from 2007 to 2013 found that just 15 officers were involved in three or more shootings, out of a 6,300-member police force. The study, which included 91 recommendations for change, found that in 88 percent of cases, officers were found not to have violated policy or were found to have committed violations so minor they merited suspensions of one week or less.

Since then, the number of shootings has declined dramatically, to a decade low of 12 in 2018.

According to the Department of Justice review, the Police Department did have an early-warning system for officers with multiple complaints or uses of force — but it was triggered only if those episodes occurred within a 12-month period. A police spokesperson declined to comment on whether that policy remains in effect, “because commenting on such a protocol could impede our ability to conduct these types of internal reviews.”

For Sandra Fountain, these cases renew questions she has been asking for 15 years — about what happened to her son, Phillip, who was 25 years old in 2004 when Reid and Officer Thomas Schaffling shot and killed him on a street in West Oak Lane, after they attempted to stop him for questioning.

“They told me it was justified, of course,” she said. She does not believe the police account that her son was armed when he was shot. “They said ... my son was coming from a party, walking down the street, apparently just firing off this weapon and when the cops approached him he resisted. But my son was shot in the back. ... To me, it wasn’t justified.”