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‘Please, don’t shoot me’: Complaints and lawsuits piled up for years before a Philly detective was arrested

Court documents and previously confidential police department records reveal a history of erratic behavior going back to Robert Redanauer's early years as a detective. He faced little punishment.

Detective Robert Redanauer was arrested April 20.
Detective Robert Redanauer was arrested April 20.Read moreYong Kim / Staff Photographer

It sounded like wildly outlandish behavior, a scene so over-the-top that Quentin Tarantino might have left it on the cutting-room floor.

A naked Philadelphia detective was arguing with a 16-year-old in the boy’s mother’s bedroom in December. When the teen’s older brother walked in, the detective suddenly ran over to a dresser and grabbed a handgun, screamed obscenities at the 23-year-old and repeatedly threatened to kill him.

“Come here, f—er. I am going to shoot you,” Detective Robert Redanauer told the brother, while aiming a handgun at his face, according to an Internal Affairs affidavit.

“Please,” the brother responded as he backed out of the bedroom, “don’t shoot me.”

A closer look at Redanauer’s career, however, shows that the alleged gunpoint threats, which resulted in his arrest last month after an internal probe, weren’t necessarily out of character for the 51-year-old cop.

Court documents, interviews, and previously confidential Police Department records reveal a history of erratic behavior and fits of rage going back to Redanauer’s early years as a detective.

Redanauer is alleged to have opened fire on an unarmed suspect and shot a fellow officer in the leg, smashed a car windshield in what police say was an act of vandalism, made wrongful arrests, attacked a firefighter outside a bar, and threw a domestic abuse victim into a vending machine, among other assaults.

The city has paid at least $271,000 to settle six lawsuits in which Redanauer was named as a defendant, according to the Law Department.

None of the lawsuits, citizen complaints, or internal police investigations — which span two decades — cost Redanauer his job. The Philadelphia Police Department has a long history of failing to address misconduct within its ranks, and of being hamstrung by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, the union that often goes to bat for problem officers.

In Redanauer’s case, the Internal Affairs investigations that found evidence of wrongdoing on his part led to relatively minor disciplinary action, which was reduced at least twice through the union arbitration process, according to police records.

» READ MORE: Fired, then rehired: Once-secret records show how the arbitration system overturned the firings or discipline of more than 100 cops

It wasn’t until Redanauer’s April 20 arrest on charges that include simple assault and making terroristic threats that he was suspended from the department for 30 days with the intent to dismiss. The FOP, which typically defends officers accused of serious misconduct, has publicly remained silent about the Redanauer charges.

“When officers behave in a way that does not honor their oath to protect others from harm, and in fact, create harm, it is made clear that the individual has no place within our ranks and must be removed,” Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said in a statement after Redanauer’s arrest.

The paper trail of harm is long.

On a December night in 2003, for example, Officer Antoine Small Jr. was providing backup for an arrest of a suspect who was expected to meet his girlfriend at 13th Street and Allegheny Avenue. When the suspect arrived, Small approached his car and ordered him to turn off the engine.

Redanauer, in a police vehicle, then inexplicably opened fire, striking Small in the upper leg and putting him out of work for six months, according to a federal lawsuit Small later filed.

Small alleged in his complaint that Redanauer fired his service weapon three times “without any specific target in sight” and that the suspect he was attempting to arrest “was unarmed and presented no danger to the police on the scene.”

According to Small’s lawsuit, the Police Department later determined that Redanauer had violated departmental standards by “shooting without first sighting a target.” The lawsuit was settled for $65,000. Small could not be reached for comment this week.

(Police initially said Small was shot by a “person who came out of nowhere” then escaped into the night. “We are grateful that the worst didn’t happen,” then-Mayor John Street told reporters outside Temple University Hospital, where Small was being treated. “It is a very hazardous and dangerous job.”)

Less than a month after that shooting, in January 2004, a man was helping his sister move out of her Manayunk home when he crossed paths with Redanauer, who was on site in plainclothes conducting an unrelated stolen-property investigation. Again, things suddenly turned violent.

The man told Internal Affairs investigators that Redanauer apparently became enraged after the man called him an “a--hole,” because, according to the man, Redanauer wouldn’t make way for him to carry a bicycle through the hallway.

Without identifying himself as a police officer, the man told investigators, Redanauer pushed him outside, punched him, then struck him with the butt of his gun and attempted to place the barrel of the gun in his mouth. The man’s sister told investigators Redanauer threw him into the back of a truck and at one point said, “I’m a f—ing police officer. Respect me,” and threatened him with the gun.

Redanauer denied assaulting or verbally abusing the man, and Internal Affairs did not sustain the man’s allegations of assault. But it did sustain the false-arrest allegation, finding that Redanauer “was not justified” in arresting the man, who was “lawfully helping his sister … move her belongings out of the house, and was not engaged in any type of criminal activity.”

“Det. Redanauer only stopped and detained [REDACTED] to learn if he had called him an a—hole,” the Internal Affairs report states. Redanauer was also chastised for failing to promptly identify himself as a police officer.

At trial, the man Redanauer arrested was found not guilty of all charges. The Police Board of Inquiry suspended Redanauer for five days. Under an arbitration settlement, that punishment was reduced to three days.

» READ MORE: A guide to how policing laws in Philly and Pa. changed — or didn’t — after George Floyd’s murder

Meanwhile, the lawsuits against Redanauer kept on coming.

The city paid $20,000 to settle a personal-injury case in which a firefighter said Redanauer attacked him outside a Northeast Philadelphia bar in 2009. The suit alleged that the confrontation began after Redanauer had been “screaming” at a woman and the firefighter asked her if she was all right. Redanauer allegedly responded: “I’m a f—ing detective with the Philadelphia Police Department,” and threatened to “f— him up.”

Internal Affairs investigators did not sustain the allegation of physical abuse by Redanauer, but instead reached the conclusion that the firefighter who filed the complaint was actually “the aggressor in this incident.”

A year later, the city paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit in which Redanauer and four other police officers were named as defendants.

The suit said the officers pulled over a man in West Oak Lane in an unlawful stop and frisk, beat him with their hands, feet, and batons, then arrested his passenger when she protested. The driver was taken into custody, then released without charges. The woman was charged with assault and related offenses, but the charges were dismissed when none of the officers appeared to testify.

Their lawsuit, which was settled in December 2011, alleged that each of the officers “gave and endorsed false statements to protect themselves and their fellow defendants against claims that they wrongfully stopped, arrested, assaulted, and battered” the driver and passenger.

In 2016, Redanauer was sued by a woman after she went to the Northwest Detective Division to report that she had been assaulted in a domestic incident. When she complained about how police were treating her, Redanauer allegedly responded by “forcibly grabbing her and slamming her very hard into a vending machine, table and/or wall, throwing her to the ground, striking her in the face, forcibly twisting her arms, and placing handcuffs on her in an excessively tight manner.”

Redanauer detained the woman, and she was charged with harassment and other crimes. The criminal case was later dismissed. Her lawsuit was settled the following year for $11,800.

The woman’s attorney, Paul Messing, said Redanauer’s career appears to be an example of why the Philadelphia Police Department needs to identify officers who abuse their authority or have anger-management issues.

“It’s not rocket science,” said Messing, a longtime civil rights attorney who has focused on police misconduct. “We see this kind of pattern all the time, and we need a disciplinary system that clearly identifies problem officers and that takes prompt and decisive remedial or disciplinary action.”

Redanauer’s attorney, Raymond Driscoll, declined this week to comment on Redanauer’s recent arrest or any past lawsuits or Internal Affairs investigations involving the detective.

In addition to Redanauer, at least nine other Philadelphia police officers have been arrested since January on charges ranging from perjury to sexually assaulting minors.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is pushing for reforms during contract negotiations with the FOP, whose contract expires July 1. Kenney spokesperson Kevin Lessard said Tuesday that the city wants to give the police commissioner more control over transfers, and is seeking changes to the disciplinary and arbitration process, but he declined to discuss specifics.

An Inquirer investigation in 2019 found that the FOP over the previous decade had successfully fought to have police discipline overturned or reduced about 70% of the time.

The Police Advisory Commission, the city’s civilian oversight board, is also working with the Police Department on recommendations for revamping the disciplinary process.

Anthony Erace, the commission’s acting executive director, said a new system would ideally prevent situations in which officers with repeated sustained allegations of misconduct are not penalized appropriately.

“Police I think recognize they had a problem, and we’re helping with a solution,” Erace said. “We’re trying to create a system that works in light of one that — I think this case highlights — doesn’t.”