OFFICER VINCENT Strain, the son of a recently retired captain who had worked in Internal Affairs, zoomed from suspect to suspect, kicking each of the three men wanted in a triple shooting, according to police brass.
Officer Patrick Gallagher, a two-year veteran, bashed one of the shooting suspects in the head with anunknown object, while Officer Patrick Whalen, just one month out of the Police Academy, pummeled two suspects, police said.
And Officer Robert Donnelly, also fresh out of the academy, was said to be arguably the worst violator of department policy: With a gun in his hand, Donnelly allegedly yanked one suspect from the car and struck and repeatedly kicked him. Then he pressed his foot on a suspect's head and later shoved one man's neck into a squad car before placing him inside, said Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.
Yesterday, Ramsey fired these four officers - all from the 35th Police District - and disciplined four others, including demoting a sergeant, for their role in a May 5 police encounter filmed by a news helicopter and seen around the world.
"All of us as law-enforcement professionals have to understand that, unlike criminals on the street, we have rules that we have to abide by," Ramsey said. "We have an obligation to do things the right way. We have a legal authority to use force to take people into custody, but only that force necessary to effect the arrest. If it gets beyond that, then we've got an issue, we've got a problem and we have to take some action."
In this case, the new commissioner's action - met with both praise and protest - was relatively swift, particularly from a Police Department with a history of drawn-out internal investigations into alleged police misconduct.
Ramsey punished the eight officers just two weeks after the dramatic footage first aired locally on Fox 29 News. Internal Affairs investigators identified 19 officers - including one SEPTA cop seen with a K-9 dog - who arrived on the scene of the car-stop on 2nd Street near Erie Avenue in North Philadelphia.
The video shows officers rushing a gold Mercury Grand Marquis and pulling out the three suspects: Brian Hall, 23; Dwayne "Lionel" Dyches, 24; and Pete Hopkins, 19. The officers then kick, punch and stomp on the three men, whom police say fled a shooting at 4th and Annsbury streets.
Of the 19 officers identified on the video, Ramsey said that seven used excessive force, while a police sergeant failed to intervene.
Ramsey demoted Sgt. Joseph Schiavone, a 15-year veteran from the 35th District, Broad Street and Champlost Avenue, to the rank of officer. Three other officers were suspended ranging from five to 15 days: Sean Bascom, Narcotics Strike Force; Demetrios Pittaoulis, 35th District; and Jonathon Czapor, 25th District, Whitaker Street near Erie Avenue.
In an unprecedented public flogging of sorts, Ramsey named each officer and detailed their involvement in the beating during an afternoon news conference at Police Headquarters. A stern-faced Mayor Nutter joined him at the podium.
"Today's announcement represents, I believe, what is required in this matter - swift, direct action," Nutter said. "I think this represents a new day in the Philadelphia Police Department and how we deal with these kinds of situations."
Ramsey said he was worried about the morale of his officers and stressed that the discipline against the eight officers was "not a reflection" on the rank and file. "We've got people who get out there every single day and they do an absolutely tremendous job," Ramsey said.
The move was widely praised - and widely criticized.
"It's an unprecedented, gutsy move by Ramsey, and clearly it had to be approved by the Nutter administration, so they deserve a lot of the credit, too," said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP.
Mondesire marveled at the speed of Ramsey's decision. He pointed out that in similar situations, past police commissioners generally postponed Internal Affairs investigations until after the District Attorney's Office completed its probe and determined whether to prosecute the officers.
The officers could still face criminal charges. City prosecutors are investigating; federal authorities say they're monitoring the district attorney's probe.
"We will do a fair and thorough investigation," Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for District Attorney Lynne Abraham, said yesterday. There is no time frame for completion, she added.
Ramsey said the city also has hired an outside agency, the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, D.C., to evaluate the department's use of force policy and officer training under a four-month, $77,000 contract.
John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, accused Ramsey of rushing to judgment.
"Every common criminal has the right to due process under the law," McNesby said. "Here, the officers didn't get due process. They weren't interviewed. It was more or less, they were guilty until proven innocent."
McNesby said that the FOP will appeal Ramsey's decision on behalf of the eight officers. He lamented that city leaders are "sending mixed signals" to officers.
"They want a war on crime, but they don't want any casualties," McNesby said. "These guys" - the three suspects - "just shot up a street corner for God sakes - it's not like they were coming back from choir practice. We'll back these officers 150 percent."
McNesby said that in his 20 years on the force, he knew of no other case in which officers were fired in this manner. "I don't believe anybody from the Thomas Jones incident was fired - the officers were disciplined, but not one hour of that discipline against them stood up," McNesby said, referring to a 2000 incident in which 13 officers were taped beating Jones, a convicted carjacker. Last week, Rev. Al Sharpton weighed in on the May 5 incident. He called the beating "worse than Rodney King" and inflamed existing racial tensions in Philadelphia by pointing out that most of the officers involved were white.
But on a radio program with Mayor Nutter yesterday, Sharpton extolled city officials, saying the action was "unprecedented," according to an article posted on Philly.com.
"For you to take this action now shows some real muscle and seriousness about addressing police brutality," Sharpton said.
Yet even Sharpton's own people disagreed.
Sultan Ashley Shah, the Philadelphia head of Sharpton's National Action Network, said that Ramsey didn't go far enough. He asserted that at least 15 officers took part in the beating and demanded that Ramsey fire each and every one.
"Just look at the video tape!" Ashley Shah shouted. "The world saw it. The world counted. Fifteen, minimum, individuals in that videotape are kicking these individuals."
Ashley Shah led a small - but boisterous - band of 15 protestors, who chanted "Thugs in uniform - that's what they are" while standing outside police headquarters yesterday.
Tensions boiled over yesterday morning during a bail-reduction hearing for Dyches before Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Palumbo. Led by Ashley Shah, family and supporters of Dyches filled four rows of courtroom benches.
Dyches' attorney, Robert Gamburg, argued that his client's bail should be reduced from $1.5 million to $50,000, citing his ties to the community. Gamburg called the high bail "outrageous" and said Dyches is not accused by police of being the getaway driver or the shooter.
"Until the city can get their story straight, it's fundamentally unfair," Gamburg said. Gamburg was referring to conflicting accounts of the shooting. Initially, Ramsey said that undercover narcotics officers saw four men get out of a gold Marquis. One of the four fired into a crowd of people at 4th and Annsbury streets and then ran off. But last week, Ramsey identified Hopkins, a passenger in the car, as the shooter. Reporters again pressed Ramsey yesterday for clarification.
"The officer that had the eyeball on the surveillance at the time continues to state and is firm that he saw four individuals get out of the car," Ramsey said. "There is a civilian witness that said he only saw three. That is the issue."
At the hearing before Judge Palumbo, Assistant District Attorney Carol Meehan Sweeney argued that bail should remain at $1.5 million for Dyches. She pointed out that he's charged as an accessory and conspirator in a triple shooting in which three men were injured.
"The Commonwealth's theory has not changed on this case," Sweeney said. Sweeney's assertion prompted those in the crowd to yell, "Yes, it has! Yes, it has!"
Sweeney then cited Dyches' criminal record. She said he had eight arrests, including juvenile arrests, and in three separate cases, he failed to appear in court. She added that Dyches has no full-time job and no children, which also makes him a flight risk. Those in the crowd called her a liar, yelling that he has a job and three kids. When a sheriff's officer with an accent asked the crowd to settle down, Paula Peebles, of Sharpton's National Action Network said, "Can you please speak English so I can understand what you're saying?"
A quiet chill came over the courtroom. The judge said that Dyches has a detainer on him for a previous offense and until that detainer is lifted, it's premature to consider lowering his bail. The crowd stormed out of the courtroom. At least six sheriff's officers ushered the rowdy crowd into elevators and police officers looked on tensely.
Out on the street, the crowd of Dyches supporters shouted down Sweeney as she left the justice complex.
"Sweeney, liar! Sweeney, liar!" they chanted. Sweeney hurried across Filbert Street without glancing at them.
D. Scott Perrine, the attorney for alleged shooter Pete Hopkins, blasted Ramsey yesterday, saying his actions "fall woefully short of an appropriate response." Perrine, who was not at the hearing, said later that the officers involved belong in a jail cell and Ramsey has probable cause to arrest them. *