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Beatings: More questions than answers

Amid inconsistencies in police reports, one defense lawyer calls it 'a cover-up'

Scott Perrine, defense attorney for Pete Hopkins, one of the men beaten by Philadelphia Police during a car stop, points to details on a police report. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Daily News)
Scott Perrine, defense attorney for Pete Hopkins, one of the men beaten by Philadelphia Police during a car stop, points to details on a police report. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Daily News)Read moreDN

IN A SHOOTING case in which the facts seem to change daily, police reports obtained by the

Daily News

yesterday seem to only muddy an already confusing incident that led to the videotaped police beating.

An initial police report says that five black males emerged from a gold Mercury Grand Marquis just before the shooting at 4th and Annsbury streets, in North Philadelphia, on May 5. But a subsequent arrest report says that only four men got out of the car.

When the Marquis was later pursued with only three men inside, the driver tried to elude police. Once stopped at the 3700 block of North 2nd Street, the three men resisted arrest and one suspect struggled with an officer, causing a laceration to the officer's finger, according to the arrest report.

But the three men - Dwayne "Lionel" Dyches, Brian Hall and Pete Hopkins - were not charged with fleeing, resisting arrest or assaulting an officer in a city where the District Attorney's Office routinely lodges such charges. All three were charged with attempted murder and related offenses in connection to the shooting.

D. Scott Perrine, Hopkins' attorney, said yesterday that he believes that District Attorney Lynne Abraham didn't file charges of resisting arrest or assault on an officer because after viewing a Fox 29 News video in which cops beat the suspects, she couldn't give credence to the police version of events laid out in an arrest report.

How then, Perrine asked, can Abraham's office use the same arrest report to make its case against the shooting suspects?

"You can't split the baby," Perrine said.

Cathie Abookire, spokeswoman for the D.A.'s office, declined comment, citing an ongoing investigation into the beating.

Yesterday, Abraham said that she will ask a grand jury to investigate the police beating. She said that a grand jury already seated will be free to hear the case soon.

"We will do a full, thorough, top-to-bottom investigation," Abraham said yesterday.

"The grand jury has subpoena power to call witnesses and documents, and compel testimony, which we do not," she said.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey determined that seven officers used excessive force when arresting the three men, and that a sergeant failed to intervene. He fired four officers and disciplined four others, including demoting the sergeant.

Abraham's job may not be easy. Prosecutors in her office must determine whether the officers should be charged criminally and present their case to the grand jury.

Meanwhile, Abraham's office must move forward in pursuing criminal charges against the three men shown on the videotape.

There is a precedent for Abraham's office to both investigate officers involved in a beating and to prosecute a beaten suspect who faces criminal charges.

In 2000, more than a dozen officers were videotaped beating Thomas Jones, a carjacking suspect. A grand jury exonerated the police, and then-Police Commissioner John Timoney disciplined 13 officers. Jones is serving an 18-to-36-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2001 to 18 charges related to his crime spree.

In this May 5 case, Ramsey said that the shooting and the beating are separate issues.

Yet the police report seems to marry the events.

For instance, in the police report, Officer Robert Donnelly says that Dyches, 24, grabbed and pushed him while he tried to handcuff him.

Ramsey fired Donnelly on Monday, saying that the officer had violated department policy when, with a gun in his hand, he pulled one suspect from the car and struck and repeatedly kicked him. Donnelly then pushed his foot on a suspect's head and later shoved a suspect's neck into a squad car, Ramsey said.

Ramsey took issue with Perrine's argument that the police report proves that the case is tainted and flawed.

"These are independent things that took place, so just because we had an incident where some of the officers - not all the officers - acted inappropriately during the arrest doesn't mean that they lied about a shooting," Ramsey said. "Anyone who draws that conclusion is wrong - period! - and they are not even using logic.

"Just because there is an allegation of misconduct, you can't taint an entire 6,700-member force with the same brush," he said. "You just can't do it."

Ramsey said that the officers who observed the shooting were not involved in the arrest and did not participate in the beating.

Yet, discrepancies in accounts of the shooting and police reports raise more questions than answers about the events leading up to the beating.

Although Ramsey has said that an officer and a civilian witness saw Hopkins, a 19-year-old passenger in the Marquis, pull the trigger at 4th and Annsbury, the arrest report does not name him as the shooter.

The arrest report says: "Three of the males from the gold Marquis got back into the vehicle and the fourth, possibly the shooter, fled eastbound on 300 West Raymond Street, eventually eluding capture. The three males in the gold Marquis went northbound on 4th Street with 25th District [narcotics officers] following."

In the arrest report for Dyches, police say all three suspects resisted arrest and a struggle ensued, but an arrest report for Hopkins makes no mention of resisting arrest or any struggle.

The Hopkins report was approved by a supervisor. The Dyches report shows no such approval.

Perrine said that the varying and sometimes vague police accounts make no sense.

"It's either police work that is so sloppy that it is not worthy of anything ever being taken seriously from this Police Department and shouldn't be the basis of how we prosecute anybody, or it's indicative of people with limited intellect trying to cover something up," Perrine said.

In an interview last night, Ramsey was unable to explain the conflicting reports and witness statements, saying he had not delved into that level of detail with regard to the shooting. He said he instead concentrated on whether officers acted inappropriately after stopping the car and whether they should be disciplined.

When asked why Hopkins had not been identified in the police report as the shooter, Ramsey replied: "I don't know. [Hopkins] does not walk around with a name on his forehead so they may not have known what his actual name was at the time."

In a May 6 news conference, Ramsey said that officers recovered 15 fired shell casings from a 9 mm firearm near the shooting scene. The report, however, does not mention the shell casings.

The report says that narcotics officers, while in pursuit of the Marquis, noticed that the back door of the car opened, seemingly suggesting that the suspects ditched the gun. A police search of the area found no gun.

Ramsey said he trusts his officers "100 percent."

"If that's what they said they saw, then that's what they saw," he said.

Ramsey has consistently said that the suspects eluded police and resisted arrest, but when asked why they weren't charged with those offenses, Ramsey said that the decision had been made by East Detectives in North Philadelphia.

A detective there who refused to identify himself said last night that the decision had come out of the commissioner's office.

"They have some questions to answer that they have not even begun to do," Perrine said. *

Staff writer Damon Williams contributed to this article.