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Cop pair eyed in 2nd beating

IF ANYONE knows the ways of Philly cops, it's 16-year-old Joshua Pagan. The teen says he has been arrested so many times, he has lost count. In one month alone, the North Philly teen says, he was locked up at least three times.


IF ANYONE knows the ways of Philly cops, it's 16-year-old Joshua Pagan.

The teen says he has been arrested so many times, he has lost count. In one month alone, the North Philly teen says, he was locked up at least three times.

In each case - drug possession, aggravated assault, car theft, probation violations - the police procedure was fairly standard: Hands behind your back, cuffs, a trip to the police station.

Then came June 12, 2007, when Officers Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III stopped him for violating the city's 10:30 p.m. juvenile curfew, and he tried to run away.

This time Pagan ended up at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, where he was treated for a swollen-shut, plum-colored black eye after Hill allegedly punched him in the face repeatedly, according to the teen and his mom, Madeline Pagan.

Earlier this week, Fitzgerald and Hill - both five-year veterans who worked in the 25th District in North Philadelphia - were charged with aggravated assault and other offenses for allegedly beating up a graffiti prankster in August 2007.

Now police authorities have reopened an Internal Affairs investigation into Pagan's case, which had been closed months ago without any action against Fitzgerald and Hill. In that case, Pagan was arrested for possession after the officers found marijuana on him.

During a phone interview yesterday from a juvenile facility in western Pennsylvania, Pagan said that he knows he's hardly a choirboy but that he believes he didn't deserve to be pummeled by police.

"Those two cops were bad," Pagan said. "All those times that I had got locked, I was never beat up . . . That [beating] was out of the blue for no reason."

Yesterday, the families of Fitzgerald and Hill defended the officers, saying they're being scapegoated for political gain.

"They are trying to dig up as much dirt on my son as they possibly can," Hill's father, Howard Hill Jr., said.

"I feel they are being railroaded," said Fitzgerald's sister, Shatara Fitzgerald.

On Tuesday, District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey announced criminal charges against Fitzgerald and Hill. Ramsey later released their police photos to media outlets, which splashed their images in newspapers and on television stations across the region.

Abraham said the officers busted David Vernitsky's jaw after catching him spray-painting a congratulatory message to newlywed friends on the wall of a North Philly business.

After repeatedly striking Vernitsky, according to the charges, Fitzgerald and Hill let the graffitist go. The officers later tried to cover up the incident by making a false entry in their patrol log, Abraham said.

Abraham's move came a week after Ramsey publicly lambasted eight officers, firing four, for their roles in a May 5 videotaped beating of three shooting suspects. Abraham has said she will present that case to a grand jury, which will determine whether to approve criminal charges.

"Those guys weren't charged criminally and you have them on videotape," Shatara Fitzgerald said. "They didn't put their pictures on the news."

She speculated that Abraham needed to make an example of her brother and Hill because she got heat for punting the videotaped beating case to a grand jury.

In a written statement yesterday, Abraham said the charges against Hill and Fitzgerald were "based on the facts and the evidence" drawn from a fair and thorough investigation.

On the day Fitzgerald and Hill were charged, police authorities said Ramsey had decided to reopen Joshua Pagan's case.

On Wednesday morning, Lt. Lorraine Dusak, the Internal Affairs investigator who had closed the case, left a note for Pagan's mother at her North Philly home.

"It was so weird because they never came to my house before," Madeline Pagan said yesterday. Pagan had filed a citizen complaint against Fitzgerald and Hill nearly a year ago.

"I would like a full investigation because my son Joshua is only 15 years old!" she wrote in her June 22, 2007, complaint. "Police authority should not abuse their authority! A quick response would be appreciated."

The case was closed and marked "not sustained," meaning the charges couldn't be proven or disproven, because Madeline Pagan was uncooperative, according to Anthony DiLacqua, chief inspector of Internal Affairs.

DiLacqua said that investigators had tried to contact Pagan's mom several times to interview her son but that she didn't respond.

At the time, Lt. Dusak also contacted the witness in the case - Joshua's cousin Andre Boyer - but he declined to give a statement, DiLacqua said. Dusak interviewed Hill and Fitzgerald before closing the case, DiLacqua said.

"It's tougher, quite frankly, to sustain an allegation when the complainant doesn't cooperate," DiLacqua said. "We just don't have as much to go on."

John McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said that by reopening the case, the city is inviting a civil lawsuit that could ultimately cost taxpayers money.

"The first time, the mom is uncooperative. The second time, she sees these two officers are arrested and she starts to see dollar signs," McNesby said.

Pagan said she was contemplating a lawsuit, but denied having been uncooperative. She said Internal Affairs had never informed her that it had closed the case.

"They just kept saying, 'When your son comes home from juvenile placement, we'll interview him,' " Pagan said. According to an incident report prepared by Fitzgerald and Hill, they detained her son about 1:37 a.m. "after a brief foot pursuit" for a "curfew investigation."

After frisking the teen, officers found a pill bottle inside his pants pocket. The bottle contained six baggies filled with alleged marijuana, the report states.

Pagan's mother said the drug charge had been dismissed because the officers had failed to show up in court to testify. Pagan was sent to George Junior Republic, an all-boys institution, in Grove City, Pa., for truancy. He is slated to come home next month, his mother said.

By phone yesterday, the teen said he and his 15-year-old cousin Andre walked into Erie Kitchen, a Chinese take-out place on the corner of Rising Sun Avenue and Marshall Street, to buy a "blunt" - a cigar that is then emptied of tobacco and filled with marijuana - to smoke. Fitzgerald and Hill pulled up in a squad car and eyed the two teens. Pagan said he panicked not only because he had drugs on him, but because a Juvenile Court judge had issued a bench warrant for his arrest when he failed to show up for a prior court hearing. He said that he started to run out the restaurant door and that Hill punched him.

"I flew into the Chinese store and then he kept punching me while I was on the floor," Pagan said. Pagan said Fitzgerald merely watched as Hill hit him.

"My cousin hit his head on the ground, face first," recalled Andre in a Wednesday interview. "I couldn't do nothing. I watched them hit him until they told me I could leave."

Andre, now 16, said his father, Andre Boyer, is a police officer - a good one. "It was wrong what those cops did. My dad wouldn't do that to no kid."

Hill and Fitzgerald drove Pagan to St. Christopher's. He was given ice for his eye and was taken to the police station on Whitaker Avenue, near Erie, according to Pagan and his mom.

"When I walked into the station, all the cops were like, 'What happened to him?' and then they all started laughing," he said. *