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Police allege that karate-coach cop sexually abused girl, from age 12, for 8 years

Despite the abhorrent nature of his alleged crimes, the Philadelphia Police Department never told anyone of Tyrone Wiggins' "quiet" arrest on charges of raping a 12-year-old girl - and continuing to do so over 8 years - nor did they tell the rec department where he continued to work.

File photo of Officer Tyrone Wiggins from Nov. 11, 1999, when he was featured as “Cop of the Week.”
File photo of Officer Tyrone Wiggins from Nov. 11, 1999, when he was featured as “Cop of the Week.”Read more

THEY SAT there together, the 12-year-old girl and the 38-year-old man, alone in a van in sprawling Fairmount Park.

He made the first move, exposing himself to her, asking her to touch him and then to perform oral sex on him, she later told police. When she recoiled, clearly overwhelmed, he took her home.

A week later, they returned to the park. This time, there were no polite requests, she said.

The man in the van, a Philadelphia police officer named Tyrone Wiggins, ordered the girl to remove her pants, then raped her while she cried, the police allege in court documents viewed by the Daily News.

After allegedly destroying her youth, her innocence and her trust in a person who was the embodiment of authority, Wiggins - a Marine, a cop and a popular youth karate instructor - took her home that day in 1997.

But that nightmarish encounter was not their last, according to police.

The alleged horrendous scenes in the park were the springboard to many more acts of physical, sexual and psychological abuse that Wiggins inflicted on the young girl over the course of eight torturous years, the court documents allege.

Police officials first heard of Wiggins' alleged predatory behavior in 2007. They finally arrested him Nov. 19, the day after he retired from the force.

Despite the abhorrent nature of his alleged crimes, the Police Department never publicly announced Wiggins' arrest on charges that included rape-forcible compulsion, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and statutory sexual assault.

The department's brass didn't even bother to inform the city's Recreation Department of Wiggins' arrest, even though Internal Affairs investigators learned that Wiggins had met his victim at the Olney Recreation Center, where, as recently as last week, he was still giving free karate lessons.

Department of Recreation Commissioner Sue Slawson said she was unaware of Wiggins' case until a Daily News reporter informed her yesterday.

"I'm glad you made this call," Slawson said.

"As soon as you and I are finished talking, I'm going to make sure he won't be running any more programs."

Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey last night described the failure to disclose Wiggins' arrest as "an oversight, not an attempt to conceal something."

He said that he was aware of the case, but not that Wiggins regularly volunteered at the Olney Recreation Center, at A Street and Champlost Avenue. "If I had known all of that, I would have called the Department of Rec directly," Ramsey said.

"A press release should have been put out, and it wasn't. I'll take the responsibility, and I apologize for that."

The Daily News reached Wiggins, 50, by phone yesterday. He verified who he was, but when a reporter asked about the case, Wiggins stammered, "You have the wrong person," and hung up.

'He could hurt you'

During the 23 years Tyrone Wiggins worked on the police force, colleagues said, he earned a reputation for two things: his passion for karate and a stated desire to keep kids out of trouble.

No one doubted his genuine interest in karate.

According to a biography on Wiggins' Web site (, he started learning jujitsu and karate in 1968. In the mid-1970s, he joined the Marines and studied kobudo, an older form of martial arts, in Okinawa.

After joining the Police Department in 1986, Wiggins started showing other cops how to defend themselves, said Lt. James Walker, who worked with Wiggins in Nicetown's 39th District in the 1990s.

"Tyrone didn't need a gun," Walker noted. "If he got close to you, he could hurt you."

Wiggins, an eighth-degree black belt, was shot in the leg in 1994 during a struggle with a drug dealer.

Though he suffered only a minor injury, the case later generated controversy. Wiggins identified a 16-year-old, Sheppard Staples, as the shooter after looking at an array of mug shots.

The teen was jailed for seven months, even though numerous witnesses had identified Leonard Martin, a neighborhood drug dealer, as the gunman. Staples was eventually freed, after police finally questioned Martin, who confessed to the shooting.

Still, Wiggins proved to be a popular cop in the 39th District, headquartered at 22nd Street and Hunting Park Avenue. He was named a Daily News "Cop of the Week" in 1999 for efforts to clean up neighborhood blight. A short profile of Wiggins that was featured in the paper identified him as a married father of four.

Kids, especially, seemed to flock to him.

"I knew him since I was 10 years old. Everybody knew him around here," said a current 39th District cop who grew up in Nicetown in the '90s.

"He was all about discipline. All of the kids trusted him, looked up to him. He taught us all karate," said the cop, who didn't want to be identified.

In 2000, the Guardian Civic League, an organization of black police officers, presented Wiggins with a community-service award.

"He always talked about wanting to keep kids out of trouble, teach 'em karate," said Walker, who was president of the league when Wiggins was honored.

But according to court documents, those noble-sounding intentions hid a darker truth.

'Shame on him'

He met the girl whom he is accused of later victimizing in 1995 at the Olney Recreation Center, where he was teaching karate to youngsters.

She was 10. He spent the next two years befriending her and her family, gaining their trust and, quietly, laying a trap, court documents allege.

After the first two alleged assaults in the van in 1997, Wiggins began routinely taking his young victim out for car rides, court documents indicate.

Some ended back in Fairmount Park, others at his house on Chew Avenue near Front Street in Olney.

But all of the trips resulted in further sexual abuse that worsened with time, according to court documents.

When the girl was 14, the documents allege, Wiggins forced her to perform oral sex on him.

Two years later, he began anally raping her, according to the documents.

By the time she was 20, Wiggins had turned violent and was punching and slapping her, the documents allege.

Eventually, the young woman broke down and confided in a friend. On Aug. 7, 2007, she finally spilled the details to Internal Affairs investigators.

Some time after the investigation started, the victim decided to join the Philadelphia Police Department, police sources said.

Wiggins volunteered to vouch for his victim's credibility when officials conducted a routine background check on her, the sources said. It was unclear if the young woman knew of his involvement.

Last month, Internal Affairs investigators finally moved in on Wiggins, who was now working in the Civil Affairs Unit.

On the day of his arrest, he reacted calmly when he was told to report to Internal Affairs' Northeast Philadelphia headquarters, sources said. Wiggins continued working at the Olney Recreation Center, but Slawson said he taught a group of "three or four adults. No children."

When no mention was made publicly after Wiggins' arrest, it aroused suspicion within the Police Department, according to a law-enforcement official who declined to be named.

Whispers of a cover-up abounded, especially when police officials announced on Dec. 9 that a Crime Scene Unit cop, Adrian Makuch, had been arrested for trying to lure teen boys into his car.

At a news conference addressing that case, Internal Affairs Chief Inspector Anthony DiLacqua said the arrest of Makuch proved that the Police Department wasn't afraid of disciplining its own members.

"A lot of cops started calling around after that, wondering why there were never any stories in the paper about Wiggins," the unnamed police official said.

"That is a little surprising," said Kelvyn Anderson, deputy director of the Police Advisory Commission. "It doesn't make much sense for them not to put something out there, especially with a crime like this - usually once you start pulling on the string, other victims come out."

Walker and several other cops who used to work with Wiggins said they were also unaware of his arrest.

"If it's true," Walker said, "shame on him. It's appalling."

Despite the uproar, Ramsey insisted that there was no deliberate attempt to withhold the details of Wiggins' case.

"There was no attempt to hide it," he said. "As you know, nothing in this department is a secret."