Racial strife strikes police department in Delco's 'Twilight Zone'
Beyond Philadelphia exists another dimension — a dimension of threats, a dimension of fights, a dimension of divisions. You’re moving into a land of both race and politics, of truths and lies. You’ve just crossed over into Colwyn.
Beyond Philadelphia exists another dimension — a dimension of threats, a dimension of fights, a dimension of divisions.
You're moving into a land of both race and politics, of truths and lies. You've just crossed over into Colwyn.
This version of the Twilight Zone may only be 0.3 square miles, but it's a place where political, racial and personal feuds cast an eerie shadow over its 2,500 residents.
Although Delaware County's second-smallest municipality has been mired in turmoil for years, everything came to a head last week when an investigation into the cover up of the Tasing of a juvenile while he was handcuffed in a holding cell led Mayor Daniel Rutland to declare a state of emergency and place the acting head of the police department, Deputy Chief Wendell Reed, on leave, while he and two other officers are under investigation.
That was followed by a contentious borough council meeting where council voted to rescind the mayor's state of emergency, reinstate Reed and put the man who investigated the Tasing and brought it to the mayor's attention, Lt. Wesley Seitz, on leave.
"They are more worried about the officer that did the right thing that they would take him off the schedule," Rutland said.
Following the meeting, the borough solicitor resigned. He's the second one to quit in little more than a year. While Thursday's three-ring circus meeting may have seemed like the culmination of the borough's troubles, it was just the beginning.
On Friday, county detectives raided both the police department and the borough hall. On Monday, Delaware County District Attorney John Whelan said the investigation has moved beyond just the Tasing incident. His office is also looking at prior complaints against Colwyn officials.
"We are looking at whatever the evidence leads us to," Whelan said. "And we are looking backward at this point in time too. You start down one road and you're going down another."
Despite being reinstated by council Thursday night, Reed has not yet been placed back on the schedule by Rutland. However, that didn't stop Reed from having the locks to the police station doors changed over the weekend, essentially locking the mayor out, said Rutland. Now there is one key rotated among the on-duty officers, who have already found themselves locked out of the station, and one key possessed by Reed, who is under investigation by county detectives.
Numerous sources with knowledge of the 11-person department claim Reed is ineffectual and unqualified and the only reason he's in power is because he's a "yes man" to Council President Tonette Pray. With no prior supervisory experience, Reed was promoted from officer to lieutenant to deputy chief, skipping over corporal and sergeant in between.
"He's incompetent and he's going to get somebody hurt," said one source. "It's only a matter of time."
Pray, who is the borough's first black councilwoman, did not return repeated requests for comment. However, in 2010 she told the Daily News she believed "racism and bigotry" were to blame for many of the borough's political problems.
But numerous sources, including several black officers who work or have worked for the department, allege that Pray is power hungry and racist.
"I'm an African-American officer, I worked in the city and I've worked there, and I believe they are trying to make the department predominately black and I have an issue with that," one former cop said. "You should go for qualified people."
"Definitely, when it comes down to the whites, she's racist," said another former officer, who is also black. "She wanted us to be racist. She called the white officers the Ku Klux Klan without the hoods. She is saying the whole community is black and the whole department should be black."
Between 2000 and 2010, Colwyn's white population declined by about 61 percent to 404 residents while the black population rose by about 60 percent to 2,040 residents, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Aside from allegations of racism, here are some other problems Colwyn is dealing with:
The borough's police chief, Bryan Hills, is getting paid $60,000 to not work. Council fired Hills in 2009 for allegedly scheduling overtime, though sources say it's actually because he's white and Republican. An arbitrator ruled in Hills' favor, but council appealed that decision. When a Common Pleas judge also ruled in his favor last year, council again appealed.
"People say 'It must be nice,' but it's frustrating to sit home," Hills said. "Especially seeing what's going on."
Council is paying Hills to sit at home despite voting for a 30 percent tax increase this year in a borough where 19 percent of the residents live below the poverty line and the foreclosure rate is around 30 percent.
Despite the borough's financial difficulties, Rutland and four other sources said Pray gave Reed $10,000 in borough money to attend a training school for police commanders without getting prior approval from borough council. Rutland said he and council only learned about it after the fact and that Reed is supposed to reimburse the borough through his paycheck.
"They can't even afford the gas in the cars but you can find money to send this guy to a school?" said one source.
In 1991, Reed was arrested on theft and conspiracy charges that were later withdrawn, according to court records and sources. Two sources also said Reed has had his license suspended multiple times. Officer Michael Dructor, who is on leave because he was allegedly present during the Tasing of the juvenile, has a driving under the influence conviction from 2006 in Montgomery County, according to court records.
There are at least four Equal Employment Opportunity Complaints pending against the police department.
One black officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was told by Reed that he was being kept off the schedule because Rutland didn't want black officers. He later learned the real reason was because he is a Republican.
He said he was approached by Pray who allegedly said to him: "'What's this I heard you're a Republican?'" When he told her he didn't want to hear it, she allegedly said to him "'Well, I hope you are not going to be like those other house n-----s and get in bed with the crackers,'" he said.
"As I walked away, she said 'On City Council, we do the hiring and we also do the firing," he said. A week later, he was fired.
Current and former disgruntled officers said they're happy to see what they've been dealing with for years finally come to light.
"We don't have to lie about nothing. I would like to lie but Goddamn I can't lie," said one source. "Everything is so screwed up. Cops, we know how to lie, but everything that has been happening has been happening. It's so open you can see it now."
Colwyn at a glance:
Area: .26 square miles
Population: 2,546 (down from 2,851 in 1980)
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and Delaware County Today Almanac
Reach Stephanie Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-4225. You can also follow her on Twitter @FarFarrAway and read her blog "Daily Delco" at www.philly.com/dailydelco.