A REPORT OF GUNFIRE brought two cops to the back of Rodney Handy's Oak Lane house one brisk night in March.
Handy, a 22-year-old college student, was just getting home from work. The police officers pulled him over, suspicious of his tinted windows and darkened headlights, and ordered him to exit the car. Handy refused, so officers Shane Darden and Tim Taylor went in after him, prompting a struggle that ended only after Darden used a Taser to subdue Handy, sources familiar with the incident said.
Within minutes, Arthur Woody arrived. Woody is a retired Philly police captain. He is also Handy's grandfather.
"Help him out and make this go away," Woody implored a sergeant at the scene, according to police sources. When the sergeant, citing use-of-force policies, demurred, Woody allegedly appealed to a highly placed friend, Inspector Aaron Horne, commander of Northwest Police Division.
So started a drama that has gotten Horne, one of the department's highest-ranking officers, in trouble and rattled the entire Police Department.
In response to Woody's appeal, Horne allegedly directed Darden and Taylor to quit processing Handy's arrest for assaulting police officers and resisting arrest and to destroy all records of the incident, even though policy requires officers to file paperwork when Tasers are deployed and officers are injured (Darden, who hurt his back and shoulder in the scuffle, spent two months on injured-on-duty status afterward).
Now, Internal Affairs detectives are investigating whether Horne, a 25-year veteran who used to work in Internal Affairs, improperly quashed an arrest to appease a friend. On promotion lists published within the Police Department earlier this year, Horne is first in line to be promoted to chief inspector, the highest civil-service rank in the department.
Horne, Woody, Darden and Taylor didn't return calls for comment. Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said he is awaiting the Internal Affairs report before passing judgment.
"If I start calling on it, they'll say I'm exerting undue influence, so I stay out of the process until the investigation is completed and I have a file to review. The inspector's due in one day [this] week to give a statement, and hopefully [investigators] can wrap it up," Ramsey said.
"But these are serious allegations, and we should call things as they are," Ramsey added. "If an arrest needs to be made, if there's probable cause, playing favorites is not what we ought to do as police, if in fact that is what happened."
Handy didn't return calls for comment, but his mother, who declined to give her name, said the family just wants to move on.
"That's a sad thing — they should not be bothering someone [Horne] who did nothing wrong," she said, adding that she hasn't talked with Internal Affairs investigators about the incident and doesn't want to. "To be honest, I'm praying. I feel the Lord worked it out and I want to move on. I don't want to be involved with none of their foolishness."
The night of the incident, March 19, was the one-year anniversary of the death of Handy's father, a longtime probation officer, his mother said.
It was 10:30 p.m., and Handy was just getting home from his part-time job at Marshall's, his mother said. On Claremont Road nearby, a resident outside fixing his car called police to report he heard a loud pop that sounded like a gunshot, but he couldn't tell from where it came.
As the 35th District officers hunted for a victim or gunman, they spotted Handy backing his Mercury Grand Marquis, lights out, into his driveway on Fariston Drive near Claremont Road. "You have no reason to stop me," he told the officers as he refused their order to get out of the car, according to police sources. After the skirmish, the officers took Handy to Albert Einstein Medical Center to have the Taser darts removed.
Of the incident, Handy's mother said only: "They should be retraining their officers to be able to identify better who the crooks are. [Handy] had not done nothing. He's not a troubled child. I know how we raised him."
The tangle with police officers, the deployment of a Taser and the hospital run all require paperwork, under Police Department policies. Besides allegedly directing the officers to stop and destroy that paperwork, police sources say, Horne also ordered 35th District Capt. John McCloskey to change the information regarding Handy's arrest in the Police Department's computer system to reflect that he hadn't been arrested. A search of online court records shows Handy has no criminal record.
McCloskey denied knowing anything about the incident or alleged cover-up until hearing of the Internal Affairs investigation.
"I had no part of it whatsoever," McCloskey said. "Somebody commits a crime, they get arrested, it doesn't matter who they are."