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Suit: Philly cops forced 5 to watch antiviolence film

MOST EVENT organizers, seeing too many empty seats, would just cancel the event or carry on and ignore the low turnout.

MOST EVENT organizers, seeing too many empty seats, would just cancel the event or carry on and ignore the low turnout.

The Philadelphia Police Department, though, has the power to round up an audience. Which it did - ordering spectators to sit through an anti-violence program upon threat of arrest, according to a federal civil-rights lawsuit that will be filed on Wednesday by five men who contend that they were unwilling spectators at the June 24, 2011, event.

Earlier that day, two of the litigants - Faheem Beyah, 35, and Jawaan Montgomery, 26 - were recording music for Beyah's company, ICF Entertainment, when they took a break, walked to a corner store for cigarettes and soda and then stood on the South Philly block where Beyah lives, waiting for Beyah's nephew Khalil to join them.

"He [the nephew] had just walked up, when a cop car comes down Point Breeze [Avenue]. In five hot seconds, they looked at us, turned the opposite way of traffic and came up on us," Beyah told the Daily News.

A pat-down produced nothing, but the officers ushered the men into the cruiser and took them to the police station at 20th and Federal streets, Beyah said.

Handcuffed, stripped of their belts, shoelaces and personal belongings and placed in a cell, the men said they were told they could listen to an hourlong program by Mothers In Charge, an anti-violence group whose members have lost children to murder. If the men refused, the cops warned, they'd be arrested.

"It was either, 'Y'all coming with us willingly and do this little film, or we're going to lock you up for loitering, and you're going to have to pay all these fines,' " Faheem Beyah said. "It was either, 'You're going, or you're going.' There wasn't no option."

The men said they were held for more than four hours. During the program, the mothers shared their stories, cried and urged their listeners to amend their ways.

"We feel their pain and all that; we feel bad for them. But it's like, 'Y'all got the wrong dudes in here,' " said Khalil Beyah, who works at an electronics store and has one prior arrest, in 2009, for marijuana possession, but no convictions. Montgomery, who attends truck-driving school, also has a clean record. Faheem Beyah has several prior arrests, but none since 2006, court records show.

The men are suing the city; the Police Department; Capt. Anthony Washington (the 17th Police District commander who they allege ordered the roundup); Mothers In Charge; its founder and executive director, Dorothy Johnson-Speight; Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey; and unspecified officers involved in the roundup. The two other plaintiffs are Robert Gay, 19, and Khalil Brinson, 21.

They're claiming false arrest and imprisonment, racial and gender discrimination and infliction of emotional distress.

Johnson-Speight said that she had no idea how the men came to be at her program that day. But "no one seemed to be there under duress. Everyone was participating in the discussion," she said.

Washington didn't return calls for comment.

Ramsey said that he didn't know about the incident.

Normally, though, when officers make a pedestrian stop, an officer "must have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has occurred or is about to occur," Ramsey said, such as seeing someone lurking in an alley or back yard.

On pedestrian-stop forms, officers must specify the suspected crime and why they felt their safety was at risk. On Montgomery's form, an officer wrote: "transport to 17th district for film." Faheem Beyah's form notes only: "loriting [sic] in front of a [sic] abandon [sic] building." The form for another detainee states: "in lue [sic] of receiving a citation, male was transported to 17th District for initiative of mothers"

Ramsey said that he couldn't comment on the lawsuit's allegations and questioned why the men hadn't filed a citizens complaint with Internal Affairs.

"I don't know if they were right or wrong because I don't know the circumstances," Ramsey said. "We ain't got a crystal ball here. If they don't call and file a complaint, there's not a whole lot we can do. I have to deal with facts. I can't deal with innuendo and half-truths."

"There are some people who just seek money, so they go get a lawyer and sue," Ramsey added.

The Beyahs and Montgomery insist that they're motivated by principle, not a payday.

"The fact that they can take me off the street and do that is scary. What else are they getting away with?" Faheem Beyah said.

His attorney, Brian F. Humble, agreed. "These stops were not only unconstitutional, but they're also counterproductive to creating a positive relationship with law enforcement."

The stops also suggest that the city's controversial stop-and-frisk methods thrive unchecked, Humble added.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city in 2010, claiming that cops unfairly targeted blacks and Latinos in stops and made stops without justification. In a 2011 settlement, the city agreed to reforms and court oversight.