VERONICA JOYNER was just trying to keep her students warm when she gave members of the school's basketball team hats, gloves and scarves.
She never imagined the gesture would lead to one of her star students being arrested and suffering from a serious injury to his genitals.
It was a record cold day on Jan. 7. The school, on Broad Street near Callowhill, doesn't have its own gym, so the winning Mighty Elephants were headed to Berean Institute to play Frankford High.
Darrin Manning, 16, says his mind was on the game when he got off the subway at the corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue with a dozen teammates in uniform and suddenly found himself in handcuffs.
Manning admits that one of his teammates may have said something smart to the cop they had noticed staring them down. So when the cop approached, they ran. Scared, Manning ran a little, too. But then he stopped.
"I didn't do anything wrong," Manning said.
Exactly what happened is now the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation.
Police records state that Manning, who is black, was stopped by Officer Thomas Purcell, who is white, after the 11-year veteran observed a group of males covering their faces with ski masks and running. The students say there were no ski masks, just the scarves given to them by Joyner, the founder of Mathematics, Civics & Sciences Charter School.
The report goes on to say that Manning began fighting with the officer, striking him three times and ripping off his radio. He was still fighting, the police report says, when the officer called for assistance. "No injuries sustained to police," the report states.
Manning says he was roughed up, placed in handcuffs that the officer hit him with and that during a pat-down, a female officer pulled his genitals so hard one of his testicles ruptured.
"She patted me down and then she touched my butt and then my private parts," he said. "And then she grabbed and squeezed and pulled my private parts and I felt something pop."
Police say Manning didn't complain of any pain while he was in custody, charged with assaulting an officer, resisting arrest and reckless endangerment. But Manning underwent emergency surgery the next day at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. His mother, Ikea Coney, said doctors told her that her son's injury may prevent him from fathering children.
Coney believes her son's story, but she says she also knows kids can exaggerate when they're afraid of getting into trouble, so she went back to the street to ask people what they saw. Witnesses corroborated her son's account. And when I canvassed the street this week, many did the same with me.
One woman who said she watched some of the confrontation, but who feared retaliation if I used her name, said the incident caught her attention because it seemed excessive.
"There were all these cops and cops cars, and one kid," she said.
Others wondered if the cops would have reacted the same way if they weren't a large group of black kids walking together.
When Dan Jackson, one of Manning's basketball coaches, went to the station to check on him, he said he asked cops: "If this was St. Joe's Prep, would the same measures have been taken that you took on my boys?
"They didn't answer," he said.
Jackson and Joyner said Manning is a straight-A model student who hasn't had a single discipline problem at the school. They worry that the incident may affect his scholarship and college options.
According to records from Internal Affairs, Officer Purcell has had two citizen complaints lodged against him for false arrests, one in 2008 and another in 2009. He was cleared in both cases.
"I blame myself," Coney cried. "I taught my son to respect cops, not to fear them. Maybe if he was afraid, he would have run like the other boys and he would have been OK."
At the school a few days after the incident, Manning was in a wheelchair and still recovering from his injuries. Police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said that if Internal Affairs finds the officers acted improperly, they will be disciplined.
"I think we have proven we will not tolerate that kind of behavior," he said. "We are not looking to make a divide between police and the community."
Neither is the school. Joyner said she's taken great pains to teach students that police officers are not their enemy. Each year, students pay homage to officers with a Philadelphia Police Officers Appreciation Day. Despite the incident that has rocked the school, she says they still plan to honor officers this year.
"There is clearly some damage that needs to be repaired," she said. "But there are good and bad in every area, in every race. The police department is no exception."
On Twitter: @NotesFromHel