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Cop's scuffle with suspect leaves attorney injured

Witnesses say a cop tried to punch an agitated suspect — but missed and hit a public defender instead. Prosecutors say she wasn’t punched but just fell.

Paula Sen was hit in the head when a police officer allegedly threw a punch at an agitated defendant in a courthouse hallway last week. (PHOTO: BRADLEY BRIDGE)
Paula Sen was hit in the head when a police officer allegedly threw a punch at an agitated defendant in a courthouse hallway last week. (PHOTO: BRADLEY BRIDGE)Read more

MORE THAN a half-dozen Philadelphia police officers jumped and beat an agitated defendant in a hallway outside a Criminal Justice Center courtroom last Friday, a takedown in which an officer's errant fist punched a female public defender in the head, the defender and other witnesses said.

The incident prompted a complaint to Internal Affairs, additional criminal charges for defendant Anthony C. Jones, 22, and hospital treatment for assistant defender Paula Sen.

It also left seasoned courthouse observers deeply shaken.

"The officers overstepped their authority," said longtime lawyer Richard Hoy, who was sitting on a hallway bench when the violence erupted a few feet away. "He was no threat to anybody. He was loud and obnoxious. He wasn't threatening them - or anybody. The officers are there to protect people, but they didn't protect anybody. They abused their power."

The incident started about 11 a.m. last Friday, when a court crier in Courtroom 706 ordered Jones to remove his hat and then booted him out when he became upset, Sen said.

In the hallway, Jones yelled and cursed, and Sen hurried to defuse things, Hoy and Sen said. (Sen didn't represent Jones, but her employer, the Defender Association of Philadelphia, did.)

About a dozen officers stood gathered down the corridor, Hoy said. "Look 50 feet from you now - that's how far the police were," he added.

Of Jones, Hoy said: "There was obviously something [mentally] wrong with him. But [the] PD [public defender] had him 75 percent calmed down."

Still, about six officers suddenly swarmed, Sen said.

"A very large officer got into [Jones'] face and was yelling at us," said the petite Sen, who is 105 pounds and stands 5-foot-3. "I was scared for [our] client. I stood directly in front of him with my arms outspread. I said: 'Everybody, calm down.' I was just trying to get people to act like grown-ups."

Instead, Officer David Chisholm lunged and swung his arm, Sen said, adding, "I think the intent was to put [Jones] in a chokehold and take him to the ground."

But Chisholm's fist caught Sen in the back of the head and knocked her to the floor, as he took Jones down, she said.

Chisholm and two other officers punched the downed defendant several times as more officers piled on, handcuffing him and dragging him to his feet, Hoy and Sen said.

"He was bleeding fairly profusely and the cops continued taunting him," Sen said, adding that while she was treated at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for bumps and bruises, police did not take Jones for medical care.

When the hubbub subsided, and Hoy told an officer he had seen no need for violence, "the officer told me to 'mind your own f---ing business,' " Hoy said.

And when one of Sen's supervisors arrived to investigate, Chisholm allegedly refused to identify himself.

"He said: 'If you let these animals act like this, this is what happens,' and, 'If you keep pushing this, we are going to have a conversation,' " said Jordan Barnett, chief of the Defender Association's Southwest Division. "I find it troubling that the officer would refuse to give his name and make statements like that in a public courthouse."

Thursday, Chisholm, who works in West Philly's 18th District, didn't return a call for comment. A police spokesman said he was unfamiliar with the incident.

"While I don't have the facts surrounding the incident you're referring to, the department investigates all complaints filed with IAB [internal affairs], and this will be investigated just the same," said Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman.

The officers will not be charged, said Cameron Kline, spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams.

Kline disputed witnesses' version of events, saying Sen wasn't punched but rather "fell over" after she "walked into the scrum."

"[Chisholm] didn't do anything wrong; the public defender was knocked down in the course of him handling the defendant," Kline said.

But the incident earned Jones new charges: He's now in jail on $2,500 bail for terroristic threats, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, court records show. He'd been in court on Friday to stand trial on similar charges stemming from a Feb. 21 offense, court records show.

Sen said she was "deeply offended" that Kline denied she was assaulted.

"It is ridiculous to think that I would jump into a fight involving at least six police officers and then just somehow fall," Sen said. "This young man was attacked. It was unprovoked, and I was collateral damage. If this is how these officers behave in the Criminal Justice Center with that many potential witnesses, how do they act on the streets when there are no witnesses?"

Chisholm is a 13-year police veteran who was accused of brutality in a 2006 federal civil-rights lawsuit.

In that case, Noel Morales, of Francisville, claimed Chisholm and another officer stopped him as he drove in Fairmount in December 2004. When Morales got out of his car, he alleged in his lawsuit, the officers threw him on the hood of his car, handcuffed him and took him to the district, where they "violently struck" him, leaving him with cuts and bruises to his head, hands, shoulder and lower back.

Police then charged Morales with aggravated and simple assault, reckless endangerment and resisting arrest. He was acquitted of those charges in 2006, according to the lawsuit. Craig M. Straw, chief deputy of the city law department's civil-rights unit, said the case ended with no public payout.

In the Jones incident, details might not be disputed if cameras had caught the episode. But the only part of the courthouse under video surveillance is in the lobby near the metal detectors, said Joe Blake, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff's Office is in charge of courthouse security. But although deputies do protect courtrooms and patrol hallways, Blake said, in this case "we came upon it after it happened. He was already in [police] custody at the time. Our only role was to hold him for police transport."

Blake noted that such skirmishes aren't uncommon in the courthouse. "It's a volatile place," he said, adding, "Deputies aren't everywhere all the time."

A recent federal Justice Department investigation into Philadelphia police-involved shootings found deep distrust of police in the community, noted deficiencies in police de-escalation skills and training and urged systemic changes.

On Twitter: @DanaDiFilippo