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Class-action lawsuit filed against Philly police alleging brutality

Attorney Brian Mildenberg, in demanding answers about the police-involved death of Brandon Tate-Brown, is asking a judge to order reforms the feds recommended last month.

Brandon Tate-Brown
Brandon Tate-BrownRead more

THE MOTHER of a man killed by police during a December car stop in Frankford filed a class-action lawsuit today on behalf of all citizens abused by Philadelphia police.

The lawsuit, filed by Tanya Brown-Dickerson, mother of Brandon Tate-Brown, asks a judge to order the reforms recommended in a recent federal Justice Department report and appoint an administrator to ensure compliance.

The Justice Department report, released last month, found that police had shot, on average, 49 people a year since 2007. It blamed skyrocketing police-involved shootings in Philly on training deficiencies, public distrust and other systemic problems.

Brian Mildenberg, Brown-Dickerson's attorney, said he also hopes the Common Pleas suit will prompt the release of the names of the officers involved in Tate-Brown's Dec. 15 car stop, surveillance videos of the incident and other evidence.

"One of the primary points of the case is transparency," Mildenberg said. "Police, who are public servants, should not be allowed to hold secret the videos and other evidence. If we don't require transparency of the Police Department, then situations can develop where coverups and false evidence or testimony can occur."

Mildenberg, Brown-Dickerson and other supporters will discuss the lawsuit at a news conference at noon tomorrow outside City Hall.

Tate-Brown, 26, died just two miles from home, after officers stopped him on Frankford Avenue near Magee.

Investigators say police pulled him over because he drove without headlights on. Within minutes, a violent struggle erupted, in which police claimed Tate-Brown reached for a stolen, loaded handgun inside his car, prompting one officer to open fire.

His mother accuses the officers of targeting him for "driving while black" because he was driving a rented car - a 2014 white Dodge Charger with Florida plates - in a mostly white neighborhood. Tate-Brown was unarmed when a bullet caught him in the back of his head, she said.

The District Attorney's Office in March cleared the officers of wrongdoing and both are back on the street. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has refused to release their names, saying he doesn't want to endanger them.

Mildenberg's lawsuit claims that problems uncovered in the Justice Department's yearlong review prove that Philly "has a completely deficient and nonexistent training program in violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution."

"The Police Department has a duty under the constitution to adequately train and supervise their police officers and not to knowingly allow this to go on for years without remedy," Mildenberg said.

Because minorities are disparately more likely to experience excessive and deadly force at police hands in Philadelphia, Mildenberg said, the complaint asks the court to address "that unequal application of the law."

"As a result of these deficiencies, lack of training and lack of appropriate and modern police investigation techniques, persons coming into contact with police in use-of-force situations are in imminent danger of harm," the lawsuit stated.

In Tate-Brown's case, Mildenberg alleges an unjustified car stop, wrongful arrest, excessive use of force, wrongful death, a bungled police investigation and a subsequent police coverup.

"All of the investigative tools used by the department are the ones deemed by the DOJ to not be in accordance with good police practice," Mildenberg said, citing as an example the investigators' failure to interview the officers immediately after the shooting.