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City releases some info and calls it transparency

A delayed document dump is not transparency.

Brandon Tate-Brown
Brandon Tate-BrownRead more

IF THIS city committed the act of transparency as often as it trots out the word, we'd be living in a very different Philadelphia.

Tuesday, the city released more details about the controversial police-involved shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown, including videos and the names of the officers involved. Even before attorney Brian Mildenberg, who represents Tate-Brown's mother, Tanya Brown Dickerson, read the documents, the move was being touted as some grand gesture of transparency.

Cue the clarions.

"In accordance with the City of Philadelphia's ongoing efforts for transparency in governance," read the city's press release, "Mayor Michael A. Nutter has authorized the release of materials stemming from the investigation of the December 15, 2014, police discharge involving Brandon Tate-Brown."

Well, wrap a bare Mayor Nutter in Saran Wrap and roll him down Broad Street, why don't you? 'Cuz that's how transparent citizens are repeatedly told this administration is.

Except . . . an 11th-hour document dump after a legal maneuver to release the information isn't transparency, no matter how you spin it.

Oh, putting the files in Dropbox for the world to see was a nice touch - but considering that Mildenberg has publicly released whatever little information he's managed to get, it wasn't as earth-shattering a move as the city would have us believe. Especially when the whole country is now on high alert regarding cases like Tate-Brown's.

Against the backdrop of police across the U.S. caught on film doing, in some cases, unspeakably terrible things, does the Nutter administration really believe that the city's handling of the Tate-Brown case is a light in the darkness?

For those still buying or enabling this nonsensical narrative, I'd suggest you invest in a calendar.

Tate-Brown was killed nearly six months ago.

In March, the district attorney cleared the two officers of wrongdoing, saying Tate-Brown was reaching inside his car for a gun after breaking free from the officers during a struggle. The Police Department cleared the cops of any departmental violations a month earlier. They were back on the streets for weeks before that info went public.

In April, Tate-Brown's mother filed a wrongful death and excessive force class-action lawsuit.

Last week, her lawyer filed a motion for documents he'd long ago requested.

Tuesday, a day before Mildenberg said the documents were due, a fraction of the requested information was released.

At the very least, I told Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald, it's curious timing. Not surprisingly, he disagreed and insisted that the release "was not in the context of a discovery in a lawsuit" and in advance of a motion-to-compel hearing next week.

"The commitment was made months ago and unrelated to the lawsuit," he said in an email.

If that were the case, we have yet another failure to communicate.

John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, told the Daily News that he didn't know the cops' names would be made public.

And it sure sounds as if Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey had plans to release the information without a royal decree from the Mayor's Office: "We were turning the information over to the attorney for the Tate-Brown family, so the mayor decided to also make the information public," Ramsey told the Daily News. "This may be the first time it was ever released this way."

Mildenberg respectfully called the move what it was: spin.

"Without the lawsuit, there would be no release and no names of the officers," he said. "And, in fact, that is what we were told by the city when we tried to get the materials before filing a lawsuit."

Something else isn't adding up. If, as the mayor's spokesman contends, the city made a commitment long ago to release information in the case, why not share it with residents who were clamoring for details?

There was plenty of opportunity.

Like when the Police Department paternalistically released information to a select few, and only if they promised not to take notes - because Daddy said so.

Or when the city was heating up with increasingly volatile protests by family and activists who brought national attention to the case.

Or before a melee at a community meeting where protesters criticized the decision by the district attorney not to pursue charges in the fatal shooting.

But enough harping on the latest transparency trip-up. In seven months, a new administration will be setting up shop at City Hall and the newly minted leaders will undoubtedly insist they are all about transparency because they all are until they get comfortable and then they're like, transpara-who?

If nothing else, the city's next leader should take a long hard look at how the death of Brandon Tate-Brown was handled and consider it a case study in how lack of communication leads to suspicion, mistrust and anger.

In response to the recent U.S. Justice Department's report on police shootings in Philadelphia, the police department is developing new protocol for the release of information in cases like Brandon Tate-Brown's.

That's hopeful. More hopeful would be city leadership that's as transparent as they pretend they are.

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

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