Two Philadelphia police officers were charged this morning with beating up a 36-year-man they found painting graffiti in August, and falsifying records to make it appear they had not been near the encounter.
District Attorney Lynn M. Abraham announced the charges against Officers Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill III, both five-year veterans from the 25th district. Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said the pair were suspended without pay and would be fired.
The charges come on the heels of Ramsey's decision last week to discipline eight officers -- including firing four -- for using excessive force in a videotaped beating earlier this month.
Abraham said it was a coincidence that the latest charges were filed now. "I don't time anything," she said.
Abraham said the two officers stopped David Vernitsky, 36, at 12:30 a.m. on August 26 near 4th Street and Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville, where they found him spray-painting graffiti on the wall of a friend who was newly married. She said Vernitsky fled, the officers caught him, beat him, handcuffed him and tossed him in the back of their patrol car, head first.
After running a check on his records and finding no outstanding warrants against Vernitsky, the officers released him. Two friends who had seen part of the alleged assault took Vernitsky to the hospital, where he was treated for a broken jaw that required his jaw be wired shut for five weeks. He also lost three teeth.
Vernitsky was not charged with anything, Abraham said.
The officers then attempted to cover up their encounter by filing a false entry in their patrol log showing they were at another location at the time, Abraham said.
"This is another statement that excessive force will not be tolerated," said Ramsey, who attended the district attorney's news conference.
John J. McNesby, president of Lodge Five of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the allegations against the officers were a "fabrication" and the police union would defend its members.
"Instead of tracking the murder rate in Philadelphia, they should start tracking the persecution rate of Philadelphia police officers for going out and doing their job on a daily basis," he said.