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Confusion over video Phila. police beatings

Although Internal Affairs investigators said they were making progress in identifying the Philadelphia police officers depicted in a news video kicking and beating three shooting suspects, the criminal probe of those three has developed its own problems.

Yolanda Dyches, aunt of shooting suspect Dwayne Dyches, speaks to reporters. Behind her is Paula Peebles of the National Action Network.
Yolanda Dyches, aunt of shooting suspect Dwayne Dyches, speaks to reporters. Behind her is Paula Peebles of the National Action Network.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Inquirer Staff Photographer

Although Internal Affairs investigators said they were making progress in identifying the Philadelphia police officers depicted in a news video kicking and beating three shooting suspects, the criminal probe of those three has developed its own problems.

Yesterday's preliminary hearing for the three was aborted after the three victims they allegedly wounded on May 5 failed to appear for court. A judge issued bench warrants for their arrest.

The missing witnesses were just the start of a tumultuous day in a case that has attracted international attention. By day's end:

Police changed a key element in their original description of the shooting and car chase that followed. They now say that the shooter was one of the three suspects arrested and not a fourth man who is still a fugitive. Police also denied news reports that they now believe only the three suspects were involved. They insisted they are still seeking a fourth suspect who fled on foot.

Police confirmed that 19 officers have been identified from the video of the beating shot by a Fox29 helicopter.

The judge angered relatives of the defendants by suddenly recusing herself before reviewing their bail, forcing lawyers to seek an emergency bail hearing Wednesday before another judge.

The witnesses' absence during yesterday's hearing forced Municipal Court Judge Jacquelyn Frazier-Lyde to postpone the preliminary hearing for Dwayne Dyches, 24; Brian Hall, 23, and Pete Hopkins, 19, until July 17. The three are charged with attempted murder and related charges.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Meehan Sweeney said she spoke with two of the victims, Gerald Cooper and Brandon Crow, and the mother of victim Deangelo White yesterday morning, reminding each they had been subpoenaed to testify at the hearing.

Frazier-Lyde granted Sweeney's request for bench warrants for the arrest of the three witnesses.

Meanwhile, police confirmed a major change in their initial account of the Feltonville shooting.

Police now allege that officers on the scene identified Hopkins, 19, of the 2000 block of East Firth Street in Kensington, as the man who got out of a gold 2000 Mercury Grand Marquis sedan shortly after 10 p.m. May 5 and fired at a group of people at Fourth and Annsbury Streets.

Police yesterday said there was a fourth man in the car who fled after the shootings. Police initially said that man was the shooter.

Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, in charge of field operations, said there had been some confusion during the initial investigation about whether the gunmen fled or got back into the vehicle.

"We certainly believe based on police witness accounts that four people drive up," Ross said. "Then three people get back in the car and drive off."

The gunman, Ross said, was among those who got back in the car.

No gun was found in the car after it was cornered and stopped, police have said, nor was any found around the scene, which was littered with 15 9mm cartridge casings. Police have also not been able to release a description or likeness of the fourth man.

The change in the police account left many in the packed courtroom angry, particularly Hopkins' family.

"That's great. There's no fourth man, and now they say my guy is the gunman," said Hopkins' attorney, D. Scott Perrine.

In other developments, police confirmed that Internal Affairs investigators had identified 19 officers from the Fox29 video of the incident, including three sergeants and one SEPTA police officer.

But officials disputed a report in the Philadelphia Daily News that nine of the 18 Philadelphia police personnel had been cleared to return to street duty.

Chief Inspector Anthony DiLacqua, who is overseeing the Internal Affairs investigation, said yesterday that he believed he contributed to the misunderstanding when he briefed reporters for the Daily News.

"I don't think I explained myself that well," DiLacqua said.

DiLacqua said two sergeants identified on the video, who arrived after the beatings and were "on the periphery," were permitted to return to active duty.

"We did identify them from the video, but we considered them witnesses," DiLacqua added. "They were immediately cooperative and helped us begin the investigation."

Of the 16 remaining Philadelphia police personnel identified from the video, DiLacqua said, 10 who can be seen kicking or beating one of the three were taken out of their districts and assigned to differential police response, a unit in which they answer phones or perform other administrative work at police headquarters in Center City.

"We know they used force," DiLacqua added. "Whether it was excessive force will depend on the outcome of the investigation."

DiLacqua said the remaining six, including one sergeant, identified from the video but not involved in the actual use of force, have been permitted to remain in uniform but assigned to inside duty at their district headquarters pending completion of the probe.

The SEPTA police officer, whom DiLacqua identified as the canine officer seen in the video, was interviewed about the incident, but DiLacqua said he did not know the officer's status. SEPTA officials could not be reached for comment.

Ross emphasized that the reassignments were for investigative purposes only and did not reflect a determination of wrongdoing. Some officers will likely be cleared and returned to street duty.

"Those cops were never put back on the street. It's just inaccurate," Ross said of reports that said the officers returned to the street.

The confusion did not help cool tempers of those who attended the chaotic preliminary hearing.

The judge angered families of the three defendants by recusing herself from considering whether to reduce bail so the suspects could be released from custody.

Attorneys said Frazier-Lyde did not give a reason for stepping down, and the judge did not return calls to her chambers for comment.

Perrine and Robert Marc Gamburg, the attorney for Dyches, said they would petition for an emergency bail hearing Wednesday.

One of the three suspects - Hall, of the 1900 block of North Marshall Street in North Philadelphia - did go free yesterday after his family raised the necessary 10 percent of his $100,000 bail.

Hall, a heavyset man who owned the Mercury sedan and who was the driver on May 5, leaned heavily on a cane. After the hearing, he made his way out into the rain and was shielded by relatives who tried to protect him from news cameras.

Hall did not comment, and his attorney, Evan T. L. Hughes, said he would not.

"He's in a lot of pain and very shaken up - and he's scared," Hughes said.

The hearing was held in the North Philadelphia headquarters of the 24th and 25th Police Districts.

As the relatives and supporters of the three men left the courtroom, some shouted complaints about police brutality. Soon afterward, a raucous news conference erupted in the building lobby, still decorated with flowers and children's drawings commemorating the life of 24th District Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski, who was killed on May 3, the day before the Feltonville incident.

"They are trying to intimidate this community," said Yolanda Dyches, the aunt of one of the three suspects. "That film speaks for itself."

Dyches and other relatives were accompanied by regional representatives of the National Action Network, the civil-rights organizations founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton.

"We are tired. We are paying these police to beat us. This has got to stop," said Paula Peebles, chairman of the Philadelphia chapter of the network.