In a remarkably quick action, Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey yesterday fired four police officers and disciplined four others for taking part in a dramatic videotaped beating of three shooting suspects that cast the department in an embarrassing light.
Two weeks after a Fox29 television news helicopter captured police officers apprehending the three suspects amid a flurry of kicks and punches, Ramsey and Mayor Nutter moved to impose discipline, and to send a message to the public and the Police Department that misconduct will not be tolerated.
"All of us, as law enforcement officers, have to understand that, unlike criminals on the street, we have rules that we have to abide by. We have policies. We have procedures," said Ramsey, who took over the department in January.
Nutter said the swift action by authorities was a departure from the past. "I think that this represents a new day in the Philadelphia Police Department in how we deal with these kinds of situations," Nutter said.
The speed of the commissioner's action surprised activists, irked the police union, and impressed academics.
"The action is a very bold and decisive way to deal with the issues," said Lawrence W. Sherman, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Jerry Lee Center of Criminology. He noted that the videotaped beating in 2000 of Thomas Jones, who was stopped after stealing a police car, took more than a year to resolve.
"The world is changing," said Craig B. Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor who has studied police abuses in Chicago. "In video cases, the evidence is hard to controvert, and the police have to take action because of the political pressure."
The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose followers stood outside Police Headquarters yesterday and protested Ramsey's failure to fire everyone involved, was effusive in his praise for the city's action.
"For you to take this action before the legal process - they could still face criminal indictment - is unprecedented," Sharpton told Nutter during a radio-show interview.
"For you to take this action now shows some real muscle and seriousness about addressing police brutality."
John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said Ramsey moved too quickly. He said that the officers were not given due process and that the union would fight to have them reinstated. "It was a rush to judgment," McNesby said. "There was no type of hearing. I don't even know if the investigation is complete."
The matter is far from finished. Ramsey said District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham and the FBI were investigating the officers' actions to determine whether any criminal or civil-rights violations were involved.
And the commissioner said an outside agency, the Police Executive Research Forum in Washington, would evaluate the department's use-of-force guidelines and its training under a contract the department signed recently.
The eight disciplined officers were among 19 policemen who responded to a pursuit of three men who allegedly shot three people in Feltonville. The three suspects were charged with attempted murder and related offenses.
Ramsey said Internal Affairs analysts replayed the 11-minute videotape repeatedly, isolating the actions of each of the 19 officers. The tape shows the officers pulling the suspects from a Mercury sedan in the 3700 block of North Second Street and forcing them to the ground.
Ramsey said that eight of the Philadelphia officers had lawful contact with the suspects. Two did not have contact; nor did a SEPTA canine officer, who stood on the periphery of the action with his German shepherd on a leash. Those 11 officers were not disciplined.
But Ramsey said that seven officers used excess force. In addition, a supervisor was demoted for neglect of duty.
Ramsey dismissed four officers from the 35th District: Patrick Gallagher, Patrick Whalen, Robert Donnelly and Vincent Strain.
Three other officers were suspended for five to 15 days: Sean Bascom, Narcotics Strike Force; Demetrios Pittaoulis, 35th District; and Jonathan Czapor, 25th District.
In addition, Sgt. Joseph Schiavone of the 35th District was demoted to officer. Ramsey said he "failed to take action" and stop the beatings.
Ramsey said he was permitted to unilaterally impose discipline without a hearing in what is called a "commissioner's direct action."
Ramsey and Nutter took pains to characterize the actions of the disciplined officers as unrepresentative of the force. They also noted that the suspects were apprehended while the department was conducting an intensive manhunt for one of the suspects in the killing two days earlier of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski.
"Last year we had 418 officers assaulted on the streets of our city," Ramsey said. "So we have a lot of officers who put themselves at risk every day. But having said that, we have standards in this department. We have policies and procedures that have to be followed and there can be no exceptions to that."
FOP president McNesby said the city was sending mixed signals to the officers by asking them to take more aggressive action to reduce violent crime while not accepting the repercussions. "They want a war on crime, but they don't want any casualties," he said.
The three suspects are being held pending a preliminary hearing. They are Dwayne Dyches, 24; Brian Hall, 23; and Pete Hopkins, 19.
D. Scott Perrine, attorney for Hopkins, said Ramsey should order the officers to be arrested for assault.
"The commissioner is putting his stamp of approval on police brutality," Perrine said. "He doesn't need to pretend that Lynne Abraham needs six months to watch a videotape."
Officer Jonathan Czapor, 25th District, six-year veteran; suspended 15 days.
Officer Demetrios Pittaoulis, 35th District, six-year veteran; suspended 10 days.
Officer Sean Bascom, Narcotics Strike Force, 13-year veteran; suspended five days.
Sgt. Joseph Schiavone, 35th District, 15-year veteran; demoted to officer.
In a video at philly.com, see Police Commissioner Ramsey announce the disciplinary actions.