Did Philly police 'cover up' officer's DUI, gun threat?
The supervising officer on the scene, a police sergeant, told a grand jury: "If I was in the habit" of gathering information about crimes and looking for witnesses, "I could never get anything done … It's just not practical."
Last month, after a grand jury investigation, Philadelphia Police Officer Kevin Klein was charged with driving while intoxicated, smashing his personal vehicle into an occupied SUV outside a strip club on Christmas Eve 2016 and then pulling his service gun on witnesses who chased him down.
He was suspended for 30 days with the intent to dismiss and is awaiting trial.
The grand jury presentment, recently obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News, also sheds light on how police handled the incident
– alleging that the supervising officer on the scene ordered a colleague to drive Klein home while doing nothing to test him for drugs or alcohol, or to seek witnesses.
According to the report, the supervisor, Sgt. Thomas Cairns, told grand jurors: "If I was in the habit" of gathering information about crimes and looking for witnesses, "I could never get anything done … It's just not practical."
The actions taken by Cairns and other officers at the scene are the subject of an ongoing Internal Affairs investigation, according to Police Commissioner Richard Ross.
The grand jury report detailing Klein's alleged crimes was sharply critical in its assessment of Cairns, who remains on the force. It says he "provided extensive testimony that in large part appeared to be less than credible and frankly, seemed as if he was attempting to cover up Klein's actions."
Cairns declined to comment Tuesday.
A spokesman for District Attorney Larry Krasner, who was sworn in on Jan. 2, said he could not comment on whether criminal charges are forthcoming against Cairns or other officers.
"The grand jury report speaks for itself," Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said. "We are not going to comment on an open investigation."
The report, which includes testimony from witnesses and responding officers, was released last week at the request of the Inquirer and Daily News. It offered the following account of the events that led to Klein's arrest:
Klein, 36, a nine-year member of the force, had worked from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Dec. 24, 2016. Around 3 a.m., he sideswiped a Jeep Cherokee parked outside Vanity Grand Cabaret in Southwest Philadelphia.
Steven Gilbert, the driver of the Jeep, testified that Klein was speeding and "out of control," striking a median and sending sparks flying. Gilbert pursued Klein and beeped his horn, but the officer refused to pull over. When he finally did after a several-mile chase, Klein appeared heavily intoxicated, Gilbert said.
"In my mind, I'm like, 'This dude tore up. He drunk or something,'" Gilbert told the grand jury.
As Gilbert approached the car, Klein reached into the center console of his vehicle and pulled out a black pistol, Gilbert said.
"He points [the gun] at me and my friend. It looked like he pointed it right at my face. I could have grabbed the gun," Gilbert testified. "He was pointing it back and forth at me and my friend Kevin."
The friend, Kevin Henry, testified that Klein was "incoherent" and had a "stuck look on his face."
Gilbert and Henry said they took photos of Klein's license plate, which had a Fraternal Order of Police emblem on it.
Police Officer Carl Charles told the grand jury he responded to a report of a person pointing a gun at someone near 3000 Penrose Ave. He found Klein at 16th Street and Packer Avenue. Charles said Klein was "staggering a little" and appeared intoxicated, but refused to answer questions.
Charles told the grand jury that because Klein was a police officer, he was required to call a supervisor. He summoned Cairns.
"Instead of arresting Klein, instead of calling Klein's wife, instead of calling an ambulance, Sgt. Cairns called for an officer from Klein's home district to transport him home," the grand jury wrote. The report said Cairns made no effort to track down witnesses to determine if Klein was the man who struck the Jeep and pointed the gun.
"I don't want to sound like a city employee, but that's not my job," Cairns testified. The 19th District officers "had the witness. They had a report of a crime occurring and an accident occurring over in West Philly in some district. It was their job to get to us."
Cairns also testified that Klein had glassy eyes and smelled of alcohol, and appeared to have been in a recent auto accident. But Cairns said he had no basis to arrest Klein because he wasn't in his car.
Ross said that he had not seen the affidavit of probable cause against Klein or its description of the behavior attributed to those who responded to the scene, but that Internal Affairs is looking into the matter.
"As I understand it from my investigators, there are some concerns about their encounter with [Klein] and whether or not appropriate steps were taken," Ross said.
Klein's attorney, Joseph Kelly, hasn't seen the grand jury report, either. But he said none of the responding officers administered a field sobriety test or asked Klein to submit to a Breathalyzer or blood test.
"We intend to defend it and go to trial," Kelly said. "He served the city for nine years with honor, and he's going to defend this case. We obviously have a different version of what happened."
Cairns was sued in federal court in 2010 by a Philadelphia man who accused the sergeant of using a Taser against him while he was handcuffed and curled up on the ground.
In his suit, Anthony DiSpensa claimed that two police officers stopped him while he was walking on Oregon Avenue near 17th Street on Nov. 29, 2009. The officers pushed him against a wall, the suit claims, and when DiSpensa complained that he'd done nothing wrong, the officers knocked him to the ground, handcuffed him, and began beating him.
Cairns responded to the scene, the suit claims, and as DiSpensa was in a defensive position on the ground Cairns deployed his Taser against him "several times." The beating continued until the police dragged DiSpensa into a police car, the suit alleges. He was later charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and related counts, though each count was later dismissed, according to court records.
DiSpensa, who has several DUI and drug-related convictions, settled the case in 2011 for $72,500, according to city records.