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Deptford pays, reinstates two police in scuffle

They'll get attorney fees, too. The township still wants to fire a third officer, but talks continue.

Two of the three Deptford police officers who once faced criminal prosecution for a videotaped scuffle with a motorist returned to work yesterday.

John Gillespie and Timothy Parks had been suspended without pay since the February 2006 confrontation.

They were back on the job after the township agreed Friday to drop administrative charges against them and to pay them nearly $500,000 in back pay and attorney fees.

The agreement came just five days before a disciplinary hearing was scheduled.

"He's elated to be able to go back to work and to do the job that is his career," said Parks' attorney, John Eastlack.

The township is still seeking to fire the third officer charged in the incident, Brian Green, although negotiations are under way to settle his case.

Louis R. Lessig, the township's labor attorney, said Parks would receive $106,000 in back pay and Gillespie would get $82,000. The township also will pay more than $300,000 in legal fees for the two officers.

They were charged with assaulting Joseph Rao, a South Philadelphia man pulled over for running a stop sign. Gillespie testified at trial that Rao was combative and abusive, so he handcuffed him and put him in the back of his patrol car.

Rao, then 19, threatened to kick out the window and escape, Gillespie said. A dashboard camera then caught Gillespie and Parks struggling with Rao in the backseat.

In an enhanced version of the tape, Rao can be seen kicking at Gillespie and Parks, who then punches Rao twice and pulls him from the car.

In July, a jury acquitted Gillespie, and prosecutors then dropped charges against Parks and Green, who was accused of lying to investigators about what he saw at the police station, where prosecutors said the abuse continued.

Rao has filed a notice to sue the officers and the township for more than $1 million, but he has not yet filed a lawsuit. He said he suffered a concussion, cuts and bruises.

Rao initially was charged with resisting arrest and traffic offenses, but those charges were dropped.

Eastlack said the township wanted to fire Gillespie and Parks for 23 counts of disciplinary charges. He said his client, Parks, was cleared of all charges.

Ron Helmer, Gillespie's attorney, would not comment on details of the settlement with the township.

"I'm pleased that John's back to work, and he's happy to be back," he said.

Robert Agre, Green's attorney, said they were waiting for a hearing date on the administrative charges he faces.

"Like any police officer, he wants to get back on the job, and mentally, he's holding up as well as he can," he said. "He's anxious to get back."