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Olney man wants apology from police

Two officers have been charged with assaulting David Vernitsky.

David Vernitsky wants to know why two Philadelphia officers allegedly beat him, breaking his jaw after catching him writing graffiti last year, and then dumped him on the street without arresting him.

He also wants a public apology from the police.

"Even though I know what I did was wrong," said Vernitsky, 37, about spray-painting on a wall, "they shouldn't have done what they did."

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey announced Tuesday that the two officers were being fired and charged with aggravated assault and offenses related to a cover-up of the Aug. 26 beating.

Vernitsky, who works at a Northeast Philadelphia packaging company, spoke briefly with a reporter on the porch of his Olney home.

"I just want to know why they did it," said Vernitsky, whose jaw was wired shut for five weeks. "I want a public apology."

In response, Lt. Frank Vanore of the department's public-affairs unit said: "The case is in court and we're not going to comment any further on it until it goes to court."

The allegations against Officers Sheldon B. Fitzgerald, 29, and Howard F. Hill 3d, 30, followed Ramsey's swift action last week to discipline eight officers - including firing four - after a group of officers was caught on video beating and kicking three shooting suspects.

The allegations of police abuse have sparked community criticism and raised tensions between Ramsey and the police union.

Ramsey said Tuesday that "the message, as I said before, is that excessive force is simply not something that can be tolerated."

John J. McNesby, president of Lodge Five of the Fraternal Order of Police, that same day called the allegations against the officers "a fabrication."

Fitzgerald and Hill are charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, tampering with public records, and conspiracy.

Both posted 10 percent of their $25,000 bail Wednesday and were released from custody.

The 25th District officers were on patrol about 12:30 a.m. when they spotted Vernitsky spray-painting a wall near Fourth Street and Wyoming Avenue in Feltonville.

Vernitsky, who has been convicted of criminal mischief on three occasions, said he was returning from a friend's wedding in Port Richmond and wanted to write a congratulatory wedding message on the side of a beauty-supply business.

He said that he ran when he saw the police, but that they quickly caught him. Two friends got away and watched part of what happened from nearby.

The officers then allegedly beat Vernitsky in the face and ribs with their fists, according to investigations by the police Internal Affairs unit and the District Attorney's Office. They also allegedly kicked him the the groin.

Vernitsky was handcuffed and thrown headfirst into the back seat of their patrol car, according to the investigation.

Fitzgerald and Hill allegedly took Vernitsky's identification and ran his name through a mobile data terminal in their patrol car to check for outstanding warrants. Finding none, they allegedly dumped him off around Third and Wyoming.

The officers filed no report of their encounter with Vernitsky and made an entry in their patrol log indicating they were at another location at the time of the alleged assault.

Investigators, however, found evidence that the officers had run Vernitsky's name through their mobile data terminal to check for warrants at the time of the incident.

Geraldine Vernitsky, 58, David's mother, said that she complained to police that August day and that they initially did not believe her. She challenged them to look at the evidence - "and they did," she said.