The head of the city's police union yesterday called for a Municipal Court judge to be reassigned from the 35th Police District after the judge ordered two pictures of John Pawlowski, the police officer who was shot dead Friday, removed from his courtroom.
In early afternoon, union officials said, Municipal Court Judge Craig M. Washington sought to have the pictures of Pawlowski, 25, taken from his courtroom in the headquarters of the 35th District, at Broad Street and Champlost Avenue, where the officer had been stationed. District officials denied that order, and Washington stepped down from the bench and placed both pictures facedown on the table where they had stood.
At a hastily called news conference about 90 minutes later, John J. McNesby, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police, demanded that Washington be removed from the judicial-hearing list at the station pending an investigation. He also urged that all court hearings be suspended in the district until an investigation is completed.
Washington could not be reached for comment, but Municipal Court President Judge Marsha Neifield backed his actions.
"Photographs are not permitted directly on the bench when court is in session," Neifield said. "While photographs placed in other locations are permitted, the courtroom must avoid any appearance of bias."
McNesby disagreed, saying that district headquarters is a police facility first and a courtroom second.
"It's a mourning period, and everybody is human," said McNesby, noting that the district has lost two officers - Charles Cassidy and Pawloski - to gunfire in the line of duty in the last 15 months.
The slain officer's photograph was not on the bench, but off to the side, McNesby said. "It was out of view, and it was proper. It was on a smaller table, not on the judge's bench.
"How many judges have we seen shot and killed in the last year? None. We had four police officers killed last year."
Through a spokesman, Neifield said that Washington would not be in the 35th District for the rest of the week but that court hearings in the district would not be suspended.
"We have to take a deep breath and review the situation. . . . It's too early to know if he will be back," said the spokesman, Jeff Jubelirer.
The roll-call room of the district's headquarters serves as a courtroom for preliminary hearings three days a week, a practice that occurs in a half-dozen districts in the city.
Washington, 59, was elected a Municipal Court judge in 1997. In 2003, the voters retained him for another six-year term. The judgeship pays about $154,000 a year.
In a prepared statement, Neifield said: "All of us are deeply saddened about the tragic loss of Officer Pawlowski. Our thoughts and prayers are foremost with Officer Pawlowski's family, friends and his police colleagues. We understand why emotions are running high."
Cassidy, 54, was shot Oct. 31, 2007, when he interrupted a robbery at a doughnut shop. He died the next day. His alleged killer is awaiting trial.
Pawlowski's accused killer, career criminal Rasheed Scruggs, 33, is recovering at Albert Einstein Medical Center. He was shot while exchanging fire with Mark Klein, who was Pawlowski's partner, and another officer, Stephen Mancuso.