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Councilwoman presses on charged officer

A city councilwoman is demanding to know why a Philadelphia police officer was allowed to retire the day before he was charged with sexually assaulting a girl over an eight-year period.

A city councilwoman is demanding to know why a Philadelphia police officer was allowed to retire the day before he was charged with sexually assaulting a girl over an eight-year period.

Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco also wants to know why the arrest of Officer Tyrone Wiggins, who taught karate at the Olney Recreation Center, wasn't disclosed publicly.

Tasco, whose district includes the recreation center, said she was troubled that Wiggins continued teaching there during a two-year investigation and even after he was arrested last month.

Wiggins met his alleged victim at the recreation center 14 years ago, when she was a 10-year-old student in his class, according to court records.

"Our citizens have to have confidence that our Police Department is fair all around," Tasco said yesterday.

Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey yesterday took the blame for failing to disclose Wiggins' arrest, calling it "an oversight."

"I screwed up on not getting an actual press release out," he said. "It was not intentional."

Investigators typically do not disclose ongoing investigations.

When asked why the city Department of Recreation wasn't notified after Wiggins' Nov. 19 arrest, Anthony DiLacqua, the chief inspector for Internal Affairs, admitted he was at a loss to explain it.

"I wish I had a better answer," he said. "I don't want to shirk our responsibility here, but I don't know whose responsibility it was."

Ramsey, who said he was unaware that Wiggins taught karate at the recreation center, said the responsibility would fall to the police "if you know that someone is around children."

Although Wiggins has taught children over the years, Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson said he had only "three or four" adults in his class when he was arrested.

Slawson, a former police lieutenant, also called the situation a police "oversight" and said Wiggins' class was canceled after the Philadelphia Daily News first reported his arrest yesterday.

"It's just kind of sickening to wake up and read that kind of story," Tasco said.

The councilwoman wrote Ramsey yesterday, outlining her concerns. She said that budget hearings early next year would be the first opportunity to air the issue at a hearing but that she didn't want to wait that long to seek answers from the commissioner.

Ramsey said Wiggins' arrest came at a busy time for the department, during the capital-murder trial of the man convicted of killing Officer Chuck Cassidy.

Internal Affairs also was in the midst of investigating Officer Adrian Makuch, who was arrested Dec. 8 after soliciting an undercover officer he thought was a teenage boy. The department called a news conference the next day to announce charges against Makuch. Wiggins' arrest was not announced.

Unlike Makuch, who was on active duty, Wiggins had retired the day before his arrest.

DiLacqua said Wiggins, a Marine veteran and a 23-year police officer, put in his papers after he learned that his arrest was likely.

"His retirement definitely wasn't a long-planned decision," he said.

Ramsey said that any eligible officer can retire "effective almost immediately" and that there was no deal to allow him to leave the force before his arrest.

"I understand that some people look at it as some kind of grand conspiracy, but I can say, as far as I'm concerned, that's [nonsense]," he said.

Wiggins would receive his retirement benefits while the case goes to court, but the pension board can review his case if he is convicted.

Ramsey said an internal investigation would continue and Wiggins' file would note that he was recommended for termination.

Wiggins could not be reached yesterday, and his attorney did not return calls seeking comment.

Wiggins, who has been released on bail, faces charges of rape, sexual assault, and other crimes. A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 14.

As of now, DiLacqua said, the department has no reason to believe there are other victims.

Wiggins, 50, was a longtime officer in the 39th District until his transfer to the Civil Affairs Unit in 2005. He worked there until his retirement.

The victim, who was not identified, said Wiggins befriended her and her family when she started attending his karate class when she was 10.

Two years later, according to court records, Wiggins drove her to Fairmount Park in his van and exposed himself to her. A week later, he again took her to the park in his van and sexually assaulted her, the records said.

Over the next eight years, Wiggins continued to sexually and physically assault the girl in his van, at his home, and elsewhere, the records said.

Internal Affairs first interviewed the woman in August 2007.

Moving the case forward proved challenging, DiLacqua said, in part because of the length of time that had passed since the attacks began.

In addition, he said, Wiggins' accuser is still deeply traumatized by the assaults.

"In general in these kinds of cases, often the victim hesitates in being forthcoming," he said. "There are things they've told themselves they have to forget, and now we're trying to draw it out of them."

The Daily News reported that the woman later decided to join the Philadelphia police and Wiggins volunteered to vouch for her.

Ramsey said he did not want to discuss that report, in order to protect the woman's privacy.

"Obviously, when this thing goes to trial, a lot of things will come out about the victim," he said.