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Crowd protests police action in W. Phila.

A crowd of about 100 residents demonstrated in West Philadelphia on Friday against police violence, demanding justice for a man they said was severely beaten by officers earlier this month.

Askia Sabur, who received six staples on his head after an incident with police. (Courtesy of attorney Evan Hughes)
Askia Sabur, who received six staples on his head after an incident with police. (Courtesy of attorney Evan Hughes)Read more

A crowd of about 100 residents demonstrated in West Philadelphia on Friday against police violence, demanding justice for a man they said was severely beaten by officers earlier this month.

"Who runs these streets?" a man shouted over a bullhorn, standing outside the Lucky Garden Chinese takeout restaurant at Lansdowne Avenue and Allison Street, where the incident took place.

"Not the police!" the demonstrators responded in unison.

Some wore T-shirts emblazoned with the likeness of Askia Sabur, square-jawed, with long dreadlocks, whose altercation with police and subsequent arrest were videotaped and posted on YouTube.

Sabur, 29, was charged with two counts of aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, and resisting arrest.

The dark and blurry video shows baton-wielding police officers repeatedly striking Sabur, who suffered a broken arm and a gash on the back of his head.

Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, said the video began after Sabur knocked one of the officers to the ground. "Stuff happens before, and stuff happens after," Vanore continued. "Our Internal Affairs is trying to get the whole picture."

Police have not released the names of the officers involved.

But two officers who are listed as complainants at Sabur's preliminary hearing Monday have been the subject of multiple civilian complaints over the last five years, many alleging physical abuse. In all of the complaints, Internal Affairs investigators found no wrongdoing.

Jimmy Leocal, a 10-year veteran, has had five complaints filed against him, all alleging physical abuse.

The other officer, Donyul Williams, on the force for almost eight years, has had seven complaints filed against him. Four of them were claims of physical abuse.

In one of the four that bore similarities to the Sabur case, a complainant alleged that he had been told to move off the sidewalk and was harassed for identification and then beaten by the officers.

Neither officer responded to detailed requests for comment. Telephone messages were left for the officers at the 19th Police District, where letters seeking comment were also hand-delivered by The Inquirer.

While none of the complaints against Leocal and Williams was sustained, Vanore said the Police Department tracks every civilian complaint filed against an officer. If a captain notices a pattern, an officer can be questioned by Internal Affairs investigators.

Vanore said the prior complaints against the two would likely be considered in the investigation of Sabur's arrest. "I'm sure it's being considered as part of the analysis of the case," Vanore said.

Evan Hughes, Sabur's attorney, said the string of prior complaints against both arresting officers "completely drains the officers' credibility in the case against Askia Sabur."

The 19th District, bordered by City Avenue, Cobbs Creek Parkway, and Market Street, is considered one of the city's high-crime areas.

Sabur's arrest took place around 8:30 p.m. Sept. 3, when five men, including Sabur and his cousin, were standing outside the Lucky Garden restaurant and two officers asked them to clear the corner.

Sabur refused, telling the officers he was waiting for his food, according to interviews with police, Sabur, his lawyer, and several witnesses.

What happened next remains in dispute.

During the 21/2-minute YouTube video, onlookers can be heard yelling "Stop!" and "You're killing him!" Someone also urges Sabur, on the ground, to "stop fighting."

At one point, an officer pulls a gun and tells the crowd to "back up."

Sabur has told The Inquirer that when the officers asked him for identification, he reached into a pocket to pull it out and "they grabbed my arm and started choking me."

Sabur said he suffered a broken arm. He also needed six staples to close gashes on the back of his head, which he said had been caused by the blows.

"It's like they were trying to kill me," he said.

Sabur, a father of three, grew up in the neighborhood, where he is known for his drawings and clothes designs.

He pleaded no contest in 2002 to attempted burglary in Montgomery County and was sentenced to five years' probation.

During Sabur's arrest, said Williams, 39, Sabur bit him on the back, leaving marks. Leocal, 37, said Sabur punched and kicked him repeatedly, causing injury.

One of the prior Internal Affairs complaints involved the same two officers. The account in the Internal Affairs report was:

On July 29, 2009, at 7:30 p.m., Emil Van-Otoo, 16, said he was standing in front of his uncle's house on the 400 block of North Wanamaker Street, watching Williams and Leocal conduct a traffic stop of one of the neighbors. The officers told Van-Otoo to go inside the house.

Van-Otoo refused and stood on his uncle's porch.

At some point, Van-Otoo said, the officers asked him for ID and threw it into the street. Van-Otoo said the officers then handcuffed him, grabbed him by the collar, dragged him down the front steps, and put him in the patrol car, where Van-Otoo said he was choked and beaten, and three witnesses said they heard him screaming.

Both Williams and Leocal denied striking Van-Otoo. Williams said that the teen had interfered with the officer's investigation, yelling things like: "Y'all always around here messing with people." Other neighbors sitting outside joined in the heckling, police said.

Williams said that he began to fear for his safety and that after the vehicle investigation, the officers confronted Van-Otoo about his behavior. After an investigation of Van-Otoo's license and a second request for him to leave the area, Van-Otoo, according to Williams, said: "I ain't going nowhere."

Van-Otoo was eventually handcuffed and placed in a patrol car.

As the crowd grew, yelling at the officers, Williams said, he had to pull out his baton. According to witnesses, he struck it on the ground, waved it, and told the crowd to back up.

At 19th District headquarters, according to the Internal Affairs report, when Van-Otoo was patted down, officers found marijuana on him, which Van-Otoo denied was his, and $3,400. Van-Otoo said he had actually had $4,440 to buy a car, and that $1,040 was missing, alleging theft.

An Internal Affairs investigator found that there wasn't enough evidence to support any of Van-Otoo's claims and that Van-Otoo had been inconsistent in his statements.

For his part, Van-Otoo was charged with drug possession and related charges.

The other complainants in officers' histories - some under arrest, some not - cited vandalism, verbal abuse, unprofessional conduct, and harassment. Investigators found either that their claims were not sustained or that the officers were exonerated.

Vanore said Internal Affairs is still investigating the use of force in Sabur's arrest.