Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey canceled controversial plans Tuesday to open an officer's disciplinary hearing after the city's police union called for a mass demonstration by its 14,500 members.
Ramsey said he decided that Wednesday's triallike case against Officer Elaine P. Thomas will be a closed-door session because the department cannot accommodate the large number of media requests to attend.
The commissioner said his decision was unrelated to a call from the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge for the mass rally to support Thomas.
"I don't give a damn about that," Ramsey said Tuesday. "I ain't afraid to take on unions."
Thomas, a 15-year veteran of the force assigned to the 18th District in West Philadelphia, is accused of falsifying paperwork on multiple property deeds to avoid a 3 percent city real estate transfer tax and 1 percent state tax.
Last week, Ramsey said he would allow Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer reporters to attend the hearing, which would normally be closed to the public. But after demands by other news outlets, he said he "can't cherry-pick" which reporters would attend.
The union Monday faxed notices to all district commanders calling for members to rally outside Police Headquarters, "demonstrating our wide interest" in Thomas' case.
Nearly all of the city's 6,300 police officers, including district commanders, are members of the union, as are about 7,500 retired officers. The union also has a small contingent of active and retired Sheriff's Office personnel.
The union said its rally at Police Headquarters at Eighth and Vine Streets would be at 9 a.m., an hour before Thomas' hearing.
"He brought this on," said Eugene Blagmond, the union's public relations officer, referring to Ramsey's initial plan to let reporters attend.
"Since Commissioner Ramsey is opening this hearing to others, we are asking that any active or pensioned officer also attend the hearing due to our own wide interest," the FOP notice said.
Blagmond said the notice went to all commanders, who typically post FOP information for officers to see.
He said that although Ramsey reversed himself, the union still would rally in support of Thomas.
Ramsey has said the charges against Thomas included "five or six" incidents in which she is alleged to have falsely stated in deed paperwork that relatives were selling her properties.
Family sales are exempt from transfer taxes.
The Inquirer this month documented how Thomas had not paid property-transfer taxes on two home purchases from two women, both listed as her mother. Relatives said the women were not related to Thomas, a 15-year veteran of the force.
The deed paperwork says clearly that buyers making false statements do so "under penalties of law or ordinance."
Deed records show several other property transfers in which Thomas did not pay transfer taxes, including one involving Eugene G. Hamilton, listed as Thomas' father. Relatives said he was not her father.
Thomas also paid no transfer taxes in the 2004 purchase of a North Philadelphia rowhouse from Christine Kibler. Kibler, who died in 2003, was listed as Thomas' sister. At the time of her death, Kibler was 97, making her 64 years older than Thomas.
In both the Kibler and Hamilton deeds, the notary has pleaded guilty to forgery. Those forgeries were part of a broader criminal case against Chavon Reese, who admitted forging 21 other deeds. Thomas was not charged with any crimes.
Thomas has declined to comment.
The hearing, before the Police Board of Inquiry, is the latest step in a disciplinary process against the officer. The board recommends whether disciplinary action is warranted. Ramsey has the final say in the process.
Ramsey also said the investigation of Thomas' deed transfers was sent to the District Attorney's Office in December 2007 to decide whether criminal charges would be sought. The District Attorney's Office formally notified police in June that it would not prosecute Thomas.
While the district attorney reviewed the case, police investigators had to wait to take action, Ramsey said. He said it was only after the district attorney declined to charge Thomas that police could proceed with their internal investigation.
Through his spokeswoman, District Attorney Seth Williams declined to comment on the case.