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Charles Patton, former police officer and activist, dies at 70

IF YOU WENT to lunch with Charles Patton you were advised to leave a little early. Walking on a city street with him was an adventure and an education because it seemed that Charlie knew everybody and everybody knew Charlie.

IF YOU WENT to lunch with Charles Patton you were advised to leave a little early.

Walking on a city street with him was an adventure and an education because it seemed that Charlie knew everybody and everybody knew Charlie.

"He was constantly stopping to talk to people, or people would stop him," said Katherine Hatton, a lawyer who worked with Charlie when he was an investigator for her former law firm. "The only other person who was like that was Chuck Stone [retired Daily News columnist]. They were both larger than life."

Charles Patton, who made that larger than life impact on the city in his years as a police officer, advocate for troubled youth, investigator for the MOVE commission and two city law firms and an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, died Wednesday from complications of a fall. He was 70 and lived in East Oak Lane.

He joined the Police Department in 1960, was promoted to sergeant in 1965 and lieutenant in 1968. He was second-in-command to the former civil disobedience squad (later civil affairs) under the late Inspector George Fencl.

"He was one of the most wonderful people who ever walked the face of the earth," said Hatton, onetime counsel for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., former owners of the Daily News and Inquirer, and now vice president and secretary of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

She got to know Charlie when he was an investigator for the firm of Kohn, Savett, Klein & Graf, now Kohn, Swift & Graf, with which Hatton was formerly associated.

Charlie worked on a number of cases involving both newspapers, often libel suits, she said.

"He became just a most incredibly strong advocate for newspapers," she said. "He believed in all his heart that newspapers are vital to the health of a community.

"I think he believed in journalists more than they believed in themselves."

At the law firm, Charlie was often called on to test the credibility of witnesses.

"Is this man telling us the whole story? Is this person a credible witness?" Hatton said. "We wanted Charlie to give us his opinion. His knowledge of people was so incredible. He was a wonderful judge of people."

And Charlie acted as something of a mentor to the young lawyers of the firm. "Everybody talked to Charlie," Hatton said. "He was a great listener. He was one of the most honorable, decent persons I've ever known."

One day in 1975, Charlie and two other police officers assigned to the civil disobedience squad were escorting Jean Hobson, founder of North Philadelphia Mothers Concerned, and others marching against the violence that was killing kids in the pervasive gang warfare of those years.

"She just said, 'You men need to get off your . . . and do something, not just when you are on duty," Charlie said.

"She planted the seed."

That seed sprouted into Concerned Black Men, a group that started with Philadelphia cops and is now national and international. It provides scholarships, cash awards and recognition through essay contests.

Elmer Smith, Daily News columnist, helped the organization with its essay contests. The contests offered "really significant scholarship aid," Smith said. "Charlie was a great guy," Smith said. "He was an extraordinary brother."

In May 1985, police tried to dislodge the MOVE organization from its rowhouse headquarters at 6221 Osage Ave. Unable to break through the barriers the group had constructed to keep police out, a bomb was dropped on the roof, setting off a fire that killed six adults and five children and destroyed a neighborhood.

Charlie Patton applied to join the investigative commission appointed to look into the debacle and was accepted. It concluded that the city acted with "reckless disregard for life and property."

"I couldn't see any juror not saying there's something negligent in the city dropping a bomb on a rowhouse in the City of Philadelphia," he said at the time.

Charlie was born in Philadelphia to Howard Franklin Patton Sr. and Ruth Morris Patton. He graduated from Camden High in 1956 and joined the Air Force. He was discharged in 1960.

He received a degree in police science and administration from Temple University in 1967, and a master's degree in human services from Lincoln University in 1983. After serving as an investigator for Kohn, Klein, Nast & Graf, for five years, he joined Dechert LLP in the same role. He retired in 2004.

His daughter, Carla, said her father was "a man of integrity, strong voice, uplifting, encouraging, unpretentious, truthful, loving and caring."

He also is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Carolyn Mabry; a son, Christopher; two sisters, Ursula E. Temple and Melba R. Guy; a brother, Howard F. Patton Jr., and two grandsons.

Services: Funeral Mass 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Athanasius Church, 2050 E. Walnut Lane. Friends may call at 10:30 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham.