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Eight witness a beating by city policemen

The battered man cried, “Help me! Mom, help me? Somebody, help me!”

Late in April 1977, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a four-part series called The Homicide Files, which told how the Philadelphia homicide detectives were using beatings and other forms of coercion to force "confessions" and other statements from suspects and witnesses. The series, which has since been reprinted in a brochure similar to this one, prompted many citizens to come to The Inquirer with accounts of illegal violence by policemen.

Reporters Jonathan Neumann and William K. Marimow, authors of The Homicide Files, decided to expand their investigation beyond the question of homicide interrogations. The result has been a number of vivid, carefully documented case studies of street violence by police officers.

This booklet contains a sample of these articles from the late spring and summer of 1977. It also includes The Inquirer's editorials on illegal police violence, as well as news stories on the resolution of the Santiago firebombing case, in which illegal police methods led to the conviction of an innocent man for five murders.

Enith Zaid had just fallen asleep on a Thursday night 2 ½ weeks ago when she was jolted awake by the wail of police sirens and the screams of a man.

The 37-year-old housewife recalls running to the second-floor window of her 200-year-old Society Hill townhouse. There, she watched as uniformed policemen smashed open a side window of a 1971 Mercury on Spruce Street, dragged a man from the car and clubbed him repeatedly with their nightsticks.

The man, William Cradle, 23, had been stopped for running a stop sign. He was on his way to Fifth and Walnut Streets, where his wife, Carol was waiting for a ride home from work. Cradle, an instrument technician who lives in Queen Village, had no previous criminal record and was not wanted by police for anything else.

"Tell me what I've done," Cradle shrieked, according to Mrs. Said and seven other eyewitnesses who have been interviewed by The Inquirer. "Help me!  Mom, help me!  Somebody, help me!  Somebody, tell me what I've done!"

As he cried out for help, Cradle, a slender black man, was pinned against his car by three policemen, while two others battered him with their nightsticks in the stomach, legs, arms, chest and head, according to the witnesses. A total of about 10 policemen were on the scene, witnesses say.

After about 10 minutes – at approximately 12:45 a.m. – the beating ended. Cradle was lying unconscious in a pool of blood, amid shattered glass from his car window and fragments of two nightsticks that had splintered when they had struck Cradle's body, witnesses said.

Cradle was then lifted up by police, handcuffed and thrown into a van, witnesses said. He was held in a cell overnight. He was given a traffic ticket and charged with resisting arrest and assaulting three officers.

The Inquirer has reconstructed the case from interviews with six eyewitnesses who saw the entire incident' two neighbors who heard the sirens and screams, but were witness to only part of the beating; a policeman on the scene who asked not to be named; and a detailed account Cradle gave his attorney, Michael A. Shechtman (Shechtman has said Cradle plans to sue the city and the Police Department for violations of his civil rights.)

The six persons who witnessed the beating from the start said that Cradle never struck an officer or made any provocative motion toward a policeman. They said Cradle's only movements were to try to cover his head to protect himself from the blows.

When Cradle released from police custody, he was taken to Metropolitan Hospital by his wife and grandmother. There he was treated for injuries to his ribs, shoulders, knees, back, legs and head.

Three young women – Roberta Hacker, 31, Victoria Brownworth, 23, and Charlotte Daley, 22 – were in a car behind Cradle's Mercury that night and witnessed the entire incident.

The next morning, the women who had been following in their car called the Police Department, the district attorney's office and the U. S. attorney's office to report the beating. Mrs. Zaid also called the district attorney's office.

The women said the district attorney's office was unresponsive to their calls. Two police investigators told Miss Hacker and Miss Brownworth that they had "bad attitudes."  The U. S. attorney's office, however, began an investigation.

The incident occurred on April 29, two days after The Inquirer concluded publication of a four-part series of articles detailing a pattern of beatings, intimidation and coercion by Philadelphia homicide detectives during interrogations.

While that series was being published, the civil rights division of the U. S. Justice Department had authorized the U. S. attorney's office and the FBI to investigate alleged crimes by Philadelphia police. When the witnesses called to report the beating of William Cradle, federal officials decided to include that case in their civil rights investigation.

The witnesses to the beating said that all the policemen on the scene in Society Hill were white; the witnesses are white; Cradle is black.

Police Commissioner Joseph F. O'Neill declined to comment on the incident and referred questions to Chief inspector Frank Scafidi, the head of the Police Department's internal affairs bureau. Last Thursday, Scafidi said the incident was under investigation. Two of the policemen involved in the incident – Lyle Sprague and Raymond Casper – said they would not comment. A third, Roy Land, could not be reached for comment. All three were sent letters by certified mail requesting interviews. (The Inquirer was unable to identify the other policemen who witnesses say beat Cradle).

According to The Inquirer's reconstruction of the incident, here is what happened on the morning of April 29:

Soon after midnight, Cradle left his Queen Village apartment to pick up his wife from work at the offices of General Accident Fire & Life Assurance Corp.

Cradle drove north on Third Street. A police car began to follow him after Cradle apparently ran a stop sign at Third and Fitzwater Streets.

After trailing Cradle for several blocks, a patrolman signaled for Cradle to pull to the side of the street, just north of Pine Street. Cradle stopped, and the policeman walked to Cradle's car and asked to see his driver's license and registration card. Cradle complies, and the officer returned to his car.

Minutes later, a second car – manned by two officers – arrived at the scene.

Cradle sat waiting in his car for about seven minutes. He said he became anxious about his wife, who was expecting him at 12:20 p.m. He stepped from his car and walked to the police car manned by the one policeman. He asked what the delay was and if there was anything he could do to speed up the procedure.

"I don't want to hear nothing you got to say," Cradle quoted the policeman as saying. "Take your black ass back to the car."

Cradle returned to his car. He said he became frightened for his safety. "I just wanted to get away from where I was," he recalled. "The way the policeman snapped off at me, I was afraid he might start something."  So, Cradle slowly drove away, even though the policeman still had his license and registration cards.

Cradle drove north on Third Street, stopping at the red light at the next corner, Third and Spruce Streets.

Police Follow

The two police cars followed Cradle.

At this point, the three young women – Miss Hacker, Miss Brownworth and Miss Daley – were in a beige 1973 Volkswagen directly behind the police cards and Cradle. They were driving home after hopping at an all night supermarket.

They said they assumed that Cradle had been stopped for a routine traffic violation. They said Cradle had driven away slowly.

Cradle turned left on the Spruce Street. The police cars followed, and the women, who had been planning to drive west on Spruce Street, followed. The women said that all four cars were traveling at a moderate rate of speed.

The four cars went through a green light at Fourth Street and then Cradle stopped for a red light at Fifth Street. At this point, the women said, the police cars flashed on their lights and sirens. With Cradle's car and the two police cars blocking the street, the women could not drive from the scene.

"We were a captive audience," Miss Hacker recalls. "I can't believe what we were forced to watch."

The three policemen – Sprague, Land and Casper – jumped out of their cars, ran to Cradle's car and began rocking it up and down, the women recall. The windows to the car were shut, and the doors apparently were locked.

One officer, according to Cradle's account, drew his gun and pointed it through a closed car window at Cradle's head. "If you make another move," the officer reportedly said, "I'm going to blow your head off."

Cradle said he put his hands up in the air.

(The officer with the gun, Cradle said, was about 5 feet, 11 inches tall with a reddish-brown mustache. Patrolman Sprague fits that description, according to one policeman on the scene.)

At the same time, officer Casper, according to witnesses, smashed the front window on the passenger side of the car with his nightstick.

Policemen then opened the doors to the car and dragged Cradle bodily into the street. Witnesses say that by then, several more policemen were already on the scene and joined the other three officers.

At the same time, officer Casper, according to the witnesses, smashed the front window on the passenger side of the car with his nightstick.

Policemen then opened the doors to the car and dragged Cradle bodily into the street. Witnesses say that by then, several more policemen were already on the scene and joined the other three officers.

Cradle was pinned against the car by three policemen, witnesses say. One officer punched Cradle beneath the right eye. Cradle began to scream for help. Two officers started pummeling him with their nightsticks, witnesses say.

Cradle's screaming and the thudding sound of the blows to his body brought residents of the historic Society Hill block to their windows.

"The sound of the wood striking his body was the most awful thing I've ever heard," Miss Brownworth recalled. "I couldn't believe my eyes. They were lifting their arms completely back and striking at full force, while Cradle was pinned down by other policemen."

Miss Hacker, who had stopped from her Volkswagen and moved to within five feet of the beating, began to scream at the policemen:  "You have to stop this!  Stop!  Stop!  This is absolutely crazy. You're out of control. You're sick. You're killing him."

Another young woman, Edith Willis, said she observed the entire incident from her car, which was parked about 25 feet from Cradle's car, with a clear view of the beating.

When the police stopped Cradle, Miss Willis who was traveling west on Spruce Street, had no choice but to watch what transpired, she said.

Cradle, she said, never struck any policemen.

"I was so frightened," she recalled, "I wouldn't get out of my car. I was throwing up."

"I'm a small-town girl," said Miss Willis, a 27-year-old social worker, who was raised in Sumter, S. C., a town of 50,000, "and I've never seen a beating like that."

After Cradle was thrown into the van, she said, "I wanted to do something, I wanted to call the police. But how do you call the police on the police?  I'll never forget that beating as long as I live."

Mrs. Zaid, who was watching from her second-floor window, said she began pounding on her windows hysterically, yelling to the police:  "Stop it!  Stop it!  What are you doing?"

Hear a clamor

Across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Byrne III were about to go to bed when the clamor on the street brought them to their second-floor window.

Mrs. Byrne said she saw "four or five policemen clutched over someone screaming."  Mr. Byrne, a lawyer recalls hearing the thump of nightsticks hitting a person, and hearing a man's voice screaming "For God's sake, tell me what I've done."

Avery Rome, 29, a writer who lives next door to Mrs. Zaid, was watching television when she heard the screaming. She said in an interview that she saw eight policemen surrounding Cradle, some of them holding him while others struck him.

The witnesses said that the policemen struck Cradle with such force that at least two nightsticks cracked when they struck Cradle's shoulders and head. One piece of shattered nightstick "flew off Cradle's shoulder and almost hit me," Miss Hacker recalls.

Mrs. Zaid remembers that she watched from her window as Cradle fell to the street just a few steps from her front door.

Can't recall beating

"One policeman took a nightstick and rammed it as hard as he could into Cradle's groin," she said. She remembers hearing Cradle should at that point:  "I did it!  Whatever it is, I did it!"

Cradle cannot recall the entire beating. The last thing he remembers is being struck over the eye with a nightstick, opening a cut that started to bleed profusely.

"Finally," Miss Brownworth recalled, "he just stopped screaming. He lay still on the street. I thought he was dead. I really did. There was broken glass all over the street and broken nightsticks and blood. It was horrible. It's what I imagine it feels like when you're in a war."

Police picked up Cradle, handcuffed him and threw him into a police van, witnesses say. He was transported to the Third District police station at 11th and Wharton Streets.

One police officer on the scene said in an interview that police did not beat Cradle. Cradle, he said, punched and kicked the police. He said he could not recall seeing any officers striking Cradle with nightsticks.

The policeman said that "the girls" – Miss Hacker, Miss Brownworth and Miss Daley – "couldn't see that well because they were half a block away."  He also said that at one point that night, police heard on their radio that there was a "bench warrant" for Cradle's arrest, but later learned that the warrant was for someone else. Police and court records confirm that Cradle was never sought on any criminal charge.

Cradle was held in jail through the night. He was arraigned at 10 a.m. on charges of assaulting patrolmen, Land, Sprague and Casper and was released in lieu of $5,000 bail. He was also given a ticket for reckless driving.

Cradle said that while he was in custody he continually asked for medical attention, but was "ignored" by police. He said he was permitted to make a phone call at 3:45 a.m., when he telephoned his family to explain what had happened.

After his arraignment, his wife and grandmother took Cradle to Metropolitan Hospital, where he was treated for his injuries. (Today, Cradle says his bloodshot left eye is still throbbing with pain. He walks with a limp and is being treated for leg injuries by an orthopedic specialist.)

Immediately after Cradle was taken from the scene, Miss Brownworth approached the patrolman who fit Sprague's description and said, "Don't think this is the end of it. You'll hear from us again.

'Just try it'

She said the patrolman replied:  "Yeah, sister, just try it and see where it gets you."

When Roberta Hacker arrived home she called the Police Department to report the incident. Mis Hacker, a social worker, and Miss Brownworth a student at Temple University, said that Sgt. George Fenzil of the Ninth District came to their center city apartment at 1:30 a.m. on Friday.

Fenzil, however, said he lacked jurisdiction to investigate the incident because it had occurred in the Third District. (Fenzil, who was asked for an interview by certified mail, could not be reached by The Inquirer.)

Within an hour after Fenzil's departure, the women said, two policemen from the Sixth District came to their apartment.

One reportedly said to Miss Brownworth:  "How do you expect us to treat those hoodlums?"

Miss Brownworth said she relied:  "You're assuming he's a criminal."

The policeman, according to Miss Brownworth, responded:  "Well, aren't they call?"

Finally, she said one of the officers told her:  "You don't have the right attitude. If that man raped you, how would you feel?"

One of the policemen also reportedly told the women that their "story must be wrong" because he had never seen a nightstick even crack. He was incredulous that it could have been broken, the woman said.

The two policemen left. They told the two women that an officer from the Third District would contact them.

After the police left their apartment, Miss Hacker and Miss Brownworth returned to the scene of the beating and retrieved pieces of the broken nightsticks, along with Cradle's broken glasses and his shoes, which they turned over to the U.S. attorney's office. In the street, they also found Cradle's checkbook from which they first learned Cradle's name.

That night they telephoned area hospitals to learn if Cradle had been hospitalized. They could not find him in any hospital.

On Saturday, at 2 a.m., Sgt. David G. Kephart from the Third District called Miss Hacker and Miss Brownworth. The women said he asked them if they saw "Cradle hit the policemen . . . and didn't he resist arrest?"

They said no to both questions.

Kephart, according to the women, then said that Cradle had been brought to a hospital by police. Miss Hacker said she did not believe Kephart. She told him that she had called area hospitals the day before.

'He refused it'

"'Oh, that's right,'" Miss Hacker quoted Kephart as saying, "'Well, the records show we offered him medical help and that he refused it.'"

(Kephart, reached by telephone at the Third District, declined to comment.)

On April 29, Miss Hacker and Mrs. Zaid – who do not know each other – each called the district attorney's office to report the beating. They both recall receiving similar responses.

They said they spoke to a man who did not identify himself and did not ask for very much information.

Frank King, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said last week that his office has no record of the calls. He said his office was looking into the case.

Miss Hacker said that the man she spoke to by telephone:  "didn't seem very concerned. He took my name and said he'd call back. But he didn't. I called back on Monday (May 2) and there was the same response."

Mrs. Zaid said she told a man in the district attorney's office what she had seen, and that he had taken her name and telephone number but did not call back.

"Lady," Mrs. Zaid recalled a man saying on the telephone, "you must be imagining things. Or else you're exaggerating. Things like that don't happen in Philadelphia."