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Police storm gas station – and beat up the owner

A busy, rainy day was ending at Al's Arco Service Station in West Philadelphia when the station's employes and customers were startled by the blare of police sirens and flashing lights.

"What on earth have I walked into?" thought Hannah Spain, a hair stylist whose car had broken down nearby. "I thought I was in the middle of a robbery," she recalled.

But the police were not after a robber. They were after the gas station's owner, Alvestus (Al) Goode, 44.

Mrs. Spain and at least four other witnesses said they saw approximately seven policemen enter the station, kick down the door of a supply room, drag Goode out, knock him to the floor and beat him with nightsticks, blackjacks and fists.

Goode's head, witnesses said, was cut open by blows from the nightsticks, and blood splattered onto the policemen's yellow raincoats. While Goode was on his knees, according to the witnesses, police handcuffed his hands behind his back and then smashed his face against the cement floor of his three-bay garage.

According to Eugene Johnson, an employe at the station, located at Lancaster and Girard Avenues, one of the policemen then said, "That's the hardest-head nigger I ever hit in my life."

The witnesses, all of whom were black, said that Goode did not strike any officer and was totally helpless throughout the beating. All but one of the officers were white.

After the beating, Goode was taken by police to Philadelphia General Hospital, where he was treated for three hours and given four stitches in the head.

Dr. Charles Bridges, a physician who has been treating Goode for his injuries, said Goode had multiple lacerations and bruises on the upper arms, shoulders wrists and lower left leg. He said that Goode's head was swollen and that he may have sustained a concussion. Goode, Dr. Bridges said, still suffers from frequent headaches and dizziness.

What apparently prompted the beating was an exchange of words that began when Goode asked policeman Tony Newsome, 27 and also black, to move his patrol car, which was stopped in one of the station's driveways. Goode returned to work inside the station and several minutes later, witnesses said, the group of policemen entered the station and beat him.

After the incident, Goode was charged with assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The charges did not make clear whether any of his alleged crimes had been committed in the course of the exchange with policeman Newsome.

The district attorney's office dropped all the charges against him two weeks later for lack of evidence. (Earlier this month, Goode filed a civil suit seeking monetary damages from the city.)

The Inquirer has reconstructed the Goode case from interviews with Goode and four eyewitnesses, a statement one witness made to a neighborhood civic group and an interview with Dr. Bridges.

The incident occurred on Tuesday, April 26, the third of four successive days in which The Inquirer published a series of articles detailing a pattern of beatings, intimidation and coercion by Philadelphia homicide detectives during interrogations.

Another case

While that series was being published, the civil rights division of the U. S. Justice Department authorized the U. S. attorney's office in Philadelphia and the FBI to investigate alleged crimes by police. On May 17, columnist Chuck Stone of the Daily News wrote about the Goode incident. The FBI then decided to include that case in its investigation.

Police Commissioner Joseph F. O'Neill would not comment to The Inquirer on the case. He referred questions to Chief Inspector Frank Scafidi of the Internal Affairs Division, who said, "The U. S. Attorney is looking into this matter. We cannot discuss it."

Officer Newsome and another policeman who Goode said had taken part in the beating. Raymond Harmer, both said in telephone interviews that they could not comment.

According to The Inquirer's reconstruction of the case, this is what happened on April 26:

Shortly after 4 p.m. rain and hail from a brief, violent thunderstorm interrupted a normally busy afternoon at Al's Arco Service Station at Lancaster and Girard Avenues.

Clarence Harris, 72, a retired window cleaner, left his old wooden stool outdoors and headed into the station's office. Harris, who sells ice from a freezer behind the garage, spends most of his days sitting at the service station, talking with employes and customers.

Three employes were servicing the gas pumps and working on cars. Goode was in the first bay of the garage, repairing the transmission on a Jeep the shop uses for road calls. The Jeep was on a hydraulic lift about six fee above the garage floor.

Driveway blocked

By 4:30, the rain had stopped. Goode looked out to the service area, a large triangular lot with three islands of gasoline pumps. A police car was blocking one of the driveways leading from Girard Avenue into the station, Goode recalled. He walked to the patrol car.

"Mister, could you please move the car back?"  Good said he asked the policeman. Goode said he had never seen the policeman, Newsome, before that day.

According to Goode, the following exchange took place:

"Man, don't tell me what to do," Newsome replied.

"Well, I beg you, will you please move back," Goode answered.

"If you don't get out of my face, I'll blow your brains out," Newsome reportedly said.

"The hell with it," Goode replied, and walked back to the garage.

Harris, who watched the confrontation from outside the station, confirmed that the two men spoke but did not fight physically and that Goode then returned to work in the garage. Newsome stayed in the car.

About five minutes later, Goode and the witnesses recalled, several police cars and a van sped onto the service station lot with sirens blaring and lights flashing. Newsome jumped from his car and ran to Eugene Johnson, an employe who was pumping gas into a yellow Camaro.

Newsome, according to Johnson and three other witnesses, pointed a gun into Johnson's face. Johnson, in a statement made later to a civic group's investigators, said the policeman yelled:  "Where is he?"  "I didn't know who he' was," Johnson recalled, "but it scared hell out of me."

Newsome and the other policemen then ran into the garage, brandishing nightsticks and blackjacks. As they ran through the entrance, they passed within a few feet of Mrs. Spain, who was waiting to use the telephone, and Harris. Both were in the doorway between the office and garage. The policemen also ran past Clarence Holmes, 28, an employe who was working on a car in the second bay of the garage.

The police knocked on the door to the supply room, the witnesses said. Goode's son, Javis, 22, was standing at a work table about three feet from the supply-room door.

Heard knocking

The elder Goode said that when he heard the knocking, he left the machine he was working on and walked to the door. He did not know who was knocking, he said. As he approached the door, he said, he looked through the wooden shutters of the door and saw police uniforms.

Before Goode could open the door, according to Goode and the witnesses, several policemen kicked the door in, grabbed Goode and dragged him into the garage. There, witnesses said, beneath the Jeep on the hydraulic lift, several of the seven policemen twisted Goode's left hand behind his back and pushed him forward, apparently attempting to pull his right hand behind his back so that they could handcuff him.

Goode fell forward to his knees. The policemen started pummeling him with nightsticks, according to the witnesses.

"They were screaming at him, calling him all sorts of names," Mrs. Spain recalls, "They called him a black S.O.B., a motherf---er, a nigger."

As the policemen began swinging clubs, witnesses said, Javis Goode tried to intercede.

"That's my father you're beating," he and others recall that he said. "What are you doing?  Stop!"

He said that as the police continued their beating, his father shouted, "What's going on?  I didn't do nothing. Please stop."

Javis Goode, while trying to halt the beating, was punched in the jaw by a policeman and knocked against a cabinet, he and three witnesses, who were about 20 feet away, recalled.

"Put your hands behind your back, nigger," Javis Goode recalled one policeman saying to him. "Take one more step and I'll shoot you."

No movement

The younger Goode did not move. Neither did any of the other four witnesses. They watched helplessly, they said, as the police smashed their nightsticks, blackjaws and fists into Goode's body.

"I've never seen anything like it," Holmes, one of the employes, said. "They were whaling away with their sticks and they didn't stop. I thought he would die."

Goode was completely surrounded by the policemen, Holes said, so that officers in the back could not reach Goode directly with their nightsticks.

"They had to reach up over other policemen's heads in order to come down and strike Al with their clubs," Holmes said.

As the beating continued, Mrs. Spain turned to Holmes, whom she had never seen before, and asked, "Who is that man?  Does he work here?"

Holmes responded:  "Work here?  That's my boss."

Mrs. Spain said she screamed at the officers:  "Jesus Christ, I wouldn't do a dog like that. This man is not resisting you!"

About 10 minutes after the beating began, witnesses said, the officers began to push Goode's face against the concrete floor. Then they lifted Goode from the floor and threw him into the police van, which had been backed up to the entrance of the garage, witnesses said.

When Goode was inside the van, they said, the officers continued to hit him with their nightsticks.

Goode said he remembered lying in the van, bleeding. He said that en route to the hospital, one officer opened a shutter in the van and pointed his gun in at him, saying, "You as good as dead."

Police drove the van to Philadelphia General Hospital (PGH). When they arrived, a policeman opened the back door. Goode said the policeman was wearing badge 4087. That number, according to city records, is assigned to patrolman Raymond Harmer, 24, of the 19th District in West Philadelphia.

Goode said the policeman struck him repeatedly on the head with a blackjack until he finally rolled underneath a bench in the van.

Finally, Goode was taken to the emergency room, where doctors treated his wounds, stitched the cut in his head and examined him for three hours.

Released by PGH, Goode was then taken by police to the West Detective Division at 55th and Pine Streets and then to police headquarters, known as the Roundhouse, at Eighth and Race Streets. There he was booked, arraigned and released on bail. At 4 a.m., he walked to the Trailways bus depot at 13th and Arch Streets and hailed a taxi to take him home.

Goode, who has three children and owns a home on Edgewood Street in West Philadelphia, is a stocky, 230-pound man who, according to his employes, runs the station with a firm hand.

A contributor

Over the doorway to his office – which has a decal identifying him as a contributor to a police scholarship fund – Goode has a handwritten sign warning employes that they can be dismissed for "drinking or smoking or anything that can make one high intoxicated."

Employees said that before the incident, Goode's relations with neighborhood police had been cordial, and he had on occasion, lent them a jack or a gas can and given them sodas.

The day after the beating, one of the gas station attendants described what had taken place to Olivine McCoy, president of the Lancaster Avenue Business Association. Goode, who has run the Arco station for six years, is a member.

Distressed by the attendant's report, Mrs. McCoy arranged to meet on April 29 with Commissioner O'Neill – to "prevent this type of thing from ever happening again," she said.

At the meeting, Mrs. McCoy said O'Neill told her that the incident was being investigated by the police department, but that he would not discuss the case.

Subsequently, Goode and other witnesses were interviewed by staff inspector James Archer of the police department's internal affairs bureau. (Inspector Archer would not discuss the case with The Inquirer.)

One of those interviewed by Archer was Mrs. Spain, a hair stylist who works at Williams Barbering Service in West Philadelphia. Mrs. Spain, whose car broke down near the service station, said she had never before seen Goode.

But after the beating, she left her business card at the service station so that she could testify in Goode's behalf if the case came to court.

Immediately after arriving home, Mrs. Spain wrote down what she had observed at the station on a small note pad. "Fourth month, 26th day, 1977," she wrote.

"It was the most horrifying experience I have ever witnesses," she said in an interview.

She said that when she learned that Goode was a businessman her first thought was, "Oh, God, I work at a business also. This could happen to me."

During the interview with Archer, Mrs. Spain said she was asked how many times Goode had been struck by police.

"Sir, have you ever seen a drummer?"  she asked.

"Yes," the inspector reportedly said.

"Can you tell me how many times a drummer beats on his drum?"  Mrs. Spain recalled replying. "They were playing drums on that man's body. I swear on my sick mother that is what occurred."

No grudges

Despite the beating she witnessed, Mrs. Spain said she harbored "no hostile feelings about the police. There are lots of good officers. But those policemen (who beat Goode) don't belong on the force."

She also said, "I don't think this is a black against white thing. It's a people thing."

When Archer met with Mrs. McCoy last week at her office to discuss the case and the police investigation of it, he told her, Mrs. McCoy said, that policemen on the scene had reported that Goode weighed 290 pounds and "was resisting arrest."  The officers, Mrs. McCoy quoted Archer as saying, "had to use this type of force to restrain him."

Mrs. McCoy said she had asked Archer why the police had kicked in the door to Goode's accessory room. She said he had replied, "They kicked in the door because he wouldn't come out."

(The broken door has been confiscated by the FBI to be used as evidence in the possible case against the police.)

Archer, Mrs. McCoy said, told her that four of the policemen had admitted striking Goode, but said they had done so in "apprehending the man."  Mrs. McCoy, who personally interviewed several of the witnesses to the beating, told the inspector she did not believe the inspector's version of the beating.

"I'm sorry I came to see you," Archer said, according to Mrs. McCoy, and then he left.