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Rizzo exerting pressure to thwart police probes

The Rizzo administration has been working behind the scenes to thwart both state and federal investigations into alleged crimes by Philadelphia police, according to state legislators and other sources.

Mayor Frank L. Rizzo said publicly last month that he "welcomes" any investigation into allegations of beatings by city police. Since then, Rizzo has worked actively to impede the investigations.

For example, he and his aides have lobbied with state legislative leaders to oppose a resolution that would grant subpoena power to a state House investigating subcommittee. The subcommittee's chairman says that such power is essential for compelling reluctant witnesses to testify and for obtaining police records.

The lobbying effort, one legislator said, "is extremely serious . . . Rizzo is lobbying to kill the thing."

House Speaker K. Leroy Irvis (D., Allegheny) said in an interview that at a recent meeting with Rizzo, the mayor told him personally that he was opposed to the authorization of subpoena power.

In addition, the city solicitor's office has filed several motions in U. S. District Court fighting subpoenas served to the city and the police department by federal criminal investigators, according to a source in the city solicitor's office and a defense lawyer familiar with the court proceedings.

The subpoenas, sources said, requested that the city produce evidence concerning the alleged beating of William L. Cradle by police on April 29 in Society Hill. The evidence, consisting of tapes of police radio calls and other police records, was to be presented to a federal grand jury investigating alleged police crimes, the sources said. In addition, nine policemen at the scene of the alleged beating have been subpoenaed.

In secret court proceedings related to the grand jury investigation, one source said, the city has been "fighting the federal investigators every step of the way" before several different U.S. district judges.

Rizzo's deputy, Anthony P. Zecca, said the mayor would have no comment.

U.S. Attorney David W. Marston, asked about the Rizzo administration's actions said he would not comment, explaining that the proceedings were related to a grand jury investigation, which by law must remain secret.

The separate state and federal investigations were begun after The Inquirer reported in April that there was a pattern of beatings and coercion by Philadelphia homicide detectives in the interrogations of murder suspects and witnesses.

The state investigation is being conducted by the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on crimes and corruption. It plans to examine police records and to come up with legislation dealing with crimes committed by police officers.

To date, House members say, the political pressure from the Rizzo administration has been concentrated on key Democratic House members, including Irvis, Majority Leader James J. Manderino (D., Allegheny) and Majority Whip Roland Greenfield (D., Phila.)

Subcommittee chairman Joseph Rhodes Jr. (D., Allegheny) said he had come under intense pressure to curtail the investigation. "I've been given a very clear message," Rhodes said. "I've been told, 'This is not in your interest; this is not in the party's interest. You won't make any friends this way.'"

Rhodes declined to name the persons who had contacted him. He said, however, that he had been told by Allegheny County legislators that leaders of Philadelphia's Democratic delegation were urging them to vote against the resolution authorizing subpoena power.

Such resolutions require a majority vote of the full house. They have rarely been approved in the past.

Two members of Rhodes' subcommittee – John F. White Jr. (D., Phila.) and Hardy Williams (D., Phila.) – said that William Rieger, the head of Philadelphia's Democratic delegation had personally lobbied with Pittsburgh Democrats to oppose the resolution.

White said that Rieger told him last Monday in Harrisburg that "my orders are to block this bill because they (the Rizzo administration) are fearful that it would be an embarrassment."

Majority Whip Greenfield, who already opposed granting subpoena power to the subcommittee, said that Rieger also urged him to vote against the resolution. He said Rieger told him that the investigation "is aimed at Philadelphia as a partisan political vendetta."

Rieger disputed White's and Williams' statements, saying that he had not actively lobbied against the resolution. He also said in an interview that he had not been contacted by anyone in the Rizzo administration. However, he said that he was personally strongly opposed to granting subpoena power.

"It's obvious that the anti-Rizzo people are the ones who want the subpoena power," Rieger said. "I don't think they should have it. It's a vendetta. It's like a witch hunt. You could turn around and dig in to prove things that aren't true. You can ruin a good man's reputation by subpoenaing him."

House Speaker Irvis said he expected a "hot debate" before the vote on the resolution, which is expected by the middle of next month. In an interview last week, Irvis said he did not intend to influence other legislators and that he would vote in favor of granting subpoena power.

He refused to disclose any details of his discussion with Rizzo, other than to say that the major "ex pressed concern" about the authorization of subpoena power. "I don't think the mayor expected to be quoted when he spoke to me," Irvis said.

House Majority Leader Manderino said in an interview that he had been approached by Philadelphians who "have evidenced a concern about where this investigation is going."

Manderino chaired the House Rules Committee which last Tuesday unanimously approved the resolution on subpoena power and sent it on to the full House. Manderino said that on the day of the Rules Committee vote, "several people from Philadelphia" asked him whether the subpoena power would be used in the investigation of city police. Manderino said he "could not recall" by name who had spoken to him.

The subcommittee on crimes and corruption is also looking into organized crime and political corruption in the state. Some legislators have speculated that the Rizzo administration may be opposing the subpoena power not only because of the police probe, but also because of the other areas under investigation.

Rhodes said that the subcommittee would hold its first public hearing on the police in mid-July even if the subpoena power is not approved.

"I can't believe that any legislator would vote against the subpoena power," he said "it would be political suicide. How is a legislator going to answer to the public after he votes against an investigation of organized crime, corruption and civil-rights violations?"

"Williams has said that the subcommittee intends to "learn if there is a pattern of crimes by police and a subsequent pattern of covering up the crimes so that police are never prosecuted."  He said the committee would consider possible legislation and would share any evidence it found with federal investigators.

The U.S. attorney's office in Philadelphia announced last month that a team of FBI agents and assistant U.S. attorneys was looking into allegations of crimes by more than 30 Philadelphia police officers.

One of the cases under investigation is the alleged beating of Cradle at Fifth and Spruce Streets. The Inquirer reported that Cradle, 23, a black, was beaten after being stopped for running a stop sign, and driving away before police released him. Witnesses said that three policemen pinned Cradle against his car, while two others struck him with nightsticks on the abdomen, chest, arms, legs and head. Four other policemen were also on the scene at the time.

The witnesses said that at least two nightsticks were broken from the force of the blows that struck Cradle.

Federal investigators have subpoenaed the nine policemen who were on the scene that night to testify before a grand jury. Documents filed in court show that attorneys for the officers attempted to fight the subpoena on the ground that they violated policemen's constitutional right.