At the start, it was just kids being kids.
Around 5:45 p.m. on May 11th, Naji Tribble, a 14-year-old Brewerytown resident, and four friends stopped by a Dollar Tree near the corner of 26th Street and Girard Avenue as part of the group’s afternoon routine of checking out the stores up and down Girard. After buying some snacks, the boys decided to go next door for the first time to Steelworks Strength Systems, a new gym that had recently replaced a state store they’d never been allowed to enter.
The boys, all of whom are black, went into the gym through a propped-open side door and spent a few minutes lingering over the equipment as they made their way toward the building’s front entrance. Naji says that a group of mostly white men who were working out began cursing at them and demanding that they leave, some of them resorting to racial slurs as they chased them out. (Gym management declined to comment.)
After they left the building, Naji says, a few of the boys turned to throw stones at a white gym patron who had followed them out onto Girard Avenue. While the other boys began to run away, Naji continued to walk away at a normal pace because, he says, he “didn’t do anything wrong.” Around the intersection of Girard and College avenues, the man caught up with Naji, who is roughly four feet tall and about 70 pounds, and allegedly gripped him by the shirt, threatened him, and called him a “little nigger” repeatedly.
Once the man released him, Naji ran to his house nearby to tell his parents. His father, Alfred Tribble, 57, was upstairs asleep, racked with grief over a cousin who had been pronounced dead earlier that day after being shot in Northeast Philadelphia. Naji’s mother, Antoinette, 47, was downstairs with his 19-year-old sister, Nayanda. When Naji said what had happened, Nayanda stormed out the door with him as their mother put on her shoes and attempted to call Alfred down.
The following account of what happened next — a violent encounter with an off-duty police officer, a hospital arrest, bureaucratic runaround, and nearly three weeks of increasingly concerning medical visits for Naji that culminated in an emergency admission to CHOP on May 31st and the discovery that he had a fractured skull — was assembled from multiple interviews with the family, neighbors who witnessed the incident, and Naji himself. Police will confirm only that the family’s complaint is being investigated, and the officers allegedly involved have not been available for comment.
The sounds of a man yelling had already begun to draw neighbors from their homes as Naji and his family returned to the intersection of Girard and College. The situation almost immediately took an unexpected and brutal turn.
“The man was still down the street from us,“ says Nayanda, “and when I went over to him, he choked-slammed me to the ground. Next thing I know, he grabs Naji and slams his head to the ground …. I can hear his head hit against the pavement.”
“By the time I get out the door, I see this man grabbing my son and throwing him to the ground … I run over and he pushes me down,” says Antoinette. “I remained on the ground holding my son. I knew then that he was injured badly.”
By this point, around 6 p.m., roughly 20 neighbors had gathered and began to confront the man, later identified in an incident report as Kevin Furman, an off-duty Philadelphia police officer. As some of the neighbors argued with Furman and others were caring for Antoinette and her children, an unknown individual called 911 for police and an ambulance. The commotion woke up Alfred Tribble, who soon noticed that his front door had been left open. He ran to the now-chaotic scene in a mood that he described as “angered.”
“I wanted to know what happened to my family … I saw my son laying on the ground barely conscious,” Alfred says. “The string of cop cars began to come, and that’s when Kevin Furman starts playing victim.”
Police arrived on the scene around 6:20 p.m., about 15 minutes after Naji had been slammed to the ground. Alfred claims that an officer who identified himself as Sgt. Soto of the 22nd District asked to hear from Furman first, and that Furman “falsely accused Naji of punching [Furman’s] wife in the back of her head.” (According to a Family Court document filed the day after the incident, provided to Philadelphia magazine by the Tribble family on June 7th, this allegation resulted in a simple assault charge against Naji.)
Alfred maintains that the allegation was “clearly a lie — there was no woman even around to claim such a thing …. My family and the neighbors told Soto and the other officers that Kevin Furman physically harmed my wife and children …. He wouldn’t listen to us.” (Philadelphia magazine has been able to confirm that a Sgt. Soto works out of the 22nd District but has not been able to confirm his first name.)
Furman then apparently identified himself to Soto as an off-duty officer, and this “provoked” other officers to “throw Naji in the back of the police car,” says Alfred.
“The police didn’t make matters any better. They escalated the entire situation — I saw the entire thing,” says a neighbor who requested not to be named. “After that white man [Furman] said he was a cop, Sgt. Soto called us all ‘motherfuckers’ and said he would ‘lock us all up’ if we didn’t back away from the scene.” Philly Mag spoke to three other residents who said they were present during the incident and that Soto cursed at neighbors repeatedly while putting Naji in the police car. “Soto yells to the crowd that my son attacked a cop,” Alfred says. “He says this lie as a way to justify throwing my child in a police car.”
Moments later, an ambulance arrived, and Naji’s family told the EMTs that he was unconscious. The lead EMT asked to see him in the police car, and after examining him briefly requested permission from Soto to take him to a nearby hospital. Alfred went with Naji in the ambulance. The police then begin to disperse.
Naji was taken to Hahnemann Hospital and was considered in stable condition by 8 p.m. “I told the doctors to give him a CAT scan … they tell me they have already and that nothing is wrong with him,” Alfred says.
Around 10 p.m., police officers came to Naji’s hospital room and handcuffed him to the bed while the hospital finished his medical tests. “I was shocked that the police were doing all of this to a small child who couldn’t hurt a fly,” says Alfred, “but I just follow their orders, because you know how the system is to black folks.”
While Alfred and Naji were at Hahnemann, Antoinette traveled to the 22nd District station at 17th Street and Montgomery Avenue to request information about filing a formal complaint against Furman. “Soto yelled that he will arrest me if I don’t leave,” Antoinette says. “He told me that I already had my moment to tell my story, and if I didn’t leave he would lock me up.”
Around 11 p.m., when Hahnemann cleared Naji for release, police officers arrested him on charges of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person, and took him into custody. Alfred caught up with his wife and headed to the 9th District station on North 21st Street, where they arrived before Naji was processed. They say they briefed two female desk officers on the details of the incident and aftermath. “The moment he came in the room, they understood something bizarre had occurred, and they said they would make sure he’s OK,” Alfred says. “The women were very empathetic and told us they would keep Naji in the main office, feed him, and made sure they would call us in the next few hours.”
Alfred and his family slept in a car outside the station until they received a phone call from one of the female officers at 4 a.m. that they could pick Naji up. According to his parents, he was not questioned by police while in custody and, as the women promised, had not been placed in a cell.
The family immediately took Naji to CHOP for additional checkups. Alfred soon left the hospital to attend Naji’s arraignment on the assault charges at the Juvenile Justice Services Center at 48th and Haverford. Though the family steadfastly maintains Naji’s innocence of all the charges, Alfred agreed to a deal on Naji’s behalf for him to participate in a 60-day program that would completely expunge the arrest and charges his record. “I didn’t want him to go into the system … I know what they do to black men,” Alfred says. “This would at least give him a second chance.”
Back at CHOP, doctors informed the family that they could not find anything wrong with Naji and, Alfred says, refused to do a CAT scan on him because “they don’t want to expose him to any radiation.” After being discharged, the family says, he struggled to get better.
“For the past three weeks, we had to take Naji back and forth to CHOP because he just wasn’t the same,” Antoinette says. “He would have minor seizures, stay in the house all day, and not be able to focus in school. My child is very active, and suddenly his behavior changed drastically.” Then on Wednesday, May 31st, Naji’s school notified his parents that he was displaying signs of abnormal behavior. The family again rushed Naji to the hospital.
“The teacher told us he was extremely incoherent and was not speaking English,” Alfred says. “CHOP finally did a CAT scan on him and it came back that he had a fractured skull. I knew it was something more serious than what they were telling me. He had three major seizures on Wednesday.”
That same day, the family finally heard back from the PPD’s Internal Affairs Division on the status of the compliant they had finally been able to file on the May 11th incident. “We would go back and forth to the 22nd District station and ask for the proper forms to file a complaint, and they gave us the runaround each time,” Antoinette says. “Eventually, we got the paperwork from another facility and filed a formal complaint [around May 24th].” When a police officer Alfred knew from his early boxing days came to the hospital to assess the situation, “things sped up,” Alfred says. “The officer came and checked on my son, and then walked out and made a phone call. Two hours later two investigators from Internal Affairs came to CHOP and asked my family questions about the incident — they told us they would be looking into the matter.”
“We have received the formal complaint from the family, and Internal Affairs has now launched an open investigation into the matter,” says Tanya Little, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department’s Office of Media Relations. “They are currently in the process of interviewing people named in the complaint and looking into all other information surrounding the incident.”
Naji was released from CHOP around 6:30 p.m. on June 6th, shortly after this story was published. Philly Mag visited the family, who is currently seeking legal counsel, at the facility on June 1st. Naji was connected to an IV and prohibited from eating any solid foods or liquids due to the severity of sporadic seizures his parents say began to occur only after his injury on May 11th. Naji appeared very exhausted but attentive as he tried to play games on his laptop while the nurse treated a burning sensation he was feeling caused by the IV tube.
While the nurse attempted to place the tube in another vein, he protested: “I just wanna go home. I just wanna go out and play.”
This story has been updated to reflect Naji Tribble’s release from CHOP and to clarify the charges on which he was arrested, taken from a court document the family provided on June 7th.