Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

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For those of us who have been pleading the cause of police reform since before Ferguson spotlighted the issue, Thursday’s acquittal of six Narcotics Unit cops accused of shaking down drug dealers is bound to be a disappointment and discouragement.

This process was never going to be easy.

The truth is: While the case against the six seemed pretty devastating back when you read the indictment or listened to prosecutors announcing the charges, it was rather less impressive once it got back to court.

I attended a couple of days of the trial in the early going. While the details were salacious  — one drug dealer, testifying that the officers had threatened to throw him off a balcony, quoted one as saying, “This is fucking Training Day for real” — the truth is that the case boiled down to the word of drug dealers (and one admittedly corrupt cop) versus the word of a half-dozen police officers. Read more »

Will Philly End Its Rape Kit Backlog?

Natasha Alexenko was a sophomore in college, majoring in film, living in New York City. She’d grown up in a small town in Ontario, raised by a single mom, and all she wanted, all her life, was to move to Manhattan, the place where she’d been born. It had a mythical appeal to her, and when she moved there in the early ’90s, it did not disappoint: she loved every inch of it, and she felt no fear. “I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg,” she says now, riding in a car with her mother after an appearance on the cable news network HLN. Back home, people worried about her, but when she found the perfect apartment with the perfect roommates — a place where she could have a dog, another dream realized — it seemed things couldn’t get much better. It was all going according to plan.

Until the day a man, a stranger, accosted her in the stairwell of her perfect apartment building, jamming the metal of a 9mm semiautomatic into her back and bending her over a railing. He raped her there, he sodomized her, then he fled. Now Natasha, dirty with his fluids, shocked, traumatized, made her way back to her apartment, where a roommate persuaded her to wait for an ambulance. All she wanted was to shower, to get rid of him. But she waited — so close to her soaps and shampoo, so close to clean clothes! — because she’d been raised to respect law enforcement, to cooperate. She wanted to help them do their job, and, well, “my body was a crime scene,” is how she puts it now. Read more »

Narcotics Cops Found Not Guilty on All Counts

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The six former Philadelphia Police officers accused of shaking down drug dealers have been found not guilty on all counts in their federal trial.

The officers — Thomas Liciardello, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, Perry Betts, John Speiser and Linwood Norman — were part of the narcotics unit in the Philadelphia Police Department. All had been charged with RICO conspiracy. Some were individually charged with conspiracy to deprive of civil rights, deprivation of civil rights, robbery which interferes with interstate commerce, extortion which interferes with interstate commerce, carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, possession with intent to distribute over 500 grams of cocaine, and falsification of records in a federal investigation.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey called the case “one of the worst cases of police corruption I have ever seen.”

Read more »

Thirty Years Later, MOVE Still Hurts

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Peter Morgan | AP

On May 13, 1985 — 30 years ago today — a city decided to selectively bomb its citizens. On Mother’s Day 1985, residents on a block at the edge of the city of Philadelphia were ushered out of their homes, assured that they would soon return to the quiet lives they’d previously known. Days earlier, 6200 Osage Avenue residents had demanded City Hall take action about the radical anarchist group — MOVE — that had relocated to the block. City officials were perplexed — the earlier 1978 bloody takeover of MOVE headquarters in West Philadelphia had left one policeman dead and nine jailed — and decided to evict the group from its house. The next day, then-police commissioner Gregore J. Sambor approached the barricaded neighborhood and bellowed through a bullhorn: “Attention, MOVE. This is America.” Read more »

Richard DeCoatsworth: How a Hero Cop Fell

Photograph by Josh Ritchie

Photograph by Josh Ritchie

Richard DeCoatsworth anticipated another great day. The 21-year-old rookie cop was six months into a new job he loved, and the sun shone bright that morning in 2007, through a cloudless September sky. He left his partner off at the courthouse and drove his patrol car west on Market Street toward the wilds of his district, where street vendors and drug dealers work in the open air.

Around 51st Street, he passed a battered blue Buick going the opposite direction. Everyone inside seemed to stiffen. DeCoatsworth had seen experienced police make arrests — for drugs, illegal guns, stolen cars — by acting on such subtle cues. He pulled a U-turn. The driver accelerated and turned out of sight. DeCoatsworth hunted for maybe a minute till he saw the car, parked on Farson Street. Read more »

How Philly Police Kept the Peace at “Philly Is Baltimore”

Left, AP. Right, Joshua Scott Albert.

Left: Commissioner Charles Ramsey | AP photo. Right: A scene from Thursday’s Philly Is Baltimore protest. | Joshua Albert photo.

Well, thank God for Philadelphia Police.

I’m serious.

Yes, it’s easy to find reasons to criticize our local department, and I do it all the time. It’s also easy to watch some officers become martyrs to our streets and then give the rest of them a free pass, or something close to it. But I’m interested in doing something else today: I want to praise the Philadelphia Police Department for a bit of smart policing, done professionally, and in a fashion that has served the community very well indeed.  Read more »

WATCH: Toddler Rescued From Philadelphia Roof

Cleaira_BellThis is Cleaira Bell, the 22-year-old woman being charged with child endangerment because, police say, she left her 2-year-old boy at home, alone, with another woman’s 1-year-old boy — a fact discovered when the 2-year-old was seen crawling on the roof of a three-story residence.

Police say they were called on Monday afternoon to the 4700 block of Leiper Street in the Frankford section for a report of a toddler on the roof. The officers on scene ran to the third floor and forced their way into the apartment — rescuing the 2-year-old as well as the 1-year-old, “who was attempting to climb out of the window.” Read more »

Philly Shows Nation How to Protest the Right Way

On Thursday, one day before prosecutors announced serious charges against six police officers in the death of Baltimore man Freddie Gray, Philadelphia was home to the “Philly is Baltimore” protest, an attempt on the part of organizers to show solidarity with the people of Baltimore and to speak out more generally about the deaths of unarmed black men who died in police custody. I was in the middle of the protest well into the night, and at its peak, I’d estimate the crowd to have topped 1,000. (You can see my photos and videos from the street here.)

People were angry. People were loud. People were screaming at the police.

There were chants like “fuck the police, fuck the police, fuck the police” and “shut the fucking city down, shut the fucking city down, shut the fucking city down,” in addition to non-profane chants of the “no justice, no peace” ilk.

And the “Philly is Baltimore” protesters did, in fact, shut down good portions of Center City, snarling traffic in the early evening hours and continuing to be the bane of motorists’ existence throughout the night.

But what the “Philly is Baltimore” protesters did not do is cause any real trouble. Read more »

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