Does Philly Cop’s Past Make Him Unsuitable for High-Profile Job?

A recent bar fight in Avalon raises the question.

When I talk to Philly cops, they’ll often tell me how unfair the media is—how journalists only write about them when they do something wrong. I understand that perception, but lately the Philly PD has been getting some really good press. Just a couple days ago, Philly was cited in Natalie DiBlasio’s USA Today article about using social media to fight crime—a trend that encompasses everything from Twitter feeds to YouTube videos. In DiBlasio’s piece, Philly PD public information officer Ray Evers says: “We are at the forefront; we are pushing the envelope.”

That may be true, but if the department wants to promote a new public image on a national scale, Evers may not be the best person to lead the charge. It’s not just the recent bar fight in Avalon, though that doesn’t really jibe with being a police spokesperson. It’s also his history overall—a history that may be coming back to haunt him as links to 20-year-old articles land in journalist’s in-boxes.

The history dates back to 1991, when a 22-year-old Evers and several other men had a “gang-bang” with a 19-year-old woman on a pool table at the Temple University Alpha Phi Delta frat house. Afterward, she alleged it was a gang rape, and Evers and one other man, Michael Derita, were arrested and charged. (Both men viewed what happened as consensual.) The prosecutor on the case, Dianne Granlund, believed the woman’s claims but decided not to bring the case to trial. The charges were dropped. Granlund explained why she and her boss, D.A. Lynn Abraham, chose not to proceed: “No, she didn’t lie. She didn’t have enough evidence to give us,” she told reporters at one point. At another, she said,

Taking advantage does not necessarily imply compulsion or forcible compulsion. You can take advantage of some other weakness. It might be an emotional weakness. I really don’t believe that she lied. There were inconsistencies, gaps in the evidence, things we could not get from her. It became clear that we couldn’t sustain our burden.

The Inquirer reported that Evers’s attorney, A. Charles Peruto Sr., said, “‘She asked for it and then cried rape’ because ‘her sensibilities were offended because people made a joke out of it (the incident) when she was leaving (the fraternity house).'”

Evers, along with Peruto Sr., went on AM Philadelphia with Derita. From an Inquirer article from the time:

The show’s host, Wally Kennedy, asked: “Did you do anything immoral?”
“I believe we did,” Derita said.
“Yes,” said Evers. “If you go back to the Bible, I guess we ate the apple.”

At one point, the TV show’s host, Kennedy, asked: “What kind of man participates in what fraternities call a gang-bang? ”
Evers: “Why don’t we turn the question around? What kind of woman? ”
Kennedy: “No, what kind of man takes part in this kind of thing? ”
Derita: “I would say a man who is using very poor judgment.”
Evers: “It wasn’t a planned thing. It was very spontaneous. And I just want to throw the ball back in your court. What kind of woman? “

After the TV appearance, Granlund got more emphatic:

I know this girl. I met this girl. I spent hours with this girl. She was taken advantage of. In a way—not an illegal way—she was made to do something that in other circumstances she might not have done.

As a result of the incident, Temple disbanded Alpha Phi Delta. The school’s then-president Peter Liacouras interviewed the woman and “found her credible,” much to the dismay of the fraternity’s national leadership.

Women’s groups were distressed by the decision not to go to trial and by D.A. Lynn Abraham’s public mention of the woman’s so-called emotional problems. “Most cases never even make it to court,” Donnamarie Mazzola, of Women Organized Against Rape, told the Inquirer. “Rape is a very difficult crime to prosecute.”

According to the law, there wasn’t a rape. Still, the incident was an ugly one—neither Evers nor Derita ever quibbled with the word “gang-bang” to describe it.

The question is: Does it matter now? It reminds me of the hubbub surrounding Mitt Romney’s high-school behavior that briefly flitted across the political scandal screen. Do we believe that what Romney did in high school—hold a kid down and cut off his hair—has anything to do with who he is now? It’s a question that was debated heatedly before he clinched the nomination. And it’s a question people can reasonably ask about Evers: Does that Temple incident in 1991, when Evers was just 22, say anything meaningful about the man Evers is now? If the Philly PD wants a heightened public profile, that’s a question that will be asked about its very public spokesperson.