Officers Charged With Brutal Beating of Motorist

D.A. says charges prove system works, but victim's girlfriend found evidence that turned the case.

Officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson.

Officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson.

Najee Rivera is lucky to have a very determined girlfriend, or he might be sitting in jail today, convicted of charges stemming from his own allegedly illegal beating by police.

Najee Rivera, shortly after the be.ating

Najee Rivera, shortly after the incident.

It was Rivera’s girlfriend who — in the aftermath of his 2013 beating and arrest by two Philadelphia police officers who said he was resisting arrest — canvassed the neighborhood where the incident took place and discovered security camera video showing the officers had allegedly lied about the incident. Charges were dismissed, and today District Attorney Seth Williams announced charges against officers Sean McNight and Kevin Robinson for beating Rivera and making false reports about the circumstances.

Williams held out hope that in light of policing controversies in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, Philadelphia citizens might be satisfied by the local charges. “Hopefully this case will show Philadelphians that our system here works,” he said.

But officials acknowledged that without the actions of Rivera’s girlfriend, the video might’ve gone undiscovered — and that Rivera would’ve gotten the worse of a his-word-against-the-police situation when he was brought to court.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey said officers would’ve canvassed the neighborhood for video if a complaint had been made to Internal Affairs — and perhaps should have, given that Rivera suffered serious injuries in the incident. He suggested the department will re-examine its investigating protocol for such incidents. 

“Remember now, we have tens of thousands of arrests that take place every single year in the city,” Ramsey said. “We have to come up with something that makes sense.” 

Williams described the 2013 incident in a statement accompanying the news conference. (See it and the grand jury findings below.)

Around 10 p.m. on May 29, 2013, near North 7th and Somerset Sts., Officers McKnight, a seven year veteran of the force, and Robinson, a six year veteran of the force, both of the 25th Police District pulled over Najee Rivera on his motor scooter. Rivera became frightened, drove away and was chased by the officers who broke procedure by not using their lights and sirens during the pursuit. At the 2700 block of North 6th St. a business’ surveillance camera captured the officers drive up to Rivera and knock him off his scooter. Both officers then exited their police car, grabbed and repeatedly struck Rivera with their fists and baton while Rivera, who received a fractured orbital bone and numerous lacerations to his head, cries out in pain.

While Rivera was at the hospital, McKnight and Robinson submitted police paperwork and inaccurate statements to the Philadelphia Police Department by falsely accusing Rivera of assaulting Robinson and Resisting Arrest. Based on the false allegations, Rivera was arrested and charged with Aggravated Assault and related offenses. Eventually the charges against Rivera were withdrawn after the video evidence of the attack was reviewed by prosecutors. 

“We saw the video,” Williams said. “When you watch the video, you see their story of what happened was totally inconsistent with the truth.”

He added that the beating was shockingly severe: “Officers arriving on the scene thought Mr. Rivera had been shot, there was so much blood,” he said. 

Despite the circumstances, Ramsey said citizens and judges shouldn’t worry if police are telling the truth in most cases where a civilian accused of “resisting arrest” suffers injury.

 “Don’t take this out of context,” Ramsey told reporters. “It doesn’t mean every single officer has a cloud over their head, because they don’t.”

And Williams suggested the bringing of charges shows that an independent agency to investigate police abuses is not needed in Philadelphia. Councilman Curtis Jones has introduced a bill creating such an agency, and is backed by the Committee of Seventy.

“We don’t need to create a nebulous organization that drops in and investigates things,” Williams said. “We can do that ourselves.”

The two officers have been suspended for 30 days, with the intent to dismiss them from their jobs.

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