NAACP Blasts “Bullies in Blue” Over Grandmother’s Arrest

Internal Affairs, Police Advisory Commission also looking into the March 9th arrest of Nicol Newman, a former city social worker.

Left to right: Attorney Michael Coard, Cheney Newman, Nicol Newman, NAACP President Rodney Muhammad

Left to right: Attorney Michael Coard, Cheney Newman, Nicol Newman, NAACP President Rodney Muhammad

Nicol Newman could probably write a book about the ins and outs of navigating tense encounters with other people.

She spent 25 years working as a city social worker, investigating child abuse allegations in public housing high-rises and neighborhoods choked by violence and poverty. People usually weren’t happy to see her at their front doors.

“The way you deal with people, the way you interact with people, initially sets the tone for how things will pan out,” Newman, 48, said during a press conference this morning at the headquarters for the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP.

“Respect goes a long way.”

But Newman, her attorney, Michael Coard (a Philly Mag contributor), and local NAACP president Rodney Muhammad claim she was treated with anything but respect when a handful of detectives and patrol cops showed up at her house on Wheeler Street near 70th in Southwest Philly around noon on March 9th.

The detectives had an arrest warrant for her son, John Newman, on burglary and theft charges. Coard said Nicol Newman informed the cops that her son wasn’t home.

The situation went south from there. Coard said the detectives asked to enter Newman’s house. They had an arrest warrant, not a search warrant, Coard said, so Newman refused to let them in.

Coard said Newman was pulled out of her house, handcuffed and stuck in a holding cell at Southwest Detectives’ headquarters at 55th and Pine streets with “regular criminals.”

“Can you imagine three or four armed black police officers going into the Northeast and dragging a law-abiding white mother [or] grandmother out of her house? Can you just imagine that?” Coard asked.

Newman was ultimately charged with disorderly conduct, but Coard said authorities mulled charging her with other offenses. Her case is scheduled for a status listing at the Criminal Justice Center tomorrow, one step in a process that would call for Newman to be entered into a program for nonviolent, first-time offenders.

Coard said he plans to reject such an offer. Newman, he said, committed no crime.

Coard expressed outrage over the way Newman was treated. Two white detectives allegedly “manhandled” Newman, he said, while a black patrol officer allegedly told her: “Miss, you’re lucky they didn’t beat you down.”

Muhammad said it was important to speak out about the injustice that Newman suffered. The NAACP leader said he didn’t want to trivialize stories like hers, and only respond to controversies around fatal police shootings of African-Americans.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross opened an Internal Affairs investigation into the incident after learning Coard and the NAACP planned on holding a press conference about the case, a police spokeswoman said.

The civilian-run Police Advisory Commission has also opened an inquiry into Newman’s arrest, said Kelvyn Anderson, the agency’s executive director.

Ross is “trying to do the right thing, but trying to do the right thing in a corrupt system is very difficult,” Coard said. “And it is a corrupt system when something like this can happen.”

Newman fought back tears as she recalled the moments leading up to her arrest. She said she suffers from an auto-immune disorder, and had just arrived home from a doctor’s visit when the detectives knocked on her front door.

According to court records, John Newman was arrested on March 10th and charged with burglary, criminal trespass, theft and receiving stolen property.

Nicol Newman said she spent the night of her arrest in a holding cell “with mice running around” and was unable to use the toilet because it was filthy. Coard said she made a bed out of “sanitary napkins and cheese sandwiches.”

“It was insane,” Newman said.

She argued that police officers need mandatory sensitivity training. She referred back to her time as a social worker, and the way she tried to interact with clients who were either under investigation or had broken the law.

(Alicia Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said Newman left the agency in 2012.)

“If I did not have that kind of compassion, care concern and sensitivity, then I would have done what these officers, these bullies in blue, did to me,” Newman said.

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