A Philly Cop Once Accused of Assaulting a Woman Is Getting a Promotion
Jonathan Josey is no stranger to controversy.
The veteran Philly cop made national headlines four years ago, when he was accused of striking a woman during a tense moment at a Puerto Rican Day Parade celebration in Fairhill. Video footage of the incident went viral, prompting then-Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to fire Josey.
District Attorney Seth Williams in turn charged Josey with simple assault for allegedly knocking Aida Guzman to the ground, but he was later acquitted by Municipal Court Judge Patrick Dugan. (Guzman’s supporters staged protests over the acquittal; they were particularly outraged that Dugan, who is married to a police officer, was allowed to handle the case.)
Josey’s firing was overturned by an arbitrator in 2013, and he returned to his old job in the Police Department’s elite Highway Patrol Unit. (He ended up making headlines again in 2014 — this time for saving a South Philly family from a house fire.) But his career hit another snag earlier this year, when the department’s brass denied him a promotion to the rank of captain.
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5 filed a grievance over the matter, and late last month, an arbitrator again ruled in Josey’s favor, calling on the department promote Josey to captain and pay him for any additional wages he was owed.
To a certain degree, the result isn’t really surprising — the FOP has a well-documented history of winning arbitration battles with city attorneys. But the dispute over Josey’s promotion offers a good window into why.
Let’s rewind to June 2013, when an arbitrator named David Reilly ruled that the Police Department had to reinstate Josey. The decision hinged on whether Ramsey had just cause to boot Josey from the force in the first place. Ramsey testified that he determined Josey had used excessive force in allegedly striking Guzman as she walked away from a small crowd of cops, based on footage that he viewed on YouTube, according to arbitration records.
Ramsey also argued that Josey had lied in a “Use of Force” report, in which he claimed that he saw Guzman throw beer on him and other officers, and that she hit her face on the curb after she fell; he actually didn’t see Guzman throw any beer, and she didn’t hit her face on the curb.
But Reilly determined that a frame-by-frame presentation of the video showed that Guzman fell because she slipped on a can in the street, and that Josey only struck her with a “glancing” blow as he tried to knock a beer bottle out of her hand. So no dice on the excessive force charge. As for the false report accusation, Reilly wrote the city failed to show that Josey intentionally wrote false information.
Josey’s firing was overturned, and the Police Department was required as part of Reilly’s ruling to delete all references in his personnel file to his firing over the Guzman incident.
That brings us to February 22nd, when Josey and nine other candidates who were vying to be promoted to captain were called in front of a review board. Two members of the board recommended Josey for promotion, but one — Internal Affairs Chief Inspector Chris Flacco — did not.
Flacco contended that Josey’s involvement in the Puerto Rican Day Parade incident “will have a detrimental long-term impact on the relationship between the Department and the community we serve, as well as undermine his ability to command,” according to arbitration records.
The FOP filed another grievance. Police Commissioner Richard Ross testified at an arbitration hearing that he decided to pass Josey over for a promotion based off what he saw in the old YouTube video, and what he remembered from that time. He noted the last two years have been a particularly “volatile time” for police in Philly and across the country, the records show, and community relationships are at the heart of the work police do.
Here’s the problem: Josey’s disciplinary record was supposed to have been expunged after he rejoined the police force. Arbitrator James Peck, Jr., wrote that the department had violated Josey’s rights under the collective bargaining agreement by denying him a promotion based on the Guzman incident, which “should have ceased to be a factor in future discipline, or future promotability” based on the 2013 ruling.
Josey hasn’t been handed a new assignment yet; the city can still appeal Peck’s ruling. Ross said he will make a decision based on the Law Department’s suggestions.
“They had zero grounds to deny him a promotion,” said FOP president John McNesby. “Since he came back, he’s had an exemplary record.”
The union’s hands might have been tied had the department’s leaders denied Josey a promotion without mentioning the Guzman incident, because the department is allowed under the Home Rule Charter to decide which cops ultimately receive promotions. But once they mentioned Guzman and YouTube, “they ruined their own case,” McNesby said.
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