Lawsuit Claims Johnny Doc Dropped N-Word, Other Slurs Before South Philly Brawl

Among the allegations: The fight started after Doc told a non-white, nonunion electrician, "We don't want niggers here."

 (AP Photo/Kristen De Groot)

Photo: Kristen De Groot/AP

Nearly nine months after controversial Philadelphia union leader John “Johnny Doc” Dougherty was reportedly involved in a physical altercation with nonunion electrician Joshua Keesee in South Philadelphia, Keesee has filed a federal lawsuit against Doc and others stemming from that day. And it’s fair to say that the allegations lobbed at Doc by Keesee are nothing short of shocking.

But before we delve into the lawsuit, a brief recap.

On January 21st, Keesee filed a report with the Philadelphia Police Department claiming that Dougherty had punched him after demanding that Keesee remove a union sticker from the back of his car. The incident took place on 3rd Street near Wharton.

Later, Dougherty spokesman Frank Keel claimed that Dougherty acted in self-defense. The way Keel told it, Keesee threatened Dougherty’s family and threw the first punch.

No criminal charges have been filed in the case, although an assistant district attorney was reportedly demoted after recommending criminal charges be filed against Dougherty, a behind-the-scenes Democratic powerbroker.

The story of the brawl was big news for a while but soon replaced by even bigger Dougherty news after the FBI raided his home. The brawl story faded into the background, and we never heard much more about what happened that day.

Until now, that is.

Keesee filed his lawsuit in federal court on Monday morning. He names Dougherty, his union, and union members Christopher Owen, Thomas Rodriguez,, and Niko Rodriguez in the complaint, accusing them of violating the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, more commonly known as the RICO Act.

“We really cannot comment on the lawsuit because we’ve not even see [sic] it yet,” Keel wrote to us shortly after we emailed him a copy of the lawsuit. “All you need to know about the motive of the lawsuit is that the press received it before we did.”

Keesee says his trouble with the union began in 2015 after his nonunion company MCON Electric began work on a project at 3rd and Reed streets for jeweler-turned-developer Barry Sable. The union had been protesting at the site, including with the big inflatable rat, because Sable chose to use nonunion electricians. According to the lawsuit, Keesee took over the job after the previous nonunion contractor pulled out due to threats and intimidation by union workers.

Shortly after signing on to the project, Keesee claims that Owen approached him and told him he should join the union. Keesee declined. “Owen bragged to Keesee that he was making $140,000 annually, just for standing outside and guarding the 12-foot inflatable rat,” reads the suit. The lawsuit claims that Owen continued to persist and that this persistence eventually became more aggressive.

Then on January 21st of this year, Keesee says, he was confronted by Dougherty, Owen and the two other men when he came out to his work van, which was parked outside the Sable project.

According to the complaint, Dougherty became “angered and aggressive” and demanded that Keesee remove a sticker from the back window of his van — that’s the union sticker referred to in the police report. Keesee claims that the sticker was already on the van when he bought it.

The suit claims that Dougherty told Thomas Rodriguez to remove the sticker and that Rodriguez obliged, pulling out a knife and using it to scrape the sticker off of the window.

Then things allegedly got a little more out of hand.

Keesee says that he began laughing when he realized that Rodriguez was having a hard time removing the sticker.

“Keesee’s laughter further infuriated an already angered Dougherty, who raised his voice to Keesee and told him that non-union workers were not welcome in South Philadelphia and that ‘we don’t want no niggers here’,” according to the allegations contained in the lawsuit. (Keesee is Native American.)

Keesee says that he told the men that he was not scared of them and that they were a “bunch of cowards.”

The suit alleges that Dougherty responded, “Do what you want to him.”

At this point, claims Keesee, Thomas Rodriguez moved toward Keesee with the knife still in his hand. According to the suit, Dougherty then threw two punches at Keesee, breaking his nose. Keesee says that he managed to get in one punch in self-defense, striking Thomas Rodriguez, but that he was struck more than ten times before a worker at the site managed to pull him away.

Keesee says that even as he was retreating, he continued to call Dougherty and the other men cowards.

“He also stated to Dougherty that a real man would not need three goons with him but would instead face an opponent man-to-man,” reads the suit.

Keesee claims that Dougherty and the other men charged him, punching him repeatedly in the head and torso.

The next day, Keesee showed up at the worksite to find 15 people staring at him with “menacing, confrontational looks,” according to the suit. He decided to give up the job.

Days later, Keesee claims that he was approached by an unknown agent of the union, who allegedly offered him money to forget about the incident. Keesee says that he declined.

The suit accuses the men of battery and of conspiring against him because he refused to join the union. Keesee is seeking unspecified damages.