Differing Accounts Emerge in Alleged “Body-Slamming” of 14-Year-Old Naji Tribble

A gym coach who was leading a class attended by off-duty police officer Kevin Furman says that the boy was the “aggressor” in the May 11th incident in Brewerytown.

Left: Kobie Xavier, a coach at Steelworks Strength Systems. Photo courtesy of Kobie Xavier. Right: Naji Tribble. Photo provided by the Tribble family.

Following the publication last week of a Brewerytown family’s account of what they called the “body-slamming” of their 14-year-old son by an off-duty Philadelphia police officer on May 11th and the subsequent discovery that the boy had suffered a fractured skull, several additional eyewitnesses have come forward to provide Philadelphia magazine with their own accounts of the incident.

Kobie Xavier, a coach at the gym that the boy, Naji Tribble, and a group of his friends had entered that afternoon, says that Naji was the “aggressor” during the confrontation; the officer, Kevin Furman, was only attempting to protect his wife, who was pregnant but not visibly so, after Naji hit her. But two neighbors who say they saw the incident from their homes on North College Avenue support the Tribble family’s contention that Furman was the aggressor and that Naji never physically attacked anyone.

Xavier says that on the 11th he was leading a fitness class attended by Furman and his wife, Catherine, also known as Cate, as well as three other men and another woman, outside Steelworks Strength Systems at 2511 West Girard Avenue. Sometime near 6 p.m. he began to have the six class members do timed 200-meter runs along the stone wall bordering Girard College on North College Avenue, from the intersection at West College Avenue to a stop sign at North 24th Street.

North College Avenue from West College to 24th Street. The Steelworks gym can be seen in the lower left. Image via Google Maps

The gym, which relocated from a building a block away earlier this year, has had “issues with neighbors constantly cutting through the gym through the West College Avenue side entrance,” Xavier says. “We work with a lot of heavy equipment that could impact one’s safety if they just run through without notice. I have told several kids and nearby residents alike not to cut through there.”

Xavier says that as he watched his runners on North College, he noticed a group of five boys who appeared to be in their early teens leaving the gym’s side entrance. In contrast to our earlier report, he says that the boys were not being chased out by a group of men using racial slurs — the boys are black, as is Xavier — and that the only people inside the gym at the time were two women. “I yelled to them to ‘stop fucking cutting through the gym,’” he says. “I was upset because I’ve had to say it numerous times, but I admit that some of [these] kids may or may not have been told by me before.” He claims that the kids began cursing back at him, with Naji having “the biggest mouth.”

After Xavier finished addressing the boys, he says, Kevin Furman came over to ask why the kids were swearing, and then went over to where the boys were standing. “I didn’t hear what he said because he was across the street,” Xavier says, “but I remember him coming back to run and feeling as if the remarks had fallen on deaf ears.”

At this point, the kids began to walk down the neighborhood side of North College, across the street from the class members. Xavier says that as the class finished another segment of their run, they told him the boys had started throwing sticks and stones toward them. “They weren’t really upset,” he says. “They realized it was just kids being kids, and they wanted to finish their final lap.”

Soon after, Xavier says, he saw one of the members up the street duck swiftly, although he did not see what had been thrown. Some of the boys began running, and neighbors began to peek out of their doors. “As one of my gym members is heading down ducking along with the others running back to the gym,” Xavier says, “I noticed Kevin and Cate interact with some residents” about two short blocks from where he was standing.

While the Furmans were speaking with residents, Xavier says he saw Kevin “ducking from a baseball bat being swung at him.” Xavier says he was “too far to hear” what was being said, but he ran over the moment he saw the incident and “took the bat out of the hands” of a young adult male: “It was not Naji, but another young adult, and I noticed that one of the other men I train was with Kevin and Cate with a bat in his hand as well. I don’t know how he got a bat in his hand, but he had one when I saw him.” (Xavier would not divulge the names of any other members of the class, and an email sent to an address believed to be Kevin Furman’s was not answered.)

Xavier claims that another man from the neighborhood approached him while he was interacting with the man he had taken the bat from. Xavier says he was “telling [the two men] to calm down,” then saw Naji with his mother, Antoinette Tribble, and “things turned for the worse.”

According to Xavier, the core group in the incident was now standing on the neighborhood side of North College between North 25th Street and North Taylor Street. While still engaging with the two men, Xavier says, he saw Kevin face to face with Antoinette; Naji was standing behind her, and Catherine was behind Kevin. Xavier claims that he then saw Naji move away from his mother, get behind Catherine, and “uppercut punch her from behind.”

“I remember yelling ‘No, stop’ as I see Cate crouching on the ground as Naji punches her in the face,” he says. “Kevin then runs to protect his pregnant wife and throws Naji off.” He says Naji’s feet grazed the sidewalk as he toppled over, and then “I heard Naji’s head hit the pavement.” Xavier says that he feels Kevin Furman was “justified” in how he responded to the matter, because “if any person attempts to attack a man’s pregnant wife, they should be able to defend them, no question.”

(Court paperwork provided to Philadelphia magazine by the Tribble family confirms that Naji was charged with causing or attempting to cause “bodily injury to the complainant, Catherine Furman, by punching her in the back of the head.” Asked for comment on Xavier’s allegation, Kevin Mincey, the Tribble family’s recently hired attorney, sent the following statement: “While the primary focus is making sure that Naji successfully recovers from his severe injuries, we are going to do everything we can to make sure justice is realized for Naji and his family. We are conducting our own investigation into the matter and will take appropriate action when the time is right.”)

At this point, Xavier says, he couldn’t see everything that was going on because he was “too busy dealing with the two men.” He remembers seeing Antoinette fall to the ground, but doesn’t recall the cause. “Neighbors started coming out, and I remember hearing Naji scream. It was a very unfortunate scene. … Cate was no longer around, and I saw Kevin ducking from folks swinging punches at him.” Xavier claims that he stayed around during the confrontation because he “didn’t want to leave Kevin hanging.”

During this commotion, as the crowd began to edge back closer to the gym, Xavier claims he was hit in the back of the head with a folding chair. “A guy from the neighborhood came out of nowhere and hit me in the back of my head. … I immediately started bleeding,” Xavier says. “I then saw Naji’s father, and he was wondering what was going on. … I remember trying to explain the situation.” Xavier says that he then went back inside the gym, where members of the class were already calling for the police and an ambulance.

Neighborhood resident Brandon Matthews, who says he saw everything from the buildup through the aftermath of the altercation between Kevin Furman and three members of the Tribble family from the porch of his house on North College near North Ringgold Street, offers an account that differs significantly from Xavier’s in many details.

“When Kevin Furman and his wife reached close to their stopping point at 24th,” says Matthews, who is black, “Kevin singled Naji out, cursed at him, called him a nigger, and gripped him up along that block.” (“I have never heard [Kevin] say a racial slur or anything like that, ever,” Xavier says. “The members of the gym are a family and get along well. Race is not an issue.”)

“Naji kept telling Kevin that he didn’t throw any rocks, while the wife kept telling [Kevin] to calm down, that he wasn’t on duty,” Matthews says. “Kevin kept yelling that he’s an officer of the law, and when he let Naji go, the boy ran down Taylor Street to get his folks.” Matthews says he did not see Xavier or anyone else from the gym at this point, and the Furmans began to walk back down North College.

“By the time [the Furmans] got a little past Taylor Street,” Matthews continues, “Naji’s sister came over to them and Kevin slammed her to the ground. Naji came next and he got slammed to the ground,” which appeared to “knock him out.” “[Furman’s] wife started heading away from the situation up toward the gym. Naji never put his hands on her or approached her. I ran over there, then I saw Naji’s mother get shoved to the ground.”

Matthews says he then noticed people come up the street with baseball bats, and later saw someone with what he described as a metal rod. (Xavier says he also saw someone with a rod, but that it wasn’t a gym member.) “I saw a white man and a black man come from the gym area toward the community with bats in their hands. … I confronted the black gym man, who was trying to defend Kevin as the rest of us were telling [Kevin] he was wrong for what he did.” Matthews claims there was “a lot of commotion between some of the gym folks” and the neighborhood. “By the time Naji’s father came, it was a whole scene.”

Another resident, an older woman who lives next to Matthews and asked not to be named, says that she too saw “the whole incident.” “Early on, that Kevin was building up anger with the kids,” she says. “Kevin began to huff each time he ran up past my house. The kids weren’t doing anything that serious to cause so much tension. When he lost it and came towards Naji, his wife kept telling him to let it go. … He took his anger out on Naji. That kid didn’t deserve all of that.” She says that “Naji never confronted Kevin’s wife or hit her.”

Around 6:20, police came on the scene back at the gym. Xavier says he saw a few residents continuing to argue with Kevin as the Tribble family aided their son. “Neighbors were confronting Kevin, asking him whether or not he pushed Naji to the ground,” he says. “Kevin was trying to defend his reason why, but people were rightfully agitated.”

“The police on site sided with Kevin once he told them he was a cop,” says Matthews. “I watched him lie in front of them that Naji hit his pregnant wife in the back of the head. That was a complete lie.”

Xavier says he witnessed the police take Naji to the police car, but before he did he claims he asked Naji why he had attacked Catherine. “She gripped me up,” Xavier says Naji told him.

When the EMTs arrived, Xavier says, he was approached first because of his bleeding head. (He says the wound was closed with staples later that evening.) He told the EMTs that Naji was sitting in the police car and that he should be tended to immediately. Xavier says the EMTs had Naji get out of the cop car and into the ambulance, where Naji’s father, Alfred Tribble, joined him. (In our original story, the Tribble family said Naji was unconscious during this time.) At this point, Xavier claims, the other gym members left the scene, neighbors headed home, and he contacted a close friend to take him to an urgent-care facility.

On Monday, June 5th, Xavier spoke to Internal Affairs, who had reached out to him the previous week — presumably in response to a formal complaint the Tribble family had filed around May 24th — to give his account of the incident. Before then, he says, he had not been in contact with the police. On June 7th, the day after the first Philly Mag story was published, Xavier submitted an incident report of his own to the police regarding his injury. Xavier says he has yet to identify the individual who hit him during the incident and mentioned that in the report. “At first, I did not want to see any charges pressed against anyone involved with this unfortunate situation, but after the story ran, I felt I needed to protect myself for legal reasons.”

Xavier says he has spoken with the Furmans since the incident but that they have not returned to Steelworks. “[The Furmans] are sad about the whole scenario — they are sad about the injuries that Naji suffered,” Xavier says. “They are thankful to me for standing up to tell the story that at the moment they cannot tell.”

A Philadelphia Police department spokesperson says the incident is still under investigation.