PHILADELPHIA (NNPA) - A growing contingent of community leaders and state legislators have called for a meeting with Mayor Michael Nutter, police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison to address allegations of police misconduct and abuse.
Sparked by an incident involving state Rep. Jewell Williams March 28, the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus fired off a letter to Nutter last Thursday asking for greater accountability within the Philadelphia Police Department over allegations of abuse and civil rights violations.
The PLBC is also requesting that Nutter convene a meeting with city leaders to rebuild the community's trust in the police department.
That tenuous trust has been eroded not just by the incident involving Williams, but other allegations of racism by certain officers, including a report by a Temple University student naming police Officer William Thrasher who allegedly expressed statements referring to some of the residents of North Philadelphia as "animals" and allegedly said "These people are f---ing disgusting."
Thrasher is attached to the 22nd Police District.
"It is this body's position that while public safety is and should be a top priority, it should never come at the expense of individual civil rights," said state Rep. Ron Waters, chairman of the Caucus in a prepared statement. "While the PLBC has the greatest respect for the vast majority of Philadelphia's police officers, who with integrity, put their lives on the line each day for our safety. It is unacceptable to turn a blind eye to those rogue officers who violate our laws and disregard individual civil rights."
Waters also said the Caucus wants to help ensure that all members of the department uphold the ideals of honor, integrity and service in the execution of their duties.
The NAACP is also preparing to file a lawsuit against the department and file documents with the Police Advisory Commission in connection with the same incident.
"We've retained an attorney with Zarwin Baum, Ted Schaer, to represent John Cornish and Carl Cutler. We're also filing paperwork to submit to the Police Advisory Commission," said local and state NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire.
The incident involving Williams surfaced after March 28 when the Democratic state representative was detained, not arrested, by police officers Thomas Schaffling and Timothy Devlin.
Williams was handcuffed after he observed the officers and their treatment of John Cornish — who is Black.
Williams stopped his car because a police car, that had stopped Cornish because his vehicle matched the description of a car involved in a drug buy, was blocking the street in North Philadelphia.
According to Williams, who is a former Temple University police officer, he got out of his car and observed Schaffling frisking Cornish, a resident of Nicetown, while Devlin watched nearby. Also present in Cornish's car was a friend, identified as Carl Cutler, 63.
Reports of the incident stated that when Cornish emptied his pockets, placing his money on the hood of his car, it started to blow away. As he reached for it, Schaffling handcuffed him.
At that point, Williams said he asked Devlin if everything was OK. Then according to Williams, the police officer replied: "Get the f--k back in your car before I give you a bunch of tickets."
Williams asked to speak with Devlin's supervisor and was subsequently handcuffed himself. Williams and Cornish were later both released without being charged.
"Do you think if I were White they would have done that to me?" Williams asked. "I don't think that all police officers are racists. I think that those police officers had a problem."
Ramsey, who was in Pittsburgh attending the funeral of three officers recently slain in the line of duty, confirmed that Devlin and Schaffling are on desk duty pending the internal investigation.
But Ramsey also said that depending on the severity of the charges in any internal investigation, reaching a conclusion could take a couple of months and sometimes as long as a year.
"We have open cases on several officers and the length of time depends on the severity of the allegations," Ramsey said. "Witnesses will complain to the media but when you ask them to come in and make a statement, that's another matter. But if we can get witnesses to come in and if there are no criminal charges to file, a case can be cleared in about two or three months. If there are criminal charges, it can take six months to a year."
But Schaffling's name has surfaced in connection with other complaints of misconduct.
On Aug. 9, 2008, Schaffling and other members of the Narcotics Strike Force were in the 2400 block of North Philadelphia in pursuit of a suspect and intercepted him at a baby shower.
Schaffling and Officer Sean Bascom were placed on restricted duty in connection with an incident where at least six people, including two children and women were reportedly struck with batons, maced and forced to the ground.
Witnesses said the officers crossed the line, but the officers reported some of the people at the party were hindering the arrest of the suspect, who was identified as Jamar Stroman, 24, of the 1800 block of Hoffman Street. Stroman is charged with possession of narcotics, assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and related offenses.
Schaffling and Bascom were also identified in an incident on May 5, 2008, where officers were accused of excessive force.
As a result of that incident, four officers were fired and four others were placed on suspension with intent to dismiss in response to an incident in which a group of officers allegedly assaulted three shooting suspects.
There were 19 officers at the scene, including a Sgt. Joseph Chirone who, according to Ramsey, did not act to prevent what was taking place and was being demoted in rank and reassigned to another district.
Two weeks after the August 2008 incident, Schaffling and Devlin allegedly pulled over two men who said that they were on their way to church.
The officers allegedly drew their guns and Schaffling reportedly told the driver "I'll blow your f---ing head off."
Schaffling was also named in a civil rights lawsuit filed in February by Garron Wheeler.
According to the suit, Schaffling detained Wheeler on July 19, 2006, while looking for drug suspects.
He allegedly handcuffed Garron, threw him against a gate and began to choke him. He then allegedly scraped Wheeler's face and shoulders on the pavement. Wheeler, who does not have a criminal record, was eventually released and no charges were filed against him.
"Hopefully this can be cleared up quickly," Ramsey said. "Both of these officers were on desk duty and were only recently returned to patrol. When something like this happens, you separate the officers and put them in different districts. In hindsight, of course, I wouldn't have put them back. They're off the street and they'll remain off the streets until this is fully resolved."