Yesterday saw day two of Askia Sabur’s trial, with another cross-examination of Officer Jimmy Leocal. By mid-afternoon, it quickly turned what is expected to be a three day trial about one young West Philadelphia man’s alleged crimes into an indictment of two Philadelphia police officers’ willingness to perjure themselves to protect their jobs and reputation.
Assistant District Attorney Carolyn DeLaurentis appeared to have little to bolster her case against Sabur and his defense team, and the bulk of cross-examination was driven by Larry Krasner, who for a second day used video, written statements from officers and their own testimony to create a startlingly-different picture of what happened the night of September 3rd, 2010.
At one point during yesterday’s trial, Leocal grinned nervously as one of Sabur’s defense attorneys, Larry Krasner, played the controversial arrest video.
Leocal was the officer principally involved in Sabur’s beating. A number of photos, admitted as evidence, showed his badge and uniform covered in what he admits is Sabur’s blood.
Leocal evoked during testimony a scene where he and his partner, Donyul Williams, were surrounded by an extremely hostile, bottle-throwing crowd as the two officers attempted to subdue a wild Sabur who allegedly tried to steal Williams’ gun from its holster while he was on top of the officer.
According to Leocal, “We were fighting for our lives.”
The video, however, clearly showed Officer Williams on top of Askia Sabur, who was face down on the sidewalk.
Most notable were Leocal’s statements to a detective the night of the incident versus what he gave after the video of Sabur’s beating was posted four days later. The video went viral and even made national news.
A September 3rd, 2010 statement Leocal gave to a detective as part of an “after-action report” in no way mentioned Sabur trying to grab an officer’s gun or even baton.
Even the officers’ justification for stopping at the corner of Allison Avenue and Lansdowne Avenue that night have changed repeatedly, according to signed statements given by Leocal and his partner and testimony from both officers over the last two days.
The same signed statement from Leocal on September 3rd, 2010 cited “disorderly conduct” as the reason officers stopped and confronted Sabur. When the video was posted on September 7th and quickly went viral, Leocal gave a revised statement to investigators, stating that the two officers stopped and were planning to arrest Sabur for “blocking a highway” with his bicycle – a legal distinction that could include sidewalks as well as streets.
The video made clear, however, that the size of Sabur’s BMX “trick bike” made it highly unlikely that enough of the sidewalk was taken up to impede pedestrian traffic.
Officer Donyul Williams initially testified at the start of the trial that he and Leocal were looking for a “tattooed-man” who had allegedly “shot up a daycare” earlier that week. Sabur’s cousin, Sean Merritt, has a visible tattoo and was present with Sabur on the corner that night.
In a September 28th, 2010 statement – long after the video went viral – Williams told investigators “I knew we were going to arrest him for blocking a highway,” although in a statement given on September 3rd, Williams stated that the officers were only planning to give Sabur a citation for disorderly conduct.
Looking for a tattooed man. Obstructing a highway. Disorderly conduct. The flurry of justifications given by Officers Williams and Leocal shifted from the night of the incident to later statements given to detectives and superior officers as the controversial beating video gained steam seems to have created a difficult environment for the two men as they went to testify, forcing them to essentially perjure themselves.
The Declaration will continue to bring you updates as the trial progresses.