by Kenneth Lipp
Commissioner Charles Ramsey is facing increased pressure from the community and from advocacy organizations to scrutinize and overhaul the Philadelphia Police Department’s procedures for protecting civil rights, and its practices for investigating and disciplining officers involved in misconduct, as a 16 year-old went before a judge in Family Court on misdemeanor charges from an encounter in which he says he was assaulted by a police officer.
In the waiting room of Philadelphia Family Court’s Courtroom A gathered dozens of supporters of Darrin Manning, a Philadelphia teen charged with resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, and assault. The teen is himself alleging assault against his arresting officers, and says that an unidentified female officer groped him during a pat-down, before grabbing and pulling down on his testicles, seriously injuring him. The 16 year old received surgery on January 8th at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for trauma to his genitals, after an arrest and 8 hour confinement during which police say he never complained of pain. Doctors will conduct a follow-up to better determine the success of the operation to restore Manning’s functional ability to father children.
Manning stood with his lawyer before a judge in a brief status hearing held to insure that the defendant had obtained legal representation and to make other preliminary determinations such as the minor’s custody arrangements. His attorney Lewis Small entered a motion of discovery for the video of the encounter which was shown by Commissioner Ramsey at a press conference earlier this week, as well as all records of interviews and evidence from an Internal Affairs investigation which is still being conducted. The DHS advocate for the minor spoke briefly to recommend to the judge that there was no need to need for Manning to be removed from his parents’ home.
Small told the judge that he wanted to have the video examined by his forensics expert. The footage has already been made available to the press, though Chair Paula Peebles of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Action Network, which has been advocating for Manning, told me that in order to receive a copy to review with the family she had to do so through a local media outlet, who forwarded it.
The video shows much of the January 7th incident near the Girard station on the Broad Street line, but did not reveal enough to settle Manning’s allegations or police charges against the teen. Small’s forensic expert would presumably attempt to verify the chain of custody and fidelity of the recording, which “jumps from one corner of the intersection to another every 10 seconds.”
Small described to the judge how a group of all white officers had stopped his client while he was on his way to a charter school with teammates on one of the coldest nights on record.
“All the police had to do if they thought he was suspicious was ask him where he was going, he could have answered, and been on his way,” Small told the large crowd of supporters and press outside the court’s waiting room after the hearing.
Small said that in stopping the teen without cause the Police Department had violated a consent order entered into in 2011 which prohibits the police from conducting “stop & frisk” style searches without reasonable suspicion, and that police also violated policy by allowing a female officer to conduct a full search of a minor male suspect. Small called for the female officer to be prosecuted for indecent assault of a minor, and several in the increasingly agitated crowd called aloud for the officer’s name to be released. Small stated that there was “no legal reason” for the Commissioner not doing so.
Darrin Manning’s mother, Ikea Covey, spoke briefly and quietly, as warnings from courthouse security to clear the hallway became more frequent and urgent, telling supporters that her son was not only a straight A student but had already been awarded scholarships which his current criminal charges jeopardized. The crowd of fifty or more then followed Small’s direction to relocate to the center lobby, but this was not long permitted by courthouse staff before they ordered the assembly to leave.
The 22nd District
Tension between the people in the 22nd Philadelphia Police District, which begins just south of Girard station, and police officers patrolling its streets is not a recent development. No one on the street was willing to speak to me when I canvassed the area, and one man I approached rebuked me, refusing to even accept my apology for having drawn attention to him, and as I walked away I noticed an older white police officer helping a woman outside of the subway entrance. Helen Ubinas reported in the Daily News that a witness who noted the excessive force by police did not wish her name to revealed for fear of reprisal.
Commissioner Ramsey says that the video indicates that his officers had just cause to stop Manning and his teammates, who were on their way to a basketball game, running and bundled tightly against the cold, when the group of cops approached them. “The behavior of the young man was deemed suspicious by the officer,” Commissioner Ramsey told KYW. “[P]eople can say they were cold and they were running– but when you look at the video they are the only one running while everyone else was walking…but, I wasn’t there….we are trying to piece together facts.”
Ramsey says that the department’s ability to uncover the facts and to take appropriate action is seriously hindered by refusal on the part of Manning and his attorney to allow the boy to speak to officers of Internal Affairs for their investigation. “What do you do when the very person who is alleging that this took place is unable to speak with us?,” asked the Commissioner.
As Mr. Small mentioned in his address to supporters at the courthouse, Commissioner Ramsey’s department is currently under court-moderated monitoring to ensure that its stop and search policies conform to constitutional guidelines. To resolve a class action suit against the department for unconstitutional search practices, the City of Philadelphia entered into a Settlement Agreement and Consent Decree in June of 2011. The Bailey Agreement, wherein the city and department admitted no wrongdoing, specifically forbids “stop and frisks” by the PPD
…without limitation, where the officer has only anonymous information of criminal conduct, or because the person is only “loitering” or engaging in “furtive movements” or is acting “suspiciously,” or only because the person is in a “high crime” or “high drug” area.
In Bailey and in other cases in and out of pendency against the PPD, as well as in Manning’s allegations, police are accused of having conducted searches without reasonable suspicion, as the 4th Amendment requires, and of having targeted individuals based on race, a violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
It is unclear in what way Commissioner Ramsey feels that “behavior of the young man was deemed suspicious” meets Constitutional requirements which “engaging in ‘furtive movements’ or is acting ‘suspiciously’ ” does not.
I spoke with Lewis Small this morning about the case and about Ramsey’s comments to KYW. Manning’s attorney says that neither he nor his client have any intention of hindering Internal Affairs or complicating what he knows is a difficult position for Ramsey, he has simply advised his client not to speak with Internal Affairs about an incident for which he is being prosecuted. “I’m not looking to start an argument with the Commissioner,” said Small, who praised Ramsey’s openness to a federal investigation of the incident.
An investigation by the Department of Justice might lead to revelations of a systemic problem with the PPD’s training and monitoring of its officers, especially in high crime, racially-charged atmospheres like the 22nd district. Small believes that the officers who were present will not be willing to lie if questioned by the Department of Justice.
If these officers are asked by FBI agents what happened, I think they’re gonna tell the truth,” which may also reveal a pattern in the accused female officer’s history. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, said Small.
The 2013 report of the PPD’s stop and frisk practices, required under the Bailey Agreement, found that searches conducted without reasonable suspicion still accounted for a large percentage of total stops, and that race of the search subject is still an unconstitutionally influential factor in a significant portion of encounters. 93% of stops by police in the 22nd district, according to the report, were of black subjects. There were at least 39 complaints filed with the Police Advisory Commission against officers in the district between 2009 and 2012, the latest for which cumulative data is available (spreadsheet derived from full city data from OpenDataPhilly).
Manning’s family and the Pennsylvania state chapter of the National Action Network are also calling for expansion of the Department of Justice investigation into the Philly Police, in addition to filing a complaint and asking the Department to review the PPD’s records justifying the January 7 stop. The D.O.J. is currently conducting an investigation at Commissioner Ramsey’s invitation, to review Philly police officers’ use of deadly force.
A trial date of March 7 has been set, and the judge ordered the District Attorney’s office to turn over their evidence against the teen by February 17. The officer who allegedly assaulted Manning has been assigned to a desk temporarily, pending the outcome of the Internal Affairs investigation.
A townhall meeting for supporters of the teen and family is scheduled for 7pm this evening at the Catalyst for Change Church, 3727 Baring Street.