By Kenneth Lipp
Monday night the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission (PAC) delivered its annual report on officer-community relations efforts and complaints against police in the city, and issued policy recommendations to the Philly police department. Highlighted in the published report are a dysfunctional arbitration process that overturns more disciplinary measures against officers than it sustains, and a refusal by PPD Commissioner Charles Ramsey to share with the PAC staff reports on completed officer-involved-shooting investigations.
The report was presented at the PAC office on Spring Garden Street by Executive Director Kelvyn Anderson, who has been at the Commission’s helm since 2012 (as interim director until his appointment by the mayor in 2013). Anderson has adopted a data-driven, trend-mapping strategy to the investigative-advisory body’s work, “a proactive approach to oversight, as opposed to just responding to individual complaints,” Anderson said Monday night. The Executive Director was congratulated by the Chair for such prolific output, especially considering the limited resources allowed the Commission’s staff.
2013’s report looked at 26 discharges of police officers for both on-duty and off-duty conduct that were appealed via the arbitration process, and found that officers who are terminated by the Police Commissioner are more often than not reinstated, and in the majority of those cases, are restored to their jobs with back-pay, as in the case of Lt. Jonathan Josey.
Josey was fired by Ramsey for punching Aida Guzman at the 2012 Puerto Rican Day Parade, and rehired almost a year later after Arbitrator David J. Reilly ruled the lieutenant was terminated without cause. The Commission obtained a copy of the video produced by the Fraternal Order of Police upon which the Arbitrator relied heavily in making his decision – but only after a bizarre battle with the FOP for access to the video on the grounds that it was the union’s intellectual property. In their report, the Commission attaches a series of frame-by-frame screen-captures from the FOP video, which seem to demonstrate exactly the opposite of that which Reilly stated he saw in making his ruling: that the woman Lieutenant Josey punched had fallen from a slip on a can.
Only 7 officers terminated by the police commissioner were not returned to the force by the Arbitrator. 9 officers were restored outright with full back-pay, 6 were rehired with back-pay minus suspension days, and 4 officers won their jobs but no back-pay.
On shooting incidents involving Philly police officers, especially those with fatalities, the report cited opacity on the part of Commissioner Ramsey in releasing to the Commission the data it needs and is entitled to under Executive Order to review complaints of an officer’s use of his or her firearm. The Commission has made use of the data posted to the PPD website regarding officer-involved-shootings, but has dealt with a lack of transparency as an impediment to oversight that is not a new phenomenon. The report states:
The Commission has historically faced resistance from the PPD when requesting information on Officer-involved shootings. Back in February 2013, the Commission’s Executive Director wrote to Commissioner Ramsey requesting access to completed investigations & reports of all discharges by PPD officers from 2007 to the present, as required by Executive Order 8-93.
In May 2014, the Commissioner’s legal representative informed the Commission that the PPD formally opposed release of shooting records to the Commission under the Executive Order. We disagree and are continuing to pursue our legitimate use of these records.
The 2013 report also includes the findings of a third PAC review of the investigation of the death of Nizah Morris in 2002. Morris was a trangender woman found unconscious by a pedestrian on the night of December 22, 2002, lying on a sidewalk bleeding from multiple head wounds, injuries of which she would die two days later at Thomas Jefferson Hospital. Minutes before Morris was discovered by passerby she had been transported by a Philadelphia Police officer on a “courtesy ride” from a bar. The officer had cancelled a call for an ambulance after arriving first on the scene where bystanders had called 9-11 to aid a collapsed, reportedly intoxicated Morris.
Morris’s family settled a negligence suit with the City over her death in 2004, in which no details were disclosed. A second review of the incident began in 2008 after the urging of advocates and the presentation of new information. After negotiating with the District Attorney for access to documents on the case, “two parties entered into a non‐disclosure agreement. The Police Advisory Commission’s counsel and executive director reviewed the files, but no further action was taken.”
A newly appointed 2010 Commission was again presented with concerns from the community which it determined it could not address without full access to the case history, and sought and received from District Attorney Seth Williams his office’s entire file on the Morris death (Williams had made assurances to the LGBT community during his campaign that he would divulge the file). New evidence from the full disclosure led to a new opinion in 2013, critical of the 2007 Commission’s review as well as of the PPD and DA’s office.
The Commission made a series of recommendations to the department on policy to protect transgender and other distressed and endangered persons. It also recommended the case to the PA Attorney General and to the US Department of Justice for investigation. Local advocates are pushing for a state probe based on the new evidence.
Also included in the report are case summaries of arbitrations, complaints, and other explanatory data and graphics. The Declaration will continue to explore it in more depth.