Internal Affairs Records Show Two Charged Officers Had a Long History of Documented Misconduct

Philly Police Internal Affairs Division on Dungan Road in northeast Philadelphia. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

Philly Police Internal Affairs Division on Dungan Road in northeast Philadelphia. Photo by Kenneth Lipp

By Kenneth Lipp

Complaint records obtained by the Declaration from the Philly Police Internal Affairs Division reveal that two officers charged last month with brutally assaulting a man in 2013 have been investigated for repeated abuse allegations and cited for flouting department policy for at least five years. The IAD complaints filed by civilians with the division implicate Officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson, as well as several other officers, in dozens of charges of assault, abuse of authority, and lack of service that persisted unchecked through sustained and not-sustained complaints alike.

District Attorney Seth Williams announced February 5th that a grand jury investigating the alleged assault of Najee Rivera by Officers McKnight and Robinson had recommended charges against the two officers, one count each of criminal conspiracy, aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, tampering with public records or information, false reports to law enforcement authorities, obstructing administration of law, and official oppression. DA Williams says the officers ran Rivera down on his scooter before savagely beating him for several minutes, inflicting injuries including a fractured skull, and then falsified reports “while Rivera was at the hospital,” resulting in his being charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, and related offenses.

The Declaration reported at the time that the two officers had a history of civilian complaints, and the details of recently obtained IAD memoranda suggest an even more disturbing and widespread pattern of abuse, that likely would have continued had Rivera’s girlfriend not had the extreme fortune of locating indisputable video evidence of his innocence and McKnight’s and Robinson’s guilt.  In multiple incidents, witnesses and complainants describe what seemed to them spontaneous attacks by McKnight, Robinson, and others, in narratives frighteningly similar to Rivera’s case – most not sustained for lack of evidence and left to the word of usually an alleged criminal against the word of his-or-her arresting officers.

In one complaint a handcuffed suspect is “struck in the head with a flashlight” by an officer who “continually made references to the Trayvon Martin incident,” and then allegedly threatened a witness in order to obtain access to her cell phone to delete a recording of the incident.

In addition to allegations similar to those that now face the two officers in court, like pulling traffic-stop subjects from their vehicles, handcuffing them, and subjecting them to physical and verbal abuse, the complaints contain allegations not in the DA’s criminal complaint, such as theft of property, and moving vehicles of stopped persons blocks from the sites they are pulled-over, forcing owners to locate them, and failing to ensure intoxicated persons are transported safely. Many complaints include either Officer Robinson or McKnight and one or more other officers of the 25th District.

The District Attorney’s Office is looking into past cases involving Robinson and McKnight with charges similar to the Rivera case. More on this story we continue our investigation.

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About Kenneth Lipp

Kenneth is a writer and researcher. He’s from Alabama, and will not apologize for it. He moved to Pennsylvania in 2012, but has been in love with Philadelphia since a late-night stroll down Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum in July of 2011 with the love of his life. He is interested in telling Philadelphia’s dynamic and absolutely unique stories with the zeal of a constantly enamored newcomer. Kenneth is also passionate about government transparency and protection of whistleblowers, most notably PFC Chelsea Manning. His research and reporting on law enforcement and surveillance have been featured in various publications, including Rolling Stone (Meet the Private Companies Helping Cops Spy on Protesters) and Popular Science (Boston Tested Crowd-Watching Software That Catalogues People's Skin Color). His training is in both genetics and history and he likes the joke about being a helicase and unzipping your “genes.” He’s driven to know, and thinks you can handle, the truth. Follow him on Twitter @kennethlipp.

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