09/24/2007

Rookie Phila. officer shot in face during traffic stop

By Barbara Boyer, Larry Eichel and Andrew Maykuth
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA A rookie Philadelphia police officer who chased a suspect for more than a block after being shot in the face is undergoing surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital this afternoon, police said.

Officer Richard Decoatsworth, 21, was making a traffic stop at about 9:05 a.m. on Farson Street near Market Street in West Philadelphia when a man fired a shotgun at the officer, Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson said.

Decoatsworth called in while giving chase, and pursued the culprit on foot to Paxon Street before he was forced to stop because of loss of blood, Johnson said. The patrolman is believed to have returned fire seven bullets were expended from his firearm.

Witnesses said at least three people were in the car that was stopped, and police have the alleged shooter in custody. Others were being held for questioning.

Johnson said that Decoatsworth, a 16th District patrolman who graduated from the police academy in March, was fortunate not to have been closer to the assailant or the blast "probably would have took most of his head off." Johnson said Decoatsworth was also fortunate to be hit with birdshot smaller, less deadly pellets than those contained in buckshot.

Decoatsworth underwent surgery into the afternoon, authorities said. He was shot on the left side with severe injuries to the jawbone and tongue. The injuries were not life-threatening, and his vision was not believed to be impaired.

Jeffery Dansette, 24, of Port Richmond, said he was just arriving in the area to work on a sewer project when he saw the officer get out of his patrol car and walk over to an old, beat-up vehicle. Police said the car was a blue Buick.

At that point, Dansette said, three young men wearing what appeared to be school uniforms and carrying school bags got out of the car and started walked down the street. The driver of the car, who was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, got out and fired two shots at the officer.

The young men then ran south toward Market Street while the officer chased the shooter north toward Race, out of Dansette's views.

"After that I hear four more shots," Dansette said. "I'm not sure who fired them."

Decoatsworth was found collapsed on the 100 block of Paxon Street. A police officer rushed him to the hospital in his patrol car.

Dozens of officers, including SWAT team members, sealed off several blocks of West Philadelphia and went door-to-door on the unit block of North Farson Street, which lies between 50th and 51st Streets.

Mayor Street, top commanders and dozens of other officers rushed to the hospital after the incident. A special room was set up for Decoatsworth's family, including his grandmother and his mother, Evelyn Decoatsworth, a Temple University payroll department employee.

"There was some consolation for her to see her son," said Sgt. Joe Cella, a chaplain with the Fraternal Order of Police. He said officers were optimistic of his recovery.

Johnson commended the cop for his "courageous effort" to pursue the culprit.

"This is a classic example of the problem associated with the proliferation of weapons on our streets," Street said.

Copyright 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer

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