08/07/2009

Grand jury clears Philly officers in taped beating

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia police officers involved in the videotaped beating of three suspects after a car chase won't be charged with crimes, according to a grand jury that found no excessive use of force.

The widely seen news footage of the violent police stop in May 2008 does not tell the whole story, District Attorney Lynne Abraham said Thursday.

Officers considered the shooting suspects armed and dangerous, and in keeping with department policy did not beat or kick them once they were handcuffed, she said.

"We found that the design of the force applied by the police was helpful rather than hurtful; the kicks and blows, in other words, were aimed not to inflict injury but to facilitate quick and safe arrests," the grand jury said in the report, which followed a 14-month investigation.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey fired four officers and disciplined four others after analyzing tape of the arrest, which he said gave the department "a black eye." Ramsey stood by that decision Thursday, while the police union vowed a fight to overturn it.

The aerial footage shows a swarm of officers descending on the car after a 2 1/2-mile chase, then smashing a window and pulling the men out to beat and kick them, in at least one case with a police baton.

The suspects - Pete Hopkins, Dwayne Dyches and Brian Hall - have since been acquitted of the triple shooting earlier that night for which they were being pursued.

All three suspects are black, but so are the majority of the 23 people on the grand jury, Abraham said. Most of the 18 city police on the scene were white.

"It's important not to form conclusions based on a mere film, without context," Abraham said. "We think that good people will understand what police did and why."

Critics suggest that police closing in on the suspects' car thought it contained a fugitive sought in that week's slaying of a police sergeant.

The grand jury report could bolster the fired officers' efforts to return to the force.

"They should all be made whole, whether they were suspended, demoted or fired," said John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police local. "These guys are out there doing their jobs and they have seconds to make a decision. ... They all did a good job."

The police commissioner testified before the grand jury, as did the officers and the three suspects.

At a news conference Thursday, Ramsey called some of the force used that night "indiscriminate" and "excessive."

"In my opinion, all the actions were not justified," he said.

Defense lawyers for the suspects voiced outrage over Thursday's announcement. At their recent attempted-murder trial, the videotaped beating was "the elephant in the room," as the prosecutor put it. Jurors viewed it several times.

"Violence and aggression by police has crept its way into the culture, and ordinary people have come to accept that aggression," said lawyer Mary T. Maran, who represents Hopkins and plans to sue the city on his behalf. "In turning a blind eye to police brutality, we pave the way for more and more of it."

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