Alleged police coverup scandalizes Philadelphia

Maryclaire Dale The Associated Press
March 30, 2001, Friday, Final Edition
Copyright 2001 The Commercial Appeal
The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)
March 30, 2001, Friday, Final Edition

(PHILADELPHIA) - Earlier this week, Philadelphia woke up to news reports alleging that in 1998, its top homicide cop crashed his car while drunk and his underlings rearranged the scene to cover up the wreck.

Then on Thursday morning came word from Police Commissioner John Timoney that the department's file on the case had been stolen.

And then later in the day, a police spokesman said the file had been found and had apparently been rifled by someone.

The embarrassing series of developments has raised new doubts about the department and Timoney, an outspoken, independent-minded chief who worked his way up the New York City force and came to Philadelphia three years ago.

"This is criminal conduct we're talking about here and it has to be dealt with more seriously than he dealt with it," said David Rudovsky, a lawyer who has monitored the Philadelphia police for the last five years under a federal court settlement.

Mayor John Street also has raised questions. "When people look and see what happened ... they think there is a double standard," he said.

In the past year, the Philadelphia department has been in the national spotlight over the videotaped beating by police of a suspected carjacker; the arrests last summer of 400 Republican convention protesters, few of whom have been convicted; and the melee that erupted at a recent Mardi Gras celebration, when drunken revelers vandalized stores downtown.

"Six months ago I couldn't do anything wrong," Timoney said Tuesday. "Now I can't do anything right."

The story of Capt. James Brady's crash in 1998 was first reported Sunday in The Philadelphia Inquirer, which said he wrecked his car, then kept on driving with the airbag smashed against his face. No one was injured.

According to the Inquirer, the coverup was orchestrated by Joseph DiLacqua, who was a lieutenant at the time and has since been promoted to captain.

Long before the Inquirer broke the story, the Internal Affairs Division investigated and Timoney meted out 20-day suspensions to DiLacqua and Brady. DiLacqua has been sanctioned for misconduct six other times.

Brady and DiLacqua have refused to comment.

Talk-radio callers are debating whether Brady really did wet his pants, as the officer who stopped him reported, or whether a beer in his lap, or radiator fluid, had spilled on him.

As for the case file, police Lt. Susan Slawson said: "The folder has resurfaced and is now accounted for. After examining the case files we have discovered that pages are disheveled and out of place; evidence that the formerly missing documents had been photocopied."

It was not clear from the statement whether the file had, in fact, been stolen.

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