Tag Archives: Philadelphia

DOJ Report: Philadelphia Police Shot 400 People in 7 Years

On Monday a new report was released by the US Department of Justice which condemned the Philadelphia Police Department for “poor training”, and for the shooting of approximately 400 civilians over the last 7 years. The report came at the request of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey.

The Justice department found a lack of “guidelines, objectives, or lesson plans that detail PPD officer training on the department’s use of force policies.” The DOJ is calling on the PPD to create a specific unit that looks into every case where an officer uses deadly force. They also requested that an independent outside agency investigate shootings of unarmed individuals and hold a press conference within three days to reveal details.

The report found a lack of accountability when it comes to officer-involved shootings, or OIS.  “All PPD should be required to report any misconduct, including but not limited to excessive use of force.”  The report also concluded that “all across OIS  investigations, we found a general lack of consistency in quality.”

Philadelphia Mayor Nutter said the city must heed the warnings of the DOJ. “We will examine fully this report and work on a realistic approach for implementation of the recommendations as quickly as possible,” he stated.

Despite a lack of “official” statistics on the number of police officer shootings of civilians, independent estimates have found that over 1,000 individuals were killed by police in 2014.  The Washington Post drew the following comparison:

“In New York, for example, there were 30 police shootings in 2012 (16 of the people shot were killed, while the rest were injured) and 25 such shootings in 2013 (eight of those people were killed), according to the police. The Dallas Police Department, responsible for a city closer in size to Philadelphia, said it had 23 shootings in 2012 and 22 in 2013. Meanwhile, police in Philadelphia had 58 shootings in 2012 and 44 shootings in 2013.”

The DOJ report comes after another study done last month by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg, LLP. The two groups found that the PPD illegally stops and frisks tens of thousands of individuals.

TSA holds man for 20 hours after incident at airport

A traveler from Philadelphia, who was attempting to fly to Miami to run a half-marathon in January 2013, was detained by TSA agents for close to 20 hours after an airport incident.

Roger Vanderklok, 57, was detained by the TSA agents after he allegedly asked to file a complaint against the airport workers. Instead, Vanderklok was escorted to a holding cell. Once inside the cell, according to the AP, Vanderklok was not questioned by police officers or given the chance to call his wife for nearly a day.

According to Philly, Vanderklok had placed some PowerBars and a heart-monitoring watch for the race in his carry-on luggage which had looked suspicious to agents. After 30 minutes of explaining the items were in his luggage, Vanderklok asked to file the complaint.

Charles Kieser, the TSA supervisor on duty at the time, then allegedly became confrontational and had ordered Vanderklok to be placed in the cell.

Kieser testified at a criminal trial against Vanderklok in April 2013, he had monitored the interaction between Vanderklok and the agents and testified in court saying, “Hands were in the air. And it’s something we deal with regularly. But I don’t let it go on on my checkpoint.”

After watching the incident unfold, Kieser then says Vanderklok, “put his finger in my face. And he said, ‘Let me tell you something. I’ll bring a bomb through here any day I want.’ And he said you’ll never find it.”

However, airport surveillance videos do not backup Kieser’s account of what happens. Instead, Vanderklok allegedly appears calm on the footage and does not raise his hands in a menacing manner. The police report on the incident also shows Kieser told officers Vanderklok said “Anybody could bring a bomb in here…” which differs from what Kieser testifies Vanderklok had said.

Thomas Malone, Vanderklok’s lawyer, did not challenge the agents investigating the material in Vanderklok’s luggage, but he says the footage from the airport contradicts Kieser’s account of the incident.

Now, months after the initial trial, Malone filed a suit against the TSA, as well as the Department of Homeland Security and the Philadelphia Police Department, saying his client was stripped of his liberties because he wanted to file a complaint.

A TSA spokesman said the agency does not discuss pending lawsuits.

Sheriff’s Deputies Force Children to Strip, Squat and Cough at Philadelphia Court

Deputies with the Philadelphia Police Department reportedly strip-searched minors who were making appearances for hearings at the Philadelphia Family Courthouse

CBS Philadelphia reports that multiple sources state sheriff’s deputies ordered juveniles in county custody to “remove all their clothes, to squat, and to cough.” The searches happened individuals and in small groups.

KYW Newsradio said multiple sources told them the searches were cancelled after the children complained and court authorities were notified. The incidents took place on Monday November 17 and possibly Tuesday the 18th. The courthouse officially  opened on the 17th.

A statement from the Family Court stated:

On Tuesday morning of this week, in response to concerns raised by child advocates over allegations of strip searches of juveniles, the leadership of Philadelphia Family Court directed the Sheriff’s Office to cease and desist all strip searches pending further notice. Today, Family Court issued new rules governing the screening and detention of juveniles that the Court developed in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Office.”

As CBS notes, “not all of the young people searched were in custody on a criminal matter” and some had been the victims of  physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this procedure is appropriate? Leave your comments below.


Gun groups can now sue municipalities in Pennsylvania over gun laws

A bill has passed in Pennsylvania which would allow gun groups to sue their local governments for passing gun control laws which the groups find to infringe on their rights and citizen’s rights to bear arms, and many lawmakers in the state are upset.

The bill was passed through the state’s legislature Tuesday by a vote of 138-56.  The legislation came about after the NRA felt the city of Philadelphia had more restrictive gun laws than were allowed by the state of Pennsylvania.  While most city gun ordinances were repelled, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, laws requiring individuals to report lost or stolen guns were upheld.

Pennsylvania state law actually explicitly makes it illegal for localities within the state to make their own gun laws.

According to the state’s Uniform Firearms Act, counties, municipalities, and townships do not have the authority or right to “regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”

Amendment sponsor, Sen. Rich Alloway (R), said in a statement, “This is a good bill, the right bill for Pennsylvania, to protect the Second Amendment and the rights of law-abiding citizens of Pennsylvania… This is about individual rights.”

While gun advocates in the state are happy with the law, many gun control supporters are upset.

Senator Larry Farnese (D) told reporters the whole bill and situation was a “mess.”

It is unprecedented in Pennsylvania jurisprudence … and across the nation,” Farnese said.  “We’re making history tonight. We are conferring rights and privileges to citizens of the United States to an association.”

Others who are opposed to the bill say it would drain the state’s economy with frivolous lawsuits.  Democratic Sen. Daylin Leach said, according to Philly News, “If you are a resident of Forest County and you don’t like the Norristown gun law…you could hire Johnnie Cochran and bill a township $100,000 an hour or whatever he charges to win the case.”

The bill will begin to take effect late in December.

Philly Mayor Says He Will Sign Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana

In recent years, a tidal wave of public opinion has risen against the prohibition of marijuana, as more and more cities and states are considering decriminalization or even outright legalization of the plant. State after state has approved medical cannabis. Yet, despite this political movement, many harsh marijuana prohibition laws remain on the books, placing the US in the lead worldwide in imprisoning its own population as non-violent marijuana users continue to fill penitentiaries across the nation.

In response to this changing tide, Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney recently introduced a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a $25 fine. In the original version of the bill, this penalty would have worked similarly to a parking ticket. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter asked the council to amend the bill such that marijuana possession would be considered a non-summary civil offense, meaning someone caught with pot would still have to stand before a judge. However, the infraction would not appear on the cited individual’s criminal record. CBS Philly is reporting that, on Monday, Mayor Nutter agreed to sign the amended bill if it passes.

The City Council will vote on Mayor Nutter’s amendment this Thursday and will then vote on final passage of the bill the following week. It is expected to pass. If it does, it will then be sent to Mayor Nutter, who has agreed to sign it into law.

Councilman Kenney described how the decriminalization bill would work in practice, “We’ve gotten to a place where it is out of the criminal realm. There’s no more handcuffs, no more bookings, no more criminal record. Police will not have to leave their posts and go to the station house to deal with this. People will pay a fine based on the offense: $25 for the possession of anything under an ounce.” The bill would also adjust penalties for smoking marijuana in public, which would be punished with either a $100 fine or community service.

Kenney said, according to CBS Philly, “There will be no criminal record for an individual. And that’s a major step. We have so many people that we are putting in the prison pipeline, and the poverty pipeline, because a criminal record is a debilitating thing.” Councilman Kenney said the bill would help the city’s police force cut costs by nearly $4,000,000 and would reduce the number of arrests in Philadelphia by around 4,000.

Class Action Lawsuit Exposes Philadelphia’s Civil Forfeiture Practices

Philadelphia, PA- The Institute for Justice has filed a class action lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia challenging the city’s aggressive civil forfeiture practices. Three plaintiffs named in the suit claim that their property has been improperly seized, violating their rights granted by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

One of the plaintiffs, Christos Sourovelis, claims that the city of Philadelphia evicted his family from their home, valued at about $300,000, earlier this year after Sourovelis’s son was caught selling $40 worth of drugs outside of the home. In an interview, Sourovelis said “I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t bother anybody. But we struggle from week to week not knowing what will happen.”

The city allowed the couple to move back into the home under the conditions they removed the son from the home and waive all legal rights in future civil forfeiture proceedings.

Sourovelis’s wife, Markela, said “it’s a constant battle- come this month, come that month…it’s scary.” The couple was never charged with any crime related to the action of their son.

Institute for Justice lawyer Darpana Sheth said that Philadelphia has turned the civil forfeiture process into a “veritable machine, devouring real and personal property from thousands of residents, many of whom are innocent, and converting that property into a $5.8 million average annual stream of revenue.”

Sheth said that civil forfeiture is “nothing more than state sanctioned theft” that reverses the burden of proof onto property owners rather than prosecutors.

The suit claims that the city of Philadelphia has made fighting civil forfeiture proceedings difficult because those who have had their property seized are not able to see a judge before the seizure takes place. Instead, according to the suit, people who have either been found innocent of crimes or not charged at all are subjected to hearings where prosecutors are in control.

Markela Sourovelis said “We haven’t seen a judge. We keep getting sent to this 478 room and for months, we go there and fill out papers.” Their case has been delayed several times in that courtroom. Sheth said that Courtroom 478 is not a courtroom at all: “There’s no judge, there’s no jury, there’s not even a court reporter to transcribe these so-called hearings– instead it’s the prosecutors that run Courtroom 478.”

The Institute for Justice, after reviewing over 8,000 Philadelphia forfeiture cases, found that property owners were forced to return to court at least five times on average.  Philadelphia civil rights lawyer David Rudovsky said missing one court date can mean the property is forfeited. “If they can’t tolerate going to court 10 times to resolve this – as many people can’t, with work and other commitments – they lose out,” he said.

Rudovsky also said prosecutors are often the ones giving legal advice, telling property owners that their cases are “simple” and do not require legal representation.

Philadelphia has seized over $64 million worth of property over the last ten years- this amount is nearly double that seized by Los Angeles County, CA and Brooklyn, NY combined. The proceeds of seizures and forfeitures goes to law enforcement: “It goes to pay salaries, including to prosecutors who wield an enormous amount of discretion to bring forfeiture claims,” said Sheth.

Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams’s spokeswoman, Tasha Emerson, said the program is a useful one in its fight against drug trafficking.

The plaintiffs have requested that a judge put an end to Philadelphia’s civil forfeiture program. “If this can happen to me and my family, it can happen to anybody. I want to get my house back, but more importantly, I want to end civil forfeiture in Philadelphia for good,” said Christos Sourovelis.

Six Philadelphia Officers Arrested, Facing Multiple Charges After Corruption Investigation

Philadelphia, PA- Six Philadelphia narcotics officers were arrested early Wednesday morning for allegedly robbing, assaulting suspected drug dealers and falsifying reports to cover up the abuses following a lengthy federal corruption investigation.

The officers arrested were Thomas Liciardello, Perry Betts, Brian Reynolds, Michael Spicer, John Speiser and Linwood Norman. The officers are either current or former narcotics officers, and face a multitude of charges including racketeering, drug dealing, extortion, robbery, and kidnapping.

An investigation by the Philadelphia Police Department and the FBI alleged a disturbing game played by the accused officers in which they awarded points to one another based on different methods of assaulting suspects. Another accusation includes an incident where an officer allegedly held a suspect 30 feet off the ground over a balcony in an attempt to gain information from the suspect. The officers also stand accused by officials of  stealing over $500,000 in cash and goods such as electronics and designer clothes between 2006 and 2012, and selling drugs that they’d seized from suspects.

The indictment states that the officers used “extreme force” to obtain the cash and personal property, and made false police reports to avoid attracting attention to themselves.

Warren Layre had spoken of his experience with the officers in an interview last year with The Philadelphia Inquirer. Layre said that Officer Liciardello, one of the officers named in the 26-count indictment, was among several other officers who raided Layre’s auto repair shop without a warrant in 2011 on suspicion of drug dealing. Layre went on to describe how officers broke the door of his shop down with a battering ram. According to Layre, Liciardello hit him in the head with a metal pipe, rendering him unconscious. Layre said that when he came to, Liciardello then kicked him in the face and knocked his front teeth out.

After a search warrant was obtained, a large quantity of methamphetamine was found in the shop. Liciardello reported that $6,650 was seized from the shop; Layre said the amount was closer to $41,000. Layre theorized that the drugs were placed there by an acquaintance who may have been a police informant.

Layre’s story is just one of many allegations against the officers named in the indictment. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said the accusations amount to “one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard.” Ramsey suspended the six officers on Wednesday with “intent to dismiss”.

If found guilty, all officers but Speiser could face life sentences in prison; Speiser faces a maximum sentence of 40 years.

Ramsey seeks to change current police union rules to allow narcotics officers to be rotated out of the unit every five years to curb long-term corruption such as this case. “We need to be able to move people from these sensitive units if there’s any hint at all that they are engaging in misconduct,” said Ramsey.

The police union has been against changing this rule, stating that more time spent in the narcotics unit builds expertise and a stronger bond with police informants. Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby argued that “they already had to have a background check to get into narcotics. You have plenty of supervision, a disciplinary system in place, and a commissioner who is obviously not bashful about firing people.”