Philadelphia resident Brandon Bynum weaved in and out of the cars at 38th and Walnut streets with Penn Police on his tail. By this point, he was riding a different motorcycle than he was before he chose to flee. What happened in between is disputed by both sides.
Bynum said in a complaint filed in federal court on July 31, 2014 that the police attacked him two years prior with batons without lawful cause. The University responded with its own allegations that Bynum had committed multiple traffic violations and tried to run over Penn Police officer Gary Cooper with his motorcycle. The University denies that Officer Cooper caused Bynum’s injuries, including to his left leg, on which Bynum claims in his complaint the officer put unnecessary pressure during the arrest.
Seven cases involving the use of excessive force and violation of civil rights have been filed against Penn Police since 2012. All of these cases have been filed in federal court for violations of the Civil Rights Act.
Of these cases, four were settled outside of court and dismissed, one went in favor of the University and the last — Bynum’s case — will go to trial after May when more evidence is collected.
“Most of these cases get settled in this system,” Penn Law School professor David Rudovsky said. “In all of these cases, [the goal is] to get compensation for what they say was an alleged wrong by the police.”
Putting up defenses
Officers are given a lot of leeway in determining use of force and arrests. Rudovsky said a lawyer must prove that a defendant — in cases arguing excessive force, this means a police officer — is more likely to be guilty than not in order to win a civil case.
“The law in this area gives the officer a lot of defenses,” Rudovsky said. “The officer has usually got a fairly broad discretion in determining whether to arrest somebody or use force, and as long as the officer was not unreasonable, that can be a defense.”
Many claims of excessive force don’t make it far into the legal process. The most recent case involving police brutality claims against Penn Police was dismissed on April 10 on the grounds that Penn Police cannot be sued separately from the University Board of Trustees, and that the complainant does not have probable cause to sue for damages. The defendant will likely refile the case, however, citing the Trustees as the defendant.
The complainant, Georgia resident Halimah Allen, filed a case against Penn Police and Penn Police officer Julia Umbrell on Dec. 30, 2014, for allegedly dragging her out of a car at 31st and Market streets and using undue force to slam her against the vehicle and the sidewalk. She sued for damages due to alleged permanent injury and loss of wages.
Allen filed an amended complaint on March 10 which asserts that Umbrell did not attend the mandated Municipal Police Officers’ Education & Training required by all officers serving in the state of Pennsylvania. Bynum makes a similar claim in his suit against the University; however, in both cases, Penn denied the allegations. The University claimed that both Allen and Bynum’s legal counsel failed to show deliberate indifference on the part of any policymaker at the University.
The Division of Public Safety declined to comment on any pending litigation; however, Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said all Penn Police officers are required to go through the state-mandated MPO training along with other department-specific training programs.
“Our officers are highly trained and highly disciplined, but they are working in an environment where they are confronted with dangerous situations,” Rush said. “We need to make sure we are providing the best training and oversight.”
The mandated MPO training consists of 24 hours of training over the course of a three-day program, plus one day of firearms training. DPS also requires that its Penn Police force also go through one day of diversity training dubbed “Diversity 101.”
This is the minimum amount of training that any Penn Police officer has, Rush said. In addition, officers attend area-specific trainings throughout the year. These programs include other forms of diversity training, issue-specific briefings and defensive tactics.
The DPS diversity training program began in 2004, when the department brought in an outside consultant to help craft the basis of the course. Different programs over the years have included managing conflict in a diverse environment, preventing bias-based policing practices and responding to mentally ill individuals. DPS has worked with the Penn Women’s Center to present on how to handle interpersonal violence in a diverse community and the University’s Chaplain Chaz Howard on respecting the community’s religious diversity.
Before the program was implemented, Penn Police saw a July 2010 case involving a confrontation with five street preachers. In July 2012, the five evangelical ministers filed a case against the University, Allied Barton and six Penn Police officers for the alleged wrongful arrest of the ministers while they were preaching their religious message on the street. They claimed Penn Police unlawfully seized and destroyed their camera equipment. In February 2014, the federal court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of Penn.
To refresh on previous sensitivity lessons, DPS also has roll call training, in which Rush’s staff put together a video message directly from Rush which is played for all the officers at the start of their shift. These videos involve short presentations on current themes and conflicts on the national scene and refreshers in previous trainings.
Recently, Rush implemented a roll call video that discussed how officers can handle protest, and it discussed the national theme of violence surrounding interactions with the police.
DPS Captain of Staff and Administrative Services Gerry Leddy leads a program with Penn Police called Verbal Judo, which details how an officer can diffuse a negative situation and how to start a conversation with people who are angry.
One of the most publicized case against Penn Police involving claims of excessive force involves a complainant who claims an officer verbally and physically assaulted him. Philadelphia taxi driver Saharo Sacko sued the University and Penn Police officer Dominic DiLorenzo in February 2014 for attacking him without probable cause, according to the complaint.
Sacko was allegedly stopped by Penn Police officers near 42nd and Walnut streets for careless driving. DiLorenzo proceeded to pull Sacko out of his vehicle and throw him against the trunk, the complaint alleges. The University denied the accusations and stated that Sacko was driving erratically in bad weather and was following a Penn Police vehicle too closely. The case was settled outside of court and dismissed in April 2015.
The claims in this case are something Verbal Judo and other trainings aim to prevent and combat.
“Our officers are continually trained on use of force and proper response to people who are mentally ill or people who are going to hurt them,” Rush said. “Our police have lot of interactions and have very few complaints about violence.”
DPS conducts a firearms training dubbed “Shoot, Don’t Shoot” that looks at scenarios in which deadly force is necessary or unnecessary, as well as a hand-to-hand combat training program called Defensive Tactics Training. DPS also has a firearms simulator program that allows an officer to interact with videos of real-life scenarios in which an officer must choose when it is appropriate to use deadly force.
Every use of force by Penn Police officers is reviewed through the filing of a Use of Force Report that is approved or disapproved through the chain of command up to Rush’s office. A use of force constitutes anything from a hands-on encounter to the use of pepper spray, a taser or a firearm. A supervisor is to be called in if any use of force occurs, who ensures that a complaint is written and that the officer files a report.
If a use of force is deemed inappropriate for the scenario, Rush said those who reviewed the report will decide whether the incident is a training issue that calls for a retraining of the officer or if it is a disciplinary issue calling for repercussions.
If a shooting occurs that involves Penn Police, DPS does not handle the investigation. Instead, the Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office will investigate to determine whether the officer should be charged criminally to insure neutral oversight. The officers under investigation are placed under administrative leave during the investigation.
Race Relations and Police
To combat any possible racial bias, at DPS’s annual meeting with the department’s Advisory Board in April, a statistical analysis is presented looking at the race and gender of officers in every interaction with the community versus the race and gender of the individual that was stopped.
“That process is embraced by the rank and file and it is what we preach, and what we instill and what we ensure,” Rush said.
The DPS Advisory Board consists of faculty, staff and students from the Undergraduate Assembly, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and the United Minorities Council.
Concerning the racial makeup of Penn Police, “We make sure that our department is reflective of the demographics of our community,” Rush said. “Race relations is a constant, daily reminder.”
At the end of 2014, 40 percent of the Penn Police force self-identified as members of a minority, including women as one of these categories. The force included 28 Blacks, 12 Hispanics, three Asians, two Native-Americans and 75 white officers. Women make up about 14 percent of the police force. DPS invites members of the community from resource centers like the LGBT Center and the African American Resource Center to help interview candidates for Penn Police.
College sophomore and co-chair of UMOJA Ray Clark recognizes that police-student interactions on campus can be tense. “Police interaction with the community is a problem nationally that clearly affects Penn as well,” Clark said.
One plaintiff alleges he was racially profiled by Penn Police. Philadelphia resident Mustafa Waliyyuddin filed a case against the University and Penn Police Officer Michael Ricciardi in November 2013 claiming he was wrongfully beaten by the officer because he resembled a black male who had previously stolen a bike on campus. However, the University denied all charges, and the case was dismissed in April 2014, as the defendant ceased to purse the case and mailings sent to him regarding the case were returned to the court.
“I think there’s a delicate balance between recognizing their work as public servants and their role in perpetuating an aura of fear in the areas they are supposed to protect,” Clark said.
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