After video footage surfaced from a local barbershop, Philadelphia police officers Kevin Robinson and Sean McKnight were charged Thursday with aggravated assault, conspiracy and related crimes.
The charges stem from an arrest made back in May 2013, when the two officers detained then-23-year-old Najee Rivera, claiming he strong-armed one of the officers. What resulted was a brutal beating, which left Rivera hospitalized with an orbital bone fractured, eye-swollen shut, and his face sewn up with stitches and staples.
When Rivera’s girlfriend, Donna Scannapieco came to pick him up, they went to directly to the scene of the incident.
After surveying the scene, Scannapieco grew curious and began conducting her own personal investigation. This resulted her uncovering footage from a barbershop, that would eventually clear Rivera of any charges and lead to the arrest of the officers who prosecutors say beat him without any provocation and then arrested him on false charges.
“This type of behavior has absolutely no place in our city, and I will prosecute these two officers to the fullest extent of the law,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. Videos of the press conference along with the surveillance video are posted below.
Robinson and McKnight turned themselves in Thursday and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey has suspended the officers with intent to dismiss. Up until the release of the video, Ramsey had taken the officers account as fact, without conducting any further investigation. The department is now considering conducting deeper investigations on arrests that result in injury.
Surveillance video shows the officers in their car side-sweeping Rivera, who was on his scooter, then hopping out and grabbing and hitting him with fists and batons. The security camera picks up his agonized screams.
According to Williams, Rivera had no prior criminal record and that the circumstances surrounding his arrest are far too common in the department.
“Even if he had been the devil himself, they could not have done what they did to him,” Williams said.
Ramsey said McKnight and Robinson “do not represent the majority” of the 6,500 officers on the force.
“But I cannot stand here and say I’ve got 6,500 police officers that always operate within the framework of the law, within the framework of department policy,” he said. “We’ve got to root them out.”
Further charges against the officers include recklessly endangering another person, tampering with public records or information, false reports to law enforcement authorities, obstructing administration of law and official oppression.
Rivera filed a civil lawsuit against the city back in January. According to Williams, he settled out of court for $200,000. He is still haunted by the event to this day.
“I feel like I ain’t the same person,” he said. He says that he now suffers from migraines, is forgetful, and his vision is not what it used to be.
“Every time I get next to a cop or a cop is behind me, I get a little panic attack,” he said. “And it’s sad, because every cop ain’t bad.”
Without the surfacing of surveillance there is little chance Rivera’s testimony against the officers would have stood up in a court of law.
This is not Robinson’s first disciplinary issue. In 2012 he was a defendant in a lawsuit that alleged he had beaten Darren Trammell, 28, during a trumped-up arrest. Trammell suffered a fractured orbital bone, lacerations, and other injuries, the suit said.
An internal affairs investigation cleared Robinson of any wrongdoing, and the city settled with Trammell out of court for $125,000 according to his lawyer, Andrew D. Swain.
“It has not been easy for our department this week,” Ramsey said.
Still, he said, “every one of these people who get removed from our department brings us a step closer to having the kind of police department that people in this city deserves.”
The impending criminal charges raised against the officers, have lead Public Defender Bradley Bridge to begin reviewing past arrests made by the department. Since 1995, his office has persuaded judges to overturn more than 500 criminal cases involving Philadelphia police officers who were later arrested on corruption charges.
Incidents such as this make a strong case for more in-depth internal investigations from police departments as well as using surveillance tactics as a means for regulating officer conduct.
UPDATE: Kevin Corcoran, the Philadelphia cop arrested last year for an incident caught on video where he falsified an arrest, was sentenced today to one day in prison, then six months of house arrest, followed by one year probation.