Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

March 7–14, 1996

city beat

Neal's Turn

Skeptics say the Police Advisory Commission should not hold its breath for a response to its version of the Moises DeJesus beating.

By Scott Farmelant

Almost three months after the Police Advisory Commission (PAC) recommended a 30-day suspension for one officer and 15-day suspensions for five more who subdued Moises DeJesus prior to his death, the city awaits Police Commissioner Richard Neal's response.

There are conflicting statements about whether that will happen as early as this week.

PAC sources say Neal's response is due Friday, March 8. Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) sources also claim that Neal will release his response that day.

Police officials, however, deny anything will happen that early.

By virtue of Mayor Ed Rendell's 1994 executive order that created the PAC, Neal was obligated to answer the body's Dec. 18 call for discipline within 30 days. Although Neal received an extension in January after suffering a heart attack, he has yet to address the matter.

Now Neal's continued silence on the PAC's findings (the commissioner did not respond to 10 phone calls) sparks fears that another "whitewash" of a report critical of the police department is at hand.

Neal's first "whitewash" took place in April 1993 when the department's Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB) released a 2,100-page report. In March 1992, an independent citizens' panel said cops attacked ACT UP protestors with batons outside the Bellevue Hotel during a Sept. 1991 visit by former President George Bush. The panel also found that officers screamed slurs at demonstrators.

Neal, however, supported the IAB finding, a ruling that countered the independent panel's version of the incident. Then Neal went even further, lashing out at the panel for criticizing officers. The commissioner said independent investigations of alleged police misconduct made it impossible to operate a police department.

Three years later, long-time police observers and critics see ACT UP all over again. They fear that Neal will delay his reply to the PAC's harsh report for months, if not a year.

"I'm not a bit surprised that Neal is putting [the PAC report] off as long as possible," says Lawrence Krasner, a civil rights attorney and member of the Police Advisory Panel on the ACT UP beatings. "It's politically wise for him to let a story like DeJesus die before doing little or nothing at all."

"I am concerned that the department will try to delay, then whitewash this again like ACT UP," says Will Gonzalez of the Police Barrio Relations Project.

Unlike the ACT UP matter, however, public demand for Neal's response to the DeJesus case could bring swift resolution. City Councilors, PAC members, the press — even the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) — all clamor for Neal's response. In turn, some like Jane Leslie Dalton, the PAC's chair, and Michael Nutter, an outspoken councilman who led the fight to create the PAC, say Neal won't dare another delay.

"I don't know Commissioner Neal to be a guy who is going to duck his responsibility," says Nutter. "He goes out of his way to be cautious and correct about what he is doing ... [but] I don't think we're looking at the same kind of situation" as ACT UP.

"I think [Neal] has taken to heart our criticism of the investigatory process of the DeJesus matter," says Dalton. "And I think he will respond."

The timeliness of Neal's response is another matter. Kevin Feeley, spokesman for Mayor Rendell, says Neal is under no obligation to respond anytime soon.

"There is no date [for Neal's response]," says Feeley. "The mayor said we would move to have the response published as quickly as possible. That's what the commissioner is going to do."

Capt. Marvin Burton, head of the police department's public affairs unit, seconds Feeley's statement.

"The commissioner is still working on" a response, Burton says.

As for a timetable on Neal's report, Burton says there "is not one that I know of. I asked him about it and he didn't say."

The statements counter those of Charles Kluge, the PAC executive director. Kluge says Neal's response is due Friday, March 8. FOP sources also claim that Neal will release his response that day.

Burton, however, denies the reports and emphatically rules out March 8 as the day that Neal will respond.

Ironically, Neal's delay bothers members of the FOP. They want Neal's findings sooner that later.

A lengthy delay "would not make anybody involved in this happy," says Dale Wilcox, a spokesman for the FOP.

The FOP seeks exoneration for all officers involved in the affair. While Wilcox did not comment on the PAC report, a Feb. 20 letter from FOP attorney Jeffrey Kolansky to Neal demands a clean slate.

Kolansky's letter labeled the PAC's conclusions as "completely without foundation" and said the report —"a negative finding based upon lies, deception and a predetermined outcome" — also "defames my clients and insults your Department." At one point, Kolansky suggests the PAC used "thinly veiled Gestapo tactics" to reach its findings and urged Neal to clear the officers or "dishonor your badge."

Pathologists say DeJesus died on Aug. 24, 1994 from complications caused by a cocaine overdose. But DeJesus also suffered three head wounds during an Aug. 21 struggle with police prior to lapsing into a coma.

Among other things, officers claimed DeJesus injured himself by diving headfirst out of a cruiser's rear window, striking his head on the pavement. Three medical examiners later testified before the PAC that DeJesus' head wounds could not have been caused by such a fall. Rather, the injuries stemmed from blows by a "cylindrical" object such as a baton or flashlight. One examiner referred to DeJesus' struggle with police as "the straw that broke the camel's back."

The medical finding undercut testimony by the officers — Donna Young, Nicholas DiPasquale, William Suarez, Raul Malviero, Michael Paige and Chris DiPasquale — who denied hitting DeJesus in the head. The PAC ruled officers were entitled to use force but said Young used excessive force twice during the 10-minute encounter with DeJesus. The PAC also said the six officers blatantly lied during testimony.

At the bottom line of the DeJesus matter, police observers say Neal would be wise not to delay his response.

Independent "commissions really achieve very little unless police commissioners are willing to implement some of their recommendations ... that are necessary in order to prevent future abuse," says Karen Black, a civil rights attorney with the Public Law Center of Philadelphia.

Many remain skeptical.

"The police use whatever tactics they can find to avoid dealing with criticism, and delay is one of the obvious choices," says Larry Gross, a communications professor at University of Pennsylvania and member of the ACT UP panel. "The police are really unwilling to deal with their problems."

"The whole [PAC] thing is run by politics," adds Krasner. "Rendell only bowed when it was the expedient thing to do. There's still zero sincerity at any level of this."

Then again, critics say Neal will have to face the issue.

"Things like the DeJesus case are an image problem for police but they are also a real problem," says Krasner. "If law enforcement doesn't stand for the law, it just stands for the boot."

"The police can't pretend any more," says Gross. "They have a pretty obvious and undeniable problem."

What if Neal rejects the PAC's findings?

"Then he shows that the police are really unwilling to deal with their problems," says Gross.

Yet Black feels Neal will reply in a fair manner.

The PAC "is going to be around for an awful lot of years. I don't see why Commissioner Neal would alienate and anger them."

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