It’s been more than two years since Democratic state Representative Jewell Williams had his run in with two Philadelphia police officers — an incident that injured the now sheriff-elect and became part of a civil rights lawsuit alleging police brutality. This week, Williams had his day in court — and won his case.
Now the city has to pay Williams $50,000. In the court’s decision, attorneys for the city agreed that Williams’ constitutional rights had been violated, but disagreed on the extent of his injuries. Williams said the injuries caused damage to a nerve that runs from his forearm to the base of the thumb. He said that he was unable to turn a door knob or open a jar without experiencing pain.
“Well, I never expected this settlement to be a huge amount of money, I never expected that. But I am pleased with the legal process and the court’s decision that these officers violated my civil rights,” Williams said, adding that the officers involved in his unlawful arrest placed the handcuffs on him too tightly — which has caused him permanent damage to his hands. He was originally offered $65,000 by the city but decided to move forward with legal proceedings. “I was awarded for the damages, but I’m not happy about the fact that these officers are still on the job — even though they’ve been declared a liability. They’re still costing the city money. And, yes, I believe that had I been of another color, none of this would have happened.”
On March 8, 2009, Williams questioned three Philadelphia police officers, Thomas Schaffling, Donna Stewart and Timothy Devlin regarding a traffic stop involving two African-American males, John Cornish and Carl Cutler.
According to the details of the original complaint, Cornish was driving along the 1600 block of York Street with Cutler in the passenger seat. Allegedly, without cause or justification, Schaffling, Devlin and Stewart stopped the vehicle and allegedly unlawfully detained Cornish and Carver. Around the same time, Williams was heading west on the 1600 block of York Street in Philadelphia and pulled to a stop because traffic was blocked by the officers questioning Cornish and Cutler.
The complaint states that Schaffling ordered Cornish from his car and, without cause, frisked him and detained him. Cornish’s money was placed on the outside of the vehicle. At the same time, Stewart ordered Cutler from the car and was also allegedly roughly frisked and then detained. As this was happening Cornish’s cash starting to blow off the car, attracting the attention of bystanders. Williams saw people going for Cornish’s money and tried to intervene. That’s when Schaffling allegedly began yelling profanities and threats of physical violence directed at Cornish who was subsequently handcuffed along with Cutler.
Devlin allegedly approached Williams and profanely ordered him to get back in his car. Williams identified himself as a State official, and showed Devlin his official State identification — at which time a now-heated Devlin ordered him back to his car — or else.
Williams said he asked to speak to Devlin’s supervisor, then he had the cuffs slapped on him in “an excessively tight manner.” Police Sgt. Kevin Bernard, who was on the scene as the ranking supervisory official, approached Williams and allegedly used rude, profane and insulting language before pushing Williams into the patrol car. He was detained for about 90 minutes.
“I’m glad there was a hearing because the city knew these officers were wrong,” Williams said.