Every day, police officers have to question witnesses or suspects regarding a crime or a traffic accident — and generally these encounters with police happen without violent confrontations. But on Monday, June 4, 18-year-old Marcus Warryton became involved in just such an incident that did become violent. Now Warryton is under arrest, having been charged with two counts of aggravated assault and related offenses — and the four officers involved are the subjects of a pending investigation into allegations that they used excessive force in subduing Warryton.
Warryton, who also goes by the name Marcus Singleton, was given $75,000 bail and remains in custody as of Tribune press time. During the struggle with police officers, he was injured and received five staples on his head and two more near his ear. Officers found no firearms or other weapons on him. Part of the incident was recorded on video, and the Internal Affairs Bureau is reviewing the recording to determine which, if any, of the officers crossed the line, and if allegations of excessive force can be sustained.
“Right now it looks as if three of the officers were more or less grappling with Warryton,” said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “Clearly when you look at the video, there was some resisting in the early stages of the incident, and the officers were in a struggle trying to subdue him. One of the officers was using an ASP — a baton — during the struggle, and we’re focusing on whether or not that officer’s actions were within departmental guidelines. In any case like this you have to determine how much force is too much. This case is being reviewed by Internal Affairs and three of the four officers appear to have operated within departmental guidelines. One officer is on desk duty pending the outcome of the investigation.”
Criminal defense attorney and community activist Michael Coard said there’s no doubt in his mind that the officers, whose names have not been released, were physically abusive.
“Did they cross the line? No, as far as I’m concerned they obliterated the line,” Coard said. “There was a time when the police had enough fear of the law that they would take you to a back alley with no witnesses to tune you up. Now, even with video cameras and witnesses, even helicopters overhead, they don’t give a damn because they know the system protects them. I have no confidence in Internal Affairs, or the well-intentioned Police Advisory Commission — it’s a paper tiger — and no confidence in the arbitration system. Consider this: When was the last time you heard about Black cops beating down a white teen?”
According to Philadelphia Police Department spokesman Lt. Ray Evers, the whole thing started on Monday, just before 6 p.m. on the 1600 block of Ruan Street in Kensington. Two officers observed a 2001 Pontiac Bonneville pull over and the driver get out. The car had heavy front end damage and was leaking fluid. Warryton was walking away and one officer tried to question him. He continued walking, and the officers caught up to him — and then the physical confrontation ensued. The officers called for assistance. The video showed two officers struggling with Warryton and two more officers joining in to help as they wrestle Warryton to the ground. One officer then strikes Warryton repeatedly with an ASP collapsible baton. Another officer holds him down with as Warryton is bleeding.
“At one point, an officer said Warryton was reaching for his gun and the holster does show some damage,” Lt. Evers said. “We’re waiting for toxicology reports to determine if Warryton was on marijuana and PCP. He said that he was, but that has to be confirmed.”
This incident, as others have in the past, raise the issue of how much force should be used to subdue a suspect. When is force necessary, and how much should be applied? What are a citizen’s rights if they’re stopped and questioned by police, and what is the citizen’s appropriate behavior?
Commissioner Ramsey said every case where force is required is different.
“Officers have the authority to use force when necessary, to protect themselves, other officers and the public — and if a suspect is resisting arrest. But it has to be appropriate and limited. Excessive force means beyond what is necessary to subdue a suspect,” Ramsey said. “The use of force can be minimal, from the use of verbal commands to deadly force. The officer can use force if necessary — but only what’s necessary and no more. That’s the issue, how much is too much? What should a person do if they’re stopped and questioned by police? They shouldn’t resist. If they have a problem, if they think they were treated inappropriately or falsely arrested there are remedies for that.”
Coard also said that during a police stop the individual should comply with the officer and be as cooperative as possible. If you know you were involved in a criminal act and they’re inquiring about that, ask for legal counsel before answering any questions.
“Let me address this especially to young Black males,” Coard said. “Bear in mind that if you’re stopped by a police officer, in that moment they are the judge, jury and executioner. Offer no resistance — whether it’s verbal or physical — and don’t do anything that can be construed as resisting. Be cooperative. If they begin asking you questions related to a criminal investigation then ask for a lawyer and remember, even taking these appropriate steps is no guarantee you won’t have some problems.”