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September 2, 2014, 5:39 am

Officer’s acquittal assailed, defended

A former Philadelphia police officer charged with assaulting a woman during the 2012 Puerto Rican Day festival was found not guilty on Tuesday Feb. 26 – a decision that incensed some and pleased others.

Jonathan Josey, a 19-year veteran of the Police Department, was acquitted of simple assault during a non-jury trial presided over by Judge Patrick Dugan. Josey struck Aida Guzman in the mouth during the Sept. 30, 2012 event. She suffered minor injuries and was originally charged with disorderly conduct, but the charges against her were later dropped. Josey, who was assigned to the highway patrol unit, was dismissed from the force.

Rochelle Bilal, president of the Guardian Civic League, said Dugan’s decision was the right one.

“We’re very pleased with the ruling, because the judge made the right call on this case,” Bilal said. “He took in the totality of everything that happened that day. The media has a tendency to sensationalize these incidents and the public sees them on YouTube or the evening news without knowing all of the facts. People were throwing liquids – water and beer, at the officers and Lt. Josey tried to knock a bottle of beer out of Ms. Guzman’s hand and inadvertently struck her. He said that he didn’t even know that he had struck her. This was a good victory, and I’m known to speak out when necessary. This shouldn’t even have led to criminal charges – being fired, yes, but not criminal charges.”

District Attorney Seth Williams said, “I respect Judge Dugan’s decision but I disagree with it. “Let’s be clear, there were no winners on that day in September. While I believe Jonathan Josey was guilty of simple assault, this is not the time to dwell on that and I hope as a community we can move past this. As I said three months ago when Jonathan Josey was arrested, my job as district attorney is to ensure that we only charge the right people with only the correct charges; nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, lawyer, monsignor of a church, police officer or bus driver, justice demands that we apply our laws fairly. Ultimately the final decision was in Judge Dugan’s hands, and I respect his ruling.”

Josey was originally charged in November 2012 with simple assault, a misdemeanor of the second degree. The incident happened at Fifth and Lehigh Avenue. It was witnessed by several people and also videotaped. Josey was recorded on video striking 39-year-old Guzman in the face while officers were removing a motor vehicle that was creating a hazardous condition on the street. The video went viral soon after being posted.

During his trial, Josey testified that the video looked disturbing but wasn’t what it appeared to be. He also testified that he thought Guzman had thrown beer on him and admitted that he didn't witness her doing it. Guzman testified that she never threw beer, although she admitted to shooting a can of Silly String over the crowd.

Kelvyn Anderson, interim director of the Police Advisory Commission, an independent civilian organization that investigates allegations of police misconduct, said that while he wouldn’t comment directly on the judge’s ruling, complex issues always come into play whenever a police officer is accused of misconduct.

“Whenever an officer goes down this path it becomes extremely complex. In this case you have two of the city’s top law enforcement officials, the district attorney and the police commissioner and then the mayor making decisions to remove the officer from the force and then file criminal charges against him. All of that has become undone with the judge’s decision. What happens now – and it wouldn’t surprise me – is this will go into arbitration and he’ll probably be reinstated. The city’s record with this kind of arbitration hasn’t been very successful either – it’s been abysmal. Right now we’re looking at a stack of past misconduct cases to look at ways to make better and smarter decisions as to when an officer is fired. It’s a complex dynamic; you have the investigation by Internal Affairs, then a board of inquiry and the commissioner’s decision.”

Anderson said there are cases where there is a need for police officers to have the ability to say they’re wrong. In certain situations, he said, this could be appropriate and “we need to have space to be able to allow that and the healing that comes from it. According to the Commission’s latest reports there were 434 complaints from 2009 to 2011. The reports received by the Commission covered 252 complaints of abuse of authority, and 124 complaints of physical abuse by police officers.

“We all know that over the years the relationship between the police force and some of our communities has been strained, and something like what happened during the Puerto Rican Day party doesn’t help,” Anderson said. “To its credit, the department has been working hard to bridge those difficulties.”

J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, said he wasn’t at all surprised by Dugan’s decision.

“I’m not surprised by it at all,” Mondesire said. “The officer had an emotional outburst and the complainant wasn’t seriously injured. If Guzman had been, then this would have turned out differently – and in fact I tried to talk Seth out of prosecuting him because of possible blowback from the Guardian Civic League and the F.O.P. I couldn’t see the judge holding Josey criminally liable for this. This will go to arbitration now and he’ll probably get his job back. He might lose some rank, but he’ll get a large chunk of money out of it.”