Lawsuit alleges harassment, criminal charges against bystanders recording arrests
A little over a year ago this month an eyewitness in the vicinity of 55th and Pine Streets videotaped two minutes and twenty-nine seconds of a man, Askia Sabur, apparently being beaten and arrested by Philadelphia police.
The short video was up on You Tube by the next day and a firestorm of controversy followed. The eyewitness was within their Constitutional rights to visually record what transpired and the police officers involved in the incident didn’t interfere.
But according to the American Civil Liberties Union, not every one with a pod camera or cell phone who electronically recorded an arrest has been so fortunate.
This week the ACLU announced it is filing a lawsuit later this month against officers in Philadelphia that not only confiscated the cell phones of citizens who taped an arrest — a violation of their rights — but in all cases filed charges of disorderly conduct against citizens just because they were monitoring the officers who were engaged in making an arrest.
“This lawsuit isn’t just about the confiscation of cell phones but about citizens who were all charged by police because they were monitoring police activities,” said Mary Catherine Roper, attorney for ACLU Pennsylvania.
According to Roper, the ACLU intends to file a lawsuit this month on behalf of four people who accuse the police of either confiscating or destroying their cell phones, and charged them with disorderly conduct, because they were videotaping what they perceived as police misconduct.
She said that in one incident a person had their cell phone deleted. In another incident a citizen used an audio recorder during a police operation and posted the recording on YouTube. In a third incident a person was charged just because they were simply watching an arrest. In a fourth incident a photographer was arrested because he was taking pictures of police ejecting homeless people out of Rittenhouse Square.
Roper said police charged all of the people involved.
“The bottom line here is that people have a right to monitor the police, you have a right to watch and not have to suffer any retaliation or harassment. Some Philadelphia police officers have a different idea about that. Certainly not every officer is going to have a problem with residents who are just watching while an arrest is being made — they conduct themselves in a manner that is professional and appropriate. However, we believe this type of harassment is department wide and that it is the department’s policy to tolerate this. In at least one case, we believe it goes straight to the top — it involves the commissioner. I think this police commissioner has a genuine concern about corrupt officers and officers who are violent — but I’m not so sure about his concern for officers who retaliate against citizens. The department has done some growing, but it needs more.”
Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who has been open and candid about the department’s efforts to weed out officers who cross the line, denied any participation in any incident in which police harassed or retaliated against someone because they were watching an arrest being made. So far Ramsey has not been named as a plaintiff in the impending lawsuit.
“That’s just not true,” he said. “And I have instructed my staff to release a memo reminding officers that people have a right to watch arrests being made, they have a right to videotape them if they choose and the officer can’t confiscate the tape or camera. It’s really just common sense, but maybe some officers need to be reminded. If it’s proven that any officer did this, then they will face summary charges by the department.”
During a recent interview, Commissioner Ramsey spoke at length regarding the efforts that the department is making on it’s own behalf to excise officers who cause problems.
“Most officers do not want to have to work with someone who is a problem and being an embarrassment to them and the department. Most of our people get out on the streets and do their job very, very well and I’m proud of them,” Ramsey said. “But you’ve got some bad eggs in the basket and we’ve got to weed them out — and I think I’ve gotten a lot of support on this. For decent officers who care about their careers, their families and the communities they serve, don’t want to have these guys around. Every one we have to fire is a mark of failure because the goal is to let them have long distinguished careers. Right now we have 145 officers working in the Internal Affairs unit. We have better reporting mechanisms as compared to the past. Anything that rises to the level of intervention we actively pursue it.”
While many Philadelphians were commemorating the thousands of Americans who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks, the city’s homegrown terrorists were busy kicking up the city’s homicide count.
According to law enforcement officials, eight people were gunned down from Thursday to Sunday in unrelated incidents of murder, raising the number of killings in the city to 229, an increase from last year’s 218 for the same month.
The first homicide happened on Thursday, September 8, in the 1300 block of Roumfort Road. The victim has been identified as Terrell Holcomb, a 21-year-old Black male from the 8600 block of Gilbert Road. Holcomb was shot in the head by a still unknown assailant.
He was pronounced dead at 7:08 a.m. at Albert Einstein Medical Center. As of Tribune press time police are still trying to determine a motive.
The second weekend homicide occurred on September 9 in the 500 block of West York Street in the 26th Police District at 10:21 a.m.
Officers responded to a report of a shooting in the vicinity and when they arrived at the scene they found the victim on the ground suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
He has been identified as James Hall, 58, of the 3200 block of Newkirk Street. Police have arrested a suspect in the case, identified as Calvin Atkerson, a 21-year-old Black male from the 2400 block of North Fairhill Street.
Law enforcement officials said the motive was an argument. Atkerson has been charged with murder and related offenses.
In a third unrelated shooting, police officials said that a 23-year-old Black female was the victim of an apparent robbery.
On September 10, police from the 25th District were called to the 3300 block of North 13th Street at 3:28 a.m. in response to a report of gunfire. When they arrived at the scene they found the victim on the ground dying from a gunshot wound to the head.
She has been identified as Shari Harris of the 3300 block of North Park Avenue.
As of Tribune press time police have no suspects under arrest.
On September 11, police rushed to the 1000 block of North 5th Street in response to another report of gunfire. When officers from the 26th District arrived at the scene they found the victim, Alsred Santiago, from the 400 block of South 5th Street in Camden, New Jersey suffering from a gunshot wound to the torso.
The 22-year-old Hispanic male was pronounced dead at the scene. As of Tribune press time police have no motive and no suspects in custody.
The sixth homicide was also committed on September 11th. At 3:08 p.m. police from the 22nd District responded to a report of gunfire in the 2700 block of West Eyre Street. When police arrived at the scene they found the victim suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and torso.
He was identified as Kevin Underwood, a 22-year-old Black male from the 2800 block of West Oxford Road. He was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital at 3:54 p.m.
So far police have not determined the motive, and no arrests have been made.
Also on September 11 at 7:37 p.m. police from the 19th District were called to the 1600 block of Lindenwood Street in response to another shooting. When officers arrived at the scene they found the victim dying from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was identified as Christopher Lee, a 22-year-old Black male from the 5100 block of Kershaw Street.
Lee was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was pronounced dead at 8:15 p.m.
Investigators said the motive was robbery and they are still looking for a suspect in the case.
Finally, also on September 11, police from the 19th District were called to the 5200 block of Master Street just after 8 p.m. in response to a report of gunfire. As of Tribune press time police have not released the victim’s name but he was a 28-year-old Black male.
The victim was fatally shot in the neck and pronounced dead at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania at 8:25 p.m. Police have no motive and have so no arrests have been made.
In an unrelated criminal investigation, police said they have arrested a man wanted for multiple robberies. Kelvin C. Miller has been identified as the suspect in multiple robberies in the 12th police district. On August 25, Miller was arrested by the Trenton Police Department during a traffic stop. Miller, 32, is from the 100 block of Chestnut Street and will be charged with robbery and related offenses.
Witnesses at 47th and Walnut, state police made false arrest, used excessive force on legally blind Black man; officers argue otherwise
The Philadelphia Police Department is sorting out exactly what happened when a pedestrian stop turned ugly, leaving the suspect, who is legally blind, and two officers with injuries, and accusations of excessive force flying in the community once again.
Witnesses said police were overly aggressive in trying to subdue Darrell Holloway, 22, who is legally blind. The police are saying Holloway started the physical altercation when he and his cousin, Jamal Holloway, 33, were stopped by 18th District police officers who suspected them of making a drug transaction.
No drugs or money were found, but during the course of the investigation, Holloway allegedly started the physical confrontation with police, law enforcement officials said.
The incident, which was videotaped by a witness and posted on the Internet, happened in the vicinity of 47th and Walnut streets on Friday, Aug. 19 around 9:45 p.m.
According to Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, Philadelphia police officer Anthony Lazzaro reported that he and his partner approached three men for suspicious activity. In the arrest report Lazzaro said that when he pulled defendant Darrell Holloway toward his police car, Holloway pushed him and then punched him. Assisting officers were called during which time Holloway and Officer Lazzaro exchanged blows while local residents gathered and observed.
One resident, Charles Maddox, recorded part of the incident with a cell phone. The visual quality of the recording is poor because the area is dark, poorly lit and tall trees obscure streetlights. But the audio picked up shouting by residents; one who repeatedly said that Holloway was a blind man.
“This incident is definitely under investigation,” Ross said. “Obviously, we want to resolve this.”
Holloway has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He does have a history of juvenile contacts with police, but no adult arrest record. His partial blindness is a result of a gunshot wound to the head four years ago.
Holloway was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was treated for minor injuries and released. Officer Lazzaro and a second officer were also treated for minor injuries.
Holloway’s attorney, Kevin B. Mincey, told the Tribune that his client has a different story.
“My client says that the officer grabbed him from behind, slammed him into a parked car and then started punching him,” Mincey said. “At one point, according to Officer Lazzaro they were separated by other officers and my client broke free, charged Officer Lazzaro and started choking him. My client is legally blind in both eyes. He can’t see shadows or any difference in light. Somehow he charged the officers? In the video, which has poor visual quality but in the audio you can clearly hear the outrage by residents. This portion of Walnut Street is dark and my client’s back was to the officers, so how could they see a drug transaction? But all of this is something we’ll fight in court.”
Mincey said Holloway is out on bail and awaiting arraignment, which has been scheduled for Sept. 27.
Mayor Michael Nutter has announced the weekend curfew for minors is going to remain in effect for the foreseeable future, keeping unaccompanied minors off the streets of University City and Center City as a safeguard against violent flash mobs.
Parents and guardians who spoke with the Philadelphia Tribune said they support the mayor’s efforts and that if more parents would step up and enforce their own curfews, the city wouldn’t have had to step in to curb teen violence.
“My granddaughter is 13 years old and she can’t go most places unless her mother or I go with her. There are just too many crazy young people out there,” said Amanda Leatherberry. “Is Mayor Nutter punishing all to make sure a few get the message? Well, yes. But what else is he supposed to do? My granddaughter Kendra is being raised in a strict environment, and if she does go someplace she knows how to act. Kids 13 years old and younger shouldn’t be out after a certain time alone anyway. Those who want to break curfew are going to do it — they will and then the parents have to be held accountable. I also think it’s a positive thing to extend the recreation center hours, because there are a lot of latchkey kids out there.”
On Friday, Mayor Nutter announced that the Friday and Saturday 9 p.m. temporary curfew for minors in the targeted enforcement areas of Center City and University City would remain in effect. The announcement followed the beginning of the September school semester.
Nutter said that while minors are allowed to be on city streets with a legal guardian, minors that police officers caught breaking curfew would either be sent home, brought home or transported to a police station where their parents or guardians would be contacted. As a balance to the stricter curfew enforcement, the city would continue to extend the weekend hours at selected recreation centers.
“In August, our city’s law enforcement agencies, justice system, community partners and residents responded overwhelmingly to the call to keep our city free from random violent attacks,” Nutter said. “Under the temporary curfew, there were no further incidents. As we begin a new school year, it is important for our city’s students to remain safe, study hard and to adjust to their new schedules. Therefore, I am extending the 9 p.m. curfew for minors, which will help the police to respond to disturbances and will keep Philadelphians and visitors safe.”
Tanya Haig, who has three children ages 14, 11 and 8, said she thinks Nutter is correct and also expressed the sentiment that the problems of teens randomly attacking pedestrians is an issue that starts in the home.
“Kids are a mimic of us, and they will test the waters — so it’s up to responsible parents to train them how to behave,” she said. “I also think it’s a good idea that for those who won’t take responsibility for their children to be held accountable and hitting them in the pocket with fines will help them get the message. Because any child 13 years old or under, on a normal day, should be doing something productive. If they have too much idle time they will get into trouble, and that’s what I think we were seeing with these flash mobs. So having the recreation centers open later is a good plan, too, because establishments like movies and skating rinks shouldn’t admit minors after certain hours. But beyond what the mayor does, parents should know where their children are. Period.”
Last month Nutter directed his staff to review the current curfew laws to see how they could deal more effectively with the issues of youth activity and youth violence in evening hours. He said his intention is to develop proposals for an updated curfew law in cooperation with City Council.
Since the city began enforcing the curfew laws, there haven’t been any violent flash mob incidents.
The weekday curfew is 10:30 p.m. for minors 13 years old and older, 9 p.m. for minors 12 years old and under, and will remain unchanged. Also, fines for parents and legal guardians of children who break curfew will also continue. After receiving a first violation notice, parents can be fined up to $500 for successive violations.
The mayor said that notices and citations would be issued when the parent comes to collect their child from the police station. If parents do not collect their child within a reasonable time, the Philadelphia Police Department will contact the Department of Human Services to initiate an investigation.
“I look forward to working with City Council to develop legislation that meets the needs of public safety while ensuring that young Philadelphians can safely engage in evening activities,” Nutter said.
The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles voted on Tuesday to deny clemency to convicted murderer Troy Davis one day before the scheduled execution.
The board met in a closed session on Monday, hearing testimony from Davis' defense attorneys and their witnesses and then prosecutors, slain Police Officer Mark MacPhail's family and their witnesses. Early Tuesday morning the panel voted to deny clemency to Davis; who has consistently said he did not murder MacPhail.
Davis’ execution has been scheduled for Wednesday, September 21st at 7:00 p.m. despite pleas of mercy from Davis’ family and a legion of high profile supporters.
"We believe we have established substantial doubt in this case and the execution should not go forward," said Stephen Marsh, one of Davis’ defense lawyers, in a published report.
Davis will be the 52nd man executed in Georgia since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment 35 years ago. Since his 1991 conviction, the state has tried to execute Davis four times — but now his appeals have been exhausted. The case was even argued before the United States Supreme Court, who tossed the decision back to the state of Georgia after review.
“This case has been one of very serious concern for us,” said Hilary Shelton, director to the NAACP's Washington Bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy. “Davis has had a number of appeals, and the case was even reviewed by the United States’ Supreme Court and they decided the appeals had no standing. Our concern is the lack of physical evidence in the case — no DNA, no gunpowder residue. There were several eyewitnesses, but nine of those witnesses have recanted and some of those have said police pressured them. What I am saying is there is too much doubt in this case and Davis has consistently maintained his innocence from the very beginning.”
Davis has been scheduled for execution on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, for the 1989 murder of Mark MacPhail, an off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer. Davis was convicted in 1991 and since then, the case has been steeped in political and social controversy. On Monday afternoon at Philly’s Love Park, supporters for Davis were among those across the country and on the international level who are signing petitions and calling for a stay of execution.
Those supporters include former President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and William S. Sessions, former Director of the FBI.
“We’re gratified that supporters of Davis in Philadelphia have chosen to step up and let their voices be heard,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP. “People have signed petitions and are making calls to the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole, and that’s good to see.”
But not everyone is convinced of Davis’ innocence. MacPhail’s family and relatives have said that the defendant’s supporters have prolonged their pain and suffering over a lack of justice for the slain officer.
"I think I finally will have peace of mind," said Anneliese MacPhail, the mother of the victim in a published report. "When it is over I can close that book and I know Mark can rest in peace, too. I just think they should stay away. They don't know the case; they're just running their mouths. It's none of their business. They don't know all the circumstances.”
All of this began two decades ago on the morning of August 19, 1989. Davis, who was 22 years old at the time, and Sylvester “Red” Coles were hanging out near a Burger King parking lot in Savannah, Ga. According to police reports, Coles got into an argument with a homeless man, identified as Larry Young. The argument escalated and Young was pistol-whipped in the head.
Off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail, an ex U.S. Army ranger who was moonlighting as security at a nearby Greyhound bus station, heard Young cry out for help and responded.
And this is where the case gets foggy. MacPhail was shot and killed by the person assaulting Young. One day after the shooting Coles shows up at a local police station and identified Davis as the shooter.
Several eyewitnesses also initially named Davis as the shooter and testified to that fact in court. Since then almost all of the witnesses have recanted, including at least three witnesses who allege they heard Coles confess that he was MacPhail’s murderer. Those witnesses have signed sworn affidavits attesting to the fact the local police pressured them into naming Davis as the shooter.
After a review of the case, including the recanted statements by witnesses, Chief Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas wrote that Davis’ case was a “sure loser.”
They stated in their decision that Davis admitted he was present during MacPhail’s shooting, but that it was someone else who pulled the trigger.
“It is this claim of ‘actual innocence’ — the same defense Davis raised at trial, but now allegedly supported by new corroborating affidavits — that Davis raises as grounds for relief. And (presumably) it is this claim that the Court wants the District Court to adjudicate once the petition is transferred,” they said. “Even if the District Court were to be persuaded by Davis’s affidavits, it would have no power to grant relief. Transferring this case to a court that has no power to grant relief is strange enough. It becomes stranger still when one realizes that the allegedly new evidence we shunt off to be examined by the District Court has already been considered (and rejected) multiple times. Davis’s post-conviction ‘actual-innocence’ claim is not new. Most of the evidence on which it is based is almost a decade old.
“A State Supreme Court, a State Board of Pardons and Paroles and a Federal Court of Appeals have all considered the evidence Davis now presents and found it lacking.”
Former FBI Director William Sessions said in a prepared statement on the case that, despite the Supreme Court decision, Davis’ conviction still raises serious questions and the Supreme Court’s decision leaves those doubts unresolved.
“At Davis’ evidentiary hearing, witnesses called by Davis recanted trial testimony and made allegations of police pressure,” Sessions said. “Others testified that an alternative suspect had confessed to them that he committed the crime. One eyewitness testified, for the first time, that he saw this other suspect, a relative of his, commit the crime. Police witnesses for the state of Georgia alternatively asserted that the original trial testimony was the true version of events and that it was elicited without coercion. What the hearing demonstrated most conclusively was that the evidence in this case — consisting almost entirely of conflicting stories, testimonies and statements — is inadequate to the task of convincingly establishing either Davis’ guilt or his innocence. Without DNA or other forms of physical or scientific evidence that can be objectively measured and tested, it is possible that doubts about guilt in this case will never be resolved.”
Shelton said that the case raises serious questions about racial disparity in death penalty sentencing, stating that in state after state, most of the prison inmates facing execution are predominantly African American, Hispanic or Native Americans. He said that the public’s trust in the justice system is being injured and that alone demands a reconsideration of the facts of the case.
“The Board of Pardons and Paroles needs to issue another stay of execution for Troy Davis,” he said. “People on both sides of the death penalty debate have said there are serious problems with Davis’ conviction. The evidence for this case has always been sorely lacking in credibility and we know from national statistics that the death penalty has been disproportionately applied.”
Philadelphia homicide detectives continue to work to identify and arrest two Black males suspected of murdering a West Philadelphia grocery store owner, his wife and the owner’s sister during a robbery.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told the Tribune that the victims — store owner Porfirio Nunez, 49, of 500 Beecher Avenue in Cheltenham, Pa., his wife, Juana Nunez, 44, and Lina Sanchez, Nunez’ 42-year-old sister — were shot multiple times during a robbery Tuesday and were pronounced dead at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital by 8:30 p.m. that night.
According to Commissioner Ramsey, the triple homicide happened just before 8 p.m. inside Lorena’s Grocery located in the 800 block of North 50th Street in the Mill Creek section of West Philadelphia. Investigators are looking for two young Black males who entered the store at 7:56 p.m. One male is described as being in his early 20s and is about 5 feet 4 inches in height with a stocky build. The other man is a little older, in his 30s, and both were wearing black T-shirts and black caps.
“We’re putting together some surveillance video and we think one of the suspects is the same guy from a different robbery,” said Commissioner Ramsey. “No one was killed in the earlier incident, but it was the same M.O. and the same description. For some reason they didn’t shoot either of the witnesses who are daughters of the victims. We think he may be someone who frequented the store but we’re really going to need the public’s help on this one.”
Two children, ages 10 and 2, were among the latest victims of senseless gun violence in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia Tuesday night — an incident that started as a fight between young people and escalated into a potentially deadly confrontation.
Tuesday’s shooting started around 7:30 p.m. and was the latest incident involving blazing guns and innocent children caught in the crossfire. Tuesday’s incident mirrors an earlier shooting last Sunday in which a 6-year-old girl was struck by a bullet.
Among those wounded Tuesday night where 59-year-old Andrea Cooper, who was struck in the leg, her granddaughter 2-year-old Aisha Owens, wounded in the stomach and hand and Cooper’s grandson, 10-year-old Siyir Owens, who was also struck in the right leg. Another 25-year-old male was also wounded in the finger.
Aisha Owens remains in critical condition as of Tribune press time. The other victims are in stable condition and are expected to recover.
Investigators said that what sparked the shooting was a brawl between at least three girls who are students at South Philadelphia High School — a fight stemmed from an unruly Facebook posting back in July.
“This started behind some nonsense at South Philadelphia High School,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who was at the scene of the crime. “Basically it was a fight between some girls that spilled over onto the streets. At least two of the girls went to a house in the 1200 block of South Bucknell Street where one of the girls, a 14-year-old they were fighting with, was staying with her grandparents.
According to Ramsey, the two girls brought a group of men along with them and managed to force their way into the home.
“They started a physical confrontation, some males arrived with some sticks, golf clubs, so it continued into a physical confrontation,” Ramsey said. “They literally forced their way into the home and then tried to force the 14-year-old female out. Some other guys in the neighborhood came to see what was happening and that was when the males in both groups began shooting. We’re just really fortunate that no one was killed. It had nothing to do with Wall Street going up or down, I can tell you that. It was some dumb crap that they were fighting over that means absolutely nothing — and now we’re talking about a 2-year-old who is in surgery because of these ignorant people who are out here.”
Police say they are looking for a suspect described as a Black male, 25 to 30 years old, 6 feet tall with a heavy build, about 210 pounds. The second gunman is described as a Black male in his early 20s with a dark complexion.
“There have been several shootings in this community lately, and all of them have been tragic and senseless,” said state Representative Kenyatta Johnson. “I understand that this latest incident started at South Philadelphia High School, which one of the reasons why I’ve been aggressive on dealing with school violence — it always spills over into the surrounding community and usually escalates. Although the identities of the gunmen aren’t known yet, I know the police are aggressively working on this case — but it takes the community to get involved and get involved right from the start. There was a crowd standing around watching this unfold. People need to call police right away when they see something about to jump off. This isn’t entertainment; it’s not reality television. You would think people would have called 911 and say ‘trouble is starting out here, send some officers.’ When police catch up to these two gunmen and arrest them, I hope that the sentence they’re given will put them under the jail.”
Tuesday night’s incident is just the latest where children have been wounded by gunfire in South Philadelphia. On Sunday, 6-year-old Denean Thomas was hit in the leg by a bullet. Thomas is listed in stable condition at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and police have made two arrests in that case.
The suspects have been identified as 17-year-old Charles Rice and 19-year-old Tyler Linder. Both young men have been charged with three counts of aggravated assault, conspiracy, weapons offenses, simple assault, reckless endangerment and related charges.
According to law enforcement authorities the shooting happened on September 26th at around 9:35 p.m. in the 1600 block of South 18th Street. Investigators report that a 23-year-old female, a 17-year-old male and Thomas, were sitting in front of a residence when Rice and Linder allegedly approached them, pulled out handguns and proceeded to open fire.
Their target was the 17-year-old male, whose name has not been released yet by authorities.
Police are still unraveling Sunday night’s incident but believe it was in retaliation for an earlier shooting involving two local street gangs.
“This was a turf war,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of good, hardworking people in this community, but we also have some individuals who just don’t have the community’s best interests in mind. We can’t keep them from going down that path and unfortunately, we’ll have to deal harshly with them.”
Commissioner Ramsey said that so far, there’s nothing to indicate that the shooting on Sunday night and Tuesday night’s incident were related.
“Obviously the investigation will take us where it takes us but so far, there’s nothing that indicates they were related,” he said. “Right now it does look like Sunday night’s incident was gang related.”
Forty years ago, President Richard M. Nixon officially declared the United States’ government war on drugs, saying that drug abuse was “public enemy number one.”
The War on Drugs was to be a Herculean effort by law enforcement, the military and other agencies to once and for all end the production, distribution and the use of illegal narcotics. Now, four decades later the success or failure of the War on Drugs, which has greatly expanded over that time, has become the subject of hot debate.
Clearly, no matter whether one is conservative or liberal, the issue of drug abuse is one of major national importance — particularly in the African-American community — which is ground zero for gauging many of detrimental effects and consequences of widespread drug abuse.
Just a casual examination of the high rates of incarceration among Blacks, the children who are affected by drug addicted parents and caregivers, and the violence precipitated by young Black males dealing drugs shows the disastrous results of drug abuse in the African-American community.
On Tuesday, before Vice President Joe Biden stepped onto the campus of the University of Pennsylvania to discuss support for President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act, he participated in a closed roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials on drug control.
But an earlier discussion was held specifically for African-American leaders.
The Philadelphia Tribune was the only media outlet present during the two-hour meeting with R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, in room 221 of City Hall.
Kerlikowske said he wanted to hear from those who are dealing with the problems of drug abuse among African Americans in Philadelphia. Participants gave him what he wanted: what they think works — especially what doesn’t and hasn’t — and serious solutions for the problem that could be implemented right now.
“We’ve tried very hard in the Obama Administration to deliver the message of looking at the drug problem differently,” Kerlikowske said. “It’s reflected in the president’s budget. We’ve allocated $10 billion for treatment and prevention and $9 billion for the law enforcement side. I think there’s progress and leadership that has been shown in the administration in approaching this issue, particularly family-based treatment — something that doesn’t exist in most places. The fact that after years, going back to the Clinton Administration to try and get the cocaine sentencing laws changed, has been significant. I think this shows we’re moving in the right direction. We all know now that this is not just a criminal justice problem, but one that involves public health and public education.”
Kerlikowske pointed out that the nation’s economic problems have forced both conservative and liberal lawmakers to reassess their criminal justice costs. There is a national refocusing on finding smarter and better ways to deal with the problem. For the first time there is an office in the White House specifically concerned with addiction recovery. So there appears to be a change on the federal level in how the government wants to handle drug control. Officials are looking for ways to stop high recidivism and Kerlikowske said he wanted to hear from ground level African-American leaders in terms of what the government can do better.
“We used to think that this was just a criminal justice problem and it’s not,” Kerlikowske said. “We thought that if we just increase the sizes of police forces and more minimum mandatory sentencing then things will get better. There have been improvements in some areas but we really need to do better.”
According to Kerlikowske, in May of 2010, the Obama Administration released a National Drug Control Strategy, a comprehensive approach for dealing with the public health and safety consequences of drug use. The goal — a five-year plan — seeks to reduce drug use by 15 percent. The Administration would also like to see reductions in drug related deaths and morbidity, also by 15 percent. Drugged driving incidents would be reduced by 10 percent.
The overall economic impact of drug abuse totals in the billions, according to the 2011 National Drug Control Strategy’s executive summary report. For 2007, the last year that statistics were available, the economic impact on America totaled at more than $193 billion.
But the participants at the round table discussion had plenty of ideas of their own — strategies they believe will have a significant impact in the Black community and insights on what causes drug addiction in the first place. Repeatedly there was emphasis on treatment and after care.
“This is where I think the thrust of our efforts needs to be — treatment and intervention and what it takes for people to recover,” said Solomon Jones, representing the office of Democratic state Representative Chaka Fattah. “One of the most effective ways to stop drug addiction is to stop it before it starts. The recidivism rates are prohibitive. I’ve been clean for about fifteen years. When I went into rehab the counselor stood up and said, ‘Only one in three of you are going to stay clean.’ I remembered that and in working in the community I saw that. One, unless an individual wants to get clean, no program can help them. Two, there is some ineffectiveness in the existing programs. Three, when you get out of a program there really needs to be something on the back end. If there’s no hope of a job or some way of improving their lives, they’re going to go back.”
Since the federal government has been fighting the War on Drugs, experts say the overall affect on the African-American community has been a disaster. Drugs continue to flow through neighborhoods — and it’s not just crack cocaine or marijuana. Since the military has been engaged in Afghanistan, heroin has been making a comeback, and it has a higher level of purity.
Also, it’s not just illegal drugs that are the problem, according to Everett Gillison, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety. Prescription drugs, especially opiate-based pain killers, are being abused.
“The abuse of prescription drugs is now the number one problem,” he said. “We’re seeing more of this, and also we need to be aware of what’s going on with our military veterans. We’ve had ten years of war and they’re coming back with psychological damage. We need to have communities of veterans who can help them. There’s a mindset that there’s a pill for everything and the pharmaceutical industry promotes that perception — we see it on television everyday. The drug industry has to be off the airways because all they’re doing is creating a market. You don’t see that kind of drug marketing in other nations.”
Anthony Murphy, Executive Director of Town Watch Integrated Services also said there should definitely be more emphasis on prevention and after care, but added that understanding what sparked the addiction from the beginning is crucial.
“We have to look at not just the community, but each individual family. In each family there is a trauma inside the household that touched off the drug abuse,” he said. “Jobs and housing is just part of the problem. It has become normal to have a shot of vodka or a forty or a blunt in the morning. We have preconditioned people that they don’t have to experience pain or the challenges of life – take a pill, smoke a blunt, shoot this up and take away the pain. But the pain never goes away, and that is what started the addictive behavior. We have to have resources in the community to address the cause of the addiction before the addiction starts.”
Dr. Tom Reid, president and CEO of Southwest Nu Stop Inc. said that the solutions to the drug problem, at every level, starts in the communities — communities have to be empowered, he said.
“In our communities there are sheer geniuses walking around, untapped resources because of some level of incarceration, past drug use or just the economy,” he said. “Within our communities of boarded up houses are the solutions to our problems. We have to be willing to get down and roll up our sleeves and get into the trenches and begin to reorganize our communities. Unemployment is where it is today because we don’t think outside the box. Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods and the street names reflect the industries that used to be there. If we start a non-profit in every section of Philadelphia, people who now outsource jobs to other countries would be right here. If you’re outsourcing the manufacturing of a baseball cap for $7.00 we can offer the wage at $9.00 because our bottom line is no profit. We can bring jobs back to the inner city. If we create jobs that will increase self esteem and help do away with the negativity. Trying to solve this problem in the middle is ridiculous — we have to get to the root of it. Form a non-profit, with the bottom line as employment instead of profit and make deals with industries that are outsourcing; then let those in the inner cities provide those services and we’ll put thousands and thousands of people back to work. The communities will heal themselves. That’s the solution and it will work.”
Mikel D. Jones falsified tax forms, used shell companies to steal funds, according to U.S. Attorney’s office
The United States Attorney’s office has filed additional charges against a prominent Philadelphia attorney already accused of defrauding a venture capital fund that was financed by the State of Pennsylvania.
According to U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, a superseding indictment has been filed against Mikel D. Jones in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud a private New York-based lender and the Minority Venture Partners Ltd., a firm managed by the now defunct Philadelphia Community Development Corporation.
Memeger said the superseding indictment adds Jones’ wife, Dona Nichols Jones, as a co-conspirator in the scheme. Additionally, a charge of conspiracy was added to the charges already filed against Jones, who now faces sixteen counts of mail fraud, 10 additional counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. Dona Nichols Jones has been charged with conspiracy, money laundering and 14 counts each of wire fraud and mail fraud.
Jones was originally charged with mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering.
According to investigators, Jones owned and operated a personal injury law firm, Mikel Jones Law Firm LLC, which was located at 1831 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. The indictment alleges that Jones secured at least $150,000 from PCDC and a connected firm known as the Minority Venture Partners Ltd., or MVP to expand his firm. But, federal authorities allege that Jones diverted the funds for his own use, dumping some of the money into a personal bank account, paid off his credit card debt and used other monies to purchase sports tickets and pay personal expenses.
The indictment states that Jones owned and controlled Strata Tech, Inc. and Visions 21st Democratic Club — alleged shell companies that he used to defraud a New York-based lender of hundreds of thousands of dollars. In January 2008, Jones obtained a multi-million dollar line of credit from the lender and agreed that he would only use the line of credit for legitimate expenses related to the operation of his law firm.
But federal prosecutors say that didn’t happen.
Allegedly, Jones and his wife used the shell companies and their daughter’s name to steal the money by supplying false invoices on the companies’ letterheads for services to Jones’ law firm that were never performed.
“Jones created bogus invoices in the name of Strata-Tech, which listed an address of a mail drop in Florida as its business address and stated that Strata-Tech was in the business of, among other things, event management, strategic marketing, speaker placement, corporate identity and advertising. In reality, Strata-Tech was a shell corporation that had no operations,” the indictment said.
In total, it is alleged that between February 2008 and April 2009, the Joneses obtained more than $456,000 by supplying fraudulent invoices.
Mayor Michael Nutter shut down PCDC in June 2009. At the time, Nutter said that reducing administration costs associated with lending would allow the city to better serve small businesses. The Nutter Administration decided, after closely examining the different agencies the city was funding that PCDC’s primary programs were duplicated at the Department of Commerce, PIDC or at other agencies supported by city funding.
According to the indictment against him, in early 2006 Jones applied for funding from Minority Venture Partners Ltd. Based on the information he provided regarding his past legal successes and legal background, MVP agreed to invest $150,000 with the understanding that Jones would repay the funds in 48 months. Jones also agreed to deposit five percent of his sales into a bank account to be used to repay the money.
“In conversations with officials of MVP and PCDC, Jones represented that he would use the $150,000 to expand and operate his law firm and for no other purpose,” said the indictment. “Jones lied to MVP and its operators and did not use the funds as required and did not maintain a bank account in which to deposit a portion of the receipts of the law firm. Instead, Jones transferred the money to his and his wife’s personal bank accounts and used the money to pay his personal expenses.”
Investigators also allege that Jones didn’t file tax returns reporting that he had received the money from MVP in an effort to conceal the fact that he was misusing the funding. When representatives of MVP approached him about repaying the money, Jones allegedly lied about his financial situation and claimed he could only repay $20,000 when he was spending thousands living the high life.
Mayor urges bill to indefinitely extend successful safeguard
On Thursday the Nutter administration rolled out a plan to permanently and significantly tighten Philadelphia’s curfew laws with earlier hours for minors ages 13 years old and younger.
The mayor’s plan was introduced in City Council on Thursday and follows earlier initiatives started over the summer to eliminate the problem of violent flash mobs. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Everett Gillison, who was present when City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown brought the bill before Council, said that if local lawmakers pass the measure, children 13 years old and younger would have to be at home by 8 p.m.
“We heard from the public that the efforts we made over the summer had worked. It raised the level of attention from the parents and they wanted to know what the specific rules were and be able to have us suggest what the rules should be,” Gillison said. “We did some studies and we think this graduated approach was the way to go. Children ages 13 and younger have to be home by 8 p.m. Minors ages 14 to 15 have to be in by 9 p.m. and minors ages 16 to 17 have to be home by 10 p.m. — that’s during the school year and throughout the week, seven days a week. During the summer it would be extended by one hour for the same ages. This is for parents to understand what we expect from them — because we’re going to hold them accountable.”
Gillison said the new curfew laws would be citywide and that the changes would simplify the restrictions that are currently in place.
According to Gillison, the response from police officers has also been positive. He said that officers report they’ve been interacting with the community and communicating to parents that what the administration wants is for them to stay with their kids and not let them run around unsupervised.
“What we need them to do is take responsibility, and parents in this city have done that — they’ve stepped up. What we’re trying to do with this bill is to open up and finish the dialog. This is but one part of an entire holistic approach. But we wanted to make sure with a new City Council that this is what the curfew needed to be, these are the standards and we know the parents of this city are going to comply.”
Gillison said that the city is maintaining the extended hours for recreation centers and is working with the Youth Commission to increase the number of activities for the winter. He said that the last time he checked the statistics there were between 200 and 300 youths picked up off the streets who had violated curfew.
The good news is that law enforcement isn’t getting the same kids.
“We haven’t seen recidivists,” he said. “This is not to penalize the parents, we want them to pay attention to their children. As a result, when we bring them the first time it’s a warning — ‘Come get your kid.’ That inconvenience alone has been enough for the parents to step up. This isn’t a revenue bill; we don’t want to fine people. What we want is for parents to take responsibility for their children. We haven’t had to take the second step and fine anyone.”