The Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau is investigating a shooting that involved an off-duty police officer and a neighbor who got into an altercation when the neighbor’s dog pooped on the officer’s front lawn.
According to Lt. John Stanford, spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department, on March 8, around 11:53 a.m., in the 6100 block of Oakley Street, an off-duty police officer was outside his residence, working on his car. The defendant, identified as Jordan Lunsk, 39, was walking his dog past the officer’s residence. The dog defecated on the officer’s front yard and the officer asked the defendant to pick it up. The defendant and the officer then exchanged words and the defendant left the area. However, the defendant returned a few minutes later without his dog and approached the officer a second time.
“The defendant and the officer then became engaged in a physical altercation, during which time the officer was punched several times in the face and head,” Stanford said. “The defendant then pulled the officer’s hooded sweatshirt up over the officer’s head so that it covered his face, while he continued to assault the officer. During this portion of the assault the officer was bent over and the defendant was positioned behind him, assaulting him. The officer drew his pistol, which he had in a holster on his hip, and fired backward, striking the defendant in the right thigh. The defendant fell to the ground and he was subsequently transported to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where he was treated and released. The officer was transported to Jeanes Hospital, where he was treated for facial lacerations and bruises, and released.”
Lunsk, from the 6400 block of Argyle Street has three prior arrests; two burglaries and one DUI. He has been charged with aggravated assault, criminal trespassing, simple assault and related offenses.
Police seek suspect in weekend car chase
On March 7 at around 4 p.m. officers with the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division were conducting a narcotics operation in the vicinity of Baltimore Pike and Providence Road in Media, Delaware County. Officers were being assisted by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
While trying to arrest three suspects, the suspects failed to comply and drove their vehicle towards the officers at a high rate of speed. An ATF agent fired his weapon at the on-coming car and was injured while attempting to evade it. The suspects struck a parked civilian car and continued eastbound on Baltimore Pike. They struck two more parked cars and finally came to a stop on the I-476 southbound on-ramp where they attempted to escape on foot. Two of the suspects were captured and arrested. The third remains on the loose. He is described as a heavy-set African-American male with a beard. He was wearing a lime green shirt.
The ATF agent was treated for minor injuries.
There are those who might think that reporting a Philadelphia police officer to Internal Affairs doesn’t mean very much, but the case against Officer Steven Lupo is evidence that such investigations are taken seriously.
Lupo was charged on Friday with perjury, false swearing in official matters, unsworn falsification, false reports to law enforcement and obstructing administration of law. Lupo’s arrest came after investigations by the Philadelphia Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, the DA’s Special Investigations Unit and a lengthy grand jury probe. Lupo turned himself in to authorities on Monday afternoon.
“The investigation into police Officer Lupo begins after a complaint was made to Internal Affairs Detective Timothy Thompson about Lupo’s testimony in court on Oct. 18, 2011,” said District Attorney Seth Williams in a prepared statement. “It was alleged that Lupo, who was assigned to the 14th olice District, testified falsely during a hearing about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Amiraria Farsi on Aug. 5, 2011. During the course of that investigation, Detective Thompson also found evidence that Lupo allegedly testified falsely about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Joseph Tuamba on Sept. 25, 2010.”
According to the grand jury report on the case, in both arrests Lupo testified in Municipal Court preliminary hearings about the facts in those narcotics cases, and it was determined that he allegedly gave false testimony each time.
In the case of Tuamba, Lupo was on the 100 block of East Chelten Avenue when he and his partner, Officer John Leinmiller, encountered a 2010 Lincoln SKS parked outside a Chinese store. The officers ultimately arrested the car’s occupants, Joseph Tuamba and Angel Huffman, and charged them with narcotics possession. But in his testimony, Lupo told the court that he could not tell if the car was unoccupied because of the dark tint of the windows, but because the patrol car window was open, he could hear that the car was running. Lupo maintained that he got out of his patrol car to get a closer look inside it, and as he approached the driver’s side of the vehicle he could smell what he believed was marijuana coming from its interior as Tuamba emerged from the vehicle.
Three witnesses testified on behalf of Tuamba at the preliminary hearing. The first witness, who drove Tuamba’s vehicle from the scene that night, testified that the vehicle’s windows were not tinted. The second witness, a friend of Tuambi’s who rented the vehicle from Avis Rent-a-Car, also testified that the car did not have any tinted windows. Finally, an agency operator for Avis Rent-a-Car on Sept. 24, 2010, testified that at the time he rented the vehicle it did not have any tinted windows. He also confirmed that when the car was returned to Avis, its windows were not tinted. Detective Thompson was able to locate the rented car and when he photographed it the window’s weren’t tinted.
In the Aug. 5, 2011 arrest of Amiraria Farsi, Lupo was partnered with Officer Matthew Crossan. At noon the two stopped a 1998 Buick Regal, operated by Farsi near Baynton and High Street when Farsi failed to stop at a stop sign. There were three men inside the car including Farsi. The officers reported they smelled a “huge odor of marijuana” coming from both front sides and trunk area of the car.
The occupants were arrested and further investigation yielded a backpack loaded with 688 grams of marijuana stuffed in plastic bag and Tupperware containers. Detective Thompson determined that the car was searched before a search warrant was authorized.
“First, Lupo removed the rear passenger from the car and frisked him, and then placed the male back in the car. Lupo approached Mr. Farsi, frisked him and recovered narcotics from his right front pocket. Lupo also recovered money from Mr. Farsi’s pockets. Because of the odor of marijuana, the officers requested that a K9 dog be brought to the scene to determine if the dog would ‘hit on the car for narcotics.’ Lupo also stated that he waited for a search warrant before searching the vehicle, which included going through the vehicle’s trunk. A videotape from a surveillance camera at the scene showed that Lupo’s account was false and that he searched the inside and trunk of the vehicle before the K9 unit arrived and before the search warrant was approved.”
Lt. John Stanford, spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department said Commissioner Ramsey expects officers to hold themselves to a higher standard and uphold the oaths they took. He said, as demonstrated by past arrests and prosecutions of officers who broke the law, the commissioner takes police misconduct very seriously.
“It’s not the kind of thing we want to have happen, but sometimes it’s necessary for Internal Affairs to become involved. It’s just something we have to do,” Stanford said. “I think all you have to do is read the papers or watch the news to see the seriousness with which Commissioner Ramsey takes police misconduct. As police officers we’re expected to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and when officers can’t conform to that there will be consequences. I think IAB (Internal Affairs Bureau) has done a great job and they often work with federal agencies and the district attorney. It shows people it’s not a one-stop operation. When citizens break the law, they pay the consequences and it’s the same rule for us. We’re not above the law either.”
Sometime in July 2014 the report by the special independent advisory commission empowered by Mayor Michael Nutter to investigate the policies and practices of the Department of License and Inspections (L&I) will become public.
The commission was instituted following the tragic collapse in June 2013 of a building that was being demolished at 22nd and Market Streets. It’s been determined by engineering experts the building, which was owned by New York real estate developer Richard Basciano was being improperly demolished and fell onto the adjacent Salvation Army Thrift Store. Six people were killed and 13 others were seriously injured. In the wake of the collapse an L&I inspector took his own life, a series of City Council hearings soon followed, a grand jury was empaneled by the district attorney’s office, two arrests were made and a mountain of questions remain unanswered.
But the collapse of 2134 Market St. was only the latest in several building-related tragedies linked to what a recent grand jury investigation report termed as systemic failures within the Department of Licenses and Inspections.
In February 1991 the fire inside the 38-story office high-rise at One Meridian Plaza left three firefighters dead. In October 1997 a Court of Common Pleas judge was killed when a 500 pound sign fell from a three-story parking garage at Broad and Pine Streets. In May 2000 a night club on Pier 34 along the Delaware River collapsed, killing three women and injuring more than thirty people. In 2012, an abandoned factory on York Street became a multi-alarm inferno that killed two firefighters and in June 2013, an empty property that was being improperly demolished collapsed and killed six people.
Each one of the cases represents lives that were lost in preventable tragedies, experts have said.
“We saw systemic failures at every level of L&I,” said the investigating grand jury in the report on the York Street Fire. “We believe it is time for a thorough review of the entire department by a truly independent agency. We know that the mayor has named a panel following the recent collapse on Market Street. But that panel will apparently focus on demolition issues. Broader review is necessary, by a group of outside professionals and experts.”
The Fire at One Meridian Plaza
Captain David P. Holcombe, Firefighter Phyllis McAllister and Firefighter James A. Chappell, all of Engine Company 11 lost their lives on the 28th floor battling the blaze at One Meridian Plaza on February 23, 1991.
It started in a vacant 22nd floor office in a pile of linseed oil-soaked rags left by a contractor. An analysis of the fire was conducted by FEMA, which determined a number of flaws and system failures allowed the fire to spread. The most glaring deficiency however was that there weren’t automatic sprinkler systems on every floor. After 11 hours of firefighting efforts were called off because of the risk of structural collapse, but the fire was stopped when it reach the 30th floor where automatic sprinklers had been installed.
There was no fire on the 28th floor, but the firefighters became disoriented because of heavy smoke. They radioed for help but exhausted their air tanks.
Fire code enforcement is handled by L&I and in the FEMA report fire department authorities expressed problems between the two departments in code enforcement issues.
“Fire inspection records for One Meridian Plaza were examined after the fire to document code enforcement actions requiring installation or upgrade of fire protection features required by the 1981 fire code amendments,” the report stated. “An August 17, 1990, L&I violation notice cited the owner for failing to pay non-residential inspection fees and noted that a re-inspection would be conducted within 30 days. However, no record of a subsequent inspection was produced. Perhaps the most striking lesson to be learned from the high-rise fire is what can happen when everything goes wrong. Major failures occurred in nearly all fire protection systems. The responsibility for allowing these circumstances to transpire can be widely shared, even by those not directly associated with the events on and before February 23, 1991.”
The Fire at 1817 York St.
In 2008, Michael and Nahman Lichtenstein, a father and son team of New York-based real estate developers bought the old Thomas W. Buck Hosiery factory in the Kensington section of the city. What followed was a series of allegedly unscrupulous financial dealings by the Lichtensteins and code violations that, according to the grand jury investigation, were never followed up by L&I. Squatters took over, scavengers began removing copper wires and pipes and electrical wires were left open and dangling. The local residents perceived that the building was a disaster just waiting to happen and filed numerous complaints.
The fire began just after midnight on the end of Easter Sunday, April 9, 2012. The fire was reported at 3:12 a.m. but by then flames were coming through the roof. It spread to five alarms and 40 companies responded to battle the city block-sized inferno. Firefighters Patrick Nally and Francis Cheney were injured when a wall collapsed. Lt. Robert Neary and Firefighter Daniel Sweeney perished before rescuers could get to them.
“It’s not as if L&I didn’t know about the concerns for the conditions of the York Street property. Over the years, in fact, four different L&I inspectors actually went out to the property,” the grand jury report said. “They even issued various violation notices. But as the evidence shows, these were merely superficial steps that did no more than keep the bureaucratic wheels spinning. Astonishingly, almost every time a new inspector visited the property, L&I issued a new case number – this treating the property as if it had no previous violations history.”
Following the collapse at 21st and Market Streets, former L&I Commissioner Bennett Levin testified before City Council. His remarks detailed a city department sorely in need of fixing. Levin was commissioner of Licenses and Inspections from 1991 to 1995. During his tenure, he said that L&I, which in his opinion had historically been the city’s most corrupt and inept department was revitalized and reshaped. He said L&I employees were not bad people, but they become detached because they are not managed properly.
“Political necessity distorts what otherwise would be logical behavior,” Levin said during his testimony. “What is expected from the police and fire departments must be demanded from L&I. These fatal tragedies all point to the fact that L&I can no longer be a political backwater where money talks and people die. The answers lie in how the department is organized, how it is managed, how its employees are trained and how they are managed.”
On Thursday, March 6, Mayor Michael Nutter announced during his budget address that $2 million had been allocated for the Department of Licenses and Inspections to hire 31 additional inspectors and supportive staff to strengthen demolition controls to ensure safe public and private demolitions. But concerns remain regarding L&I procedures and processes regarding building permits and inspections, code enforcement and violation follow through. City Controller Alan Butkovitz said his people are currently conducting an audit of the department, a process which he said could take several months to complete.
“We identified major problems within L&I when I took office in 2006,” Butkovitz said. “Violations and citations couldn’t get through the courts so we wanted to take a look at the department’s standards. We issued a report in 2006 that examined how the department enforces code violations that affect public safety. At the time we determined that L&I needed – at the minimum, 57 additional inspectors and $3 million added to its budget. The most serious complaints it receives, for example buildings in imminent danger of collapsing, require inspections in 24 hours. But our earlier report determined 70 percent of those complaints were not addressed in that time frame. When the Nutter Administration first took office it decimated L&I’s budget and laid off 80 inspectors. The consequences of those decisions became obvious with the York Street Fire.”
Butkovitz said that when his office tried to obtain L&I’s records they were “stonewalled.” Finally, in September 2013, a subpoena was issued to the department, giving the city controller’s people access to five years of L&I records.
“We only obtained the records after L&I officials realized they had to comply and couldn’t win a court battle,” Butkovitz said. “To their credit, the Nutter administration has been moving to address the problems with this department - but the earlier gutting of its budget, along with the loss of 80 inspectors, was a problem. Did that mean people would die immediately? No. However, if problems are ignored long enough, people will.”
L&I Commissioner Carlton Williams said he has been aggressively working to overhaul the department’s processes and procedures. Williams said one of the moves he’s taken is to set up an Emergency Services Unit that will proactively investigate building owners who are not in compliance with city building codes.
“We have to be more aggressive in this. What the grand jury said in its report concerning the York Street Fire was painful to hear. But the mayor’s budget allocation represents needed changes,” Williams said. “We needed to improve the process by which code violations are brought into court and building owners brought into compliance. We had to lower the number of violations on which there was no immediate follow-up and streamline the court process. We’ve been cooperating with the advisory commission and when its reports are released we’ll examine the recommendations and see, which ones are best to implement. But I’m not going to wait for that report; we need to be proactive on these issues right now. When there are problems such as what caused the York Street Fire or the other incidents people need to know their government is going to respond and they’re going to get resolution.”
As of Tribune press time, homicide detectives have no suspect and no motive in a shooting that left a man in critical condition on Wednesday night.
Just after 11 p.m., police were called to the 6600 block of Castor Avenue in response to a report of gunfire. When police arrived they found the victim on the ground with a gunshot wound in the back of the head. The victim, whose name has not yet been released by authorities, was rushed to Aria Health Torresdale Hospital.
Mortgage fraud defendant sentenced
The United States Attorney’s Office said that Edward G. McCusker, 49, of Chesterbrook was sentenced to five years in prison for a massive mortgage fraud scheme that resulted in at least 35 fraudulent mortgage loans worth more than $10 million. In June 2011 a federal jury convicted McCusker and his wife Jacqueline, 49, of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, wire fraud and mail fraud.
According to federal prosecutors, the McCuskers operated Axxium Mortgage, Inc., along with co-defendant John Bariana who previously pleaded guilty in the case and is awaiting sentencing. The defendants allegedly targeted financially distressed homeowners facing foreclosure and allegedly falsely promised to help them save their homes. The McCuskers allegedly engaged in real estate transactions with straw purchasers, and obtained dozens of fraudulent mortgages. The defendants allegedly took whatever equity the homeowner had left, allegedly funneled it through shell corporations they controlled and then allegedly used some of it to pay the new mortgages, and put the rest of the equity into their own bank accounts.
Robbery, rape suspect arrested
Police have arrested and charged a man who sexually assaulted and robbed a woman at knife point.
Edward Kappe, 46, from the 600 block of Maris Street has been charged with rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, theft and related offenses. On March 1, at 11:30 a.m., on the 400 block of Seville Street, Kappe allegedly sexually assaulted and robbed a 32-year-old woman at point of knife.
Kappe allegedly stole the victim’s cell phone and purse which contained her wallet with various identification and credit cards, and car keys. At approximately 1:12 p.m., 39th District police officers arrested Kappe on the 2900 block of West Allegheny Avenue. The victim’s property was also recovered.
Detectives seek suspects in deadly shooting
On March 2, just before 8:30 p.m., police were called to the 900 block of East Schiller Street in response to a report of a person with a gun. When officers arrived at the scene they found Yusef Henderson, a 29-year-old Black male suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Henderson, from the 2700 block of North 8th Street was rushed to Temple University Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 10:52 p.m.
The investigation continues and as of Tribunepress time there have been 47 murders in the city since the beginning of the year.
The U.S. Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia, alleging that the district had violated the religious convictions of one its police officers when it asked him to comply with its new grooming policies.
According to the complaint, the district discriminated against Siddiq Abu Bakr, a school police officer since 1987, when it failed to accommodate his Islamic religious beliefs. In October 2010, the district instituted a new grooming policy that prevented school police and security officers from having beards longer than one-quarter inch. When Abu Bakr spoke with his supervisor saying that he couldn’t comply with the policy, he was given a written reprimand and a warning that continued non-compliance would result in “further disciplinary action.” Abu Bakr filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, who determined his problem had merit and referred the matter to the Department of Justice.
Department of Justice attorneys argue the district violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the complaint goes on to allege that the district’s employment practices constituted a pattern of religious discrimination. Abu Bakr still works for the district, and still maintains his beard.
“Individuals should not have to choose between maintaining their jobs and practicing their faith when accommodations can be reasonably made,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Jocelyn Samuels. “Federal law requires all employers, even those with grooming and uniform policies, to reasonably accommodate the religious observances and practices of their employees.”
Consistent with his religious beliefs, Abu Bakr maintained an untrimmed beard longer than one-quarter inch for the 27 years that he worked for the district. According to the complaint the beard did not interfere with his job performance. The complaint states that the district failed to consider Abu Bakr’s request for reasonable accommodation to its grooming policy that would have been in accordance with his religious beliefs. Later the district allegedly denied his request without making the requisite showing that doing so would cause an undue hardship. The DOJ is seeking monetary damages and is requiring the district to amend its grooming policies to prevent discrimination based on an employee’s religious beliefs.
“We have not seen or reviewed the complaint yet so the district cannot comment on this pending legal action,” said Raven Hill, spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, sex, color or national origin. The legislation also prohibits not only intentional discrimination but also practices that have the effect of discriminating against a person based on their race, color, sex, national origin or religion. Allegedly, when the district tried to force Abu Bakr to comply with its new grooming policies, it violated the federal statute.
“No employee should be forced to violate his religious beliefs in order to earn a living,” said District Director Spencer H. Lewis Jr. of the EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office. “Modifying a dress or grooming code is a reasonable accommodation that enables employees to keep working without posing an undue hardship on the employer. We are pleased that the EEOC’s collaboration with the Department of Justice protects public employees from religious discrimination.”