P H I L A D E L P H I A, July 13, 2000 -- Philadelphia police and community leaders are at odds over whether a videotape showing officers beating and kicking a suspect who allegedly shot a police officer, stole a police cruiser and was pursued while driving it, was a case of excessive police force.
The video, filmed from an ABCNEWS affiliate’s helicopter Wednesday, shows a group of Philadelphia police dragging 30-year-old Thomas Jones from a car and then beating and kicking him.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said the tape does not show the events leading up to the arrest, or that the suspect was still putting up a fight by biting one officer and reaching for their guns.
“There will be a fair and thorough investigation,” Timoney said today on ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America.
But community and religious leaders said today there is no doubt that the incident shows a case of excessive force, much like the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King by white police officers.
“It comes out of a history of violence and brutality in thisdepartment for over 30 years and that’s what Commissioner Timoneyand the black clergy and the NAACP have been resisting for a longtime,” said J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
But Timoney said the King beating was an entirely different situation, in which billy clubs were used.
“For people to compare it to Rodney King is just outrageous,” Timoney told Good Morning America.
Race Not an Issue
The leaders insisted they don’t consider this a race issue. In the videotape, several African-American and white officers are seen stomping and jumping on the suspect, who is black.
“We are not questioning that this was a question of race,” said Rev. Vernal Simms, president of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity. “We are concerned about the whole brutality issue.”
Mondensire said city officials have assured them there will be a three-part investigation. The probe will focus on what happened before the arrest, the shooting of Jones and an investigation of the videotaped exchange.
Above all, the leaders urged the community to remain calm.
At her weekly news conference in Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno today said an investigation by the U.S. attorney is already under way.
The Wounded Police
Three officers were taken to the hospital, but only one suffered a gunshot wound.
Officer Michael Livewell, 24, who has been on the force for four years and is assigned to track down felony cases, was shotin the thumb and was at Hahnemann University Hospital, police said. Another officer, Lex Henninger, 52, was being treatedfor a bite wound inflicted by the suspect, police said.
A third officer was taken to the hospital after he was splattered with blood.
Jones, who was shot five times, remains hospitalized today in critical but stable condition.
The confrontation with police started at a around 12:30 p.m. at a separate location, where police said Jones was observed driving a car that was stolen in a carjacking earlier this month.
They pursued the stolen car until it crashed. Some witnesses said the suspect raised his hands to surrender at that point but it turned into a shootout. Thomas got into a police car and shot an officer in the hand before driving away. That pursuit ended in the videotaped arrest.
At least 19 officers were involved in the arrest.
Jones has been charged with auto theft, two counts of attempted murder,assault, resisting arrest, among other offenses, Capt. James Brady, said this afternoon.
He said that because of further evidence that points to Jones as a suspect in a purse-snatching incident Tuesday, he would be charged with other crimes.
Although some incriminating items such as a crack pipe were found in the stolen car, the suspect’s gun was not recovered at the scene, Brady said.
Jones has been in and out of jail on such charges as robbery, auto theft andaggravated assault, police said.
Jones Was Turning His Life Around
But Jones’ relatives said despite his criminal past, he was turning his life around.
They disputed the police account, saying he did notfire a gun and took the police car only because officers werebeating him.
“He was afraid for his life. I would have done the samething,” said nephew Stanley Jones, 19.
Jones’ fiancee, Victoria Bryant, 35, said police “went beyondtreating him like an animal. You might as well take a catfish outof the river and beat him over the head.”
Jones’ relatives said that he most recently spent three monthsin jail last year for assault but was trying to get his lifetogether and had been working as a mechanic.
Timoney says he needs to examine the videotape before reaching any conclusions, and appealed for people to withhold judgement until after aninternal police investigation.
“Indications are he flees from the scene. Indications are he fights police officers. He steals a police car,” Timoney said.
“The guy obviously doesn’t want to get arrested. When someone doesn’t want to get arrested, there really isn’t avery easy way of doing it, and so, let’s not jump to any conclusions. Let’s wait and see what happens,” he said.
In the past, Timoney has publicly warned officers to intervene if they seea fellow officer use excessive force.
President Clinton said this afternoon that he had spoken with Philadelphia Mayor John Street and had been promised the investigation would be handled in the appropriate way.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus expressedgratitude today that Attorney General Janet Reno has initiated the federalinvestigation.
Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., also called upon the Congress to pass three piecesof pending legislation relevant to the issues of police brutality andracial profiling. Davis said such problems are a national issue and need anational solution.
GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush, campaigning inPittsburgh today, said of the incident: “Obviously, we’vegot to take these things very seriously.” He added that peopleneed to know all the facts.
ABCNEWS’ John Miller, ABC affiliate WPVI in Philadelphia andThe Associated Press contributed to this report.