The write-up was the sort that could well show up in a commendation request, or more importantly these days, as proof of how dangerous it was to be a cop.
“While running towards my partner I saw the Hispanic male grab my partner with both his hands by his chest upper vest area and slammed him into a brick wall of the building. The Hispanic male held my partner up against the wall and began throwing elbows towards my partner’s face and head area,” McKnight said in a signed statement, echoing the account given by Robinson, according to the charging documents.
This, we might have been told, is why we don’t get it, why challenging the use of force by police reflects our naiveté, our disrespect, of the precarious position of a cop on the street. This should make us ashamed of our doubting that it’s not easy being cop.
And then, the guy’s girlfriend locates a surveillance video of what happened.
There is a gap in the narrative about why the two philly cops, Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson, pulled Najee Rivera over in the first place. [See edit below]
On May 29, 2013, McKnight and Kevin tried to pull over Rivera, who was riding a scooter. Rivera told the grand jury that he became frightened and sped away after the officers got out of their car with their batons extended and said, “Come here!” according to grand jury charging documents.
Rivera fled, under the theory that it was better to run than get tuned up by some cops. The cops pursued and claimed Rivera fell off his scooter. Indeed, he did, but only after they whacked him.
“In reality, Rivera didn’t just fall off his scooter as officers approached in their patrol car. Instead, one of them actually reached out of the window and clubbed Rivera in the head; the car bumped the scooter and Rivera fell to the ground,” Williams said at the news conference.
“Both officers then got out and immediately placed Rivera in their control. He never resisted, he never struck them, he never fought back, they just started hitting him,” Williams continued. “First, one held him against the wall, while the other beat him with a baton. Then they held him on the ground and beat him some more, with both fist and baton.
Philadelphia DA Seth Williams didn’t hold back about what the video showed.
“I will prosecute these two officers to the fullest extent of the law. Simply put, no one — not even police officers — is above the law,” said District Attorney Seth Williams.
Rivera was inches away from being a double casualty, having first endured a beating and then being falsely accused of assaulting the officer to justify the beating. There is always the question of why the cops beat Rivera, but there never seems to be a better answer than “because they can.”
Then there’s the question of why Williams is willing to take such an unequivocal stand against the police, the same ones upon whom he relies as district attorney to make his cases, when they turn vicious.
“We don’t need to create other agencies, other entities,” such as civilian review boards to investigate police abuse, Williams told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s my responsibility as [district attorney] to investigate crimes. If the citizens believe I can’t do that, or won’t do that, the recourse is to get rid of me.”
After the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand juries, after the Albuquerque cops turned on Kari Brandenburg, it appeared that all incentives drove local prosecutors away from doing their job. Not Williams.
What happened here is a microcosm of so many of the problems facing the system, from the fact that cops beat people for no better reason than they pissed them off, the ease with which cops can lie to cover their abuse, the fortuitous nature of finding evidence to show the cops are liars and vicious (Rivera’s girlfriend having found the surveillance video), and the fortitude of a prosecutor to take on bad cops, even when they’re his own.
Any piece of what happened here would be more than sufficient for discussion. But what stands out given the current focus on prosecutors doing whatever they have to do to exculpate their cops and keep the peace on the Law and Order side of the equation, is Seth Williams’ condemnation of the beating and strong stance that it’s his job to prosecute people who commit crimes, regardless of whether they wear badges or not.
This point was made in the post about Albuquerque District Attorney Kari Brandenburg:
That Kari Brandenburg is doing her job where so many other prosecutors fail miserably to excise the cancer in their own body is what she should be doing. She doesn’t get a red balloon for doing the job she swore to do. Some might believe she should, given how other prosecutors fail, but that misses the point: The ones who fail get castigated for their failure. The ones who do their job of prosecuting cops who kill guys are merely doing the job to which they were elected.
Williams gets it. Brandenburg gets it. Too many resort to condemning all prosecutors as being tools of the cops. Some are, but some aren’t. Some understand that they have undertaken a job that puts them in an unpleasant position, prosecuting members of a police department upon whom they depend. But that’s the job.
A representative for the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, the local police union, could not confirm whether the officers had union attorneys yet.
And that’s the other side, whether the rank and file cop will back Seth Williams for prosecuting these two mutts or side with their brothers. They too have a job to do, even when some among them go rogue, and it’s now up to the FOP and the Philadelphia cops to show whether they will condemn bad cops or condemn a prosecutor who does his job and prosecutes them.
Edit: Jonathan Turley has located a better source of background, which provides:
Based upon that initial account provided by McKnight, Det. Brooks began his investigation by interviewing Robinson at 1:04 AM on May 30, 2013. Robinson told Det. Brooks in his statement that he attempted to stop Rivera for disregarding a stop sign at 7th and Cambria Streets. When Rivera pulled over and both officers exited their patrol car, Rivera fled the scene. Robinson stated that “[a]pprox. 5-10 minutes later, we observed this Hispanic male on the scooter driving E/B on Lehigh Ave from 7th Street…The scooter then drove the wrong way N/B on 2700 6th Street.”