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No Charges In Police Beating

August 01, 2001  | 

PHILADELPHIA -- The 14 Philadelphia police officers videotaped dragging Thomas Jones out of a stolen police car and beating and kicking the wounded carjacking suspect used less force than they were legally entitled to use and should not be prosecuted, a grand jury decided in a report unsealed yesterday. In fact, the grand jury wrote, officers would have been justified in using deadly force to apprehend Jones on July 12, 2000, at 26th and Oxford Streets. At that point, police incorrectly believed Jones - who had led them on a wild high-speed chase through residential sections of North Philadelphia - had shot an officer. Jones continued to violently resist arrest, even after being surrounded, according to the grand jury's unanimous report. Victoria Bryant Jones, whom Jones married in a courtroom ceremony in December, said she was disappointed but not surprised that the officers will not face criminal charges. "Why can't they be charged for attempted murder or recklessly endangering another person? Why? Because they're wearing a badge. They're in the system," she said. "They're all together." Richard Costello, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, praised the grand jury's review and said it "totally exonerated" the officers. "The grand jury found that six seconds of videotape was not the truth and, in fact, distorted the truth," Costello said. The grand jury's decision - which also includes eight recommendations to the Police Department - does not end the controversy over the violent arrest. FBI spokeswoman Linda Vizi said the agency is continuing to monitor the case. Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said the 14 officers still face an internal police investigation and possible disciplinary action. And Jones' attorney, Frederico Sayre of Newport Beach, Calif., said he is planning to file a multimillion-dollar federal civil-rights lawsuit next month. A videotape excerpt of the struggle, which the grand jury agreed was shocking on initial review, was broadcast on TV around the world and brought unwelcome attention to the city on the eve of the Republican National Convention. The grand jury watched the full video - which was captured by a helicopter TV news crew - more than 100 times, synchronized with the police radio tape, to analyze every movement of each officer. In 10 months of investigation, the panel heard testimony from more than 70 witnesses. The grand jury's 191-page report concluded that the officers were justified in hitting and kicking Jones - who by that time had sustained four or five gunshot wounds in the arm and abdomen - because he resisted being handcuffed. Also, the report noted, the officers testified that they feared Jones might grab for one of their weapons or a gun they incorrectly believed he was carrying in his waistband. The grand jury report was most critical of the police gunfire at 17th and Francis Streets, where the pursuit began after Jones was spotted driving a stolen car. He was pulled over but broke free as he was being arrested. Ten officers fired a total of 46 shots on a residential street, including eight shots at Jones, who was high on crack cocaine that morning, sped away in Officer Cedric Gaines' police car. Also wounded was Officer Michael Livewell, who was shot in the thumb by Gaines. "Some of the shots may not have been necessary, and could have had unintended and disastrous consequences to civilians as well as other officers who were in each other's line of fire," the grand jury wrote. Grand jurors also stated they did not believe much of Jones' testimony to them. "We find that Thomas Jones' financial interest in the outcome of his planned civil suit against the city regarding his arrest influenced the substance of his testimony before us," the grand jury wrote. In its recommendations to the Police Department, the grand jury indicated that officers needed better training and supervision in pursuits, defensive tactics, and use of deadly force. Grand jurors also recommended improvements to police radio communications, an upgrade of police helicopter camera gear, and more frequent use of the police aviation unit. The 14 officers targeted by the grand jury's investigation have all been assigned to desk duty since Jones' arrest. "They've all been taken off the street," Costello said. "Some of them are fairly bitter because they feel they've been punished already." In June, Jones was sentenced to 18 to 37 years in prison for a 12-day carjacking and robbery spree last summer.

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