How an encounter between two police officers and a young woman

The Medicus building, where Mark Jacobs and Vivian Nesheim learned how to read at Project Literacy/Philadelphia. Photograph: Jeremy Bannister for Project Literacy/Philadelphia

The windowless, plywood office suite featured a bloodied pile of papers from a recent arrest. “We had a mother come in with her daughter,” says Mark Jacobs, who came to Project Literacy in June 2013. He was seven years old at the time.

The 18-year-old woman had been chased through the street by two police officers who pulled her car over. The woman suspected them of having stolen her car but she showed no overt signs of danger. Despite this, when she walked towards them, the officers grabbed her and pinned her to the ground – forcing her through the window of her car.

The police attempted to cuff her but were unable to secure the buckle of her necklaces – forcing them to break the windows. The two officers tackled her, dragging her across the metal floor.

The officers held her down and repeatedly punched her head, hitting her multiple times with their bare fists. It was clear by this time she was unconscious.

“I remember thinking: ‘I’m not going to be able to get up,’” Jacobs says.

The altercation took place in 2015 but it wasn’t until 2017 that Jacobs saw the footage of the officers mistreating the woman on police video.

The woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her identity, had contacted Project Literacy, a charitable organisation providing free reading instruction to children, and advised the organisation of her hospitalization.

In the video, three officers from Philadelphia’s criminal street squad can be seen dragging the woman along the pavement as officers try to handcuff her. The woman’s limp body can be seen on the video.

Amid widespread outrage, Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner Richard Ross ordered an internal investigation and two of the officers were suspended for 60 days.

Jacobs was surprised when I asked him about the woman’s condition. “I had never seen her before,” he says. The woman may have been unconscious but she was still in pain and the officers could’ve cut her with a knife – something that should have been obvious to anyone who watched the footage.

The woman’s mental state may have been erratic, Jacobs said, adding that for the three officers, it was likely necessary to punch and knee her to control her. The language they used might have been intimidating or racist but it shouldn’t have been an excuse to treat her in a manner that clearly did not protect her safety, Jacobs says.

Philadelphia Police Department spokesman Captain Sekou Kinebrew declined to comment on how the officers managed to restrain her, citing departmental privacy rules.

The department has a “zero tolerance” policy on brutality and false arrest, Kinebrew said. If two officers are seen together striking a suspect they “will be terminated immediately”, he said.

Phill Davis, a former member of Philadelphia’s police department and the president of the Philadelphia Police Federation, says the department’s disciplinary process is fair. “We’ve fired hundreds of officers over the years,” he says.

Those still in the department are entitled to due process. They are monitored by independent arbitrators, like the newly appointed body to investigate complaints against its own members.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says he is “stunned and appalled” by the allegations. He says the Department of Justice must investigate the police misconduct.

“We cannot go backwards,” he said, referring to the past. “We have to move forward.”

Philadelphia has experienced a major transformation since the police force’s “historic shifts in leadership, community services and internal investigations”, Kenney says. The department, which has also faced federal oversight over issues including racial profiling, has a diverse population of African American officers, which represent nearly 20% of the police force.

The department is making strides to adopt “a systematic approach to ‘debriefing’ conduct reviews of officers”, Kenney says. Police leaders have spent a decade building trust, he says, but in the past he has confronted problem officers on the job. “I’m not afraid to kick the habit,” he says.

Kinebrew says that if a complaint is filed against an officer, “The allegation is investigated and, if substantiated, if that’s the case, all officers are subject to administrative discipline”. He added that a complaint is received by the

Leave a Comment