Mayor, D.A., police commish and councilwoman all disagree with last Tuesday’s ‘not guilty’ verdict.
City officials and members of the Puerto Rican community and beyond said they were outraged and disappointed by the Feb. 26 acquittal of the former Philadelphia police officer charged with simple assault. Ex-police Lt. Jonathan Josey had been caught on video striking a woman in the face in Kensington during September’s Puerto Rican Day celebration, at 5th Street and Lehigh Avenue.
“I’m really baffled. This is a true smack in the face,” said Rosaura Torres, a writer and anti-domestic violence activist from Fox Chase, of the acquittal of Josey, which was announced after a bench trial before Judge Patrick F. Dugan.
On Friday, Torres and other members of the Puerto Rican community held a rally in front of City Hall protesting Josey’s acquittal. Viral video of the incident showed Josey striking then 39-year-old Aida Guzman, of Chester, in the face, causing her to fall to the ground. Her face was left bloody from the strike.
“This is in support of Aida Guzman and others like her,” Torres said of the rally. “This is not only an Aida Guzman problem, but a people problem, all throughout Philadelphia.”
Josey now seeks to be reinstated to the police force, according to his criminal defense attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr.
“He’s looking forward to getting back to work doing what he does best — protecting the citizens of Philadelphia,” Perri said.
Perri argued at trial that Josey was approaching Guzman to place her under arrest for throwing beer on police officers, and was trying to take a bottle of beer out of her hand when he accidentally struck her in the face.
Some observers see the video differently.
“I rewatched it [the video] last night. It didn’t look like he was aiming for a beer. It looked like he was aiming to hit her in the face,” said Vashti Bledsoe, director of the Bilingual Domestic Violence Program at Lutheran Settlement House in Fishtown.
Dugan acquitted Josey after a bench trial. But top city leaders think Dugan made the wrong decision.
“Anyone could see that the officer punched the lady in the face in a certainly purposeful fashion,” Mayor Michael Nutter said, according to Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald. McDonald added that the mayor said he thinks Judge Dugan made the wrong decision, and said he believes at least a simple assault occurred, based on his multiple viewings of the video.
“There’s no excuse for a police officer who’s about 6’1” and in very good shape to strike a woman who’s barely a hundred pounds soaking wet,” said Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. “He’s there to monitor and assist, not lose control.”
District Attorney Seth Williams also released a statement on the verdict, saying “I respect Judge Dugan’s decision, but I disagree with it.”
Outrage over the verdict multiplied last week after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Dugan’s wife is a long-time police officer, leading to speculation that Dugan should have recused himself from hearing the case.
“It’s wrong for a judge whose wife is a police officer to have heard the case. That is flat-out wrong,” Ramsey said. “With all the judges in the municipal criminal courts system, you can’t find a judge who’s not married to a police officer?”
Commissioner Ramsey terminated Josey, a 19-year veteran and highway patrol officer at the time of the incident, after he saw the video and prior to criminal charges being filed against Josey. He said the acquittal does not affect his opinion at all regarding Josey’s conduct.
Ramsey and Nutter said they will oppose Josey’s attempt to be reinstated as a police officer.
But police union officials said that Josey didn’t do anything wrong.
“Lt. Josey does not believe he did anything incorrect. He acted within the use of force guidelines,” said John McGrody, vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #5, which represents Philadelphia police officers. “To have 20 years of a very good and decent reputation eclipsed by a 10-second video is very troubling to him and us.”
The union has filed a grievance with the city, seeking Josey’s full reinstatement, back pay, reassignment to his position in highway patrol and that his personnel record be expunged. That grievance was held in abeyance pending the criminal trial and will now move forward through an arbitration process.
Guzman’s attorney, Enrique Latoison, did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
Latoison reportedly intends to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice and to file a civil lawsuit seeking damages for the incident.
“I worry about the message they’re sending not only to women, but to the black and Latino communities,” Lutheran Settlement House’s Bledsoe said.
“If someone in authority can get away with treating a woman like that, I do think it will influence the way that other people in our community handle these situations. What we’re saying is, ‘This was appropriate,’” she said.
Seventh District City Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez told Newsworks Tuesday that she was “not surprised, but extremely disappointed” with the verdict. She also said she shared the community’s frustration that justice was not served.
“As someone who works everyday with police department, to build relationships between the police and the community, this sets me back tremendously,” she said.
Reporter Sam Newhouse can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.