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The controversial acquittal of a Philadelphia policeman caught on video violently punching a woman at a Puerto Rican Day parade last fall quickly produced a second stink bomb. The Philadelphia judge who freed fired Lt. Jonathan Josey during a non-jury trial where that jurist brushed aside compelling evidence recorded on that video is married to a Philadelphia policeman.
The wife of Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Patrick F. Dugan was among the 100-plus police officers who jammed Dugan’s courtroom during Josey’s one-day trial in mid-February. Judge Dugan neither revealed his marital relationship nor removed himself from the case –formally known as recusal. Dugan presiding at Josey’s trial seemingly flaunted provisions of Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial Conduct, particularly provisions prohibiting the “appearance of impropriety” by judges and judges not allowing “family to influence” their judicial judgment. Dugan issued his acquittal verdict two weeks after Josey’s trial. When ruling, Dugan said he was troubled by Josey’s conduct captured on a cell phone video but he was impressed by the testimony from other police officers plus character witnesses for Josey who supported his claims of innocence. Judge Dugan’s ruling favoring Josey, dismissing the video contradicting Josey’s courtroom accounts, continues an infamous judicial tradition across America of jurists bending both law and logic to excuse police misconduct, giving breaks to cops generally withheld from civilians facing comparable criminal charges.
Last September, weeks before the assault producing Josey’s arrest, Arizona Judge Jacqueline Hatch sparked outrage when sentencing a policeman to probation after a jury convicted that officer of sexually groped a woman in a bar while off-duty and drunk. When refusing to impose the possible two-year prison sentence, Judge Hatch bashed the victim for being in a bar. Months before Hatch’s ruling, New York City Judge Gustin Reichbach gave a disgraced NYPD detective probation for planting drugs on an innocent couple after that officer cried during his sentencing begging for mercy. In 2009 Chicago Judge John Fleming sentenced a fired policeman to probation following that burly, 250-lb officer’s conviction for beating a female bartender half his weight for her refusal to serve him more alcohol.
Ironically, Philadelphia Judge Patrick Dugan declined to comment on either his ruling or his failure to reveal his wife’s occupation by citing a provision of the same judicial ethics code that he trashed. One section of Pa’s Code of Judicial Conduct does require judges to abstain from public comment about court cases. However, the core of that Code insists on judges avoiding “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” stating clearly that public confidence in the judiciary is “eroded by irresponsible and improper conduct by judges”. Reactions to Dugan’s acquittal and his wife’s occupation from the public to civic leaders expressed eroded confidence in the judiciary –erosions that the Code seeks to eliminate. Zack Stalberg, president of Philadelphia’s civic watchdog Committee of Seventy, told a local television station that it was “inappropriate” for any Philadelphia judge to hear the Josey case stating an out-of-town jurist should have presided during the trial over an incident that sparked protests and public criticisms. Judicial code prohibitions in Pennsylvania against judges serving as character witnesses in criminal trials resulted in part from the practice of Philadelphia judges vouching for police in brutality cases.
Lt. Josey’s videoed assault on Aida Guzman, a woman less than half his size, lead to his firing and it produced a public apology to Guzman from Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter who termed the conduct seen on the video as “particularly appalling”. During a raucous period at Philadelphia’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, the video shows Josey taking steps toward Guzman, then punching her with force enough to knock her to the ground where he then grabs the bloodied woman slapping handcuffs on the dazed Guzman. Police arrested Guzman for disorderly conduct but later dropped that charge when the video of Guzman’s assault and arrest went viral last September. Police later charged Josey with simple assault, discharging him from the police force. At trial Josey maintained that he was trying to smack a beer bottle from Guzman’s hand and inadvertently punched her in the face. He declared his hitting of Guzman was an accident not assault.
Pennsylvania’s simple assault law is real simple : a person is guilty of simple assault if that person “…recklessly causes bodily injury to another”. Guzman sustained injuries. Josey attempting to swat a bottle from Guzman’s hand violated Philadelphia police procedure. Such an act poised a reckless endangerment to Guzman and others from a flying bottle and/or broken glass if Josey had knocked the bottle to the ground as he claimed he was attempting to do. Josey’s handcuffing arrest of Guzman contradicts normal handling of an accident which prompts a quick apology, a point raised by Guzman’s lawyer who plans to sue the City of Philadelphia for Josey’s assault. Judge Dugan said he believed Josey’s testimony about an accidental punch, dismissing the video with the assertion that “this is not a social media contest”.
Dugan is not the first Philadelphia judge to embrace contradictory contentions from a police officer facing brutality charges. In 1987, for example, judges dismissing charges in three police abuse cases triggered outrage from Philadelphia’s then District Attorney. “I know that judges will bend over backwards to use whatever reasons they can to throw a case out against a police officer…It’s been historical”, then DA Ronald Castille said. Interestingly, a year after Castille’s outburst, his office issued a report absolving police of any criminal misconduct charges arising from a May 1985 police bombing and burning during a shootout with the MOVE organization that left 11 MOVE members dead including five children and destroyed 61 homes leaving 250 people homeless. And nearly a decade after Castille’s 1987 criticisms, he, then serving on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, voted to reject evidence of egregious brutality and abuses by Philadelphia police in the contentious murder case involving Mumia Abu-Jamal. In voting in 1998 to reject Abu-Jamal’s second appeal of his internationally denounced murder conviction for killing a Philadelphia policeman Castille rejected legal requests for his recusal that cited a Conduct Code provision that required removal of a judge who “served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy”. As Philadelphia DA Castille fought to sustain Abu-Jamal’s conviction but as Supreme Court justice Castille claimed that while DA he was unaware of any facts about Abu-Jamal’s conviction simply signing legal papers to sustain that conviction as an administrative duty. Lt. Josey has the full support of Philadelphia police union in seeking to regain his position in Philadelphia’s Police Department, an effort Philadelphia’s Police Commissioner vows to oppose.
Linn WASHINGTON Jr.