Defense lawyers: Philly cops accused in beating were doing their jobs

Philly Police

Lawyers for two Philly cops accused of knocking a man off of his scooter and savagely beating him, then lying about it, say the surveillance video that prompted charges against them shows nothing more than two cops doing their job.

That video, however, was enough to hold the men for trial.

Officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson will face trial on charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy, filing false reports and tampering with public records, Common Pleas Court Judge Theresa Carr Deni ruled after a two-hour preliminary hearing Tuesday.

McKnight and Robinson attempted to pull over Najee Rivera around 5th and Somerset on May 2013. Rivera fled — he says because the officers exited their patrol vehicles with their nightsticks out and he was afraid of being beaten.

Video, played in the courtroom, showed the officers catching up with Rivera on 6th Street — where both Rivera and the officers are driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

Defense attorneys argue that Rivera merely fell.

“What I saw in the video was the end of a flight from police where police officers took somebody into custody who refused to show his hands, and they had to use force in order to get him to show his hands,” said defense attorney Brian McMonagle

Prosecutors say the officers knocked Rivera off of his scooter. They say it seems odd that they believe Rivera’s driving presented such a danger to the public as to justify a pursuit, yet didn’t bother to turn on their emergency lights while driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

“If you are in a lawful pursuit of someone, you turn your lights and sirens on, to protect everyone,” said Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock.

Rivera can be heard screaming in pain as the officers beat him with nightsticks. The officers filed police reports claiming that Rivera slammed Robinson into a brick wall.

Prosecutors contend those statements were a cover to help explain Rivera’s injuries, which included a fractured orbital bone. Aggravated assault charges against Rivera were later dropped after his girlfriend searched the area where he was arrested and discovered the video tape.

Taking the stand Tuesday, Rivera said he remembers little about the beating.

“All I know about being on the ground is I was bleeding a lot,” Rivera said. “I was there but not there.”

He has suffered longtermeffects, including memory loss and migraines. He also lost his job.

And while there is a video tape of the beating, defense attorneys make clear that with Rivera’s memory falling short, they’ll focus on incidents not caught on tape.

“Cases are not tried on video tape; they’re tried in courtrooms,” said defense attorney Fortunato Perri Jr., “and we look forward to that opportunity.”

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