A high-ranking Philadelphia police officer and his brother, a retired detective, have been arrested and charged with allegedly beating up a man with autism while off-duty in August.
Prosecutors said Thursday that Inspector James Smith, 52, and Patrick Smith, 53, then an active member of the force, chased a 27-year-old man in the parking lot of a shopping center in the Far Northeast.
After catching up with him, they slammed him into a wall and pushed him to the ground, where he slammed his head, according to authorities.
The pair claimed to be part of a “town watch” and apparently believed the man was stealing items from cars in the area, an allegation that was not founded, authorities said.
The District Attorney’s Office said the victim has Asperger’s Syndrome, an outdated diagnosis that is typically applied to individuals with a high-functioning form of autism spectrum disorder.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said James Smith will be suspended for 30 days and will be fired after that period. He has served 30 years in the PPD and was assigned to the forensic science division, though he was designated as having long-term injured status, police said.
Patrick Smith retired in September, according to the DA’s Office.
Both are being charged with simple assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment, all misdemeanors, authorities said.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said the union is backing the brothers, describing the charges as “baseless.”
“Once again, DA Krasner is only interested in arresting Philadelphia police officers to save his failing re-election campaign,” McNesby said in a statement.
The incident occurred shortly after midnight Aug. 19 near the corner of Knights and Fairdale roads, prosecutors said.
Initially, the Smiths pursued the man in a vehicle, according to authorities. The victim, while running, called his mother but was out of breath, the DA’s Office said. She used a cell phone tracking application to determine his location.
After the assault, during which he suffered a black eye and scrapes to his head, elbows and knees, his father showed up, and the Smiths told him they were “town watch,” prosecutors said.
At some point, they argued that the man’s injuries were from tripping and falling, a claim disputed by investigators, the DA’s Office said.
The PPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau opened a probe into the incident a couple days later.
“The allegations here involve vigilantism and brutality against civilians, which cannot be tolerated in the City of Philadelphia,” DA Larry Krasner said in a statement. “It is truly disturbing that the victim, who has Asperger syndrome, may have struggled to communicate his distress and fear.”
Outlaw called the allegations “disturbing” and said her department must prove that it can identify and remove “bad actors.”
“It is disheartening when those charged with upholding the law choose to betray their sacred oath,” she said in a statement. “The anger that these acts of betrayal cause are felt by all, especially officers who carry out their duties with the utmost of integrity.”