Philly police shooting reviews moving faster, but backlog persists

It took just under 90 days for the Philadelphia Police Department to investigate an officer’s fatal shooting of a dirt biker and to decide to fire the officer.

When asked by a reporter last week why the investigation in the David Jones shooting took so long, Commissioner Richard Ross scoffed. “You must not have been here very long if you think that’s a long time,” he replied.

For the family of Richard Ferretti, who was fatally shot by a Philly cop in May 2016, that’s all too true. Because his case is still being investigated under the department’s pre-2017 system, meaning Internal Affairs doesn’t even talk to an officer until prosecutors have decided whether to file criminal charges. 

“I’ve got a dead client. I’ve got family members that continue to mourn their loved one, and to this date, they don’t have any answers,” said attorney Kenneth Rothweiler, who filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the Ferretti family in June. “My clients call me or email me literally every week. … I was forced to sue the police department because I didn’t have any answers. I filed suit against them to make them get off their asses and make a decision, which they still haven’t done.” 

The reason for the discrepancy is that Jones’ shooting was handled by the new Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation unit, created in January by Ross in response to recommendations from the U.S. Department of Justice. Police now interview officers involved in shootings within 72 hours, and Internal Affairs can conduct its investigation without waiting for prosecutors.

Subsequently, after David Jones was shot on June 8, Ross was able to release the entire narrative of what happened to the public on Sept. 7. 

But the Ferretti family has heard absolutely nothing about the narrative of what happened on May 4, 2016, when Shannon Coolbaugh shot Richard Ferretti, allegedly while Ferretti was looking for a parking spot on the 6300 block of Overbrook Avenue near St. Joseph’s University.

“If you’re going to speed things up, then go back in time … and make those the first order of businesses,” Rothweiler said. “How about the people that have been waiting in excess of a year?” 

On Sept. 7, attorneys for Coolbaugh filed a motion in federal court asking to put the Ferretti family lawsuit on hold for at least six months, because his case is still under review by a grand jury at the DA’s office, and no paperwork on the case is being released. (The motion was denied on Nov. 6).

“[This] evidence is essential to defendant Coolbaugh’s defense,” they wrote. “Such information would not be disclosed to the public until after the Coolbaugh grand jury is concluded.”

Incidentally, Coolbaugh seems to expect criminal charges. “The fact that the DAO (DA’s Office) has presented evidence to a grand jury demonstrates that it intends to commence criminal proceedings and consider criminal charges against Officer Coolbaugh,” his attorneys wrote.

The Philly DA’s office cannot comment on grand jury proceedings. Coolbaugh’s attorneys did not respond to a request for comment. 

A past investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer found some Philly police involved in shootings went nearly a year without being interviewed by Internal Affairs while prosecutorial investigations were underway. The new unit was designed to remedy this issue. 

Police department spokesman Capt. Sekou Kinebrew acknowledged that the Ferretti family’s complaint is “a legitimate criticism,” but noted the new unit, which is staffed with a lieutenant, a sergeant and a complement of detectives from various backgrounds, cannot work retroactively.

“Unfortunately, that is the process,” he said. “It speaks to fact that this was needed, and that it’s working.”

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