By Daniel Kelley
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – A grand jury has criminally charged two Philadelphia police officers with knocking a man from his motor scooter, beating him and then falsely accusing him of assault, in the latest case of alleged police misconduct in the United States.
Officers Sean McKnight, 30, and Kevin Robinson, 26, were charged with aggravated assault and related offenses in the May 2013 incident which occurred after a traffic stop in a gritty section of north Philadelphia, said Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.
The victim, Najee Rivera, said he fled in fear on his scooter after officers exited their vehicle with their batons extended. That, according to Williams, enraged the pursuing officers.
One of them hit Rivera in the head with a baton as their patrol car knocked him off his scooter, prosecutors said.
Rivera was hospitalized with a fractured orbital bone and numerous lacerations to the head. But McKnight and Robinson filed paperwork claiming Rivera attacked them.
Rivera’s girlfriend, however, had canvassed the area of the beating, and turned up surveillance video of the beating.
“The video undermined every aspect of the officers’ account,” Williams told reporters at a news conference on Thursday. “None of it was true except for the blows inflicted on Najee Rivera.”
The police brutality charges come after months of nationwide protests over what demonstrators say is police abuse of force against minorities.
Unrest touched off by the August killing of an unarmed black teen by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted President Barack Obama to form a task force to improve police and community relations. He tapped Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey to help lead the task force.
Last year federal corruption charges were filed against a band of rogue narcotic officers from the Philadelphia Police Department who were accused of dangling people from high-rise balconies as an interrogation technique and stealing dealers’ drug stashes.
Last month, a Philadelphia detective was charged with helping his girlfriend, who was a murder suspect, hide from police.
Ramsey acknowledged that the multiple cases could erode the community’s trust in his department.
“It is painful, it is embarrassing,” Ramsey said. “It does bring up a lot of issues you see across the country.”
Ramsey said McKnight, a seven-year veteran of the force, and Robinson, a six-year veteran, have been suspended with intent to dismiss.
Charges against Rivera were dropped after the video surfaced. His civil lawsuit against the city was settled for $200,000.
(Reporting by Daniel Kelley; Editing by Barbara Goldberg, Bill Trott and Mohammad Zargham)