How Much Force Can Philly Police Officers Really Use?

There’s going to be a lot of debate over the next few weeks (or longer) as to whether Philadelphia Police Lt. Jonathan Josey II acted in the correct manner when he was caught on video punching a woman in the face at Sunday’s Puerto Rican and Latino Heritage Day celebrations. Our initial reaction: Um, no.

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But, some may think otherwise. After all, the woman in question was still arrested and, as the Philadelphia Police noted yesterday, “cited for spraying silly string at officers.” The brutal video has made its rounds in every corner of the Internet and has now been age-restricted on YouTube, based on the site’s community guidelines.

It’s the latest in a long line of alleged police brutality out of Philadelphia.

Like most things involving the law enforcement and deciding whether penalties should be exacted on those involved, this case may be a bit complicated. See, all police in the United States are permitted to use force—if the situation warrants it. However, said force is expected to be within the amount that is justified within a given situation to either prevent the suspect from fleeing or to prevent further injury to others. States and cities often have different standards as to what constitutes appropriate force. According to the website of Philly lawyer Patrick Geckle, who focuses on police brutality cases, “Essentially, police officers are allowed a continuum of force, but are expected to use the least amount of force necessary in each situation.”

He notes force cannot be used against “a person already in custody and who is not resisting being in custody,” and an officer cannot use “a weapon against a person who is unarmed or a person who can be assumed is unarmed.”

For further information, we looked at a report on a prior incident to figure out what, exactly, police are allowed to do within any given situation.

In 2010, criminologist R. Paul McCauley, a former Pennsylvania municipal police officer, was retained by the Philly-based civil-rights firm Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing and Feinberg to review Lacrecia Tindley, et al. v. City of Philadelphia, a police brutality case, to “render a professional opinion regarding the police operations.”

The case involved several police officers who witnessed a drug deal, then chased the suspects on foot. “At some point, [Police Officer Thomas] Schaffling approached a nonhostile outside event (baby shower) at a residence at … Master Street and observed a male in the yard who he assumed to be the male he was pursuing,” wrote McCauley in the report.

That man at the Baby Shower was later identified as Jamar Stroman—not the man the officer was originally pursing. The police, according to McCauley’s findings, “used batons, ASPs, pepper spray, other force” at the party, which led to several citizen complaints. Stroman spent 12 days in jail before criminal files were dropped.

In order to come to his conclusions on the case, McCauley reviewed both testimony and use-of-force laws and protocol in Philly and Pennsylvania. He noted what Pennsylvania peace officers were allowed to do, in these screen shots from separate, but consecutive, pages:

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So, the officer had to have believed that the force was necessary to affect the arrest. Similarly, it’s noted that in Pennsylvania, to acquire police certification, all municipal officers have to be trained in the use of force, consistent with police department policies and procedures consistent with constitutional laws.

The Confrontational Force Continuum, written by Ronald Traenkle actually consists of seven steps with which to use degrees of force.

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has already issued this statement from executive director Reggie Shuford: “I was shocked when I saw the video of what happened. I saw absolutely nothing that justified the use of such extreme force to take this woman down. I can’t imagine the officer’s actions comported with departmental policy. If so, that policy needs to be changed immediately.

The Police say they are investigating the incident and noted in an email yesterday that they “are asking that any person(s) that attended the festivities and witnessed the incident on 5th & Lehigh Avenue to call Internal Affairs.”

Now we ask you: Based on what we know now (the rules, the vid), was the officer within his rights?

9 Responses to “ How Much Force Can Philly Police Officers Really Use? ”

  1. Allegations of police corruption or use of excessive force hurts everyone – especially the police — in terms of lost cooperation, support and trust – which, in turn, diminishes their effectiveness. For more see, “Arrested Development: A Veteran Police Chief Sounds Off About Protest, Racism, Corruption and the Seven Steps Necessary to Improve Our Nation’s Police” (Amazon.com). And visit my blog at http://improvingpolice.wordpress.com.

  2. Tom says:

    He’s a lucky mo fo it wasn’t my sister he sucker punched !

  3. Tom says:

    all them other guttless aholes standing around watching & didn’t do anything about it !

  4. Brandon says:

    I would love to hear this officer try to justify punching a woman in the face at a public celebration, whom he outweighed by at least 100 pounds, when all she did was use some silly string, and without attempting to stop her before resorting to face-punching.

    Good luck with that.

  5. Joe Muscovite says:

    Its nice to see a police chief chiming in to defend his officers from “allegations of excessive force” which could hurt the police. When an officer punches an unresisting woman in the face, its urgent that action be taken to ensure no harm comes to the police – otherwise where would we be?

  6. Lisa says:

    How much “bodily injury” can a man expect from friggen SILLY STRING?

  7. Chris says:

    The law is straight-forward. The interpretation is lacking in moral decency. At NO time does silly string constitute a weapon or a threat. Body language in the video showed that the officer merely punched the woman out of his own frustration. Since he hasn’t been removed from his duties for assault, then the police chief is now also suspect for abetting police brutality. The city will lose more money to court costs due to his arrogance than they will paying his salary. The mayor should have been involved since minute ‘one.’ I for one will not be moving to Philly any time soon.

  8. Lee says:

    Take another look at the video; the woman who was punched was NOT the one who squirted ’silly string’ in the cops’ direction! So not only did he brutalize a defenseless person, he bloodied the wrong person. And when did ’silly string’ become illegal?

  9. Stevie G says:

    The fact that that cop is still even on the force is just more validation for my opinion that the cops themselves are brutish, lawless thugs. The viciousness of this cop is yet another in an ever-increasingly LONG list of incidents which reinforces the reason(s) most Americans of all ages, disapprove of, or downright hate the cops. And to all police apologists who want to defend their intolerable behavior, note: most Americans are NOT criminals–quite the opposite. I follow with great interest all news stories of police killings, and as a good citizen, am appalled and incensed at their unchecked bloodthirstiness, and the number of unjustifiable homicides they commit in this country every year, with impunity. In my own opinion we the taxpayers ought to fire them all, and start fresh, only employing persons without power trips or a history of aggression. One more point: why is it cops get a free pass? A civilian with a history of non-aggressive offenses will be put away for good if they commit 3. If a cop commits just one act of aggression, he/she is not fit to carry the badge. Yet they usually wind up back on the force.

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