July 17, 2014: On January 7, 2014, a group of seven (7) teenaged boys exited a SEPTA subway platform at the northwest corner of Broad Street and Girard Avenue. Less than two (2) minutes later the teens came into contact with Philadelphia police officers, that fact has never publicly been disputed. It is the events that occurred after that contact that have been debated in the public and press, and have led to accusations of police misconduct.
Members of an Investigating Grand Jury, after reviewing countless hours of evidence, surveillance video, and witness statements since February of 2014 concluded that the police acted responsibly and that no criminal act was committed by any members of the police department on that day. The Grand Jurors also concluded that the version of the day’s events were exaggerated by the alleged victim (listed in the Grand Jury report as Student #1) and his family.
“The findings of this Grand Jury are exactly why I cautioned people not to rush to judgment in this case,” said District Attorney Seth Williams. “I owe it to the people of Philadelphia to examine all allegations of criminal activity methodically and professionally, and not let public outcry effect my office in any way. In this instance that public outcry was misplaced and inaccurate.”
”The prosecutor is a minister of justice and responsible for protecting the integrity of the criminal justice system,” continued the District Attorney. “Seeking justice means holding offenders accountable, protecting the innocent, and preserving the rights of all. Justice also requires – at all times – the representation and presentation of the truth.”
The incident in question occurred on Girard Avenue, between Broad Street and North 15th Street. There are several surveillance cameras in this area that captured distinct portions of the police interaction with Student #1 and the other students at the time of the incident. Specifically, the Investigating Grand Jury reviewed the following surveillance videos: (1) the street-level view from the Girard Avenue stop of the Broad Street Line (BSL), which is located on the northwest corner of Broad and Girard and faces west; (2) a Philadelphia Police Department (“PPD”) Real Time Crime Center (“RTCC”) camera affixed to a light pole on the northeast corner of Girard Avenue and Carlisle Street, which is one-half block west of Broad Street; (3) a RTCC camera affixed to a light pole on the northeast corner of Girard Avenue and 15th Street; and (4) a camera installed in a SEPTA trolley that was traveling east on Girard Avenue.
Student #1 is a sophomore at Mathematics, Civics, and Sciences Charter School (“MCSCS”), and a member of the varsity basketball team for the school. The team plays its home games at a gymnasium at the Berean Institute, which is located at 1901 West Girard Avenue. Team members travel to the gymnasium on their own because MCSCS does not provide transportation, and therefore some team members take public transportation – the BSL subway.
Timeline of the events
January 7, 2014:
At 1:54:17 p.m., Student #1 along with six of his teammates are seen on video exited the subway at the Girard Avenue stop.
At 1:54:37 p.m., a PPD van traveling east on Girard Avenue is captured on a SEPTA camera approaching and crossing Carlisle Street. The van was traveling east on Girard Avenue, and it faced the students, who were walking west on the northern sidewalk of Girard Avenue. Police Officer Thomas Purcell was driving the van, and Officer Frank Sackosky was his passenger. The officers were in the middle of an assignment transferring a homeless elderly man from St. Joseph’s Hospital to Temple University Medical Center.
At 1:54:56 p.m., as the seven students were walking west on Girard Avenue, while the police van continues to travel down the opposite side of Girard. At this point the van and the students were almost side-by-side.
At 1:54:57 p.m., several students, including Student #1, faced the police wagon and appeared to be shouting something at police.
At 1:55:07 p.m., the van stopped in the middle of Girard Avenue, Officer Purcell testified that he thought that one of the students was saying something to the officers. His testimony in this regard was corroborated by testimony from the students, including Student #1, who testified that someone in his group said something to the police and that the officer’s face changed from a smile to a look of concern. Officer Purcell testified that he could not hear the student because the van windows were closed. Unsure whether the students needed help or were trying to communicate with the police, he opened his door and asked the students what they said. Officer Purcell further testified that he did not hear any response from the students; the students, including Student #1, agreed that they did not respond to the officer.
At 1:55:22 p.m., Officer Purcell activated the police lights on the van in order to perform a U-turn on the busy street. He also testified that he was performing a U-turn to further investigate whether the students were victims of or witnesses to a crime, hence their trying to get the officers’ attention. He explained that, once he made a U-turn, he could pull over next to the students and his partner in the passenger seat could talk to them and hear what they were saying.
At 1:55:24 p.m., the police van was halfway through its U-turn, when five students, including Student #1, started to run west down Girard Avenue onto 15th street. The two remaining students continued to walk down the street.
At 1:55:36 p.m., the police van stopped just before the intersection at 15th Street, and Officer Sackosky exited the van because he observed one of the students hiding behind a parked car. Officer Purcell then turned the van north onto 15th Street and stopped. Officer Purcell testified that he saw Student #1 hiding behind a car parked along the eastern side of 15th Street. Student #1’s teammate also testified that he and Student #1 were hiding “a little bit” by crouching down behind a car until they stood up when the police arrived.
At 1:56:04 p.m., Officer Purcell and Student #1 made contact at the driver-side rear corner of the police van.
At 1:56:08 p.m., Officer Purcell and Student #1 began walking along the driver’s side of the police van from its rear to its front, heading north on 15th Street. There does not appear to be any struggle at this point. It is unclear if Officer Purcell had his hand on Student #1’s left arm to guide him along the van.
At 1:56:11 p.m., Officer Sackosky was talking to one of the students in the open lot next to the northeast corner of 15th Street and Girard Avenue. That student testified that the officer was merely asking questions, and even described Officer Sackosky as being polite and appropriate in his demeanor and interaction.
At 1:56:47 p.m., Officer Purcell and Student #1 were standing on the driver’s side of the police van near the hood of a white minivan parked on 15th Street. Student #1 can be seen on video turning his body around to the right as the officer tried to direct him toward the minivan. Student #1 then faced the officer, and that’s when Officer Purcell testified that Student #1 became combative and pushed the officer in the chest area. At this point, there was clear physical contact between Officer Purcell and Student #1, and Student #1 is seen clearly resisting the officer. Student #1 can be seen in video physically struggling against Officer Purcell, and one of the other students testified that when the officer tried to hold onto Student #1’s arm, Student #1 pulled his arm away.
At 1:57:30 p.m., two other students were standing on the northwest corner of 15th Street and Girard Avenue, watching Student #1 struggle against Officer Purcell. They testified that the officer told Student #1 to put his hands behind his back, but that Student #1 was trying to prevent the officer from putting the handcuffs on him by moving his body and hands, and doing everything he could to prevent the officer from getting handcuffs on Student #1’s wrists.
By 1:57:34 p.m., Officer Sackosky had joined Officer Purcell to assist with the arrest of Student #1. Another student testified that the officers could not force Student #1 to the ground because Student #1 did not want to go to the ground and be arrested. He also testified that Student #1 refused to go to the ground and was resisting the police officers from putting him on the ground. At this point an unidentified woman started yelling at Student #1 not to fight with the police.
At 1:57:42 p.m., Officer Sackosky made an “officer-assist” call requesting back up and then rejoined Officer Purcell in trying to control the still-struggling Student #1. An officer-assist call is the number one priority call for police, to get [officers] there in a timely manner to prevent a situation from escalating to the point where it’s out of the police department’s control, or a police officer is facing serious bodily injury or possibly death. The 22nd police district, where the incident with Student #1 occurred, is one of the most violent districts in Philadelphia, and has approximately 10 officer-assist calls per week.
At 1:58:17 p.m., Student #1 can be seen on video on the ground resisting, rolling around and not staying still with Officer Sackosky on top of him. Student #1’s torso can be seen lifting off the ground while his lower body moves around as the officer tried to obtain control of him. According to one of the other students, even after Officer Sackosky threatened to use a Taser on Student #1, Student #1 continued to move around and kick his legs to try and resist against the officers.
At 1:58:35 p.m., the first back-up car is seen arriving in response to the officer-assist call.
At 1:59:07 p.m., Student #1 continued to struggle against the officers’ attempts to subdue him. He continued to flail his arms and legs, trying to move his body around so that the police had difficulty handcuffing him. Officer Purcell then locked his left leg with Student #1 in a further attempt to hold Student #1 still so that they could place handcuffs on him. The officers also were giving Student #1 oral commands to be quiet, to calm down and to relax; Student #1 continued to yell at the officers, “get the f#!k off me.” Even though Student #1 was “extremely belligerent and resistant,” the police officers on the scene only employed control holds on Student #1. They did not use any of the other tools available to them on their force continuum – they did not use pepper spray, batons, or Tasers.
At 1:59:48 p.m., Officers Purcell and Sackosky lifted Student #1, now handcuffed, off the ground.
At 1:59:59 p.m., Student #1 was standing at the back of the police van with Officers Cucinotta and Purcell. The officers initially were going to place Student #1 in the back of the van but could not because the homeless elderly man was already inside.
At 2:00:03 p.m., Student #1 is seen on video being escorted towards Officer Cucinotta’s patrol car, which was parked directly behind the police van.
At 2:01:33 p.m., Student #1 is seen in front of Officer Cucinotta’s patrol car. Multiple witnesses testified about the subsequent patdown and frisk of Student #1 while he was next to the police car. Pursuant to established police protocol, Student #1 was being patted down and searched because he was under arrest. Due to his prior resistance and continued belligerent conduct, one officer held Student #1’s left arm, while another officer hooked his left arm into Student #1’s right arm to try to gain more control of Student #1. Despite the fact that two officers were holding his arms and the heavy police presence of police, Student #1 continued to yell and curse at the officers, and continued to move his body. The officers who were holding Student #1 told him to stay still and stop moving, but he refused to do so. Student #1 admitted during grand jury testimony that he refused to be quiet as requested by the officers. Officer Cucinotta, the only female on the scene, testified that she wanted to assist in any way possible and she attempted to help by performing a standard frisk of Student #1. She first checked Student #1’s back pockets; the pockets were clear. She then attempted to check his genital area for weapons and contraband, as she was trained to do. But because Student #1’s pants were sagged down at the crotch but tight on his legs, and because he was also wearing long underwear beneath his khakis, she was physically unable to reach his genital area, and so she moved on. She next went to check Student #1’s waistband area. When her hand touched his front waistband, Student #1 lunged his body forward against the patrol car, stuck out his rear end, and said “get the f#!k off of me.” That’s when a male officer took over the search. That male officer, Officer Wolfe, was the only police officer who successfully searched Student #1’s genital area. Officer Wolfe and Officer Cucinotta testified that they never grabbed, pulled or squeezed Student #1’s testicles during their successful and attempted searches of Student #1’s midsection.
At 2:03:57 p.m., Student #1 was escorted across Girard Avenue to another patrol car for transport to the 9th police district. While walking across the street, moments after the search, Student #1 was not limping and appeared to be walking normally. While standing near and/or against the driver’s side of the police car, Student #1 was searched again before he was placed in the back of the Wolfe/Rios patrol car; this was done pursuant to standard police procedure. Once again, Officer Wolfe performed the search. No contraband or weapons were found.
At 2:04:31 p.m., Student #1 can been seen standing near the police car. At this time he complained to police that he had been hit in the head by handcuffs during his struggle with Officers Purcell and Sackosky. This complaint about a head injury was the only one that Student #1 made to police. He never complained to any of the officers on the scene about his testicles or having his testicles squeezed, pulled and grabbed.
At 2:12:20 p.m., Officer Wolfe, with Officer Rios in the passenger seat, began driving south on 15th Street in order to transport Student #1 to the 9th police district. During the drive, Officer Wolfe asked Student #1 two or three times if he was injured; Student #1 repeatedly responded that he was not. Student #1 admitted under oath that Officer Wolfe asked him if he had any injuries: “I told him no. That was it.” Officer Wolfe even told Student #1 that he was going to take him to the hospital to have Student #1’s claimed head injury checked; Student #1 specifically declined such a visit. Student #1 never said that his testicles had been injured or that they hurt.
At 2:27 p.m., Officer Wolfe is seen parking his patrol car outside of the 9th district police station. Two minutes later, Student #1 was escorted into the building. In the brief walk from the car to the building, Student #1 was not limping and appeared to be walking normally. Inside the station, while filling out a medical report Student #1 was asked whether he had any pain or injury; Student #1 responded “no.” He also answered “no” to the question “is there anything else you should inform us of to ensure your well-being?” After answering the questions from the Medical Checklist, Student #1 signed the form. Student #1 never complained to any officer in the 9th District police station about being in pain, or having his testicles grabbed or squeezed, or having injured his testicles. Student #1 admitted that during grand jury testimony.
January 8, 2014:
Student #1 went to school at MCSCS the next morning, but did not attend class. Instead, he met with the school principal and members of the MCSCS school board. Student #1 testified before the Grand Jury that he told school board members and principal that his “balls got squeezed, but it’s okay. It’s fine.” The school administrators then suggested that Student #1 go to the hospital. Student #1’s mother then took him to the Emergency Department of the Children Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
At 12:43 p.m., Student #1 arrived at CHOP approximately 22½ hours after his struggle with and arrest by the PPD. During his examination in the Emergency Department, Student #1 told the attending physician that he was injured as a result of an assault by a police officer. Specifically, Student #1 told the physician that a female officer had “grabbed his balls real hard twice’ while she was frisking him.” He also stated that the pain from the assault lasted several minutes. During his physical examination, Student #1 said he was experiencing “mild pain” to the left testicle, but only when it was touched. There was no discoloration or bruising of his left scrotum. Student #1 also acknowledged that he had a pre-existing condition- a varicocele in his left scrotum. Based on Student #1’s narrative, doctors recommended that an ultrasound of his scrotum be performed to determine if there was any injury to his left testicle.
At 4:10 p.m., Dr. Gregory Tasian, the attending pediatric urologist that afternoon, spoke to Student #1 and his mother. They repeated to Dr. Tasian that Student #1 had been assaulted by a female police officer, who had “grabbed his nuts hard.” He also told that doctor that “the pain lasted for several minutes,” but he said he was not nauseous or vomiting. The doctor also was told that the alleged assault had occurred at 2:00 p.m. that day, January 8, 2014–not the previous day.
Dr. Tasian testified to the Grand Jury that the narrative a patient provides is one of the most important things he considers when assessing a patient. The patient’s narrative is “essential” and guides the doctors as they interpret the ultrasound and look for specific things that would be consistent with the trauma described by the patient. The doctor testified that “without that history of trauma, or alleged trauma to the scrotum, then you would have no reason to think that there would be a rupture of the testicle. A testicle doesn’t spontaneously rupture. It has to happen for some reason due to force.” Dr. Tasian then performed a physical examination of Student #1. While Student #1 reported some tenderness when his left testicle was touched, Dr. Tasian could not feel a ruptured testicle and the testicle was smooth all the way around, as it should be. Dr. Tasian also noted that pain from a ruptured testicle would “absolutely” last longer than several minutes – it would be continuous, severe pain from the time of rupture until it was surgically fixed. “When you have injury to the testicles, men often vomit.” Dr. Tasian testified that a man with a traumatic injury to his testicle would not be able to walk normally – “you sort of walk like a cowboy” – nor would you be able to sit comfortably. Even though Dr. Tasian could not feel a rupture, and Student #1 lacked the symptoms that would be associated with a ruptured testicle and trauma to a testicle, he recommended emergency exploratory surgery because of Student #1’s narrative. He advised Student #1 and his mother the risks and rewards of the exploratory surgery. Dr. Tasian mentioned that one of the reasons to have the surgery to fix a ruptured testicle is to reduce the risk of sterility. The concern about sterility was only applicable if there was, in fact, a ruptured testicle.
At 6:23 p.m., Dr. Tasian performed the exploratory surgery on Student #1. The surgery revealed that Student #1’s testicle was not ruptured. Dr. Tasian also found no evidence of any trauma to Student #1’s testicle. Dr. Tasian also testified that had he been given a different narrative of what happened on January 7, 2014 he would not have operated on Student #1.
At 9:35 p.m., Dr. Tasian discharged Student #1 from the hospital. He advised Student #1 to take it easy with minimal strenuous activity for 2 weeks. He never recommended that Student #1 use a wheelchair for mobility. Student #1 went to school the next day.
The Grand Jurors Findings:
1. While reasonable evidence existed to support the police officers’ belief that they should question Student #1 and his friends, it was understandable for Student #1 to believe he should not be stopped since he had not committed any criminal activity.
2. Police stopped and attempted to question Student #1 and his friend Student #2. Student #2 testified he was questioned by an officer without conflict or incident.
3. Student #1 physically resisted a police officer when the officer tried to stop and question Student #1.
4. Onlookers, including some of Student #1’s friends, witnessed the resistance and attempted to tell Student #1 not to resist the officers.
5. The testimony and video evidence conclusively demonstrated that it took officers 3 minutes and 49 seconds to place Student #1 into custody because he physically resisted their efforts.
6. The evidence does not support Student #1’s claim that a white female police officer, or any police officer, grabbed and squeezed his testicle two times during a search following his arrest. In fact, an African-American police officer testified that he was the officer who performed the searches of Student #1’s groin and denied using such force that would injure Student #1.
7. The medical evidence is conclusive that there was no trauma or rupture to Student #1’s testicle.