Two cops charged with assault were believed until the accused man’s girlfriend dug up video on her own.
This story does not show that all cops are this bad. That is certainly not the case.
Nor does this story demonstrate that the victim, Najee Rivera, was some kind of upstanding citizen. From what is reported in the Action News 6 story we really can’t tell. The fact that he tried to run away from police may indicate that he was worried about a crime he committed. On the other hand, he may have run because he got an idea of what kind of violent and lawless men he was dealing with, and he panicked. It is really impossible for me to know at this point.
The reason this story is important is because it reminds us how the “justice system” works in this country. Here is how Action News describes this incident in Philadelphia:
Around 10:00 p.m. on May 29, 2013, near North 7th and Somerset streets, McKnight, a seven year veteran of the force, and Robinson, a six year veteran of the force, both of the 25th Police District pulled over Rivera on his motor scooter.
According to [Philadelphia District Attorney Seth] Williams, the officers originally told the police department a different story on what happened next, one which a grand jury found to be fictitious.
Robinson and McKnight said Rivera was injured after falling off his scooter and hitting the pavement.
In the officers’ story, they said Rivera resisted arrest, tried to grab a police baton, and that’s when one of the officers hit him in the face.
Police charged Rivera with resisting arrest and aggravated assault. However, prior to the case going to court, a surveillance video emerged from a nearby store.
Rivera’s girlfriend had been searching for video that captured the incident.
“The video undermined every aspect of the officers’ account of the incident. A grand jury found none of it was true except for the blows inflicted on Najee Rivera,” Williams said.
Williams said Rivera didn’t just fall off his scooter, but one of the officers can be seen on the video reaching out the window of the patrol car and clubbing Rivera in the head.
The patrol car, without sirens or lights flashing, bumped the scooter and Rivera fell to the ground.
Both officers got out of the vehicle, Williams said, and repeatedly struck Rivera with their fists and baton.
“He never resisted. He never struck them. He never fought back. They just started hitting him,” Williams said.
Williams said Rivera can be heard screaming for help on the video.
After the beating, the D.A. says Rivera was handcuffed and for several minutest they kept him there while he was bleeding.
Rivera received a fractured orbital bone and numerous lacerations to his head.
So what if Rivera had broken up with his girlfriend a week earlier? Who would have dug up this video footage then?
I suspect that if Rivera had been a wealthier man he might have hired a lawyer who worked with a private investigating firm to uncover any video footage that would be relevant to the case. But it seems instead that he had no one except someone who cared about him to try, as an amateur sleuth, to dig up evidence.
And the District Attorney’s office didn’t care.
Don’t get me wrong: I am glad the D.A. is now prosecuting the officers! He is doing so for the sake of justice and also for the sake of the reputation of the rest of the Philadelphia police. When you prosecute criminal cops you empower law-abiding cops. I commend the D.A. office for how they are acting now.
But until Rivera’s girlfriend found the video, everyone considered Rivera guilty of everything those two cops said about him, merely because the cops said it.
Our system, it seems, involves believing whatever police officers say, without even looking to see if there are any sources for corroboration or contradiction of police testimony.
If you can’t afford a good lawyer, you had better have a good friend willing to sacrifice time and effort in order to find the evidence you need. No one in the prosecutor’s office is going to concern themselves with the possibility of such evidence.