Documents released by the city today reveal more details about December's controversial police shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown during a routine car stop in Mayfair - including the names of the officers involved in the incident.
Officers Nicholas Carrelli and Heng Dang, rookies who had been on the force just since May 2013, told investigators that they pulled Tate-Brown, 26, over Dec. 15 on Frankford Avenue near Magee because he was driving his borrowed Dodge Charger with just its daytime running lights. A struggle soon erupted, and Carrelli, who later told investigators he spotted the butt of a gun in Tate-Brown's center console, shot Tate-Brown once in the head.
Dang told investigators that Carrelli did have a Taser, but Carrelli said he couldn't use it because he "never had an opportunity to use it because we were involved in a hand-to-hand struggle. When he got to the back of the car, I wouldn't have been able to make contact with the Taser."
The city gave the documents and several surveillance videos to attorney Brian Mildenberg, who represents Tate-Brown's mother Tanya Brown-Dickerson, as part of a wrongful death and excessive force class-action lawsuit she filed in April against the city. Mildenberg had filed a motion to compel the information as part of his lawsuit.
The 50 pages of interview transcripts shed more light on the controversial incident, but don’t resolve conflicting pieces of the story. For example, a witness who approached the officers after the shooting said one told him they stopped Tate-Brown “for a vehicle that was described in a robbery earlier.” But Deng told Internal Affairs investigators that he pulled over Tate-Brown because he drove with just his daytime running lights on. “I figured he just came out of a store or something and we just [were] going to check to see if he was OK to drive and tell him to turn his lights on,” Deng told his interviewers.
Mildenberg singled out perhaps the biggest discrepancy of all – Tate-Brown’s location when he was fatally shot.
The Police Department has maintained that Tate-Brown was shot as he reached into the passenger side of his car, possibly trying to retrieve a stolen, loaded, hidden handgun Carrelli had spotted earlier jammed into the center console. But in his statement to Internal Affairs, Carrelli said he opened fire when Tate-Brown ran around the trunk of the Charger, “before he gets to the roof of the car.”
“To me, the big story is that the whole story about him reaching into the car was a lie,” Mildenberg said. “That is not true now, and it’s never been true.”
Brown-Dickerson didn't know about the new documents when the Daily News reached her this afternoon. But she celebrated their release, saying transparency was key in settling the disputed details of her son's death.
Of Carrelli's claim that he had no space to deploy his Taser, she responded: "Not according to the (surveillance) video that I saw. I saw my son running as if he was a child running from a whupping. I saw my son struggling, ducking, falling down. I’m not understanding why you didn’t have time or space to use a Taser. If a Taser would have kept him alive, most definitely, he should have used that."
Brown-Dickerson's lawsuit calls on the court to require 91 recommendations for reform that the federal Justice Department made in a May report on Philadelphia's police-involved shootings, which have averaged nearly one a week since 2007.
"If they would just follow them (the recommendations), not just Brandon but a lot of people wouldn’t be dead right now," Brown-Dickerson said.
Lt. John Stanford, a police spokesman, and Fraternal Order of Police President John McNesby couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Brown-Dickerson and her supporters have protested frequently since December, calling on the Police Department to release the officers' names and the details of her son's death. Commissioner Charles Ramsey had declined to release the officers' names, saying he feared for their safety, given the intensity of protests.
The city and District Attorney Seth Williams cleared the officers of wrongdoing, saying Tate-Brown reached inside the car for a gun after breaking away from the officers during a brief but violent scuffle. With their lives in danger and a violently resisting suspect, the officers were justified in using deadly force, Williams said. Dang and Carrelli told investigators that Tate-Brown repeatedly refused their commands, had an unknown object in his hand later determined to be a cell phone and appeared to fumble with his waistband as he tried to dive into his car. "If the officer didn't shoot him, the guy was definitely getting in the car," a witness told police.
Tate-Brown's relatives, meanwhile, have argued the car stop was unreasonable, saying police stopped Tate-Brown for "driving while black" in a mostly white neighborhood. They also have repeatedly said they believe crooked officers planted the gun to cover up an unjustified shooting. Surveillance video of the incident from nearby stores hasn't answered many questions, because it's grainy and obstructed by traffic signs. Tate-Brown's supporters, though, have flooded social media and marched through city streets since his death with calls for justice and outside investigation.