Ubiñas: Tarnished by the top brass

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CHANDA JONES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Supporters of the family of Brandon Tate-Brown protest in front of the Mayfair police station.

THE OFFICERS who lined the front of their district headquarters Saturday stood mostly stone-faced as protesters pelted insults at them:THE OFFICERS who lined the front of their district headquarters Saturday stood mostly stone-faced as protesters pelted insults at them:

Murderers!

Pigs!

Racists!

At one point, a black protester got within a breath's reach of a black officer's face and screamed: Sell-out!

If I were a Philadelphia police officer, I'd be furious. And not at the protesters who marched to the 15th District headquarters on Frankford Avenue, demanding answers in the December police-related shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown.

I'd be fuming at the top brass who fail rank-and file cops by not sharing information in cases such as Tate-Brown's.

And I'd start with Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who chairs a presidential task force based in Washington, D.C., to increase transparency and accountability while refusing to release even the most basic information in officer-related shootings.

From the very beginning, the Tate-Brown case has been a disaster. His mother, Tanya Brown-Dickerson, learned of her son's death from a news radio report. Police apologized.

She found out that the police officers involved in her son's shooting had been back on the street for weeks before anyone bothered to tell her - and only after the Daily News started to ask questions. Police apologized again.

I still can't get a straight answer about whether Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel knew they were back on patrol and said nothing about it when he was on a town hall panel about police-related shootings and Tate-Brown's death.

By then, the District Attorney was reviewing the case, but homicide and Internal Affairs investigators had decided the cops violated no departmental policies. So why not say so?

That is transparency.

And just when I thought things couldn't get any more bungled, they got worse: The surveillance video of the shooting that was finally shown to Brown-Dickerson and her attorney Brian Mildenberg last week didn't match the official account. And another video from a nearby 7-Eleven released by Mildenberg tonight showed Tate-Brown driving with his lights on.

The department has repeatedly said Tate-Brown was pulled over for driving a 2014 Dodge Charger on Frankford Avenue near Magee with his lights off. After a violent struggle with police, he was fatally wounded by the other officer as he reached into the front passenger side of his 2014 Dodge Charger for a stolen, loaded handgun that was near the center console.

Except Mildenberg said the video actually shows Tate-Brown was running - not reaching into his car for a gun - when he was fatally shot in the back of the head by a Philadelphia police officer.

As damning as that sounds, that doesn't necessarily mean the shooting wasn't justified, which is why I asked department spokesman Lt. John Stanford to help me understand some of the discrepancies.

In an email, he said, "The department's official description of the incident . . . hasn't changed . . . there are several aspects of the investigation and it won't be played out in the media. It wouldn't be professional on our part to go back and forth with the family or the attorney, in public about this case and . . . not because we are wrong . . . because it's not the right thing to do."

But that was before the 7-Eleven video. The video of the shooting recorded by four different cameras from nearby businesses is grainy and washed out by the police cruiser's flashing lights. Maybe Tate-Brown, who was near the trunk of his vehicle when he was shot, had reached for the gun earlier and cops worried if he made it back to the car they were in mortal danger. Or maybe he didn't.

But the 7-Eleven video seems pretty clear, and certainly calls into question why Tate-Brown was stopped to begin with.

Mildenberg, who said he and Tate-Brown's mother want the Department of Justice to review the video, conceded that: "If you're running across Frankford Avenue, obviously that's not complying with the police officer."

He also said he still does not have enough evidence to file a wrongful-death suit. But between the video of the shooting and the 7-Eleven video, "we do know [the department] lied about two items."

The people of Philadelphia were told it was a stolen gun in a car without its lights on driven by a convicted felon who violently struggled with police as he reached for his gun. So far that narrative isn't adding up.

Ramsey said the investigation also relied on eyewitness accounts that support the officers. But he won't release those statements, or the videos. He also won't release the names of the officers for their safety. The department is working on protocol to better communicate with families in officer-related shootings.

That's selective transparency, which brings us back to this debacle.

Ramsey told the Daily News: "This isn't trial by media, and it's not trial by public opinion. This has to be based on facts."

But what are the facts? And when the department finally decides to share them with an ever-growing and diverse group of citizens demanding systematic change, how will they be expected to trust them? Today, the Police Advisory Commission voted unanimously to subpoena Philadelphia-involved shooting records.

Every time police find themselves in hot water, they instinctively defend themselves by saying they have one of the toughest jobs. After watching the verbal abuse endured by some of the officers outside the 15th - officers who probably had nothing to do with shooting Tate-Brown or the decision to keep the family and the public in the dark - I don't disagree.

So why would the top brass, who have the luxury of making decisions from the safety of their offices - or in D.C. - make a cop's job even harder by refusing to share information, which only breeds more mistrust and anger?

If they insist on transparency on their terms, the least they could do is stand with the officers on the front lines.


 


Email: ubinas@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

 

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