Officer's shooting shakes city

Massive door-to-door search comes up empty

PCOP
Members of the Philadelphia Police Crime Scene Unit gather for instructions.

The robber who shot and gravely injured Police Officer Charles Cassidy at an East Oak Lane Dunkin' Donuts - and launched the largest manhunt in recent history - escaped with nothing.

Police and a witness said Cassidy interrupted the robber, who turned and fired one round into the officer's head. The robber then fled, picking up the fallen officer's handgun along the way.

In the moments after Cassidy was hit, scores of police officers swarmed 20 square blocks in the northern edge of Philadelphia, nearby schools were locked down, and Mayor Street, Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson, and others made their way to Albert Einstein Medical Center, where the 25-year veteran of the force was taken.

Cassidy, 54, a married father of three, was listed in critical condition last night after surgery to relieve swelling in his brain. Cardinal Justin Rigali also went to the hospital to be with the officer's family.

Cassidy was the third police officer to be shot this week and the second within 12 hours.

Police last night released two portions of a surveillance tape that show the beginning of the robbery, at 10:30 a.m., and its immediate aftermath.

In the first section, a hooded man is seen coming into the shop and lurking, as if casing the store at 6620 N. Broad St. Then he pulls out a handgun and waves it as he bulls his way toward the cashier. The last few frames of the section show Cassidy approaching the front door.

The gunman shot Cassidy in the head at close range, Johnson said during a news conference at Police Headquarters. "He assassinated him," Johnson said. "This is very emotional for me."

The second section of the videotape shows the outside of the store. The robber stoops down, picks up Cassidy's handgun, and runs off.

Cassidy had routinely checked the store because it had been robbed Sept. 18, apparently by the same man, Johnson said. Someone in the parking lot had alerted Cassidy to the robbery, he said, and the officer pulled out his gun as he approached.

"The officer was shot while opening the door," said Sandra Kim, a Dunkin' Donuts employee who said she was working the counter at the time. "It's so upsetting to me. This officer came in twice a day, every day. . . . He was always waving and smiling."

Cassidy frequently ordered a large coffee with cream and sugar as he made his rounds.

"I was upset and crying for two or three hours because I know him, and he's a good guy," Kim said. She added that the robber fled before taking any money.

The shooting stunned many in a city that is experiencing a high rate of gun violence. The crimes stood in sharp contrast to the glittering images of Philadelphia broadcast with Tuesday night's debate of Democratic presidential candidates at Drexel University.

"It is very troubling that there is such a loss of respect for authority in this city and this country," Street said to reporters outside Einstein. "This is a very, very sad day."

Robert Eddis, the immediate past president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police and a friend of Cassidy's, was groping for words.

"When is it going to stop? When are the people in our city going to put an end to this? It's just got to stop," Eddis said.

SWAT teams, detectives and uniformed officers combed the city looking for Cassidy's shooter, described as a heavy-set African American, about 5-foot-11 to 6 feet tall, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, khaki pants, and tan boots. The man had a spider-web tattoo on his left hand and may have been carrying an extra hooded sweatshirt that is black with gray stripes, police said.

At the height of the search, the Philadelphia School District locked down 54 nearby schools and early-education centers, and four parochial schools were also locked down. La Salle University canceled afternoon classes.

In the blocks around the doughnut shop, officers looked into cars, stopping and questioning people who fit the robber's description or who had been in the area when Cassidy was shot. Residents had to show identification. Officers knocked on doors and searched manholes and trash bins, marking those that had been cleared.

The manhunt encompassed a large area, from Broad Street west to 18th Street, and from 63d Avenue north to 68th Avenue. Traffic snarled as cars were directed around the area.

Most residents seemed calm despite the uproar, hoping that police would catch the gunman. "I'm praying for everybody," said Alfreda Jackson, 53, who was waiting for a prescription at the CVS pharmacy across Broad from the doughnut shop.

"I'm praying for the family, and above all the city," Jackson said. "It's sad this has to happen to our officers."

But Denny Royder, 20, was annoyed, saying he and a friend were questioned three times by officers. "I just feel mad that I can't walk in my own neighborhood without being messed with because I'm wearing a black jacket," Royder said. "They wanted to know if either one of us had tattoos."

Mark Presley Sr., 37, said that an officer stopped him about 3:30 p.m. and showed him a picture of the suspect. Presley, whose mother is a police officer, said he knew the man by the nickname "Fatman."

As the search continued, the Cassidy family held vigil at Einstein, attended by dozens of police officers.

"There's a wonderful spirit of solidarity," Rigali said. "Everyone is hoping. Everyone is praying. There's no way of knowing just what will happen."

Coincidentally, Jimmy Binns, a lawyer who finances sidewalk plaques honoring slain officers, was about to begin a ceremony dedicating two such memorials nearby at Limekiln Pike and Stenton Avenue when the call came in about Cassidy's shooting. The officers who had mustered for the dedication, including one officer in a kilt, ran off to respond.

Binns later visited the hospital to check on Cassidy.

He said that the officer's wife, Judy, hugged him and said: "You're not going to have to put a plaque down for my husband."


Reward Posted

The FOP, in conjunction with the business community, last night announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who shot Officer Charles Cassidy. Call the Citizens Crime Commission of Delaware Valley at 215-546-TIPS.


Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.