Judge acquits man of assaulting cop

A JUDGE YESTERDAY acquitted a man of assaulting a cop, making him the third and final family member to be cleared of charges stemming from an incident last fall outside a West Philly hospital.

Common Pleas Judge Vincent Melchiorre acquitted Frederick Thomas, 52, of charges of aggravated assault, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person after a bench trial.

On Oct. 25, Thomas was outside Mercy Philadelphia Hospital, at 54th Street and Cedar Avenue, with other family members to help commit his nephew Brian Thomas to the hospital for psychiatric care.

But after an incident with cops in the driveway, Thomas, his sister, Cynthia Morrison, and his nephew Orion Sistrunk were arrested and charged with aggravated assault and related offenses.

Police Officer Maurice Sutherland, of West Philadelphia's 19th District, testified yesterday that about 4:30 p.m. Oct. 25, he and his partner, Dionne Madison, were at the hospital for an unrelated matter when he saw a group of people in the driveway by a silver SUV.

One or two people from the group went up to him and his partner, thinking they were the cops who were at the hospital to help with an involuntary psychiatric commitment, Sutherland said.

Sutherland said he and Madison went to help the group after they finished with their other case.

Then, one or two other vehicles pulled up, and two or three more family members arrived, he said. He said "an older female and a younger black male" then went to the vehicle to talk to the man in the passenger seat, who was to be committed.

He said Madison verified the paperwork that the group had showing that the man in the passenger seat, Brian Thomas, was there to be committed involuntarily.

"He appeared relatively calm," Sutherland said of the man. Then, when the man's mother, Morrison, went to talk to her son, "he became a little more agitated," Sutherland said.

Sutherland said he told the family members to step back, and they did. He said he then went to talk to Brian Thomas to explain why Thomas was at the hospital and to get him out of the vehicle.

Sutherland said he put his hand on Brian Thomas' arm, but Thomas pulled away. He said he kept on trying as Thomas began moving his arm around.

That's when, he said, "people behind me yelled, 'Oh, no!'"

He said Morrison then punched him in the upper back. "I turned around to her, and I push her back," Sutherland said. "I hear another voice say, 'Oh, hell, no!'"

He said he then got kicked in the butt, and when he turned around, he immediately saw Sistrunk. He said others in the group were then pulling Sistrunk back.

Afterward, he said he felt someone pulling his leg out from underneath him, but he didn't fall. He said at that point, he saw Frederick Thomas near him.

During the chaos, he said he was still trying to get Brian Thomas out of the SUV. He said it took him and Madison about three minutes to get Thomas out.

Defense attorney Stephen Patrizio noted that on Oct. 25, Sutherland said he had no injuries.

When asked by Patrizio if Frederick Thomas was one of the people pulling Sistrunk back, Sutherland said he could have been. Patrizio argued that his client could have been pulling Sistrunk away from Sutherland, and it was not clear what else he may have done.

Assistant District Attorney Sheida Ghadiri argued that when Sutherland felt his leg go out from under him, Thomas was near him.

The judge said Sutherland testified that when he felt his leg go out from under him and he looked behind him, he saw Frederick Thomas but also saw others there.

"It wasn't clear to me [Thomas] was the person" who pulled Sutherland's leg out, the judge said.

After his acquittal, Thomas said: "It was a fair decision."

Morrison, 67, was acquitted by Melchiorre in February of the same charges as Thomas.

Sistrunk, 40, Brian Thomas' younger brother, was acquitted in May by Municipal Judge Jacquelyn Frazier-Lyde of conspiracy, simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. Another judge had dismissed an aggravated-assault charge at his preliminary hearing in December.


On Twitter: @julieshawphilly