Judge clears ex-cop of teen assault; victim's mom wants answers

Tashiana Haggins-Montgomery and her daughter, Tashiyya Haggins, at their home in Mayfair. They say that officer Tamika Gross brought her suspended daughter to school to fight and then jumped into the brawl when her daughter began losing.

Former Philadelphia Police Officer Tamika Gross has been accused of fighting a citizen, punching a teenager, and provoking her kids to fight other juveniles, but on Friday she fought criminal charges against her in court and won when a judge found her not guilty after a bench trial.

The verdict rendered by Common Pleas Court Judge Charles J. Cunningham III shocked Tashiana Haggins-Montgomery, the mother of the teen girl whom Gross, 38, was on trial for allegedly punching in 2013.

“All I want to know is why Judge Cunningham felt my daughter didn’t deserve justice for this situation?” Haggins-Montgomery said. “She is crushed, and we have no peace because my child is now worried everywhere we go.”

The trial lasted 15 minutes or less, Haggins-Montgomery said, and no police witnesses were called to testify, despite several being present. Assistant District Attorney Sybil Murphy, who prosecuted the case, said she “attempted to call” the officers. Asked why that did not happen, she said: “That would be a question for the judge.”

Cunningham did not return multiple requests for comment.

Haggins-Montgomery, who testified and was sequestered when not on the stand, said she and her daughter were not brought into the courtroom to hear the judge render his verdict, so they do not know the reasoning for his decision.

Murphy said the judge gave his ruling immediately after the defense rested  without an explanation and without hearing closing arguments.

Haggins-Montgomery now has vowed to hound the judge until she gets answers.

“I will be a thorn in Judge Cunningham’s side,” she said.

In 2014, Gross was charged with several counts of simple assault, corruption of minors, recklessly endangering another person, and endangering the welfare of children for three cases dating to 2012 while she was off duty.  Gross was subsequently fired.

In the first case, prosecutors accused Gross of forcing her 18-year-old son to fight a 16-year-old boy in 2012. In the second, prosecutors accused her of bringing her daughter to fight two girls, ages 13 and 17 in 2012. Haggins-Montgomery's daughter was the alleged victim in the third case.

Murphy said witnesses in the first two cases appeared at Gross’ preliminary hearing but did not appear for trial, so charges related to those cases had to be dropped.

But the resolve of Haggins-Montgomery and her daughter, Tashiyya Haggins, who was the alleged victim in the third case, has never wavered. Gross was accused of bringing her suspended 16-year-old daughter to school to fight Tashiyya Haggins, then 14, over a boy.

Tashiyya Haggins said in an interview with the Daily News in 2013 that Gross jumped into the fight and punched her in the face when she saw her daughter losing.

When announcing Gross’ arrest in 2014, prosecutors said there was cellphone video of the  fight. Murphy said that she played that video during trial and that it showed Gross approaching the fight.

“At one point her son grabbed her, you don’t see her punch, but you see her arms moving as she is very close to the two fighting girls,” Murphy said. Her son comes over and grabs her and pulls her away.

Defense attorney Geoffrey Vincent Seay said the video did not prove anything.

“I saw two young girls fighting and Ms. Gross was standing there amongst other people as these two girls were fighting with each other,” he said.

Seay said he presented only character testimony on Gross’ behalf. He could not say  if his client would try to get back her job.

“I think she has every right to and I think she should, but I don’t know if she will or not,” he said.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby said he would look into Gross’ case  to decide whether the union would fight for her to get her job back.

The charges filed against Gross were not the first time she was accused of inappropriate behavior. In 2009 while on duty in West Philly, Gross allegedly got into a street fight with a woman named Lateefah Savage. Gross was placed on desk duty and disciplined but remained on the force.

Between 2009 and 2014, several citizens filed complaints against Gross with Internal Affairs.

One Internal Affairs investigator wrote in 2012: “Police documentation reveals P/O Gross was in fact present on more than one occasion when groups of juveniles gathered for the purpose of provoking fights with each other.”