Cyrus Mann, the Philadelphia police officer dismissed after fatally shooting an unarmed 306-pound man in 2012, got his job back last year in part because an arbitrator said no evidence or witnesses contradicted Mann’s version that he shot the man at close range as they struggled in a West Philadelphia alley.
But although the Police Department has publicly said Mann shot Hassan Pratt, 28, in the chest, medical records say otherwise. Pratt’s autopsy report shows that doctors determined Pratt had actually been shot from behind – twice in the back and once in a buttock. It also says three bullet holes in Pratt’s clothing and the bullet wounds in his body showed no gunpowder residue, which forensics experts say indicates that the shooting was not at close range.
Together, those autopsy details, never previously reported, raise new questions about Mann’s account and the decision to reinstate him despite three shootings in as many years, a tally that independent experts say is rare for a law enforcement officer.
The arbitrator in Mann’s case, Ralph H. Colflesh Jr., said this week that an internal 2015 police report he reviewed indicated investigators’ belief that Pratt had been shot in the back. But Colflesh also said that he never had access to the autopsy report, completed the day after Pratt’s Aug. 10, 2012, slaying.
He declined to say whether his decision would have been different had he read the report.
“As to any evidence that was outside the hearing, I can’t comment on that,” Colflesh said. As to how much weight he gave to the 2015 Police Department report, he would only say: “The award speaks for itself.”
An uncle’s crusade
The Police Department has acknowledged that Mann, who also wounded suspects in 2011 and 2014, is an example of its uphill battle to rid the department of officers it sees as unfit, and how the arbitration field can be tilted in terminated officers’ favor.
In Mann’s case, the arbitrator noted that he had no choice but to accept the officer’s account that he fired his gun because he feared for his life. Colflesh said he was given no evidence or witnesses to counter it.
City Hall spokesman Mike Dunn this week took issue with that, saying the city submitted “multiple pieces” of evidence and testimony, but he declined to elaborate. In December 2013, the city paid $465,000 to Pratt’s father, Michael Dawes, to settle a wrongful death suit.
Mann, a Philadelphia police officer since 2008, has declined numerous requests for comment.
The autopsy report, a copy of which was obtained this month by the Inquirer and Daily News, has provided more fuel in an effort by Pratt’s uncle to press for criminal charges against the officer.
“For Cyrus Mann to get his job back, knowing that the autopsy shows that Hassan was shot in the back —,” said the uncle, Perry Dawes, shaking his head. “There should have been a more thorough investigation done.”
On Tuesday, Dawes took a reporter to the weed-filled, three-foot-wide alley, hemmed by fences, in the 5500 block of Pemberton Street in West Philadelphia, where Mann chased Pratt, and claimed he fought for control of his gun and Taser before fatally shooting Pratt.
Dawes, 57, said the narrowness of the alley showed how difficult it would have been for the burly Pratt and the 6-foot-3 Mann to stand face-to-face and struggle over weapons.
“He took a life, I believe unnecessarily,” said Dawes, a Philadelphia School District police officer out on disability. “Ultimately, I’d like to see him pay for what he did.”
Dawes said that he and others among Pratt’s relatives cannot understand why criminal charges should not be filed against Mann. “It just seems like it needs to be investigated by somebody independent,” he said, “who can take it in any direction that it needs to go.”
A traffic stop
Around 6:25 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2012, Pratt was in the front passenger seat of a car that was stopped by Mann near 56th Street and Walton Avenue.
Pratt’s brother Mikaal, an Army sergeant on leave from Guam, was in the back seat of the tan 1996 Ford driven by a cousin, Sean Salters. On Catharine Street heading toward 56th Street, the three men saw a patrol car going in the opposite direction, according to records in the civil lawsuit. Salters turned right at the corner, and the police car made a U-turn and pulled them over.
Mann told Salters, and later told investigators, that he stopped Salters for an illegal right turn. Mann’s partner cited a broken rear brake light as the reason for the traffic stop.
The officers ordered the men out of the car. While being patted down by Mann, Hassan Pratt began running toward 55th Street and Walton, according to a statement from his brother.
Mann told Internal Affairs investigators he chased Pratt to the alleyway in the 5500 block of Pemberton. He said Pratt lunged for his gun and Taser, so he opened fire.
Pratt died at the scene. In his decision, Colflesh noted that Pratt apparently was “on probation from a lengthy felony sentence.” Although he had convictions for theft and drug possession, there were no active cases. He recently had graduated from an electricians’ trade school.
The bullet that struck Pratt in the left upper back passed through his throat and knocked out an upper front tooth. His uncle said he found the tooth in the alley five days later.
No gunpowder residue
At the time, the Police Department said Pratt was shot in the chest during a struggle with the officer.
According to the autopsy report, the bullet holes in Pratt’s clothing and wounds in his body showed no gunpowder residue, which is almost always present when a shooting occurs at close range. Mann claimed he shot Pratt from less than an arm’s length away.
“No way. There’d be gunpowder residue and stippling all over that shirt,” said Center City defense attorney Thomas F. Burke, a former city prosecutor.
The department suspended Mann for 30 days with intent to dismiss in June 2015, after a nearly three-year internal investigation found him guilty of “discharging, using, displaying, or improper handling of a firearm while not in accordance to departmental policy.”
Current department spokesman Capt. Sekou Kinebrew said earlier, inaccurate police statements about where Pratt was shot reflected the “embryonic” state of the investigation.
The department declined to provide a copy of Mann’s Internal Affairs statement, and declined to say if Pratt’s fingerprints and DNA were found on Mann’s gun or Taser.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office decided in November 2013 not to prosecute Mann but has declined to discuss its reasons. The office has not charged a police officer in an on-duty shooting since 1999.
Defense attorney L. George Parry, a former prosecutor, said city prosecutors should explain their decisions to families of police victims as a matter of decency and good public policy.
“These people have lost a loved one,” Parry said. “It does not serve anyone’s interest to keep them in the dark.”
To restore public trust in such cases, State Sen. Art Haywood, whose Fourth District includes parts of Northwest Philadelphia and Montgomery County, is sponsoring legislation to require all shootings by police officers to be investigated by the state Attorney General’s Office.
“I have never said that district attorneys are biased or law enforcement officials are biased, that is not my point. But there is still a lack of trust, so the perception is enough to change who does the investigations,” said Haywood, a Democrat
Community groups are behind the bill, but it has drawn opposition from law enforcement organizations.
“We do not agree that that is the best approach. We believe the local district attorney should be the one that makes that decision,” said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, which includes all 67 county-elected district attorneys. “They are the most accountable to the public. Part of the job of a district attorney is to make those difficult decisions.”
Dawes, meanwhile, wonders how Colflesh could have made his ruling without seeing the autopsy report. The day after the shooting, Dawes went to the alley to begin his own investigation. He said he dipped his finger in his nephew’s blood.
“It appears my nephew was fleeing from where he fell,” he said last week, choking up at the memory. “That’s what it looks like was taking place.”
Philadelphia Police Officer Cyrus Mann, hired in 2008, shot three men in three years. He was fired in 2015, but rehired after winning an arbitration ruling. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )