A veteran Philadelphia police officer has been reassigned and stripped of his gun after a Roxborough man said the off-duty cop held him at gunpoint and searched his pockets because he placed some ripped-up mail in the curbside recycling bin outside the officer’s house.
Anthony Barbera, an 11-year department veteran, has had his service weapon “reclaimed” while the April 11 incident is investigated, department spokesperson Lt. Sekou Kinebrew said.
“He has been placed in restricted-duty status and detailed to the Impound Lot as the investigation ensues,” Kinebrew said.
Barbera, 40, did not return a message seeking comment. But he has said he thought his accuser, Sammy Parker, was an identity thief rummaging through his garbage can, according to Parker and a neighbor who witnessed the standoff.
The incident left Parker, 47, angry and upset.
“I was helpless. Nobody should feel that way,” Parker said in the kitchen of the home he shares with his fiancee and her two children.
Parker said he isn’t just mad about the gun and illegal search, but because he believes the stress of the incident could have killed him. The hardware store sales associate and father of three said he has survived four strokes, and manages his diabetes and high blood pressure with 11 daily pills and insulin.
“I want him off the street. He has to pay for this. God forbid I had a heart attack. I take medicine to stay alive every day, and this guy wants to pull a gun on me?” Parker said.
The dustup centered on the bin outside the officer’s home on Leverington Avenue. Parker had been on Leverington to pick up mail still being delivered to his former address. After getting it, he ripped up a piece of junk mail and dropped it into Barbera’s recycling bin as he passed it, he said.
A minute or so later, he said, Barbera bolted from his house in a T-shirt, short black pants, and sneakers, and holding his Glock service weapon. According to Parker, the off-duty officer caught up with him five houses up the street, and ordered him to “freeze” and empty his pockets before his pockets were searched. Parker said Barbera told him his wife saw him going through the bin as if he were an identity thief.
The incident lasted about 12 minutes and ended when police cars swarmed the street.
Parker said he was interviewed by an Internal Affairs investigator that day. So was Teresa Hammell, 59, who lives across the street from where she saw Barbera holding Parker at gunpoint.
“I thought somebody was either having a quarrel or being robbed,” Hammell recalled. She said she was in her front yard with her Siberian husky feeding birds when she saw the gun and shouted that she was calling police. It was then that Barbera informed her and Parker that he was a cop, both said in separate interviews.
Although they live on the same street, Hammell said she had never seen Barbera before and described his appearance at the time of the incident as “disheveled.” Hours later, she said, he was nicely groomed when he knocked on her door, introduced himself, and “apologized for scaring me. I didn’t even know it was the same guy.”
Hammell said that after Barbera told her that he thought the man he had held at gunpoint was an identity thief, she felt more favorable toward the officer. But she acknowledged the conflicting accounts. “I only saw half of it," she said. "Half of the story is not the whole story.”
Parker said he is fearful the investigation will conclude with Barbera’s being cleared of wrongdoing.
“He was very, very angry,” Parker said of Barbera. “I want him arrested, and I will testify."
Pointing a gun at someone and searching their pockets without consent is “potentially” a crime “depending on the circumstances," said Kinebrew.
While courts have ruled that taking trash from someone’s curbside can is not a crime, Kinebrew noted that there are circumstances when placing items in a person’s trash could constitute a crime or a code violation.
John McNesby, president of Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said he was unfamiliar with Barbera’s case, but said an officer’s being reassigned without his gun is routine following gun incidents.
“Right now, we have about 80 cops with guns taken,” he said. “My problem is, they sit for so long. It can take two to three years for these investigations.”
Maureen DiCarlantonio, 44, Parker’s fiancee, said the incident had altered his mood.