Philadelphia officers to face charges

May 27, 2008 3:34:09 PM PDT
Two Philadelphia police officers are facing charges that they assaulted a man and then covered it up. The district attorney has charged Sheldon Fitzgerald and Howard Hill the Third with aggravated assault, conspiracy, and tampering with public records.

The two officers from the 25th District are both five-year veterans of the force.

Police say last August the pair saw 36-year old David Vernitsky spray painting graffiti on the wall of a Feltonville business. They chased him down, police say, and beat him to a pulp.

"Two officers began to pummel and kick him. He was taken and thrown in to the back of a patrol car," said Philadelphia district attorney Lynne Abramam. When Fitzgerald and Hill found that Vernitsky had no outstanding warrants they told him to get lost, police say, and made a false entry in their patrol log showing they were somewhere else other than 4th and Wyoming when the incident went down.

Vernitsky was hospitalized and suffered a broken jaw that had to be wired shut for five weeks.

Fitzgerald and Hill have been suspended without pay and are on track to be fired.

"Excessive force simply will not be tolerated in our department," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. "But it's very unfortunate in the sense that in the light of the most recent videotape incident, these things coming in such short order, it certainly is something of concern." The commissioner is referring to last month's arrest of three suspects that was captured on TV news video and beamed worldwide. Four officers have been fired and others disciplined.

The leader of the Fraternal Order of Police says Fitzgerald and Hill are being railroaded.

"We're being second and third-guessed. We have five, ten seconds out there to make a decision out on the street. We have instances now where there's not even thorough investigations, the last one being this recent one, it's just shoddy investigation. These officers are out there doing their job," said FOP president John McNesby.

Officers Fitzgerald and Hill surrendered Tuesday morning at the police Internal Affairs headquarters.