Saturday, November 23, 2013

Family of 14 year-old wants outside probe of Taser incident

Posted: Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A special prosecutor should investigate the circumstances surrounding a police officer’s use of a stun gun on a 14-year-old shoplifting suspect, a representative for the family of the boy said Wednesday.



Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler has “compromised his office,” said Greg Brinkley, an investigator hired by the teen’s mom Marissa Sargeant. Brinkley cited the DA’s previous comments about the incident, including inaccurate statements that the teen had a criminal record.
“Clearly, I think he has compromised himself,” Brinkley said. “I don’t think his office can do a fair investigation. Everything he’s done, he has formed a judgment already concerning the events as the police have told him.”
On Friday evening, Sargeant posted photos of her son’s bruised and battered face on Facebook, claiming that two Tullytown police officers “brutally attacked/tortured” and fired a stun gun in his face after he and an adult relative were arrested Nov. 12. That ignited a firestorm on social media and prompted international coverage in the mainstream media.    
14-year-old hit with stun gun in Bucks County, Pa. 
Sargeant took the photos of her son after he was released from the Edison Youth Detention Center in Doylestown, where he was incarcerated for three days following the arrest, Brinkley said.
Heckler has said the teen’s injuries are the result of the boy falling face first onto the concrete after he was hit with a stun gun. Since his hands were cuffed behind his back, he was unable to break his fall. The newspsper is withholding the boy’s name because he’s a minor and the case is in the juvenile court system.
The family believes the injuries, which include a broken nose and cracked teeth, were the result of a physical assault, not a fall.
The family reportedly has hired high-profile Philadelphia attorney Fortunato Perri Jr. to represent them in a potential civil rights lawsuit. The newspaper has been unsuccessful in reaching Perri for comment, despite several phone messages.
Supporters have planned a rally dubbed “Justice for Joey” the day before Thanksgiving outside the Tullytown Police Department.
The only publicly available information — a criminal complaint against the teen’s uncle — doesn’t mention either the escape attempt or the use of a stun gun.
The report states that, about 2:30 p.m., police responding to a retail theft report at the Levittown Wal-Mart saw an F-150 Ford pickup matching the description of the suspect’s vehicle speeding through the parking lot toward Route 13 South. A Tullytown police patrol car got behind the pickup and attempted a traffic stop as the pickup exited the shopping center and turned right onto southbound Route 13.
The pickup drove through construction cones to get away, according to the affidavit. The officer driving behind the pickup saw it rear-end another vehicle, according to the document.
Another Tullytown police officer pulled in front of the pickup truck and blocked it between the two patrol cars, according to the affidavit. The driver, Jordan Gibson, 19, and a “juvenile” — who the DA says is the 14-year-old — were positively identified by Wal-Mart employees as the suspected shoplifters.
Gibson was charged with recklessly endangering others, corrupting the morals of a minor, fleeing and attempting to elude an officer, retail theft and related charges in connection with the shoplifting incident, according to court records. The boy faces misdemeanors, but his exact charges aren’t public information because juvenile court proceedings are closed to the public.
Deputy District Attorney Michelle Walsh confirmed that charges of resisting arrest, fleeing and eluding police were dismissed Friday at the boy’s intake hearing, the equivalent a preliminary hearing in adult court. Other charges remain apparently remain.
What happened after Gibson and the teen were taken into police custody is the subject of a formal DA investigation at the request of the Tullytown police chief. Heckler initially said his office didn’t plan to investigate, citing his satisfaction with accounts from police and juvenile probation of what happened and because the mother hadn’t requested an investigation.
The newspaper has been unsuccessful in attempts to reach Tullytown Police Chief Dan Doyle for comment. The day after the photos of the teen’s battered face circulated on social media, Doyle released a statement saying the department was aware of “misinformation” surrounding the arrest and a “thorough” review of the incident was underway.
Tullytown police have forwarded details of their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the stun gun incident to Bucks County detectives, according to sources familiar with the case.
Heckler has said that his understanding is the 14-year-old had his hands cuffed behind his back and was waiting beside the pickup truck when he took off running toward Route 13.
The officer ordered the teen to stop and warned he would use a Taser if the teen didn’t comply, according to the police account and witnesses. The boy kept running and the stun gun was fired. It’s unknown if surveillance cameras in the shopping center or the patrol car’s dash camera captured any images.
The boy’s family believes the police officers had other options to stop the boy, suggesting they could have used their patrol cars to block his path or tackled him to the ground, Brinkley said. “He couldn’t have run too fast because his hands were behind his back,” Brinkley added.
Heckler has said the two barbed stun gun probes hit the boy in the right shoulder and right cheek. Brinkley disputes that finding. He says his review of the medical records show the probes hit the boy in the hand or wrist and the cheek.
The police officers took the boy to Lower Bucks Hospital, where the probe was removed from his cheek, Heckler said. It’s unclear who signed off on the boy’s medical care. Brinkley claimed police didn’t notify Sargeant her son was taken to the hospital or treated there and told her the teen “signed off” on his medical treatment.
Heckler has said the boy didn’t tell anyone at the juvenile detention center or the hospital that a police officer had assaulted him. Brinkley says the family believes the boy lost consciousness at some point and doesn’t clearly recall everything that happened.
“Both of his eyes clearly reflect that he was punched,” Brinkley said, adding, “Some of the things he remembers, and the more you talk to him, the more he is starting to remember.”
Also unclear is when the police notified Sargeant about her son’s arrest. She claims she was told when she went to the Tullytown Police Station and police refused to let her see her son, Brinkley said. She also claims police refused to let her see or speak to her son until he was released Friday from the detention center in Doylestown Township.
The Bucks County Youth Center has visiting hours on Wednesday evenings, plus Saturday and Sunday, according to its director, Ted Rice. Detainees also can make calls to parents or guardians “any day of the week,” Rice said.
Brinkley said he doesn’t believe the boy was told he could call his mother. “If they say you want to call your mother, I don’t see him saying no,” he said.

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