It was the death of one man in the Mayfair section of Philadelphia that’s led to weekly rallies against police, a fight during a community policing event last week and allegations of a police department cover-up.
Police pulled over Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, on Dec. 15 because because he was driving at night with his daytime running lights on instead of his headlights. After a short confrontation with Philadelphia police, an officer shot Tate-Brown in the back of the head, killing him.
District Attorney Seth Williams announced last week that no police officers will be charged in the death of Tate-Brown, and on the heels of that came a Dept. of Justice report this week that showed Philly Police have used deadly force all too often.
Here’s a look at the case, and why public officials aren’t releasing the information that Tate-Brown’s supporters so desperately want:
How’d it start?
At about 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 15 on the 6600 block of Frankford Avenue, two officers — both new hires at the 15th District — pulled over Tate-Brown who was driving a new, rented Dodge Charger for the aforementioned alleged violation of the traffic code.
The officers (whose names we don’t know, more on that later) reported that when Tate-Brown was pulled over, they could see the butt of a .22 caliber handgun that was lodged in between the center console and the seat of the car. After spotting the gun, the officers asked Tate-Brown to get out of the car so he could be arrested.
According to Williams, the police said that a struggle began that went on for several minutes after Tate-Brown refused to be handcuffed by the officers. After he broke free a number of times, police say Tate-Brown tried to lunge into the passenger side door for the gun.
At that moment, the police told investigators, one officer fired a shot into the back of his head. He died a short time later. Not long after, his mother Tanya Brown-Dickerson was sitting in a parking lot when she’d heard news of the shooting on the radio. According to The Daily News, it only took a few minutes for her to confirm it was her son.
Williams claims this account of the events of that night are corroborated by “three surveillance tapes, four witnesses, ballistics evidence and DNA results,” according to The Daily News.
So the officers won’t face charges?
Williams announced last week that no charges would be filed against the officers involved in the shooting, saying that “the facts show a tragedy, a terrible tragedy, but . . . the officers’ actions here do not constitute a crime.” The DA said he’d met with Brown-Dickerson and other community leaders earlier in the week to review the case and go over evidence.
The next day, in an interview with Billy Penn, Williams resented the comparison that’s been made of the shooting to events that took place in Ferguson and Staten Island, both of which were unarmed black men killed by white police officers. (We don’t know the race of the officers in this case.)
“I’m not afraid of charging [police] if the evidence is there. It’s also, maybe, more important to exonerate people who deserve exoneration,” Williams said. “But these people that are all upset that say, ‘black lives matter.’ Of course I believe that. I believe every life matters. But the unvarnished truth that they may not want to talk about it is about 80 percent of homicides of young black men are those killed by other black men.”
There were protests afterwards — what about that?
Not long after the announcement last week that charges wouldn’t be filed, both Williams and Ramsey appeared at a community meeting in Lawncrest for a forum on policing that had been scheduled for months.
Family, friends and others who support Tate-Brown and his family’s characterization of the events disrupted the meeting and held signs in protest. But when they were challenged, members of the group began throwing chairs and fighting inside the forum. A brawl ensued, and by the end of the night, 10 people had been arrested.
There have been other protests, though?
Yes, both organized and silent. Vandals in Philadelphia made national news shortly after the shooting in December when someone spray-painted “Cop Lives Don’t Matter” on Baltimore Avenue in West Philly. Also among the graffiti were messages that read “Fuck the cops” and “PPD Killed Brandon.”
(Photo courtesy of Steve Keeley, Fox29)
In February, demonstrators were out in the snow in Mayfair protesting how police handled the Tate-Brown case, and begging for information like the names of the officers involved and their histories in arresting young black men.
What about the surveillance?
The lawyer representing Tate-Brown’s family has told reporters that a video of the police shooting shows a different story, and would prove that Tate-Brown was actually running from being beaten near the trunk of the vehicle when he was shot, not lunging into his car to grab a gun. A private investigator retained by that attorney has said he believes the police have engaged in a cover-up of the death.
The attorney and Brown-Dickerson, the mother of Tate-Brown, viewed the surveillance video in February after public outcry that police hadn’t released the video. The footage was grainy, but Tate-Brown’s family contends it shows that his movements weren’t as definitive as police claim they were.
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey — who is the co-chair of President Obama’s task force on 21st Century Policing that commissioned after Ferguson — said the surveillance footage isn’t definitive, and much of the investigation was dependent upon the statements of the officers and four eyewitnesses.
The surveillance video has not been released to the public, and Williams contends that he still has no plans to do so.
Where’d the gun come from?
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Tate-Brown’s family had suggested that the gun was planted by corrupt cops — which the city has had its fair share of. But police said that DNA evidence showed the semi-automatic Taurus handgun was at one point handled by Tate-Brown.
Police also said it was fully-loaded and was reported as stolen from South Carolina.
Who are the officers?
The Tate-Brown family engaged with the NAACP, clergy members and community leaders in the #BlackLivesMatter movement that had already taken a stand against police-involved deaths in Ferguson and Staten Island. Protests have happened on many occasions in Philadelphia since the Tate-Brown shooting, and one of the most popular hashtags of them was #whokilledbrandontatebrown.
Brown-Dickerson learned from The Daily News two months after the shooting that after an internal investigation showed they didn’t violate protocol, both officers were back out on the street. But she still didn’t know their names, and neither did the public.
For months, police hid behind the phrase “ongoing investigation,” and said they were concerned about compromising the inquiry into the shooting by releasing the names of the officers involved too soon.
Officials still have yet to release the names of the officers involved, but Tate-Brown’s family says it won’t stop until they do.
Probably a civil suit. The attorney for Tate-Brown’s family, which has also retained a private investigator, said they’re in the “investigatory stage” of whether or not they’ll file a civil suit against police, and in which court it would make sense to do so.
A lawsuit filed against police in this case could be fruitful for Tate-Brown’s family, as there’s a different standard in civil cases. To be convicted of a crime, an officer would have needed to have been found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Civil cases operate on a preponderance of the evidence, meaning jurors would only have to believe it’s more likely than not that the police erred.
Take the O.J. Simpson case, for example: Simpson was found not guilty of murder in a court of law, but a civil jury ordered he pay the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman $25 million in punitive damages.
According to MuckRock, the city of Philadelphia paid out $40 million in 600 misconduct lawsuits brought over the last five years, two of which were related to police-involved shootings that took place in 2011 and 2012, and each of those settled for $2.5 million.
Tate-Brown’s attorney said if the family decides to go the lawsuit route, it’ll likely be amended as a wrongful death suit.