Charge Lessened In Police Shooting Anthony Brasten Faces Trial On The Least Serious Homicide Count. Still, He Expected All Charges To Be Dismissed Again.

Posted: March 24, 1993

Former Police Sgt. Anthony Brasten was ordered to stand trial on involuntary-manslaughter charges yesterday in the fatal shooting of a West Philadelphia man in the back during a confrontation in June.

Common Pleas Court Judge Carolyn E. Temin dismissed a more serious charge of voluntary manslaughter against Brasten. The judge also dismissed a charge of reckless endangerment.

Brasten was rearrested by the district attorney last week in the shooting death of Charles Matthews, who was known in his neighborhood as "Window Washing Charlie."

Involuntary manslaughter - the least serious homicide charge - does not require an intent to kill but requires recklessness. If convicted, Brasten could be sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years in prison or could receive probation.

Conviction for voluntary manslaughter, a felony, would have carried a mandatory prison sentence of 5 to 10 years.

The judge remanded the case to Municipal Court, where Brasten will have a nonjury trial. If convicted by a Municipal Court judge, Brasten could appeal the verdict and ask for a jury trial in Common Pleas Court.

Temin offered no comment or explanation for her decision.

The ruling disappointed both sides - Brasten's family, friends and supporters who thought the officer should be exonerated, and the prosecutor, who argued for a more serious homicide charge.

"It appears to me it was a compromise" ruling, Brasten said outside the courtroom. "It's a lesser charge. Of course, I'm very very disappointed. I believe that the facts, the evidence and testimony once again was overwhelming that I should have been exonerated."

Brasten's wife, Toni, said she was "devastated" and thought the evidence should have cleared her husband, a 24-year veteran who retired after the grand jury recommended criminal charges last month.

Assistant District Attorney Evan Silverstein, who prosecuted the case, said, "I am disappointed, and we'll go on from here. We'll try it in Municipal Court."

A Municipal Court judge on March 11 dismissed the three charges recommended by the grand jury, ruling that Brasten, 45, was only doing his job when he fired 11 bullets into the back of Matthews, 54.

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham rearrested Brasten. Matthews was hit by 23 bullets; 11 in the back were attributed to Brasten.

In his argument yesterday, Silverstein read excerpts of Brasten's testimony before the grand jury that revealed the officer ran up to Matthews' darkened, enclosed porch with a flashlight and peered in before firing a final volley of shots.

According to excerpts of Brasten's grand jury testimony, he said, "I

shined the flashlight in, so the light was going directly" to the porch. "I was most nervous. I thought I was most likely to get shot. I see an image, a silhouette of a man in a crouched position, an arm move. . . . I shot at the silhouette. I couldn't even determine where I was shooting, or what I was shooting.

"If I had seen him injured, or his gun down, believe me, I wouldn't have taken that action," Brasten said.

A total of 85 shots were fired by eight officers after police were called to the victim's home in the 800 block of South 56th Street about 11 p.m. June 26.

They went to his house after receiving a call of a man with a gun threatening a neighbor. Matthews met the officers at his door with a gun at his side, according to testimony at the prior Municipal Court hearing, and gunfire erupted. One officer was hit, and Brasten ran up on the porch and pulled the wounded officer to safety.

Capt. John McGinnis testified at the Municipal Court hearing that when he arrived, he saw police officers crouched behind cars. He said that Brasten told him the wounded officer had been taken to the hospital. McGinnis said he ordered the officers to stop firing.

As he gave that command, McGinnis testified, Brasten ran to the steps of Matthews' house. The door was ajar, and Brasten was in a crouched defensive position, yelling "at something or someone inside." Then Brasten started shooting, McGinnis said.

McGinnis said he later asked Brasten if he had heard his order to stop firing. He said Brasten replied that he had not, and that he had fired shots

because Matthews turned toward him in the porch area.

It turned out later that the wounded officer had been struck by a police bullet and that Matthews' gun was not loaded.

The incident sparked neighborhood protests over how the police acted, and demands for an investigation.

Brasten's attorney, Mark E. Gottlieb, said he was disappointed his client was not "entirely vindicated" yesterday, but confident that "he will ultimately be found not guilty.

"There is no way that this man is going to be found guilty. He reacted in a split second to a life-threatening situation. I view this case as an insult to every police officer. If you want police officers to risk their lives in defending us, then they have to be able to make split-second decisions."

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