What happened after Walls shot James L. "Jackie" Giovinetti that night is a classic illustration of how hard it is for the Philadelphia Police Department to police itself. Earlier articles have described a Byzantine system that fails to significantly punish officers it finds guilty of misconduct.
This story is about off-duty behavior, disciplinary policy, rules about carrying handguns, and how the Police Department cleared of any wrongdoing an officer whose actions city lawyers found indefensible.
Walls said he did nothing wrong and fired his gun only in self-defense. Even so, when Giovinetti filed a civil suit, the city solicitor thought the the city would lose. Rather than go to trial, the city paid Giovinetti $550,000.
It gave $900,000 to survivors of Sean Wilson after he was shot to death by an officer.
It paid $500,000 to David B. Hayes after a beating by an officer left him brain-damaged.
It gave $2.2 million to James Cahoe after he was paralyzed by an officer's bullet.
While most of Philadelphia's 6,100 officers never face a citizen complaint, the cost of police misconduct is high. In just the last 28 months, the city has paid or settled $20 million in damages in 225 cases to people who said Philadelphia police officers beat, shot, harassed or otherwise mistreated them.
That number is expected to go higher as people who were falsely arrested by rogue cops in the 39th District get to, or near, court. City officials have said there may be as many as 1,400 criminal cases facing review and possible reversal because of misconduct by six officers in that district alone.
The city already is paying out more than Chicago - with twice as many officers - and proportionately more than New York.
Many of these settlements happen because what Officer Robert Walls did that night at Networks violated no policy, and is considered acceptable conduct by the Philadelphia police.
Wednesday night was jammed at Networks. After the $10 cover charge, drinks were free. There was music and a big dance floor.
Robert Walls had picked up two buddies and driven down from the Northeast. He is a solidly built man, about 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, with a wide, fleshy face and thick light-brown hair trimmed neatly around the ears. He had been an amateur boxer in his teens.
Walls had broken a bone in his right wrist on duty the week before. He was wearing a cast from just below the elbow to the base of his fingers. Walls is right-handed, and the injury was enough to keep him from working. It did not keep him from a night out at Networks with friends.
A man walked into the bar that night who looked so much like heavyweight boxer Evander Holyfield that he literally stopped the show. Lee Woodall was captain of the West Chester University football team (he now plays linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers), and he was used to being mistaken for the boxer. The club DJ announced that Holyfield was in the room.
Woodall didn't go out of his way to dispel the illusion. He and his friend Jackie Giovinetti thought it was hysterical.
But later, at close to 1 a.m., when Woodall was waiting in line to use the urinal in the men's room, a man in a tan sportcoat with a cast on his right forearm called his bluff and told him:
"You're just somebody pretending to be somebody you ain't."
Words were exchanged. Woodall said he left the men's room and told Giovinetti what had happened. Giovinetti was a popular character at Networks. He is a towering, thickly muscled man, 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds, who was developing a career as a bodybuilder and a model. He was 22 and had worked as a bouncer at a number of bars, and knew many of the people crowded into Networks that night. He followed Woodall back to the men's room to see if he recognized this guy who had given his friend a hard time.
More words were exchanged. Walls said Giovinetti struck the first blow. Giovinetti said Walls did. Witnesses said they saw a furious free-for-all, with Walls reaching for Giovinetti's legs trying to pull him down, and with the bigger man punching Walls so hard in the face that the off-duty officer fell hard to one knee.
In every account, Walls was losing the fight.
He was on the floor when he shouted that he was a cop and reached for the loaded semiautomatic pistol he had tucked in the back of his pants. According to Giovinetti's account, which was supported by a witness, the fight stopped when the gun came out and Walls fired a shot into the ceiling. The big man said he began backing away, but was penned in by the crowd now fleeing the men's room. Outside, bar patrons screamed and many dropped to the floor.
Hemmed in, Giovinetti said, he stood horrified as Walls, with his right hand, pointed the gun at him and shot him in the stomach.
Walls' story was different. He said Giovinetti was crouched over him, gripping his head in both hands and banging it against the hard floor. Walls said he pulled his gun out with his left hand and identified himself as a cop. He said the gun went off accidentally into the ceiling when Giovinetti punched him square in the face. Walls said he then pointed the gun up at Giovinetti's ''center mass" and pulled the trigger.
"I had no choice," said Walls in an interview last week. "I was being attacked and I thought he was going to kill me."
Giovinetti said the impact of the bullet lifted him off the ground but he landed on his feet. He was stunned and bleeding, he said, when Walls pointed the gun at his head. As Giovinetti turned to flee, he said, the gun went off again, momentarily deafening him and singing the hair on the right side of his head. He fought free of the crowd and ran for the front door.
Four witnesses inside the panicked bar said they saw Walls step out of the men's room, shoot again at Giovinetti's back and miss. Walls denied doing so. By now, the crowd was breaking windows to escape.
Giovinetti said he knew he was bleeding badly. He stuck two fingers into the hole in his belly and stood for a moment beside City Avenue waiting for a
break in traffic. He could taste blood pouring into his mouth and he began to swallow it back hard.
"I was trying to keep it in," he said.
When traffic slowed, he ran for his car, in a lot across the street. Walls followed. The off-duty officer caught up to Giovinetti in the parking lot and began kicking at him, trying to knock him to the ground.
"Please leave me alone," Giovinetti said he told Walls. "I'm already dead."
Walls said later he was trying to get Giovinetti to lie down until an ambulance arrived.
Louis Onorato, an off-duty New Jersey state trooper, had been inside Networks when the shooting started. He said he ran outside and saw Walls pointing his gun toward City Avenue. Onorato had left his gun in his car before entering the bar. He ran to get it, then sprinted after Walls. He said he ducked behind a car, held up his badge, pointed his gun and shouted: ''Police! Drop the gun!"
Giovinetti said Onorato saved his life:
"I heard him shout he was a cop, and I turned and saw him holding up the badge and the gun."
Giovinetti and Onorato later testified that Walls turned and fired two shots at the trooper. According to an officer who interviewed Walls on the night of the shooting, Walls said he shot first at Onorato. Later, Walls said it was the state trooper who fired the first shots.
The gun battle ended when Lower Merion police arrived.
When Philadelphia police came minutes later, Walls directed them to arrest Giovinetti.
The big man was picked up, he said, and thrown into the back of a police paddy wagon, bloodying the steel floor.
"I couldn't believe I had that much blood in me," said Giovinetti. ''That's when I first began to really feel the pain, when I hit the floor of the wagon."
Giovinetti was driven the short distance to Philadelphia Osteopathic Medical Center, where surgeons rushed to save his life.
Walls told the Internal Affairs Division that he had suffered a concussion. At the hospital, doctors noted only the aftermath of a fistfight - a sprained little finger on his right hand, minor cuts and bruises on his face, and a sprained knee.
A 24-hour guard was assigned to Giovinetti at the hospital as doctors pieced his insides back together. One of his hands was cuffed to the bed.
When he came out of surgery, he learned that he had been charged with simple assault, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person.
Walls was not charged. His fate was in the hands of the Philadelphia police's internal disciplinary system.
He had little to fear.
Internal Affairs Lt. Frederick Zindell arrived at Networks about 45 minutes after the shooting.
Detectives at the scene were there to collect evidence of a crime. Zindell's job was more limited. He was there to determine if Officer Walls had broken any of the Police Department's rules.
Some police departments prohibit off-duty officers from carrying guns in bars; Philadelphia is considering doing so, but hasn't. Although Networks was located near the intersection of City Avenue and Monument Road, a popular area for upscale restaurants, hotels and office buildings, Walls later explained that he stuck the .45 semiautomatic into his pants at the small of his back
because "I was going into a neighborhood that I knew had a high crime rate." Networks is on the city side of the Lower Merion-Philadelphia border.
"Were you ever given any training about drinking off duty?" he was later asked by an attorney for Giovinetti.
"I don't believe they have to train you to drink off duty," Walls said.
". . . Did you receive any training, either in the Police Academy or since then, about whether you should carry your gun when you're drinking?"
Sgt. Christopher Caniz, the first officer to question Walls, smelled alcohol on his breath, but did not tell this to Internal Affairs.
One of Walls' companions said the officer drank two beers in the car on the way to Networks. Walls acknowledged drinking two more over the next three hours. One of his friends said it was probably "four to five" more bottles.
Walls was not questioned about how much he had to drink, nor was he given a blood or breath test. Alcohol did not come up in Zindell's report.
"There is no policy to cover alcohol or drug testing merely because someone was involved in a shooting," Zindell explained later to Giovinetti's lawyers in a deposition for his civil suit. ". . . If we had an indication that the officer was drinking, he could be sent (for a Breathalyzer test), but that is just overall policy, if an officer is believed to be under the influence."
Zindell said he knew of no reason to suspect that Walls might be drunk, so he didn't order the test.
Under department policy, an officer (either on or off duty) is justified in firing a gun when attacked, but only to prevent death or serious injury if an attack cannot be fought off by any other means, and if it continues after the officer has identified himself.
What Zindell saw at the scene appeared to support Walls' story.
Two empty shell casings were found in the men's room. Zindell noticed a bullet hole in a ceiling tile, which could have been the wild shot Walls fired while down on the floor. The second casing could have been the shell that hit Giovinetti. More shell casings were found outside, in the parking lot across the street, where Walls had exchanged shots with Trooper Onorato.
From then on, Walls was considered the victim.
But other evidence didn't fit. Walls' injuries seemed minor for the severe beating he described.
Zindell knew that hospitals routinely held officers overnight for observation if they suspected a concussion, but Walls had been treated and released. Hospital records, which Zindell never saw, made no mention of a concussion.
When Walls was questioned by Zindell weeks later, parts of his story changed.
Outside the bar and at the hospital that night, according to Sgt. Caniz, Walls said that he had shot Giovinetti only when he "noticed one of the males going for something in his waist," presumably a weapon. Walls told Zindell he had no memory of someone reaching for a weapon. The lieutenant did not note the discrepancy in his report, nor did he ask Walls about it during the interview.
"I admit some guilt here," Zindell said later when questioned about it by Giovinetti's lawyers (he did not respond to interview requests for this article). "I failed to ask that as a follow-up question."
Other key information was missing from the Internal Affairs report.
Zindell interviewed a man who had witnessed the shooting. His report notes only that a John Clancey was in the men's room when the fight broke out and heard three shots fired.
When Clancey later was questioned by Giovinetti's lawyers, he described the men's-room brawl as a "mutual fight," not the one-sided unprovoked assault Walls described. Clancey said he heard Walls identify himself as a police officer, and saw him pull out the weapon. He said Giovinetti was not hunched over Walls and punching when he was shot. Clancey said the bigger man was backing away.
The trajectory of the bullet that struck Giovinetti did not square with Walls' account. Medical records showed that the bullet had entered Giovinetti's upper left abdomen and traveled down and to the right, tearing through his stomach and colon before coming to rest in his right lower back.
Arthur Sesso, the surgeon who patched Giovinetti together, later testified that, in his opinion, the shooting had not happened as Walls claimed. Walls said he had gripped the gun in his left hand and pointed it up at Giovinetti. Sesso said the wounds suggested that Walls had held the gun in his right hand, and that he most likely was standing when he fired.
If Walls was standing with the gun in his right hand, it meant the off-duty officer had not been a desperate man flat on his back fending off an attacker.
"I won't answer any questions about that," Walls said last week.
Months after the shooting, Deputy City Solicitor Jeffery M. Scott tried to shake Sesso's opinion. In a videotaped deposition at the doctor's office at Osteopathic Medical Center, Scott stood hunched over the doctor - who was reclining in a chair - and tried to lean and twist his body in such a way that it might account for the path of the bullet.
"It's very tough to visualize," said Sesso, staring up at Scott. "But if you're asking me, is it possible? Sure, anything's possible."
Scott abandoned the effort in frustration, turning to the cameraman and telling him to strike the whole line of questioning. The videotape was never edited because the civil case never went to trial. Scott subsequently advised the city to settle Giovinetti's claim.
Neither Sesso's opinion nor Giovinetti's medical records were considered by Internal Affairs. Zindell never talked to the doctor, nor sought the medical records.
"Has the Philadelphia Police Department made any effort, you or anybody else . . . gone out there to determine the path of this gunshot wound?" Zindell was asked by Giovinetti's lawyer, Frank DeSimone.
"No," said Zindell.
"Any reason why you haven't?"
"No, I can't explain that," Zindell said. ". . . Without trying to sound like a wise guy, to this day we're debating how the bullet traveled through John F. Kennedy's head in 1963."
Zindell did reach the conclusion that Walls was lying, at least in part, about what happened that night.
According to Sgt. Caniz, Walls claimed on the night of the shooting that he had fired his gun four times - twice in the men's room, and twice in the parking lot at Onorato. Police found two spent shells in the men's room and two in the parking lot.
Four witnesses said they saw Walls fire another shot, some said two, at Giovinetti's back as he fled. Giovinetti had described a third shot at the door of the men's room. Two witnesses, including the state trooper, said they saw Walls aiming at Giovinetti as he ran across the street. Their memories were supported by evidence from Walls' gun. Of seven rounds in the gun, one remained when Walls turned it over to Lower Merion police.
When he was interviewed by Zindell weeks after the incident, the officer had an explanation for the two missing rounds. He said that he had fired three times at the state trooper, not two, and that he had lost the other cartridge inside Networks when his gun jammed. He said that he "may have ejected a live round" when he cleared his pistol by releasing the slide.
Zindell didn't believe him.
"I know from handling .45s that that doesn't work," said Zindell, when questioned by Giovinetti's lawyers. "Just from my experience in the Marine Corps."
Zindell said he thought Walls was lying about that part of the story, and he thought he knew why.
"I think the reason he starts altering the truth, he has to account for rounds, so he comes up with the theory about the slide," said Zindell. ''. . . And my reasoning was that I believe he felt what happened in the men's room was justified. . . . Now where it falls apart (is) once he exits the men's room. By the time he's interviewed . . . he has time to think about all the things he did wrong, and to confer with people, and attorneys, and everything else. And he knows from studying the directive (department rules)
from that point on where he did things that were wrong, and he's got to answer for them. And he can't come up with the right evidence, because the evidence refutes the right answers, and the witnesses refute them. And I think that's where everything went wrong."
Zindell did not indicate any of this in his report.
He found that Walls "may have" violated policy by shooting at the man as he fled: "At this point Giovinetti was severely wounded, and he was not a threat to P/O Walls." Zindell found that Walls also "may have" violated policy when he fired at Onorato.
Neither finding was sufficient to cause Walls any problems in the Police Department. Zindell did not note in his report that he believed Walls had been ''altering the truth." After the report was reviewed by the department's Shooting Review Board, Walls was found to have acted within policy guidelines.
Reviewing the same report, city lawyers found its inadequacies ''inconsequential in themselves," but added that ". . . omissions seem to support the plaintiff's theory that the investigation was designed to cover up any wrongdoing on the part of Officer Walls."
In an interview last week, Walls said he would have done one thing differently that night.
"I never would have left my house," he said. "What happened after that, well, I didn't have too many choices."
He declined to answer most questions about the incident, but said he believed the city was wrong to have settled Giovinetti's lawsuit.
"The whole incident occurred because I was assaulted," Walls said. ''That's putting the message out that it's OK for people to assault police officers."
Walls said he believed officers should have the right to carry their weapons into bars, even when they plan to drink.
"I never know when I'm going to run into somebody I arrested, and what if they attack me?" he said. "If you're a police officer, you should be able to wear a weapon to protect yourself at all times."
He ran into Giovinetti once after the shooting, at a Fraternal Order of Police function, and shook his hand.
"I told him something like I hoped there were no hard feelings," Walls said.
There are. Giovinetti, whose father, Giacomo "Jack" Giovinetti, was a popular and admired police lieutenant who died of a heart attack in 1990, said he took Walls' hand not realizing at first who he was.
"When I recognized him I got this sick feeling; I just wanted to get away
DEFEAT, THEN VICTORY
Giovinetti lost about one-third of his colon and a portion of his stomach. He says he has had some continuing problems with his digestive system, and the long scar down his torso dried up his work as a body model. He stood trial on charges of simple assault, aggravated assault, and recklessly endangering another person. Common Pleas Judge Joan A. Brown rejected the more serious charges, but found Giovinetti guilty of simple assault and sentenced him to probation.
It was after that verdict that DeSimone, Giovinetti's lawyer, learned of Zindell's report and Sesso's opinion about the shooting. DeSimone has asked the court to reverse Giovinetti's conviction. He also sued the city.
With the new evidence, city lawyers decided not to try to defend Walls' version of the shooting. In a written report recommending the settlement, deputy solicitor Scott said that expert testimony "could prove . . . that the city knew of prior similar shootings that resulted in serious injury or death but failed to take appropriate steps, thus rising to the level of a constitutional violation."
Scott concluded that it would be hard to defend the department's policy of allowing off-duty officers to carry weapons, even when they are drinking in bars.
Giovinetti's expert, Temple University criminal justice professor James Fyfe, was prepared to testify that many departments have a policy that says: ''If you are going to drink, leave your weapon at home; and if you see a crime being committed, call 911 and allow on-duty officers to take police action."
"This is a reasonable measure and would certainly appeal to the common sense of the jury," Scott concluded.
So the city paid half a million dollars.
A NEW NIGHTMARE
Giovinetti, who now works as a carpenter, said he is haunted by the incident. He and his brother and sister grew up worshiping their father, and still have many close family friends on the force. It's part of what made this shooting and assault charges so hard to take, Giovinetti said.
For Lt. Giovinetti's funeral, "hundreds of police officers came from all over the city," said Dana Giovinetti, Jackie's sister. "When you grow up with a father who is a cop, it's like you belong to the biggest gang in the world, and they're all on your side. At the funeral, it felt like family. To us, every cop was like an uncle. I love cops. I think they have a hard, hard job to do."
Family members remain bitter about the way they were treated by police after Jackie was shot.
"I have such a respect for cops: I was raised with it," said Jackie Giovinetti. "Now I have this recurring dream about my father. We're at the dinner table together, the whole family. My father is in uniform. I reach for some salt or butter across the table and my father stabs my hand with the knife. There's blood all over everything."
Officer Robert Walls is currently assigned to the 15th District in the Northeast.