Police Action During Fight Investigated Four Family Members Were Charged. They Say Officers Used Racial Slurs And Kicked A Woman.

Posted: August 21, 1996

GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP — Police have begun an internal investigation into the arrest Sunday of four family members after police responded to a dispute between neighbors on Farm House Road in Sicklerville.

The uproar began with a complaint over a loud radio, but escalated into racial slurs and threats between black and white families on opposite sides of the street, police said.

The only people arrested say they were bystanders. Charles Lopp, his wife, Victoria, their daughter, Gayla, and Sylvia Stuart, Victoria Lopp's mother, were charged with disorderly conduct for failure to disperse, and resisting arrest, police said.

The officers used pepper spray to subdue them. Police said all four were ``pushing'' or ``flailing their arms'' when officers tried to arrest them after they refused to disperse.

The Lopp family filed a formal complaint yesterday, prompting the investigation, said Deputy Chief Michael Senatore.

Stuart, who was visiting her daughter from Coatesville was admitted to Kennedy Memorial Hospitals/Stratford Division, with shortness of breath and chest pains early Monday after her release from police custody. She was listed in stable condition yesterday.

Stuart, her family and several neighborhood witnesses said Stuart, 60, was thrown down, sprayed, and kicked several times in the back and legs by the officers. The family also said the officers directed racial epithets at them. They are African American, and the officers are white.

Senatore declined to comment until witnesses and the officers involved are interviewed.

Citing the officers' incident reports, however, Senatore gave this account: When police arrived at 11:11 p.m., they found a large group in the street arguing and using racial slurs toward each other. The Lopps and Stuart were ordered to disperse at least four times and were told they would be arrested if they did not.

They became more boisterous and disorderly, and when the officers attempted to arrest them, they struggled and were arrested.

The Lopps, Stuart and several other witnesses gave a different account.

Beatrice Ward, who was involved in the original dispute, said Stuart and Victoria Lopp were walking away from the officers when they were sprayed.

Victoria Lopp said she and her mother approached police and tried to tell officers they had made the call to 911. The officers, mistaking them as being involved in the dispute, told them to ``shut up and get back on your side,'' Victoria Lopp said.

She said she told the officers that she wasn't on either side of the dispute, but the officers kept yelling at her.

After a brief and heated discussion, the officers followed them and sprayed them, she said. When Charles Lopp and his daughter Gayla tried to intervene, they got the same treatment, several witnesses said.

The arresting officers were Robert Stavola, Kenneth Morris, David Harkins and Charles Dougherty, Senatore said.

Stuart recalled the incident yesterday from her hospital bed.

``I kept saying, `You're hurting me!'

but [the officer] just said, `Shut up and stay down!' ''

The Lopps are new to the neighborhood and did not know the parties involved in the original dispute over the radio, police and neighbors said.

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