Deptford cop: Force ‘warranted’ on man who says he was beaten

Posted: July 11, 2007

The Deptford Township patrolman accused of beating a motorist during a traffic stop told a jury today that he feared for his life and used "warranted" force to subdue the man.

Patrolman John Gillespie, on trial in Superior Court in Gloucester County, testified in his own defense in the three-week trial. He is charged with official misconduct and aggravated assault.

"He made me very nervous. I was in fear for my life. I was fearful I wasn't going to see my 5-year-old daughter and my pregnant wife again," testified Gillespie, 35, who was on the Deptford police force four years before he was suspended without pay over the Feb. 2, 2006, car stop.

The prosecution alleges that Gillespie and Patrolman Timothy Parks punched, kicked and choked motorist Joseph A. Rao, 19, of the 1500 block of South Broad Street in South Philadelphia, after Gillespie stopped the teen's car for allegedly running a stop sign. Patrolman Parks is scheduled to go on trial later.

Rao was treated at a hospital for bruises and cuts. He was charged with resisting arrest and traffic offenses, but prosecutors later dropped the charges. Rao has filed a notice that he intends to sue the officers and Deptford Township police for more than $1 million, saying he suffered "severe physical, emotional, and psychological damage."

The centerpiece of the trial has been police car dashboard camera video, which shows the officers climbing into the back seat of a police car with the handcuffed Rao, who explodes in wails of protest.

Gillespie said Rao's combattive demeanor made him afraid for his life soon after he stopped the car. He said he feared Rao was reaching for a weapon in his car seat cushions, so he pulled the driver from the car according to his police training.

The officer admitted he was unprofessional in swearing and shouting at Rao, but said the force he used was "warranted" and not excessive.

Once he placed the handcuffed suspect in the back seat of the police car, he said, Rao threatened to kick out the rear window, Gillespie testified. The officer said other Deptford cops had experienced handcuffed suspects escaping, so he thought it was his duty to subdue Rao.

Rao testified earlier in the trial that after he cursed at Gillespie, the officer dove into the police car and choked him as he wailed for help.

Later, after Gillespie brought Rao to the police station, the suspect threatened to kill his family and told him he knew "people in the Mafia," Gillespie said under questioning by his lawyer, Ron Helmer.

The officer denied assaulting Rao in the police station.

To watch the police car video, go to http://go.philly.com/policebeat.

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