Strangers aid woman charged with beating cop

Lateefah Savage, after her release from prison, charged with assaulting a police officer. Lawyers and others have come forth to help.
Lateefah Savage, after her release from prison, charged with assaulting a police officer. Lawyers and others have come forth to help.
Posted: August 24, 2009

LATEEFAH SAVAGE, 24, is grateful not only to the women who helped free her from prison last week, but also to members of her community who told her story and stood by her side.

"My belief in God is even stronger now, after the way my neighborhood stood up for me," she told the Daily News. "Even the people who didn't know me but who read my article . . . because they didn't have to say anything and they didn't have to do anything."

Savage, a single mother of two living in the city's Mill Creek section, called police to her house at about 6 p.m. Aug. 8 to break up a domestic dispute.

The first officer to respond, Tamika Gross, 30, allegedly assaulted Savage when Gross discovered that she had lied about a gun being present at the scene, numerous witnesses said.

After reading Savage's story Aug. 14 in the People Paper, Center City lawyer Nakea Hurdle offered to take Savage's case pro bono. And a stranger, Wendy Ducksworth, 40, a mother from North Philadelphia, was so moved by Savage's story that she insisted on paying her $800 bail.

"I think that's the beauty of faith: When it seems that there's no way, then God makes a way out of no way," Ducksworth said.

Numerous witnesses to the Aug. 8 altercation interviewed by the Daily News said that during an exchange of words that day, Gross "called out" Savage - who is about half her weight and a foot shorter than the cop - telling her that she "had a lot of mouth holding that baby."

Savage, who was holding her 7-month-old child, handed the baby to a neighbor. Then, witnesses said, they saw Gross shove Savage and strike her first with an open hand to the face.

"That's when one thing led to another and we got in a fight," Savage said.

Despite the size difference, Savage got the best of Gross in the fight, pulling off the cop's weave and fake eyelashes, witnesses said.

Savage said that when she saw Gross' partner approach with her baton drawn, she "automatically" put up her hands.

"I said, 'She hit me first,' so they knew I was not going to resist arrest," Savage said. "Because I know that it's a crime to assault an officer."

Savage claims that Gross' partner then held her with her hands behind her back while Gross continued to assault her.

"The officer that was there was more like holding me while she [Gross] was getting off whatever she wanted to get off," Savage said.

Even after backup cops arrived, Savage said, Gross continued to assault her while she was in custody.

Gross had gone "ballistic," according to witnesses, and it took numerous cops and numerous times to pull her off Savage.

As a result of the incident, Savage was arrested for assaulting a police officer and placed in prison on 10 percent of $15,000 bail. She claims that she was never read her rights.

On Aug. 12, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey placed Gross on desk duty while an Internal Affairs investigation is conducted.

Savage's family was unable to make the bail. She sat in prison for nine days.

Hurdle, with the law firm Nattiel, Seay & Humble, said that she was so moved by Savage's story that she took the case pro bono.

"The officer was called out to de-escalate the situation," Hurdle said. "Instead, she irritated and escalated the situation.

"Nobody who intends to assault a police officer calls them for help."

Willie Nattiel Jr., senior partner at the firm, agreed.

"We expect the police to be the calming factor," he said. "When Officer Gross goes beyond that and basically calls her out like she's some street person, there's a lack of training."

Last Monday, Hurdle was able to get Savage's bail reduced to 10 percent of $8,000, or $800 cash.

An aunt of Savage's, Robin Savage, borrowed money from her grandfather, used her own money and received money from friends to come up with the bail.

When Ducksworth, who wanted to pay Savage's bail, learned that Robin Savage had barely scraped the money together on Monday, she insisted on paying her back all $800.

"It's an unfortunate situation in which we met but overall I thank God everything turned out good and I felt blessed to be in a position to do it for her," Ducksworth said

Robin Savage said that Ducksworth was definitely a "Godsend."

"You always read about random acts of violence," Robin Savage said. "She wanted to flip the script and do a random act of kindness."

Meanwhile, Gross' mother, Ramona Hill, phoned the Daily News to say that her daughter, a mother of three, claims that she had been hit first.

"Tamika is a sweet cop, she would bend over backward to help you," Hill said. "That woman is a good woman and she is also a good police officer. I really don't think it was fair for them to take her off the streets."

A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 2.

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