Civil jury rules against city cop in alleged Fairmount Park sex attack

Paige
Paige
Posted: June 28, 2012

A CRIMINAL-COURT judge didn't believe James Harris when he claimed in 2007 that Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Paige forced him to perform oral sex on him in his police cruiser in Fairmount Park.

But Wednesday, eight jurors did. In a three-day civil trial in federal court, a jury found Harris so believable that it declared Paige liable for violating Harris' civil rights and ordered Paige to pay Harris $165,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

The jury of four men and four women deliberated for five hours before deciding that Paige, 45, unlawfully detained Harris and subjected him to "invasions of his bodily integrity" in the March 16, 2007, incident in a remote pocket on the Belmont Plateau.

Paige, dressed in a light-olive suit, left court looking disappointed. Both he and his attorney, Brian Puricelli, declined to comment.

"I'm glad the people took my favor, but I really don't feel justice," said Harris, 34, of North Philadelphia. "This police officer raped me and put his penis in my mouth. They threw me $165,000. I don't care about the money, [but] I wanted to see a number that would hurt him, that he couldn't go into his pockets, pull the money and continue living the way he lives. He's still a police officer, so anybody who's going to Fairmount Park should have something to be worried about like myself."

Paige, who had a lengthy disciplinary history before his encounter with Harris, was arrested and fired in 2007 for the incident. Investigators had DNA evidence linking Paige to Harris, who testified that he spat into a cup in his car after Paige let him leave. But the criminal-court judge acquitted Paige, accusing Harris of playing the victim after consensual sex.

Paige has steadfastly denied that any sexual encounter occurred, insisting that he merely tried to mentor a troubled young man whom he found smoking pot in the closed park after hours. In depositions for Harris' case, the married officer offered an unusual explanation for the DNA evidence: He claimed that he frequently had consensual sex with women in the secluded spot and that Harris somehow fished one of Paige's used condoms from the snow and dumped its contents, along with Harris' spit, into the Styrofoam cup detectives later had tested for DNA.

Paige won his job back in arbitration. He now patrols the streets of West Philadelphia. Police spokeswoman Officer Tanya Little said Wednesday's verdict would not affect his employment.

Harris, meanwhile, testified that the encounter still haunts him and has left him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and nightmares.

"At the end of the day, my client was finally vindicated," said Harris' attorney, Brian Humble. "Unfortunately, it took my client this long to get justice. But he got justice. We made a statement against egregious police misconduct, and that we won't tolerate it. ... Obviously, whatever compensation they gave will never give back my client his dignity." n

Contact Dana DiFilippo at 215-854-5934, difilid@phillynews.com or on Twitter @DanaDiFilippo. Read her blog at phillyconfidential.com.

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