Colwyn cop acquitted of criminal misconduct in teen Tasering

Defense attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick and former Colwyn police Cpl. Trevor Parham, right, leave the Delaware County Common Pleas Court in Media. Parham was acquitted of assault and oppression charges today. (Jessica Parks / Staff)
Defense attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick and former Colwyn police Cpl. Trevor Parham, right, leave the Delaware County Common Pleas Court in Media. Parham was acquitted of assault and oppression charges today. (Jessica Parks / Staff)
Posted: October 25, 2012

Colwyn police Cpl. Trevor Parham was acquitted today of simple assault and official oppression for Tasering a 16-year-old boy who was shackled to a bench in a holding cell.

Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Kevin F. Kelly said that regardless of whether Parham's actions were appropriate in a civil or departmental context, they did not rise to the level of criminal misconduct.

Much of the testimony during the two-day trial - for which Parham, 40, waived his right to a jury - centered on departmental policies on arrest and use of force.

Parham was charged with simple assault and two counts of official oppression - one for improper arrest and the other for using the Taser. He said after the verdict that he "intends to continue his career in law enforcement" and appeal his termination from the Colwyn Police Department.

The case, which spiraled into a major scandal and gained national notoriety for the department, began last spring with a simple, low-level arrest.

Around 8 p.m. on April 23, police were called to the 500 block of 3rd Street in Colwyn to investigate a report of juveniles fighting. Da'Kwon Jackson was there with some friends, but there was no evidence that a fight had occurred.

Jackson, who admitted he was trying to walk away from the police, was arrested for disorderly conduct.

For nearly an hour in the holding cell, Jackson was loudly cursing at Parham and kicking the wall. After warning Jackson several times to quiet down, Parham used the prongs of his Taser to "dry stun" the teenager. Soon after, Jackson was cited and released.

Jackson had been arrested several times before and is on probation for a juvenile assault charge.

Parham - before being suspended in connection with this incident - was effectively the No. 2 ranking officer in the 14-person department.

Today's verdict is hardly the end of the tiny borough's troubles. Police Chief Bryan Hills was fired by the Borough Council in 2009 but is still on the roster during appeals. Helming the department in his place is Deputy Chief Wendell Reed, who defended Parham on the stand. Reed was briefly suspended in connection with the Tasering, and Parham was fired.

Four current and former officers - none of whom testified in Parham's criminal case - have filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that Reed, Council President Tonette Pray and others retaliated against them for speaking out against Parham.

The prosecution's case relied heavily on Parham's failure to report the incident and inconsistencies between his account and that of some other officers.

For example, Parham reported that Officer Derrick Taylor was standing right next to him when he arrested Jackson. Taylor, who testified Thursday, said he was in his patrol car when Jackson was arrested. In fact, he said, he had already cleared the call when Parham arrived, and the two officers never spoke at the scene.

Parham also reported that before the Tasering, Officer Michael Dructor had suggested using a baton to get the belligerent teenager to stop shouting and hitting the cage. Dructor testified Friday: "I never suggested going in with a baton."

More than a week after the incident, when Parham was being interviewed by special investigator Thomas Worrilow, the corporal said that he had used the Taser because Jackson "was on his way to" hurting himself, banging his head on the wall of the cage. Dructor agreed.

But Jackson testified that he was merely kicking the wall. And in Parham's initial report, there's no mention of the boy banging his head - or of the Taser being used.

Parham was sworn in to testify in his defense, but after a squabble between the two attorneys, he stepped down.

Defense attorney Thomas Fitzpatrick argued that Parham was acting as all police officers do, using his judgment to interpret guidelines that treat each situation as unique.

"It's not enough ... to disagree with the way that Corporal Parham carried out his duties," Fitzpatrick said in his closing statement. Instead, the prosecution would have to show that he "acted with deliberate indifference" to the law.

Fitzpatrick pointed to the testimony of Reed, the acting police chief, who said he was "comfortable with what Corporal Parham did" and that it did not violate the department's use-of-force guidelines. And he noted the victim's own testimony - that he went back out with friends less than an hour after being Tasered.

"There was not a harm here that was so grievous, that showed such deliberate indifference" as to justify a criminal verdict against "an 11-year veteran of the police force," Fitzpatrick said.

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117 or jparks@philly.com.

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