Fired for beating student, school cop again works for district

Posted: October 30, 2012

A SCHOOL POLICE officer who was fired by then-Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for pummeling a Frankford High School football player in 2009 is working again for the district.

Officer Aaron Branson was manning metal detectors at the entrance to Horace Furness High School in South Philadelphia on Friday. He was unavailable for comment, the principal, Daniel Peou, told the Daily News.

Branson got his job back through an arbitration proceeding "subject to certain personnel conditions . . . [that the district] cannot further discuss," according to a statement from spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Branson returned to his $42,918-a-year job in September, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. He had been fired in late 2009 or early 2010.

Branson and another school police officer were caught on camera in October 2009 beating Jeffione Thomas, then a 17-year-old running back for the Frankford High Pioneers, after he arrived at school a few minutes late.

When told of Branson's new position with the district, Thomas' grandmother Joyce Freeman said, "You've got to be kidding me."

Freeman, of East Mount Airy, believes that Branson should be kept away from children.

"He looked at Jeffione like a man; he's looking at those children like grown folks," she said. "They weren't beating him like a child getting his bum slapped. They were beating him like a grown man."

Initially, Thomas was charged with assaulting the officers, but defense attorney Fortunato N. Perri Jr., got those charges dropped by the District Attorney's Office. He later filed a federal civil lawsuit against the district and negotiated a six-figure settlement for Thomas, who suffered a black eye, broken blood vessels in his left eye, cuts on his lip and several loose teeth in the melee.

"I'm frustrated by the fact that the district would bring someone back to work who is engaged in this kind of activity, which was captured on video," Perri said. "It's astounding the district could not find other qualified individuals who would not engage in this type of conduct."

During his time off from the district, Branson was employed as "Dean of Students/Disciplinarian" at a local charter school, according to his LinkedIn page.

The other officer who was involved in the beating incident but who was not as aggressive toward Thomas as Branson was put on bike duty, Freeman said she had been told by officials.

Thomas could not be reached for comment. He has been at a halfway house since August for a parole violation in an unrelated criminal case, Freeman said. He's working on his GED, attending anger-management classes and regularly sees a psychiatrist, she said.

Thomas is "doing well. Haven't had any complaints. He's doing much better with anger management," Freeman said. "He follows directions very well."

In the aftermath of the beating, the school's athletic director, Jack Creighton, sent Ackerman and other district officials an email alleging that one officer held Thomas down while the other beat him up.

"I know that School District Police must support one of their own, but the truth must be heard," Creighton wrote. "Please, as our leader, make sure that this student's beating is not washed over with untruths and that the bully that did this is not allowed to do it to some other child."


Contact Regina Medina at medinar@phillynews.com or 215-854-5985. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaMedina.

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