Ronnie Polaneczky: Verdict a real slap in the face

Just after the incident, police prepare to arrest Aida Guzman, who has been knocked to the ground by Lt. Jonathan Josey. Despite the video, of which this is a screen capture, Judge Patrick Dugan found fired cop Josey not guilty.
Just after the incident, police prepare to arrest Aida Guzman, who has been knocked to the ground by Lt. Jonathan Josey. Despite the video, of which this is a screen capture, Judge Patrick Dugan found fired cop Josey not guilty.
Posted: February 28, 2013

WE'RE NOT STUPID. We know what we saw. And what we saw was a big, muscular cop cold-cock a small, unarmed woman who was moving away from him.

Lt. Jonathan Josey slugged Aida Guzman in the face with her back turned to him. As she fell to the ground, he hit her in the back, too. The video, shot by a bystander after last September's Puerto Rican Day Parade, caught it all, including Guzman's bloodied mouth as she was cuffed and led away.

We also saw the context of Josey's actions:

He and other officers are trying to disperse a crowd that had surrounded a car whose driver was being arrested. Guzman is behind Josey when someone from behind her tosses beer into the air that falls on Guzman, Josey and several other officers.

They all spin in the direction from where the liquid was tossed. Josey presumes it's Guzman who has sent the beer flying. So he goes after her.

The other officers, it's important to note, do not. We saw that, too. Because we're not stupid.

After viewing the video, Philly Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey did the right thing and fired Josey.

District Attorney Seth Wiliams did the responsible thing and brought assault charges against him.

Mayor Nutter did the gracious thing and apologized to Guzman, on behalf of the city, for Josey's behavior, which left him feeling "appalled . . . sickened . . . and ashamed."

But on Tuesday, Municipal Judge Patrick Dugan made a mockery of justice by declaring Josey not guilty of simple assault.

Unbelievable.

If a video caught you or me acting in the way Josey did, we'd be convicted.

This is Philly, where the police beg for citizen videos to help investigators find and convict suspected criminals.

When the same camera-wielding citizenry documents questionable behavior by police, though, the footage is dismissed as "not the whole story."

On Tuesday, Dugan called the video "disturbing." Then he blamed the media for sensationalizing it by playing it "a thousand times."

Josey also took a swipe at the Fourth Estate.

"The media put it out there one way and kind of distorted it," he said after the verdict.

The way both men were talking, you'd think that "the media" had shot the video against a green screen and hired actors to fictionalize a blow to Guzman's mouth.

We post a lot of videos, by the way. But we can't make them go viral. That happens only when people just can't get over what they're seeing, so they link, post and tweet it to prominence.

Thank God we live in a world where people are still shocked at seeing a cop slug a woman. If that comes as a surprise to Josey, well, that sure tells us something, doesn't it?

This is not to dismiss Guzman's behavior that day. What the hell was a 39-year-old mother of four doing, prancing around the cops, arms waving, as they attempted to arrest a reckless driver who'd been cutting cookies in an intersection?

Let the men in blue do their damn jobs, lady!

On the other hand, points out civil-rights attorney Alan Yatvin, the police are trained to deal with goofy bystanders like Guzman. And nowhere in the training are they directed to flip out the way Josey did - an act, by the way, that could have escalated the tensions that Josey's defense said had been the reason for his hasty action in the first place.

Nice try, but you can't have it both ways. Well, except in Dugan's courtroom, apparently.

"Being a cop is tough," says Yatvin. "It can be a hard, thankless job. But it's a career that was selected; it's not forced on anyone. If you're going to go into law enforcement you have to uphold the law for yourself as well as others. A police officer who's been on the streets as long as [Josey] should have the training, experience and self-discipline not to snap."

Still, even good cops can have a bad day. What's insulting is that we're supposed to believe that Josey wasn't having one the day he went off on Guzman.

We're supposed to believe that he accidentally hurt Guzman, that her bloodied mouth was the result of his attempt to slap something out of her hand.

If that were the case, says Guzman's attorney, Enrique Latoison, Josey would've acted differently.

"He wouldn't have cuffed her," says Latoison. "He would've apologized. He would've helped her up. He would've offered her medical help."

And there would've been no courtroom drama, because the Guzman incident never would've made it that far.

"I would've told her . . . 'There's no case, because everyone makes mistakes and the cop apologized.' But this wasn't an accident."

Latoison knows it, Guzman knows it, and anyone with a brain who watches the video knows it, too.

Because we're not stupid.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: philly.com/ronnieblog

Columns: philly.com/Ronnie

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