Did Penn cops give assistant D.A. a slide after a brawl?

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harden Jr. has been banned from Mad Mex in University City. (CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harden Jr. has been banned from Mad Mex in University City. (CLEM MURRAY / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: October 23, 2013

THE FIGHT was over a "Twitter beef," as silly as that might sound.

But after the fists started flying Oct. 11 inside the crowded Mad Mex bar and restaurant in University City, it was no laughing matter.

A restaurant bouncer separated the "aggressor" and the man whom witnesses said he punched several times. At least two other men aided the aggressor in the Friday-night beatdown, the witnesses said.

University of Pennsylvania police responded promptly.

But Mad Mex service manager Matt Park, who has worked at the eatery at 34th and Walnut streets since 2009, said he was surprised by what happened next:

Penn officers and the man whom Park described as the "aggressor," Mad Mex regular and Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Kevin Harden Jr., greeted one another as if they were friends.

"It was a bit off-putting when they first got here, just in how friendly they were toward him and so buddy-buddy they were toward him," Park said. "I felt that if it was someone else, they would have gotten treated differently."

He specifically recalled "Officer [Ben] Morrow, Badge 179," as being most friendly to Harden, even after the prosecutor said, " 'I punched a guy.' "

"I was a bit put off about how it was handled. It wasn't completely obvious, but there were undertones of preferential treatment. I just thought it was strange that he admitted to punching the other guy, and I guess that's not grounds for an assault charge unless somebody is really hurt?" asked Park, who knew that Harden worked for the D.A.'s office.

"I don't know how the laws work, but he admitted to them that he punched somebody and didn't get arrested, which I think is weird."

University police referred questions to Kathleen Shields Anderson, Penn director of operations and external affairs in the Division of Public Safety. Anderson - herself a former assistant district attorney who left the D.A.'s office for her current post in 2012 - did not return a Daily News phone message seeking comment.

When asked if Harden had been given preferential treatment by campus police, Ron Ozio, Penn director of media relations, said, "We don't have anything to offer."

Ozio confirmed that campus police responded to a fight at Mad Mex on Oct. 11, but declined to provide a copy of the incident report, saying it is not a public record.

Although no one was arrested, Harden and the other man - who contacted the Daily News but asked that his name not be used because he feared reprisal - have been banned from returning to the restaurant, Park said.

"I let both parties know that despite their long-running patronage, they are no longer allowed in our restaurant. Both men have been flagged in the computer," the manager wrote in a company incident report.

Harden, 28, of West Philadelphia, was hired by D.A. Seth Williams in October 2010 despite a checkered past that included seven arrests. His hiring did not sit well with some of his fellow assistant district attorneys, some of whom complained in several 2011 Daily News articles.

Tasha Jamerson, spokeswoman for Williams, did not respond to two Daily News emails seeking comment on Harden's alleged Mad Mex melee.

Harden, during a brief interview, denied punching the man, whom he described as a former childhood friend who had become "obsessed" with him.

Harden, a graduate of Kutztown University and Temple University's James E. Beasley School of Law, showed the Daily News a profanity-filled Twitter feed allegedly sent to him by the man.

The man, who said he is employed by the University of Pennsylvania, said Harden's friends have been bullying him on Twitter and that Harden and several of them attacked him in the restaurant as a result of the online bickering.

Harden, who handles misdemeanor cases in court, insisted that the man started the trouble, and that it was nothing more than a shoving match.

"I never said I punched him," Harden said. "I did not punch that man."

But Park said punches were thrown, and that it was bad for business.

"We try to keep it a nice place where students can come and feel safe," he said. "Every time something like that happens, it kind of tarnishes our reputation."

On Twitter: @MensahDean

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