Parents have concerns about school district's new top cop

Posted: October 25, 2013

ASK A PARENT of a student in the deeply troubled School District of Philadelphia to name their top concern, and many will mention student safety.

Worries about violence in and near city schools were among the reasons the Philadelphia Police Department in 2010 began to loan one of its high-ranking cops to serve as the district's chief safety officer.

It's supposed to be an important post. The top cop has to maintain a relationship with parents, coordinate resources between city and school police, and oversee the safety of students as they make their way to and from school.

So numerous parents were irked when they learned through rumors last week that the chief safety officer, Chief Inspector Cynthia Dorsey, had been replaced by Chief Inspector Carl Holmes, a veteran cop who has a controversial past. There was no announcement from the Police Department or the school district about the move.

Others expressed concern when they discovered that Holmes had been demoted to the rank of captain in 2008 by Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey for allegedly sexually assaulting a female aide.

Holmes has also been the subject of at least four lawsuits over physical-abuse claims during his career. Three of the suits were settled by the city for a total of $109,500.

"I don't know Mr. Holmes. I'm going on what I've read, and he has a checkered past, one that raises questions about some of his ethical decisions," said Gerald Wright, whose two daughters attend city public schools.

"It seems to me that you need someone in that office who starts with a good reputation and is perceived to have high standards, so he can build a network of trust across the schools."

Wright, a co-founder of Parents United for Public Education, added that "it would be great to find out how [Holmes] got selected for this particular role."

The Daily News relayed to Ramsey the concerns expressed by Wright and others about the sexual-assault allegations that led to Holmes' demotion five years ago.

"Listen, he had an issue, and I dealt with it. He worked his way back," Ramsey said. "It had nothing to do with juveniles at all, so one should have no bearing on the other."

The commissioner said he believed that Holmes, who also reports to Superintendent William Hite, would do well as the chief safety officer.

The decision to replace Dorsey, he said, was a "personnel issue that I thought needed to be addressed. . . . Cynthia did a good job."

Holmes did not respond to a request for comment.

The Daily News last fall detailed allegations that were made against Holmes just as he was about to be promoted to the rank of chief inspector.

One claim suggested that Holmes had shot a raccoon outside his Roxborough home. The other involved an allegation of inappropriate behavior between Holmes and a civilian subordinate. Neither was sustained by Internal Affairs investigators.

The paper also interviewed ex-cop Christa Hayburn, a former aide to Holmes who claimed the 6-foot-6, 280-pound former Temple University offensive tackle forced himself on her after they both attended a party in 2006.

Hayburn said Holmes touched her breasts and the insides of her thighs and inserted his fingers into her vagina against her will inside his department-issued Dodge Durango.

The mother of three said she waited two years to report the incident to Internal Affairs because she feared retaliation.

Holmes was never charged with a crime. Hayburn said the District Attorney's Office told her she "didn't say 'no' enough."

Helen Gym, another co-founder of Parents United, said yesterday that she learned about Holmes' appointment through rumors that circulated last week.

She inadvertently met Holmes, who more than a decade ago worked with the Police Athletic League, at a vigil last Thursday for Laporshia Massey, a sixth-grader at Bryant Elementary School who died Sept. 25 after getting sick at school.

"It's troubling that there would be no conversation with parents about a replacement of a very crucial position," Gym said.

School district spokesman Fernando Gallard said district officials aren't usually consulted before a personnel change is made with the chief safety officer post. He said he learned of the Dorsey-Holmes switch after it happened.

"We didn't see the need" for an announcement, Ramsey said. "This is an assignment that I made. I don't understand what the issue is, or why anybody is concerned about it."

A crippling financial crisis led to the closure of numerous schools earlier this year, displacing scores of students who now must take long and unfamiliar routes to get to their new schools.

"The school district is in serious disarray. If there's one place that we have stability, it has to be around school safety," Gym said.

"The Police Department made a conscious decision to invest in the school district. . . . We expect a serious investment in the role of a school-safety officer who is responsible, child-oriented and has a vision for keeping them safe."

During the 2012-13 school year, the last full year of Dorsey's tenure, 2,756 violent crimes were reported in city schools and school perimeters; more than half were assaults, followed by 507 weapon offenses, 310 drug and alcohol violations, 256 "morals" offenses, 142 robberies, 64 fires and 15 abductions or attempted abductions.

Reports of violent crime have fallen steadily in city schools since the 2009-10 academic year, when there were 4,921 violent crimes reported, district data show.

- Staff writer Dana DiFilippo

contributed to this report


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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