Disgraced hero cop takes plea bargain

Former Officer Richard DeCoatsworth in 2009, with first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, being hailed as a hero. Now, he faces prison.
Former Officer Richard DeCoatsworth in 2009, with first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife, being hailed as a hero. Now, he faces prison. (AP)
Posted: February 27, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Seven years ago, Richard DeCoatsworth was called a hero after the Philadelphia rookie cop survived a shotgun blast to the face and chased his attacker for blocks.

On Tuesday, after 10 months in prison on high bail following a chaotic May 18 armed standoff with Philadelphia police, DeCoatsworth reluctantly pleaded guilty to simple assault, a drug count, and promoting prostitution. His plea came after years of drug use and emotional turmoil.

"His brains were scrambled. This was not the Richard DeCoatsworth before being shot," said his lawyer, A. Charles Peruto Jr.

Peruto said DeCoatsworth became addicted to Percocet and, when the painkiller stopped working, turned to heroin to numb the pain of the shotgun wound.

DeCoatsworth, 28, said little during the hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge Charles Ehrlich except to answer the judge's questions in a soft monotone.

But it was clearly a tough decision for DeCoatsworth and tougher still for his parents and family, who complained to reporters that they had wanted a trial to fully air the facts behind the former officer's meltdown.

DeCoatsworth seemed agitated as Assistant District Attorney Ashley Lynam outlined the facts supporting the guilty plea: a former cop dating a prostitute who became her pimp, protector, and chauffeur.

Peruto said DeCoatsworth disagreed with Lynam's words - but not the facts.

"There remains a lot more to say about these incidents at sentencing," Peruto added.

Ehrlich set sentencing for March 11 and ordered DeCoatsworth to undergo a mental health review.

Peruto asked Ehrlich to release DeCoatsworth immediately, arguing that he had already served more than the minimum recommended sentence during his 10 months in prison. Ehrlich denied the motion after hearing Lynam's objection.

The prosecutor said afterward that she would ask for a sentence to be served in state prison, meaning more than two years. The drug charge, possessing heroin with intent to distribute, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years and the prostitution count up to seven years.

"He has just pleaded guilty to two felony charges and a domestic violence charge," Lynam said.

Although DeCoatsworth retired on disability in 2011, Lynam said, the guilty plea would prevent him from ever again working in law enforcement. It also means he will not again be permitted to own or possess a firearm.

The plea deal, however, also let DeCoatsworth escape a very long prison term had he been convicted after a trial.

DeCoatsworth was charged with raping two female prostitutes between late May 14 and early May 15 after he forced them - at gunpoint - to take drugs.

According to earlier court testimony, DeCoatsworth was dating one of the women and chauffeuring her to jobs.

The rape and gun charges were dismissed as part of the plea deal. The simple-assault charge involved an incident in which DeCoatsworth admitted punching a longtime girlfriend in the face.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/crimeandpunishment

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