Questions in police shooting of pizza delivery driver

Investigators study the damaged car at the intersection of 51st and Willows Streets, where officers shot the driver, Philippe Holland.
Investigators study the damaged car at the intersection of 51st and Willows Streets, where officers shot the driver, Philippe Holland. (JOSEPH KACZMAREK / For The Inquirer)
Posted: April 25, 2014

Philippe Holland's last delivery of the night Tuesday, a cheeseburger deluxe to a West Philadelphia rowhouse, was an order so small he didn't bother to carry his pizza delivery bag.

His hoodie was up, his hands in his pockets, police say, as he walked back to his gold Ford Taurus, parked on 51st Street near Willows Avenue.

The 20-year-old from Upper Darby had been running orders two nights a week for Slices & More for a few weeks. That was on top of another job at an airport restaurant.

Maybe he had heard the gunshots two blocks away - the ones two plainclothes officers were responding to - when they attempted to stop him just before 10 p.m. Moments later, they riddled the Taurus with 14 shots.

Holland was struck at least three times, in his neck, a leg, and his head. He was in critical but stable condition late Wednesday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The officers would later tell investigators that they had identified themselves as police. Maybe Holland heard them.

Or, as Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey said, maybe he didn't, and thought he was about to become a victim in a neighborhood where gunshots are not uncommon and robberies of deliverymen are a constant threat.

Whatever was running through his mind, police say, Holland jumped into his Taurus, reversed, and drove quickly toward the officers, who then opened fire.

Internal Affairs investigators on Wednesday were trying to piece together exactly how the deliveryman nearly lost his life at the hands of police.

"Until we talk to him we won't have all the answers, but he may have thought he was being robbed," Ramsey said in an interview. "Although the officers said they announced that they were officers, in an area like that, everyone was hypervigilant - both the officers and the person who was shot - and it turned out not to be a good result."

Ramsey said he visited the hospital Wednesday and spoke with Holland's mother.

"This is a young man who has two jobs" and a good family, Ramsey said.

Holland was recovering from surgery during Ramsey's visit.

The bullet that struck him in the head has damaged his eyesight, though it was unclear whether the damage is permanent, a police source said.

Ramsey said he spoke with the officers.

"They feel terrible," he said. "It's just unfortunate all around, and we're just praying that this young man is able to fully recover."

The officers did not tell investigators that they believed Holland was carrying a gun, police spokesman Lt. John Stanford said.

According to court records, Holland has one arrest, which occurred last week in Upper Darby on charges of simple assault and harassment in connection with a domestic incident. Upper Darby Police Superintendent Mike Chitwood said Holland, who was out on bail, is accused of throwing a cellphone at his girlfriend. She was struck but did not require hospitalization, Chitwood added.

The department's use-of-force guidelines dictate that officers "shall not discharge their firearms at or from a moving vehicle unless deadly physical force is being used against the police officer or another person present, by means other than the moving vehicle."

"That is our policy, 'Don't shoot at moving vehicles' - it's clearly laid out that way," Stanford said. "But I wasn't there, so I can't say whether these officers were right or wrong, what their process of thinking was, whether they were in fear for their lives or not."

Standing in front of a moving car in order to stop its driver, Stanford said, may not have been tactically sound. The incident could necessitate another look at the department training procedures, he said.

One officer has been on the force for under five years, the other for a year, Stanford said.

He said it is not uncommon for young officer who have shown promise to be paired for plainclothes patrol.

A representative from the Fraternal Order of Police lodge did not return a call for comment.

Ramsey said it was also too early for him to make a determination on whether the officers followed procedure.

The Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Services program - which Ramsey last year invited to review the department's use-of-force practices - will also review the shooting, Ramsey said.

The District Attorney's Office, as in all shootings involving police, will investigate whether it is appropriate to press criminal charges in the incident.

On Willows Avenue, the chain-link fence that Holland had hit sagged into a hedge. Crime scene tape was still tied to porch railings, and chalk circles marked where shell casings had fallen the night before.

Neighbors said they heard gunshots in rapid succession and watched the block fill with police. Some thought Holland had been robbed and that officers had chased down a would-be assailant.

Violent robberies of pizza deliverymen are not uncommon in the city. In 2012, one working in Southwest Philadelphia was shot to death after four people lured him to a house to rob him.

"It's a terrible mistake," said Walter Bard, who lives across the street from the house where Holland was delivering the cheeseburger.

On Holland's block in Upper Darby, residents described him as a friendly man who lived with his girlfriend in a neat rowhouse in the middle of the block. Neighbors knew they were always welcome to sit on his front porch, they said.

"You couldn't ask for a better neighbor," said Roy Taylor, who lives next door.

Internal Affairs investigators were interviewing witnesses Wednesday afternoon.

"This will all be looked at very thoroughly," Ramsey said. "It's a very unfortunate set of circumstances, and I certainly hope the man can recover fully from his injuries."

Editors Note: This story was changed to correct the amount of time one officer has been on the force from seven years to five years.


awhelan@phillynews.com

215-854-2961215-854-2961 

@aubreyjwhelan

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