The trial of two former Philadelphia police officers, Kevin Robinson and Sean McKnight, who are accused of brutally beating an unarmed man in 2013, began this week in a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. According to reports, Najee Rivera was stopped for running through a stop sign on his scooter and refusing to comply with the officers’ commands. Although he did not possess a weapon, the officers reportedly struck Rivera multiple times with their batons and left him with a broken eye-socket bone and multiple lacerations to his face and head.
According to Philly News, Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock told a jury of five women and seven men that the criminal trial of the former Philadelphia police officers comes down to “how you act when no one’s watching you, or… you think no one is watching you.”
My first time covering a trial in the US for @AlDiaNews. It was a tragic story. https://t.co/E6a55IKScQ
— Rob Torres (@TorresLuzardo) April 8, 2016
According to the officers’ reports, Rivera was pulled over for running a stop sign. However, he fled as they exited their police cruiser and eventually led them on a chase. According to the officers, he was driving against traffic and was only apprehended after he lost control of the scooter.
The officers told detectives Rivera resisted arrest by “throwing elbows,” slamming Robinson into a brick wall, and grappling for McKnight’s baton. McKnight said he was forced to strike the suspect in the head with his baton to subdue him.
Rivera was charged with resisting arrest, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment. However, the charges were dropped when Rivera’s girlfriend Dina Scannapieco obtained a surveillance video from a neighborhood barbershop near where the incident occurred.
McKnight and Robinson were eventually charged with aggravated assault, falsifying police reports, and six other criminal counts. As the trial began, Prosecutor Wellbrock underlined the fact that “the only reason we are here today is because Najee Rivera’s girlfriend found a video of what happened that night.”
— VOXXI (@VoxxiNews) February 9, 2015
ABC News reports the video, which was played in court during the former police officers’ preliminary hearing, showed Rivera’s scooter heading the wrong way and a patrol car driving alongside him without a siren or flashing lights.
It appears that someone eventually reached out the window of the police cruiser and shoved Rivera in the back, sending him to the ground. The video shows one of the Philadelphia police officers then exiting the cruiser and striking Rivera on the head and face with his baton.
As a result of the arrest, Najee Rivera lost his job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia where he worked as a housekeeper. However, he later filed a lawsuit against the city and was awarded $200,000 in compensation.
In their opening statements for the defendants, Brian McMonagle and Fortunato N. Perri’s attorneys told the jury that the video only showed Rivera fleeing the scene when he had been ordered to stop. They said the arrest was “by-the-book police work,” and argued that the use of force was justified because Rivera was aggressive and refused to be handcuffed.
Although he was not killed by the Philadelphia police officers, Najee Rivera was one of the 280 homicide victims of 2015. He was allegedly shot and killed by a 22-year-old-man, Khalil Henderson.
As reported by Philly Mag, Rivera was attempting to intervene in a fight between Henderson and two women when the man allegedly pulled out a gun and fatally shot Rivera. Najee Rivera’s girlfriend, Dina Scannapieco, said he did not know Henderson or the women but was simply trying to stop a fight. Unfortunately, his good deed cost him his life.
Rivera died of his injuries at Temple University Hospital 15 days after he was shot. Although the shooting happened last year, Henderson is still a free man. Scannapieco said everyone in the neighborhood knows Henderson was the shooter. However, no witnesses have come forward to corroborate the claims.
The Philadelphia police officers contend they did not use excessive force during their arrest of Najee Rivera. However, as they were indicted by a grand jury, they are now standing trial on numerous criminal counts.