A RUSH TO JUDGMENT
In Philadelphia, Aida Guzman cradled a bottle of beer in one hand and clutched a can of Silly String in the other as she bounced along with the music playing after the city’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sept. 30, 2012.
A few feet away, Lt. Jonathan Josey of the Philadelphia Police Department’s highway patrol unit was one of more than a dozen officers dealing with a vehicle doing doughnut turns nearby.
In the next few seconds, what transpired between Josey and Guzman would become a criminal matter. One thing is undisputed: Josey’s hand connected with Guzman’s face.
A bystander captured the encounter on video. Guzman was walking from the street toward the sidewalk, and then Josey approached. The officer swung with an open hand — striking Guzman in the face and knocking her to the ground. Guzman, bleeding from the mouth, was arrested and cited for disorderly conduct.
Josey would later tell investigators that he felt himself get hit with liquid and Silly String, prompting him to turn around, see Guzman and approach her.
The video of Josey smacking Guzman quickly went viral, and then-Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey acted quickly. He reviewed the video and the use-offorce report filled out by Josey, in which the officer said he had been trying to knock the beer out of Guzman’s hand and accidentally hit her in the face, according to a summary of the case later compiled by the city.
Four days later, on Oct. 4, Ramsey suspended Josey, concluding that he had falsified his use-of- force report by claiming he had personally seen Guzman throw beer on him and several other officers. On Nov. 1, 2012, Ramsey fired Josey for conduct unbecoming an officer and for use of excessive force.
Prosecutors charged Josey with simple assault, a second-degree misdemeanor.
The charges and Josey’s firing outraged the police union and fellow officers, who packed the courtroom during the 2013 trial, accord ing to news reports at the time. The union argued in the local news media that department leadership and prosecutors were bending to political pressure.
Other officers present that day told the judge that they heard Josey instruct Guzman to drop her beer. Josey testified at trial that he was trying to swat the beer bottle from Guzman’s hand and that at that very moment Guzman slipped on a can on the ground, according to local coverage of the trial. As she stumbled, the officer said, the swat intended for her beer bottle instead struck her face.
“The video looks disturbing but, obviously, it’s not what it appears to be,” Josey said in court. “I was kind of shocked when I saw her go to the ground. I didn’t expect to come into contact with her face.”
Judge Patrick F. Dugan ultimately concluded that Josey was not guilty.
“It was a complete joke,” Guzman attorney Enrique Latoison said in an interview with The Washington Post. “A mockery of a trial.”
Josey then appealed his firing. Arbitrator David J. Reilly held a two-day hearing in June 2013 and concluded that Josey should not have been fired.
His decision letter is not subject to public records laws, but The Post obtained a 2014 report on arbitration from the city’s Police Advisory Commission that summarized Reilly’s rationale.
According to the report, Reilly wrote that after viewing the video frame by frame, he believed Josey’s account and concluded that his use of force was reasonable. Reilly also decided that although Josey incorrectly claimed he had seen Guzman throw beer on him, that was insuf ficient grounds to fire him.
Reilly ordered that Josey be rehired and that all references to his firing be removed from his personnel file.
Guzman, a mother of three, sued over the incident. In May 2013, the city paid her a $75,000 settlement. Latoison said he remains outraged at Josey’s acquittal and reinstatement.
“If you accidentally hit somebody, if you accidentally step on your puppy or accidentally swat your child, everybody, universally has the same reaction, ‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ ” Latoison said. “His immediate reaction was to rough her up, put her in handcuffs, throw her in a police van and charge her with disorderly conduct.”
Josey and the union that represents Philadelphia officers did not respond to multiple requests for comment. When Josey was reinstated, his criminal defense attorney told local reporters that “Jon didn’t do anything wrong that day other than do his job.”
“I’ve said before, and I’ll say again,” Fortunato Perri, the attorney, added in a recent interview with The Post. “The people of Philadelphia are very fortunate to have someone like Jon Josey working for the Philadelphia PD.”
Jonathan Josey outside a Philadelphia court on Feb. 26, 2013, after he was acquitted of assaulting a woman while policing a parade.