Daily Times (Primos, PA)
D.A. clears Haverford cops in violent arrest caught on tape
The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office has cleared two Haverford police officers for their use of force in trying to restrain a Broomall man during a May 3 incident that was caught on video by a bystander and posted to social media.
Deputy District Attorney Douglas A. Rhoads indicated in a letter to Haverford Police Chief John Viola Monday that members of the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division Special Investigations Unit reviewed the incident involving 30-year-old Christopher Ricciuti and found no criminal conduct on the part of the unnamed officers.
“The use of force in this interaction does not exceed the authority of police officers that has been statutorily provided by the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and court decisions,” Rhoads said in the letter.
The bystander video shows the unnamed officers striking Ricciuti several times with a baton while ordering him to get on his stomach. Ricciuti can be heard in the video yelling for someone to call the police.
But Viola said Monday that the
1:27 video clip did not capture the full
30-minute incident, which allegedly included Ricciuti grabbing at the officers’ Taser gun and baton.
District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer’s office had been in receipt of all reports and associated officerworn body camera footage following the violent confrontation in the parking lot of a Kohl’s department store, according to a release issued by Viola Monday.
The release stated that one of the officer’s body cameras was knocked off during the incident and that copies of footage from both body cameras would be released to news media upon request.
“We feel they were justified in what they did,” Viola said. “They followed the protocol for the directives within the police department. If somebody is violently resisting, they have to get the person under control. You can’t just walk away. It’s a lawful arrest, it’s just – you’re fighting with an officer, you’re trying to disarm an officer. When you think about it, if he had gotten a Taser and then turned it on one of the officers, it could have gotten really ugly.”
According to Viola, the officers were dispatched to the Kohl’s at 250 West Chester Pike about 1:21 p.m. for a report of a man passed out or sleeping in the middle of the parking lot. Viola said the man, later identified as Ricciuti, opened his eyes after about 30 or 40 seconds of the officers trying to wake him up, but he was unresponsive and somewhat incoherent.
Paramedics were also called to the scene and checked him, but did not feel he was suffering from any medical condition and Ricciuti refused medical treatment, Viola said.
“During that time, after the medics cleared him, the officers continued to talk to Ricciuti and he made some comment that he was attempting to walk to Broomall or Marple to his parents’ house,” said Viola. “They tried to get a phone number, they were going to get his parents to come get him, and he refused that offer for a phone call or ride.”
At that point, Viola said the officers determined he was under the influence of alcohol or drugs and attempted to place him under arrest for public intoxication. After placing one handcuff on him, however, Ricciuti allegedly began resisting, asking the officers, “Are you cops?”
There was a struggle, during which the officers continually told Ricciuti to stop resisting, according to Viola. Ricciuti and the officers at one point ended up on the ground, after which Ricciuti was able to break free and run toward Township Line Road, Viola said.
Viola said officers pursued Ricciuti, telling him to stop and deploying their Tasers. He said they believe at least one of the Tasers hit Ricciuti because he made a grunting sound, but it appeared to have no effect.
One of the officers then tackled Ricciuti in the driveway of the Kohls, but Ricciuti continued to struggle, said Viola, at one point trying to pull a Taser from one of the officers’ hands.
“The other officer at that point deployed his baton, and that’s where you see the strikes hitting him in the shins (in the video),” said Viola. “He did not react to any of the shin strikes at all and then grabbed one of the batons with his other hand when he let loose, and tried to pull the baton out of his hand. The officer again gave baton strikes to his legs and his feet as he continued to struggle with him.”
The video ends with a third officer arriving on scene. Viola said that officer also threatened to use his Taser against Ricciuti, at which point he became submissive and allowed himself to be placed under arrest and transported to central processing.
“I understand how people look at this, because they see a portion of the video,” said Viola. “These are never pleasant to look at, but when you take the whole thing in the full context of what happened, the officers were trying to get him under control. He was under lawful arrest and refused to do so. You think to yourself if he was Tased or he was hit in the shins and he continued to fight, what drug is he on, not feeling any pain at all?”
Viola said he was unaware of any conversation that might have taken place or Ricciuti’s demeanor during transport to central arraignment, but said he had been processed without any further problems, according to reports he had seen.
Ricciuti also refused medical treatment after the incident, according to Viola. The police chief was unaware of any mental health issues Ricciuti might be suffering from, saying it is in the court system now and the department had not had any further update on the defendant as of Monday.
“I just think citizens have to understand that officers were trying to make a lawful arrest,” said Viola. “When you look at a small snippet of a video, it doesn’t tell the whole story.”
Ricciuti is charged with disarming a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness or similar misconduct. He is free after posting $1,000 cash bail and has a preliminary hearing scheduled for May 25 before Magisterial District Judge Robert M. D’Agostino.
No attorney is listed on court documents and a message left at Ricciuti’s listed number Monday was not returned.
“We feel they were justified in what they did. They followed the protocol for the directives within the police department. If somebody is violently resisting, they have to get the person under control. You can’t just walk away. It’s a lawful arrest, it’s just – you’re fighting with an officer, you’re trying to disarm an officer. When you think about it, if he had gotten a Taser and then turned it on one of the officers, it could have gotten really ugly.”
— Haverford Police Chief John Viola on two officers involved in a violent confrontation that was caught on video by a bystander and posted to social media