Witnesses say Phila. officers beat man who died

April 05, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- The death of a motorist during a routine traffic stop was under intense scrutiny yesterday by the FBI and police after eyewitnesses said two police officers beat the man repeatedly with blackjacks and a flashlight.

Police Commissioner Willie L. Williams said the man, Michael Grant, 35, died early yesterday after a struggle with police in which Mr. Grant dragged one officer, banging the policeman's head on the ground. He said the officers may have used a weapon to subdue Mr. Grant.

Mr. Williams said that his investigation had been hampered by the refusal of the two officers to speak to police investigators, on the advice of their attorneys. He vowed to conduct a thorough and open investigation.

"Nothing's going to be hidden," Mr. Williams said. "We have the Grant family, which has lost a son.

We have two officers. . . . We need an answer, and we need an answer right away."

Highway Patrolman Robert DeBellis, 39, a 15-year veteran, and 19th District Officer William DuBoe, 29, who had been on the force 2 1/2 years, were placed on non-street duty pending the investigations.

Mr. Grant, a free-lance photographer and father of three, died at 12:29 a.m., about 25 minutes after a highway patrolman stopped his car in West Philadelphia. Police said he ran a red light.

Mr. Grant had cuts and bruises to his head, face and arms, according to the Medical Examiner's Office. The cause of death was pending. Preliminary toxicology tests showed "some drugs" in his system, according to law enforcement sources.

Patrolman DeBellis and Officer DuBoe were treated for head injuries at Graduate Hospital and released.

Mr. Grant's family issued a handwritten statement describing him as "a family man and a quiet and gentle person." He worked with his father, who ran a photography studio.

"The family is at a loss to understand how this tragedy could have happened," the statement said.

Mr. Williams said Mr. Grant died after police struggled to get him out of his car and handcuffed.

"During the course of this fight, Officer DeBellis was dragged along the ground," Mr. Williams said. "His head struck the ground several times.

"We do have witnesses who saw Mr. Grant being hit with something that may have either been a nightstick or . . . something like that."

Mr. Grant was 5 feet 7 inches and 145 pounds. Patrolman DeBellis is 5 foot 8 and 165 pounds; Officer DuBoe is 5 foot 10 and 187 pounds.

During the struggle, Mr. Williams said, Mr. Grant "suddenly fell limp" with one handcuff on his left wrist."They were able to cuff him and have him transported to the hospital."

Four eyewitnesses gave graphic accounts of the two officers kicking the man to the ground, cursing him and beating him on the head and legs with blackjacks.

"One cop said, 'You think you're a tough mother - - - - - - ?' " said Bruce Johnson, 32, a music producer who had driven to the block to visit a friend. "Then he kicked him." He and two friends watched the scuffle from the porch of their friend's house.

Three of the witnesses said they saw one officer strike Mr. Grant in the face with a flashlight. They said the beating continued with Mr. Grant lying on the ground.

"When they hit him with the slapjacks, he wasn't moving," said Dale Harris, 31, who was with Mr. Johnson. "It was ugly. He hit him, like bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, and I'm like, 'Damn, look at this.' They killed that guy, right in front of my face."

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