White Philadelphia police beat black female officer by mistake

January 12, 1995|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- A plainclothes Philadelphia police officer was beaten last week by flashlight-wielding policemen who apparently mistook her for a suspect.

The middle-of-the-night incident that landed Officer Adrienne Cureton in the hospital was worse than simple mistaken identity, she said.

Officer Cureton, who is black, said white officers, including a woman, led the attack.

Even though she identified herself, the beating continued, she said.

Police confirm that Officer Cureton was mistakenly beaten by other officers, but refuse to provide an account of the Jan. 2 episode at a North Philadelphia house. A police spokeswoman said Internal Affairs detectives are investigating, but she would not elaborate.

Officer Cureton's story defies easy explanation. Why would the police continue to beat her if they believed her to be an officer? And why would they continue to beat her even if they believed her to be a suspect?

"It was like Rodney King -- only I'm a cop," Officer Cureton said.

She added: "Even if I wasn't a cop, they had no right to beat somebody like that. Not in the head. You hit in places you're taught to hit."

Several civilians inside the house also were black. None was attacked. Also, not all of the invading officers were white. Officer Cureton said a black officer eventually broke up the assault on her.

Officer Cureton was treated at Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital for multiple trauma, including bumps on her head and bruises on her arms and upper body. She was released the same day.

The story unfolded Jan. 2, shortly after 2 a.m. Officer Cureton, 26, a Juvenile Aid Division officer, was working the overnight shift at the Northwest Detective Division. She had spent her nearly six-year career at the 35th District, which is in the same police building.

She was assigned to take a report on a missing 2-year-old girl from a house in the 39th Police District, where Officer Cureton was a stranger to most officers.

Officer Cureton and a uniformed 39th District officer met at the house. Officer Cureton interviewed the child's parents. While she and the other officer were still inside, other members of the child's family arrived, upset and angry.

Then the woman who owns the house returned -- with the missing 2-year-old. The woman was drunk and wild, according to Officer Cureton and a witness, and family members disagreed on whether the woman should be prosecuted for kidnapping.

Officer Cureton and the girl's mother went upstairs to a bedroom to examine the girl. That's when Officer Cureton said she heard a fight start between the homeowner and the uniformed officer.

By the time Officer Cureton ran down the steps to help, she said, the uniformed officer had a deep scratch on his face and a single handcuff on the drunk woman's wrist.

Officer Cureton said she grabbed the woman's arm and helped him click on the other handcuff.

She thought that ended the trouble. So did Tarena Pendleton, the mother of the 2-year-old.

"Everything was under control," Ms. Pendleton said.

But the uniformed police officer had radioed for help. The "assist officer" call, a top priority radio assignment, had already been dispatched. Police officers from three districts were speeding to the house.

Officer Cureton didn't know about the assist officer call. She was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the uniformed officer. They were facing the handcuffed woman, their backs to the swarm of arriving policemen.

Officer Cureton, who was closest to the front door, said: "The first officer to come in grabs me by my collar and pulls me away. I say, 'Let me go! I'm a police officer assisting an arrest. Let me go! I'm a police officer.' "

Officer Cureton says she protested, profanely, to no avail. As many as 20 officers had arrived. They ran to the house and joined the fray. Officer Cureton said she realized by then that the policemen believed she was the target that they had been called to subdue.

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