PHILADELPHIA – A police officer has been reassigned while the department conducts an internal investigation into whether he beat a burglary suspect while a news helicopter looked on, the police commissioner said Tuesday.
Commissioner Sylvester A. Johnson (search) said he was disturbed by what he saw on the footage, but does not want to judge the officer's actions before the internal probe is completed. The findings will be sent to the district attorney for review, he said.
Johnson, who watched the footage captured late Thursday by WCAU-TV, said the suspect appears to be handcuffed on the ground, and is clearly handcuffed a few moments later when he is punched by the officer as he is put into the cruiser.
"You do not hit a handcuffed suspect," Johnson said at a news conference Tuesday, adding that the every police department in the country follows that policy.
"When the resistance [by the suspect] stopped, the officer should have stopped," Johnson said. "Let the chips fall where they may."
The officer, whose name was not disclosed, appears to strike the man repeatedly after two other officers apprehended him. The tape shows the officer swinging his arm, but does not show clearly what he was striking.
The suspect had led police on a highway chase before crashing into a tree and attempting to flee on foot.
A police helicopter had been following the suspect in connection with a burglary, police Inspector William Colarulo said. The station also had a helicopter in the air and directed it to the area where the footage, some of it blurry, was captured.
The suspect was held at a Northeast Philadelphia detective bureau, cited for driving-related offenses and was released without being criminally charged, Colarulo said. Colarulo said he did not know how long the man was detained and was not aware of any medical treatment he received.
Police officials declined to disclose personal details about the suspect or the officer, such as their ages or the officer's length of service. The officer has been moved from the narcotics unit to administrative duty at police headquarters, Johnson said.