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PHILADELPHIA – Two city police officers were arrested Thursday and accused of knocking a man off a scooter and beating him so severely that another officer thought he had been shot.
Officers Sean McKnight, 30, and Kevin Robinson, 26, were immediately suspended for 30 days and will likely be fired, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said. The pair had been off the street while a grand jury investigated.
Ramsey said the officers acted improperly and in total violation of department training.
"No one, not even police officers, is above the law," District Attorney Seth Williams said as a video screen showed Najee Rivera's beaten, swollen face.
The officers lied to their colleagues and superiors about the May 2013 encounter in North Philadelphia by casting Rivera as the antagonist and charging him with aggravated assault and resisting arrest, Ramsey and Williams said.
After Rivera's arrest, his girlfriend went to the area and found surveillance footage of his encounter with the officers. The video shows the officers slamming him against a wall and beating him on the ground, said Rivera's attorney Leo Flynn.
"He's aware of what happens to people who don't comply. He was complying," Flynn said. "He wasn't offering anything except screams for his life when he was being beaten."
Robinson's attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., said Rivera fled and refused commands to show his hands. "Once he's under control, there's no further physical" confrontation, Perri said.
McKnight's attorney, Brian McMonagle, said in a statement that McKnight is a "good cop" who risks his life and said suspects create risks when they flee police.
Williams said he dropped the charges against Rivera and turned his attention to the officers when the video surfaced showing them beating Rivera with their fists and batons after one of the officers reached out a cruiser window and knocked him from the scooter. Rivera, 22, was frightened and drove away after he was pulled over by the officers, Williams said.
Ramsey said the officers violated protocol by pursuing Rivera without activating their lights and sirens and that Rivera never resisted once they knocked him to the ground and held him against a wall.
Rivera suffered a broken orbital bone and several lacerations to his head, the prosecutor said. "Another officer arrived on the scene and thought that Mr. Rivera had been shot because there was so much blood on the ground," Williams said.
McKnight, a seven-year police veteran, and Robinson, a six-year veteran, were charged with aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, reckless endangerment, lying to authorities, falsifying records and obstructing justice.
The city has settled a lawsuit filed by Rivera for $200,000, Williams said.