News briefing Nov. 21-27, 2014

News briefing Nov. 21-27, 2014

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PAC supports City Council legislation

The city’s Police Advisory Commission this week announced its support for pending City Council legislation that would increase the PAC’s funding, staff and autonomy.


The PAC is a civilian-watchdog agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of police misconduct and recommends remedial action and policy changes.

For 10 years, it intermittently investigated the case of Nizah Morris, a transgender woman who sustained a fatal head wound shortly after entering a police vehicle for a Center City “courtesy ride.”

“The [PAC] believes that, with the right tools, staffing and budget, its mission can be accomplished,” the agency stated in a Nov. 17 release. “The [PAC] supports City Councilman Curtis Jones’ bills and resolution currently before City Council’s Law and Government Committee to create a permanent Police Advisory Commission with an initial budget of $1 million — an amount sufficient to employ a staff of 12 investigators, policy analysts and community-outreach workers.”

The PAC currently has three staffers and an annual budget of about $206,000.

For the most part, its staff and commissioners serve at the pleasure of the incumbent mayor.

Jones’ proposed legislation would establish more autonomy for the PAC, boost its staffing and funding levels and ensure that citizens’ complaints don’t languish indefinitely.

This week, the PAC also issued a 74-page annual report that calls for more scrutiny as to why Philadelphia police officers dismissed for alleged wrongdoing are frequently reinstated through the arbitration process.


Settlement near in Whitewood fee dispute

A fee-compensation dispute in the Whitewood case appears close to being settled, court sources confirmed this week.

The Whitewood case, decided in May, resulted in marriage equality throughout Pennsylvania.

As the prevailing party, plaintiffs requested more than $1 million in compensation from state and Bucks County officials for their legal fees and costs.

But Whitewood defendants said the plaintiffs requested an “exorbitant amount.”

On Sept. 10, U.S. District Judge John E.Jones 3d referred the matter to U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson for mediation.

A settlement conference was scheduled for Nov. 12 in Harrisburg, with Carlson presiding.

But the settlement conference was canceled, because both sides appear close to reaching an agreement.

“Counsel has indicated to Chief Magistrate Judge Carlson that they’re close to finalizing a settlement of the fee issue without court intervention,” a spokesperson for Jones said in an email. “If they do not wrap it up themselves, another [settlement-conference] date will be set.”

Neither side had a comment for this report.


Gay cop urges judge to maintain antibias complaint

N. Melville Jones, an openly gay Philadelphia police officer, has urged a Philadelphia judge to maintain his antibias complaint against the city.

Jones alleges pervasive anti-LGBT workplace bias within the police force, and he’s seeking more than $50,000 in damages.

But the city has asked Common Pleas Judge Ellen Ceisler to dismiss Jones’ complaint as meritless.

On Nov. 7, in a 33-page reply brief, attorneys for Jones emphasized that the officer’s complaint is meritorious and should proceed to trial.

At presstime, Ceisler hadn’t ruled on the matter.

According to court records, Jones alleges widespread anti-LGBT physical and verbal abuse within the police force.


Nizah committee to meet

The Justice for Nizah committee will meet next week to plan a Center City event commemorating the 12th anniversary of the death of Nizah Morris.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Nov. 24 in the community room of the William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.

The public is invited to attend.

Morris was a transwoman who sustained a fatal head injury in 2002, shortly after entering a Philadelphia police vehicle for a Center City “courtesy ride.”

Her homicide remains unsolved.

The J4N committee intends to hold a Center City candlelight march and vigil on Dec. 22.

Additional details of the proposed event will be finalized at the Nov. 24 planning meeting.

The committee also is seeking a state probe into Morris’ death. But so far, state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane hasn’t agreed to review the case.


— Timothy Cwiek


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