Philadelphia Police Chief: 'It Doesn't Look Good'

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - "I'll admit it doesn't look good, but it's too early to draw any conclusions," said Philadelphia Police Chief John Timoney on national television Thursday morning, offering his reaction to the police beating of a suspect - a thirty-second melee captured on videotape.

The case is once again raising questions about police brutality, and it is inviting comparisons to the police beating of Rodney King in 1991.

A Philadelphia TV helicopter captured aerial video of the suspect, Thomas Jones, as police dragged him out of his car at the end of a chase on Wednesday.

The videotape shows as many as twenty officers gathered around Jones, punching and kicking him as he resisted police efforts to push him to the ground. The attack apparently continued after Jones was down on the ground, but it's unclear from the video what the suspect was doing at the time.

The police chase began when Jones, a suspected car thief, hopped into a police cruiser in an attempt to get away from the officers who intended to arrest him. In the process, he allegedly shot a police officer in the hand, and police returned fire, hitting Jones several times, but not wounding him badly enough to stop him.

"As inflammatory as this tape might be, we have to keep in mind that the police were in the process of apprehending a criminal suspect who had resisted a number of attempts to arrest him and who had shot a police officer," Mayor John F. Street said.

"The tape raises some questions, but the tape also doesn't show everything that was going on."

While on the ground, several witnesses say Jones tried to take a gun from an officer and bit another's thumb.

Police Chief Timoney vehemently rejected comparisons to the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991.

"For people to start making comparisons to Rodney King, I just think is outrageous," Timoney said. "He [Jones] is resisting throughout. Now, does that justify the force? We won't know until we interview the officers."

There are some comparisons between the two cases, however: For starters, both police beatings were captured on videotape and aired on national television, and in both cases, the suspects are black.

But Timoney noted that Rodney King never resisted arrest, whereas Jones, he said, was "hell-bent" on resisting: "We have a guy, you know for a fact that he is resisting, biting a police officer, and has already had numerous scuffles along the way.

Timoney also denied suggestions that the Philadelphia incident was racially motivated.

"If you look at the video tape, there were both African-Americans and white police officers, there were both male and female police officers," he said, making racial motivation on the part of police "an unfair assumption."

TV footage also shows Jones limping into a Philadelphia hospital, supported by police officers. He had been shot five times, and was later listed in serious condition.

Timoney said his department will thoroughly investigate the Jones case, and so will federal officials. At her weekly news briefing Thursday morning, Attorney General Janet Reno said the US attorney has launched a preliminary investigation into the police beating of Jones.

"There are many witnesses, and there are four individual crime scenes, and this could take time to unravel," Timoney said. "We have three separate investigations going on: one by the homicide unit about the car jacking a few days ago; some crimes in between; and the shooting yesterday."

"[The video] is upsetting," he said. "But we are not going to rush to judgment."

Philadelphia, nicknamed the City of Brotherly Love, has a history of tense race relations. It is also the location of the Republican National Convention, which starts later this month.