News Article - January 04 2006

Police Leader Won't Punish Officer for PHL Airport Scuffle
  Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson has decided not to punish Officer Kenneth Fleming, who has a history of disciplinary problems, for his physical handling of a minister at Philadelphia International Airport in 2003 that resulted in a $750,000 legal settlement. Johnson, however, concurred with a recent departmental decision that Fleming was currently "not suitable" for promotion to detective, Capt. Benjamin Naish, a police spokesman, said yesterday. In making the decision last month, Johnson followed the recommendation of an internal disciplinary board, which found Fleming not guilty of excessive force in the incident, Naish said. "After a full and thorough hearing in front of a Police Board of Inquiry, the board found Officer Fleming not guilty of the alleged complaint, and the police commissioner went along with the finding of the board," Naish said. "The commissioner is going to abide by the ruling," Naish said.

   On Nov. 28, the board heard from the minister, Jorge Granados, 55, who flew from his home in the Dominican Republic to testify, and from several other witnesses on his behalf. Citing confidentiality rules, Naish said the department would not release the investigative report or the board's written decision. Fleming, 45, could not be reached for comment.

   Robert V. Eddis, leader of the union that represents city police officers, praised Johnson's decision not to punish Fleming. "I believe the commissioner made the right decision," said Eddis, president of Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police. In the airport incident on June 23, 2003, Fleming accused Granados, formerly of Parkside, Delaware County, and his adult son, Axel, of assaulting him during an altercation over a parking ticket that Fleming was issuing for their van. After a hearing the following January, Municipal Court Judge William A. Meehan - who listened to Fleming's version of events - found the minister not guilty of all charges, including simple assault and resisting arrest. The judge also acquitted Granados' son of related charges. Fleming testified that the minister, while trying to load luggage into a minivan driven by his wife, grabbed the officer's arm and "stepped into my personal space." Fleming testified he used a "control hold and a takedown maneuver" to throw Granados to the ground and arrest him.

   A source involved in the police hearing said questions were raised about Granados' version of events, including that Fleming's takedown left him briefly paralyzed and the role a spinal condition may have played in contributing to his injuries. Whatever the case, Granados underwent spinal surgery three days after the incident and had a plate screwed to his spine. Dennis Cogan, who represented Granados in his civil suit against the city, did not return a call for comment.

   Eddis recently complained that the department had passed over Fleming for promotion, saying it had been swayed by an Inquirer story in November about Fleming's Internal Affairs history. Naish responded: "The promotion panel made a recommendation that Officer Fleming was not suitable for promotion to detective at this time, and the police commissioner went along with that recommendation." Naish declined to comment specifically on Fleming's disciplinary history.

   Fleming has been the subject of more than a dozen Internal Affairs probes and has been suspended twice. He was suspended for three days for punching a court officer in front of a sitting judge in 1995. He was suspended for 30 days over a 1999 incident in which he conducted a partial strip search of a man in public and then lied about it to Internal Affairs investigators, according to an Internal Affairs report. Fleming, a 24-year veteran of the force, has cost the city and a company that insures the airport nearly $1 million in legal settlements. After the strip-search incident, Fleming was transferred to the police auto pound, where he would have minimal contact with the public. Fleming contested the reassignment and won in arbitration. He was allowed to transfer to the airport, where he remains.

Source - Phila. Inquirer