Pubdate: 9 Feb 1999
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 1999 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Author: Lea Sitton Stanley, Linda Loyd and Robert Moran


Answering critics on all sides, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M.
Abraham said yesterday that she would rearrest a former police officer in
the shooting death of a North Philadelphia man last fall.

Officer Christopher DiPasquale, 32, was originally arrested Nov. 20, and
charged with voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in the Oct. 1 shooting
of Donta Dawson, 19, becoming the first city officer in six years to be
criminally prosecuted in a homicide while on duty. On Jan. 6, Municipal
Court Judge Felice R. Stack ruled, after a two-day preliminary hearing,
that DiPasquale was justified in firing twice at Dawson, who sat in his car
during a confrontation with police. Dawson was unarmed.

The judge cited the testimony of witnesses -- 11 of them police officers --
who said they believed Dawson had a gun and would shoot.

In announcing the rearrest on manslaughter charges, Abraham answered those
who have demanded that DiPasquale face the more serious charge of murder.
She disputed those who say he also should be charged in the 1994 death of
Moises DeJesus, who died after ingesting cocaine and struggling with
police. And she countered DiPasquale supporters, who have argued that
prosecuting him will cause police officers to hesitate at a critical
moment, a hesitation that defense attorney Jack McMahon has said could
prove fatal. Abraham called McMahon's comments "very, very unfortunate."

"No city is safe when we listen to the mob," she said at a news conference.
"We don't flinch from making difficult decisions when we must."

Stack's ruling was incorrect, the district attorney said. "She applied an
improper standard for a preliminary hearing. . . . When we believe a
Municipal Court judge is in error we have . . . the right to rearrest."

Abraham said that her office only had to show there was enough evidence for
a case and that she felt Stack had applied other standards. Abraham's
office will now ask the Commonwealth Court to order that DiPasquale be
bound over for trial based on a transcript of the first preliminary
hearing. However, defense attorney McMahon bristled at the idea of not
holding another preliminary hearing.

"We have a right to confrontation," he said. "It's a constitutional right
to confront the witnesses, through questioning."

McMahon said that DiPasquale would appear before Judge William Mazzola on
Friday and that he expects Mazzola to schedule a preliminary hearing. "I
think that this is just outrageous," McMahon said. "They brought their case
to a judge. A judge heard it over two days. The judge's reaction was that
it would have been unreasonable for Officer DiPasquale not to shoot."

McMahon accused Abraham of making her decision based on more than evidence.

"It clearly shows -- if everybody in this city didn't realize it before --
this is nothing more than a political game to appeal to the Jerry
Mondesires of this world," he said.

J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia NAACP, has said that
Stack's ruling last month "effectively cheapened the lives of every black
citizen in Philadelphia." Dawson is black; DiPasquale is white.

Mondesire could not be reached for comment yesterday.

While the Dawson family was pleased about the rearrest, there was anger
from police quarters. Richard B. Costello, president of the Fraternal Order
of Police, said Stack had tossed the case because there was "absolutely no

Dawson's cousin Kobra Oden, 29, said she was heartened by Abraham's
persistence in the case. "Hopefully, justice will be served -- this time,"
she said before stepping into the Dawson family's rowhouse in the 1700
block of West Pacific Street.

Oden said that Dawson's mother, Cynthia, did not want to be interviewed,
but that she was happy about the news.

Stefan Presser of the American Civil Liberties Union also praised Abraham's
pursuit. But he said that unless her office "puts on a better showing" the
second time around, he doubts that she will get a different outcome.

Both Presser and Mondesire have urged that federal civil rights charges be
filed against DiPasquale. Richard Goldberg, supervisor of the civil rights
section of the U.S. Attorney's Office, said yesterday that the federal
investigation was on hold, awaiting a final decision in the local case.

Dawson was shot in the right eye just before 1 a.m. Oct. 1 during a
confrontation with officers at 12th and Glenwood Streets, and died the next
day. He had traces of PCP and marijuana in his system, according to
testimony at the preliminary hearing.

The incident began when DiPasquale and his partner, Officer Kirk Dodd,
approached Dawson because he was blocking traffic as he sat in his car,
lights on, engine running. For several minutes, Dawson declined to speak.
He sat on his left hand and refused repeated requests to show it, Dodd
testified at the preliminary hearing.

Then, Dawson abruptly leaned down and brought his left hand up, Dodd said.
DiPasquale, who was leaning over the hood of his patrol car and was closest
to Dawson, believed Dawson had a gun and fired twice.

Abraham determined that Dawson's actions did not warrant the use of deadly
force because he was unarmed. By the same token, she said yesterday, the
evidence did not support the more serious charge of murder.

DiPasquale had come under scrutiny before, having faced 11 unrelated
complaints of misconduct during eight years on the force, ranging from
physical abuse and false arrest to harassment and failing to provide
adquate police services. In busy districts such as the one he was assigned
to, the 25th, it is not uncommon for officers to have multiple complaints
on their records. He was cleared of wrongdoing in all but one of the
complaints -- that surrounding DeJesus, 30, a North Philadelphia tow-truck
driver who died on Aug. 24, 1994, three days after fighting with officers
while in a drug-crazed state. Pathologists who testified before the Police
Advisory Commission said that both the drugs and the struggle contributed
to his death. DiPasquale was one of seven officers suspended for 10 days.

DiPasquale, who has denied wrongdoing in that matter, has sought to have
the suspension overturned by a labor arbitrator.

"I would not now arrest Mr. DiPasquale in that case," Abraham said
yesterday. Her office, she said, had determined that he and the other
officers acted "totally appropriately."After his arrest in the Dawson
matter, DiPasquale was suspended from the force, then fired 30 days later.
After Judge Stack tossed the manslaughter charges in January, McMahon said
his client would try to get his job back. 
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