Thursday, August 20, 2015
"Corruption Ahead" at Allentown City Council?
"Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here," the inscription on the gate to Hell in Dante's Inferno, should be probably be required at the entrance of every government building. Until the next rainstorm, there is a warning outside of Allentown City Hall. Scrawled in chalk, "Corruption Ahead" was the message I saw as I danced between the raindrops on my way to a City Council meeting. That message was the remnant of a brief protest before the meeting, choreographed by LV Cop Block organizer Severin Freeman..
"Corruption Ahead" was the warning, scrawled in chalk, outside the entrance to Allentown City Hall last night. I was there to watch Jeanette Eichenwald introduce legislation aimed at limiting pay-to-play, but the place was packed with about 60 people. Many of them were there to complain about what LV Cop Block organizer Severin Freeman calls an out-of-control police department. "Something horrible is going to happen," he warned, as three officers quietly sat in the meeting room. Police had their defenders, too, including a woman who stated that officers are routinely taunted to provoke a reaction that can be filmed on ubiquitous cell phones.
Tensions between police and at least some citizens have escalated, especially after police arrested James Ochse, age 61, for singing The Beach Boys' Barbara Ann outside of Shula's restaurant in downtown Allentown on Friday night. A video of that encounter (viewed nearly 6,000 times on my Youtube page) shows Officer Robert Busch body slam Ochse to the ground, after which he digs a knee into Ochse' kidney.
Just days before that arrest, a lawsuit was filed against an Allentown police officer who allegedly assaulted someone for videotaping an arrest in which a stun gun was used. Officer Jason Ammary also apparently smashed the cellphone.
Ammary is the subject of another civil rights lawsuit over his use of a stun gun to the groin area of a 15 year-old Dieruff High School student.
Since 2013, Allentown police officers have been defendants in 15 federal civil rights suits.
According to Freeman, just minutes before last night's meeting, a resident was able to capture a video of police using excessive force against a pregnant woman who had previously been fighting with her boyfriend. According to the woman who shot the video, police ignored this pregnant woman when she revealed her condition. But this pregnant woman is also alleged to have tried to kick out the windows of a cruiser. Freeman indicated he will upload that video today.
Complaints to the police have become so frequent that the department has begun blocking some commenters from its Facebook page, while warning the rest, "Filing of a law suit is only a fact that a law suit was indeed filed. It does not mean any party is guilty simply because suit was filed. The facts of any allegation will be brought to light, and dealt with accordingly."
Clearly, police are feeling a bit defensive. One of the protesters admitted that some people do taunt officers. But it's hard to justify grabbing a 61 year old man from behind and then throwing him to the ground.