Couple alleges improper arrest at OutFest

A gay couple arrested at last weekend’s OutFest contends that the incident was baseless and that police used unnecessary force.

The couple was arrested around 3:30 p.m. Oct. 13 near the intersection of 12th and Locust streets.

Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel, LGBT liaison, initiated a complaint Tuesday on their behalf with Internal Affairs, which investigates police misconduct.

The two men and several friends left ICandy and were headed down 12th Street to explore the festival when they passed a group of antigay protestors from Repent America. One man said the group jokingly took a photo in front of the demonstrators and then began walking away.

“It was just a silly photo, it didn’t mean anything,” he said. “People were taking pictures of them all day. We didn’t talk to the protestors, we didn’t look at them, we didn’t say anything derogatory to them.”

But, as one man began reaching for his camera back and the other started walking away, the latter of the two says he was grabbed from behind and forced to the ground by a Civil Affairs officer.

Police spokesperson Lt. John Stanford said the police report contends that the arresting officer was pushed from behind after a group of festivalgoers attempted to knock down Repent America’s signs.

“What is stated is that the officer felt someone push him from behind and he reached behind his back and grabbed the person who was still there before they had the opportunity to move,” Stanford said. “And he turned around and was still holding on to that person.”

The couple vehemently denied their group went near the protestors’ signs or pushed the officer.

Video shows the plainclothes officer pinning one man to the ground with his body, and another assisting by forcing her knee onto his back, while a number of both plainclothes and uniformed officers formed a blockade around the group.

The one man, who is 5-foot-7 and weighs 145 pounds, said he did initially resist the officer, as he was unaware he was law enforcement until he was on the ground for several moments.

“Immediately after the picture was taken, I didn’t even get a chance to turn around. I had an arm around my neck choking me,” he said. “Yes, I was resisting when somebody grabbed me from behind. No one told me they were part of the police. I thought they were the protestors. They forced my head down, so I couldn’t even look around. But I thought they were the protestors and the barricade was officers trying to get them off me. I had no idea.”

Bethel said the plainclothes Civil Affairs officers, who work the event every year, displayed their badges on their arms.

“They had their bands out prominently. Clearly there’s a protest here and it’s clear we had Civil Affairs on location; they had their badges and bands, and they’re supported by police,” Bethel said. “Civil Affairs officers are trained to deal with protests like this, they do it every year. And we have to work both sides — both the protestors and the anti-protestors.”

One of the men can be heard yelling “help me” multiple times on several different video accounts of the incident. He spent about two minutes on the ground.

He was handcuffed, pulled to his feet and walked down Locust, and his partner attempted to follow, prompting his own arrest.

“At some point, there was contact made with the officers,” Bethel said. “They asked people to move back, and there was some contact made.”

The one man noted that his report cites him for trying to pull police off of his partner, which he denied happened.

“While it was transpiring, I kept screaming, ‘Get off my boyfriend,’ and the gentleman in the brown blazer said, ‘Knock it off, back up,’” he said. “I was already 15-20 feet away from what was happening. In the videos, you can’t even see me on the video.”

The one man was placed in a police vehicle near 13th and Locust and said the car looped around to pick up his partner on 12th Street.

“I had no idea he had even been arrested because I couldn’t see what was going on,” the first man said.

The men said neither of them were intoxicated. They have a credit-card receipt from Macy’s one hour prior to the incident and then each had two drinks at ICandy.

The pair was transported to the Ninth District at 21st and Hamilton streets. They were placed in a holding cell and fingerprinted around 8 p.m. Around 10 p.m., an officer gathered their basic information via a television screen.

They were informed they would face a preliminary hearing at 12:30 a.m. but at 2:30 a.m. were released from the cell, with instructions that they both faced criminal conspiracy and disorderly conduct charges.

Both say they were not read their Miranda Rights. Stanford said rights are only read prior to a formal interview, which the pair said they did not undergo.

While in the cell, the couple said one officer repeatedly refused to refer to them as partners or boyfriends.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 28. The pair is speaking with a number of attorneys and has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union. Philly Pride Presents president Franny Price, who chairs the Police Liaison Committee, has also been in contact with the couple.

Internal Affairs will contact both shortly, Bethel said, to document their account.

The incident left the one man with a number of injuries.

“I have bruises on my legs, bruises on my back, scrapes on my elbows and hands, cuffmark bruises and a scratch on my face,” he said.

He said he and his boyfriend, who have been together for more than two years and live in Fairmount, went into the day expecting a relaxing day off.

“Me and my partner work seven days a week and were just trying to enjoy a day out. This was so uncalled for,” he said. “It was just awful, traumatic and scary. I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared.”