A Philly police officer is cleared of racial slur allegations after a viral traffic stop video, commissioner says
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Tuesday that an officer who had been benched over allegations he used racial slurs during a traffic stop earlier this month will be allowed to return to duty after internal investigators concluded that he did not use such language during the chaotic episode.
Outlaw said “after an extensive internal and external review” of footage from body-worn cameras, police came to believe “that none of our officers utilized racial epithets as alleged.”
Outlaw said police were continuing to investigate the officers’ actions during the stop, which led to the arrest of 30-year-old Warren Martin-Williams, who has since been charged with illegally carrying a gun and drugs as he sought to drive his car away from the stop in East Germantown on March 22, court documents show.
Outlaw said that as a fuller review continued, she believed it was important to provide an update on whether racial slurs were uttered. She did not name any of the officers involved.
The incident attracted attention last week after a video of the encounter was widely shared on social media. The video appeared to have been taken by a bystander and was posted on the Instagram account “phillyspotnews” with the caption: “Cop uses racial slur multiple times while trying to make arrest in Germantown.”
The video showed an officer pointing his gun at the driver‘s side window of a parked SUV, repeatedly yelling at the driver that he could see the man’s gun, and appearing to fire a Taser toward the window. Two other officers were standing nearby. The driver then tried to drive away, crashing into a parked patrol car.
At one point during the encounter, a witness can be heard on the video questioning whether the officer had used a slur and calling the officer racist.
In the days that followed, officials including City Councilmember Cindy Bass and State Sens. Sharif Street and Art Haywood criticized the officer’s actions during the stop, saying in a joint statement that his behavior was “inconsistent with de-escalation, trust, and good community service” and suggesting the video “confirmed numerous codes of conduct violations.”
The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 quickly shot back, defending the officer and saying he was being unfairly attacked for seeking to arrest a man carrying a gun and drugs (Martin-Williams was also wanted for an unspecified warrant out of Harford County, Md., court documents say). News websites including Big Trial and Broad + Liberty went on to post what they described as leaked versions of the body-worn camera footage, and FOP president John McNesby said the bodycam video “essentially clears the officer.”
(Sgt. Eric Gripp, a police spokesperson, said Tuesday that the department could not release the footage due to the ongoing investigation).
McNesby also said Bass had viewed the bodycam video before releasing her critical statement, but that she “continued to put out a false narrative” and “demonize” the officers involved. On Tuesday, he called the entire saga a “rush to judgment.”
But Bass said Tuesday that she stood by her assessment, emphasizing that her statement did not accuse the officer of using racist language, but that “it says that he broke police protocol in a number of different areas.”
Haywood agreed, saying he believed the officers involved should have sought to de-escalate the situation instead of bashing in the car’s window. He also said he didn’t agree with Outlaw’s decision to allow the officers to return to street duty as the rest of the investigation unfolded.
And Street said he stood by the concerns he expressed about the officer’s overall conduct, but added: “I’m going to reserve final judgement until we hear the outcome of the investigation.”
Outlaw did not provide a timeline for when that probe might conclude.
Staff writer Sean Collins Walsh contributed to this article.