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Phoenix Police Officers Struggle with Brutality

Phoenix Police Facing Backlash Over Brutality

A 17-year-veteran of the Phoenix Police Department who was fired earlier this year after an incident of police brutality is back on the job, assigned to the Maryvale-Estrella Precinct.

Officer Kevin McGowan was involved in an incident on Dec. 23, 2014 at a smoke shop near 40th Street and McDowell Road. He was found to have used excessive force resulting in an injury to an 18-year-old named Patrick D’Labik.

The entire incident was caught on video tape. The Phoenix Police Department released that footage in April, shortly after McGowan’s termination.

The video shows McGowan walking into the store and pulling his weapon.

At the same time you see D’Labik put something down on the store counter and raise both his hands in the air.

D’Labik then starts to get down on the ground in a push-up-type position and was almost on the ground when McGowan stomps on D’Labik’s upper back, forcing his arms to buckle and his face to smash against the ground.

“I tasted blood, and that’s when I had spit and I looked on the ground and my teeth was already there,” D’Labik in an interview after the incident.

The strike knocked out three of D’Labik’s teeth and broke two others. D’Labik said that at the time, he didn’t know what the officer used to push him to the ground.

“I just know that he pushed me down more than he should have – way more than he should have,” D’Labik said.

Although the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute McGowan for aggravated assault, citing “no crime committed,” Phoenix Police Chief Joe Yahner said McGowan’s violation of policy warranted his firing.

McGowan appealed.

Phoenix Police Struggle with Brutality

The Phoenix Civil Service Board last week agreed with the recommendation of the hearing officer who heard McGowan’s case, and reinstated him to his former position.

The hearing officer described McGowan’s behavior during the December 2014 incident as “unacceptable,” but determined that “dismissal is not reasonable or appropriate under the circumstances.”

“There is no evidence of a pattern of improper behavior,” the hearing officer wrote in her recommendation. That officer also pointed out that McGowan amassed an “extensive amount of commendations and awards” during his 17 years on the job. In addition, she said McGowan accepted responsibility for his actions and “has sought counseling and continues to do so to ensure he can better deal with stress so that this type of incident would not recur.”

Although McGowan has not commented on this turn of events, his attorney, Steven J. Serbalik, issued a statement.

“On April 7, 2015, Officer McGowan was terminated. On August 13, 2015 the Phoenix Civil Service Board voted to reinstate Officer Kevin McGowan to his former position as a Police Officer for the City of Phoenix. Officer McGowan is a decorated 17-year veteran of the Department. He earned dozens of commendations and had no significant prior discipline.

“As we stated before, the video obtained by the media does not show the complete series of events related to this detention/arrest.

“The entirety of this incident, including the video, was reviewed by an independent expert and by a panel of attorneys at the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office. These reviews resulted in a determination that no crime was committed by Officer McGowan. Officer McGowan filed an appeal of his termination. A hearing was held before a neutral hearing officer on June 22, 2015.

“Officer McGowan respects the Civil Service Process, and is thankful that he had the opportunity for a hearing officer and a panel of citizens to review all of the facts related to his employment, not just a video showing an excerpt of a single incident.

“The hearing officer, after reviewing not only the video, but also hundreds of pages of additional information and hours of witness and supervisory testimony, recommended that Officer McGowan be reinstated. The Phoenix Civil Service Board, consisting of appointed civilian members, adopted the report and recommendation, and ordered Officer McGowan’s reinstatement. Officer McGowan received a 240-hour unpaid suspension, and was not awarded back pay.

“Officer McGowan will not be giving any interviews related to this incident, and this will be the only statement he will give related to this matter.”

For its part, the Phoenix Police Department has not said anything about the board’s decision to reinstate McGowan other to confirm that he is back on the job and his assignment.

D’Labik, whose injuries still cause him pain, described McGowan’s reinstatement as “really aggravating.”

“I mean, I ain’t getting my teeth back. … Why should he get his job back?” he asked. “For what? Why should you be able to do something like that and get your job back?”

“I just don’t think the man deserves his job back,” D’Labik’s grandmother, LaVerne O’Hare, said. “I really don’t.”

While she’s not worried for herself or her grandson, the fact that McGowan is back on the job troubles O’Hare.

“I didn’t think it was right for the simple fact that I don’t know what the man could do on another time,” she explained. “I’m not concerned for any of us. I’m concerned for anybody else out in there in Phoenix that might come across him.”

Although she is still angry about what McGowan did to her grandson and wholeheartedly disagrees with the board’s decision to reinstate him, she concedes that time will tell if the board did the right thing.

“If he can keep himself controlled and do things the way he’s suppose to in the future then it’s OK, but I just personally myself, because of what happened to my grandson, I don’t think it’s right,” she said. “I understand he needs a job he needs to make money. He needs to support his family but what he did to my grandson was not right.”

D’Labik believes it is unfair that McGowan got his job back, but he is pragmatic about it.

“I mean it is what it is,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Comprised of five people appointed by the City Council, the Phoenix Civil Service Board “hears appeals of disciplinary demotions, discharges, and suspensions of [city] employees,” including police officers.

Current members include Robert Lord, Kurt Mangum, Bruce Meyerson, Craig Steblay and Adrienne Wilhoit.

 

 

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