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Photos: The Philadelphia Police Department

Two ex-cops stand trial over alleged beating of unarmed man

The officers' defense attorneys argue that the video of the beating isn't substantial evidence.

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In a preliminary hearing yesterday, two former Philadelphia police officers defended their questionable use of force against Najee Rivera, 23, after a routine traffic stop got out of hand in May 2013.

Rivera testified that he was pulled over for a traffic violation around 10 p.m. on May 29 in the Fairhill section of the city. When officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson approached, Rivera said he saw their batons out, got scared, and fled the scene.

The officers caught up with Robinson later. According to their police report, Rivera reached for one of the officer’s batons and refused to show his hands. A violent exchange ensured, leaving Rivera with a fractured orbital bone and several lacerations to his head.

McKnight and Robinson’s attorneys maintain that the two officers did nothing wrong, and that they had reason to pursue Rivera after he fled. One officer also testified that Rivera appeared to be under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs.

But Rivera’s attorney argued that surveillance video contradicted the officers’ statements.

The video shows Rivera driving the wrong way down 6th Street near Lehigh Avenue, pursued closely by Robinson and McKnight in their patrol car.

Without engaging their lights or sirens, one of the officer’s arms appears to reach out the window and knock Rivera off of his motorcycle. The two officers then got of the vehicle and proceeded to beat Rivera with their batons for several minutes. Rivera’s piercing screams were picked up by the camera. No weapons or drugs were found in his possession. 

The defense argues that allegations rely too much on a “grainy” video, and noted that Rivera’s memory had too many holes.

Originally, Rivera was charged with aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and resisting arrest, but the District Attorney's Office rescinded the charges after the video brought new evidence to allegations of police brutality. The false arrest caused him to miss three days of work at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The absence was later used to dismiss him from the job. Rivera petitioned the hospital director to reconsider, and produced over 90,000 electronic signatures. 

Last month, Rivera was arrested in South Philadelphia for an incident involving a 29-year-old woman. It is unclear whether or not the new charges will affect trial.

Check out different reports on the trial from The Daily News and the Inquirer.

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