Former cops found not guilty of beating Najee Rivera
The jury took five hours of deliberation and three replays of the controversial video in order to reach a unanimous verdict.
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At 1:30 p.m. Monday, a group of 12 jurors announced their long-awaited decision: Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson, the two former police officers accused of beating Najee Rivera in 2013, were found not guilty of a list of charges that included aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, and obstruction of administration of law.
Following five hours of deliberation, and after reviewing the controversial video of the beating three times, the jury unanimously cleared the two former policeman of any wrongdoing. The video was the key piece of evidence on the prosecution’s side.
Upon hearing the verdict, friends and family of the defendants sighed in relief. McKnight’s mom began to cry, comforted by a large group that surrounded her in the audience section of the courtroom.
Of course, Rivera himself wasn’t there to hear the verdict. In December 2015, Rivera tried to break up a fight near C and Somerset Streets in Kensington, and was shot. He died weeks later in the hospital.
But for his mother Violetta Rivera, it was a day of grave injustice. She began crying even before the jury read their verdict.
Moments before the announcement, she said she wanted the former members of the Philadelphia Police Department to be found guilty of all charges or, at least, have the promise that they would not be able to rejoin the police force.
Surrounded by tearful friends and family outside the courtroom, Violetta Rivera said that she would speak with Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wellbrock, the case’s prosecutor, in search of more legal options.
“If the video isn’t evidence of what happened, then what is?” she asked.
Also saddened by the decision was Najee’s girlfriend, Dina Scannapieco. The efforts she made in the search for the surveillance video of the beating, a key piece of evidence in the trial, were — in her words — worthless.
Roz Pichardo, creator of a foundation called Operation Save Our City — which provides support to families of abuse and violence victims in the city — called the beating a “clear case of abuse of police force.”
“Bridging the gap between the community and the police is made harder when something like this happens. How many more faces like Najee's do we have to see before something is done?” Pichardo said. She did not rule out the possibility of further action being taken in support of Najee’s case.
Wallbrock declined to comment on the case, but thanked the efforts made by the members of the jury.
In 2013, Najee Rivera ran a stop sign while riding a scooter near Sixth and Cambria Streets in the Fairhill neighborhood of Philadelphia. After an initial traffic stop was made, Rivera reportedly fled the scene and a pursuit began, after which he offered violent resistance to his arrest, according to the official report filed by the officers. Rivera was charged, and missed several days of work which he later said cost him his job at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
However, a video found by Rivera’s girlfriend shows the two policeman running Rivera off the road with the patrol car, and beating him repeatedly with a retractable metal baton known as an ASP.
Following the video’s appearance, District Attorney Seth Williams immediately dropped the charges against Rivera and began investigating the two officers. Rivera agreed to a $200,000 settlement from the city, which he said barely covered his legal and medical expenses.