Patrick Dickinson of Allentown, PA has been keeping me informed about the civil lawsuit currently underway regarding the wrongful death of John Hirko (one of my Drug War Victims). Selections from the local papers give a taste of the trial’s progress:
From last week’s Morning Call:
Firearms expert Anthony Paul told a federal jury that Hirko was lying on the floor or attempting to rise from a seated or kneeling position when he was killed. No more than two of the 11 shots may have come when Hirko was in another position, according to Paul.His conclusions appear to be consistent with the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. John Shane, who said this week that Hirko was crawling, crouching, bending over or lying on the floor when police shot him.Lawyer John Karoly Jr., representing Hirko’s family, fiancee and landlord, called Paul to testify during the wrongful death and civil rights trial in Allentown.Karoly has accused police of illegally shooting Hirko and accidentally setting fire to his home while trying to enter it to search for drugs. The two sides disagree about whether Hirko was armed.Paul spent most of his career with the Philadelphia and Los Angeles police departments as an expert in firearms and ballistics. He said he usually testifies for police.Paul told the jury that partly due to right arm injuries from the gunshots, Hirko could not have held a gun and pointed it at police.
The defense then countered with evidence that officers had been properly trained in the use of their weapons (from the Express Times):
Engle cited another general order stating that officers cannot use “special weapons” unless they are certified and demonstrate proficiency in the use of a particular special weapon. Engle said Officer Joe Riedy, who became a sergeant in 2000, was trained and certified to use a flash-bang grenade and an MP5 submachine gun.Riedy shot Hirko at least 10 times with an MP5 and tossed the flash-bang grenade into Hirko’s house. Five months after the fatal raid, state Attorney General Mike Fisher concluded the homicide was justifiable because Hirko fired a gun first, but Karoly insists Hirko was unarmed.Saunders said the Bethlehem Police Department should have had specific rules on the use of flash-bang grenades, which are used to disorient suspects. Saunders also said the general order on special weapons was vague and didn’t regulate the use of flash-bang grenades.“It’s like calling a Great Dane a dog, but not all dogs are Great Danes,” Saunders said to Engle. “The emergency-response team was not regulated and controlled. Nothing you showed would change my opinion.”Saunders said the SWAT-team raid was not necessary because Hirko’s house wasn’t fortified, Hirko didn’t have a history of violence and he didn’t possess an automatic weapon. He also said the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies recommends that police use a bullhorn or telephone before conducting a high-risk search by storming into a residence.Karoly is representing Hirko’s parents, his fiancÚe and the owner of 629 Christian St. The claims in their lawsuit include wrongful death, negligence, recklessness and the violation of Constitutional rights.Kristin Fodi, who lived with Hirko and was engaged to him, barely escaped the fire on April 23, 1997. Saunders said police inappropriately detained Fodi for six hours after the raid, and he said “it was totally improper not to record” Fodi’s statements to police when interrogated.“A citizen was dead,” Saunders said. “You record everything, and you don’t wait for a dressed rehearsal.”
The trial got sidetracked slightly when a juror was dismissed for not paying attention (she had trouble staying alert during testimony).
But now, it looks like it’ll be heating up. In yesterday’s Morning Call:
A federal judge set up a dramatic courtroom confrontation for Monday by ruling that a Bethlehem police officer can testify against fellow officers in the John Hirko Jr. trial.Lt. Wilfred Williams will testify that, before the deadly Hirko raid, he warned top police supervisors that they should not promote Kirby Williams to head the team that later raided Hirko’s home, a lawyer said in court Friday.Wilfred Williams told Eugene Learn, who was about to become the police commissioner, that someone would get hurt or killed if Kirby Williams was promoted, according to lawyer John Karoly Jr.”Precisely what Mr. Williams predicted would happen, happened,” Karoly said.Williams also will tell the federal jury that one officer on the 1997 drug raid told him afterward that ”we really ___ up,” according to Karoly, who will be calling Williams as a witness
I was curious as to how the trial is playing in the local community – whether there’s a sense of outrage or… Patrick responds:
Well to be honest it’s getting good newspaper coverage and that’s about it. You do not see much in the letters to the editors about this subject, it would seem people are uninterested. I told my wife I felt like going down an picketing or something in front of the courthouse, but of course she gave me one of those “looks”. I just said to her there is no reason they could not do the same thing to us. I guess some people don’t really get it. Time I guess, and pain.