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Goode v. Rizzo

decided: November 1, 1974.

GERALD G. GOODE, ET AL., ETC.
v.
FRANK L. RIZZO, ETC., ET AL. COUNCIL OF ORGANIZATIONS ON PHILADELPHIA POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY, ETC., ET AL., V. HON. JAMES H. J. TATE, ET AL., FRANK L. RIZZO, ET AL. COUNCIL OF ORGANIZATIONS, ETC.



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA (D.C. Nos. 70-491 and 70-2430).

Staley, Gibbons and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Weis

Opinion OF THE COURT

WEIS, Circuit Judge.

A delicate balancing between the functions of the federal district court and the police department of the City of Philadelphia is the essence of the controversy presented in this appeal. A finding by the trial court that a modification of internal procedures for handling citizens' complaints is an adequate remedy for preventing future misconduct by a minority of police officers is sufficiently supported by the record. But, an assessment of counsel fees in this ยง 1983 case must be remanded for further proceedings.

Two separate cases were filed by different plaintiffs, all purporting, however, to represent essentially the same class of persons.*fn1 The defendants also were generally the same, being the Mayor and other city and police officials.*fn2 The two cases were consolidated by the district judge for final disposition, and we therefore, as did he, treat this litigation as unitary.

The plaintiff produced evidence which the district court found adequate to establish a pattern of violations of the legal and constitutional rights of citizens by Philadelphia police, particularly in the areas of "arrest for investigation, charges of resisting arrest when the arrest was initially unlawful, extreme over-reaction to actual or reported assaults upon policemen and in the treatment of people who question or criticize police activity in particular instances."

The testimony was presented by victims of police misconduct or witnesses to it and encompassed more than thirty-five incidents, not all of which were found to be examples of improper activity on the part of the officers. The district judge summarized each incident in his voluminous findings of fact and concluded that, while misconduct is attributable to only a small percentage of the members of the police force, the violations take place with such frequency that "they cannot be dismissed as rare isolated instances; and that little or nothing is done by the city authorities to punish such infractions, or to prevent their recurrence."*fn3

The existing police procedures for processing and adjudicating citizen complaints and for enforcing police discipline were evaluated, the court finding that the arrangements then existing were totally inadequate because:

1. The procedures were geared to handle infractions of police regulations but these rules were not framed to cover specific violations of citizens' constitutional rights;

2. Complaints were handled on a "chain of command" basis which discouraged civilian complaints;

3. There was no adequate opportunity for the complainant to present his case to an objective tribunal;

4. The outcome of the proceedings were not disclosed; and

5. There was a tendency to minimize consequences of proven police misconduct.

Although the plaintiffs had asked for a sweeping equitable decree, including the appointment of a "receiver" to supervise the police department and the civilian review of police activity, the trial court concluded that a much more limited form of relief was appropriate. It required the defendants to revise the procedures within the police department for processing citizens' complaints against the police, including such matters as:

1. Preparing and distributing appropriate forms for the submission of complaints;

2. Prompt and adequate investigation;

3. Adjudication by an impartial body insulated from command pressures; and

4. Fair opportunity for both complainants and police officers to present their cases, followed by notification ...


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