BY CANDACE WAGNER
PHILADELPHIA - A judge here has thrown out manslaughter charges against Philadelphia cop Christopher DiPasquale for a second time in the killing of Donta Dawson. At an April 6 Common Pleas Court hearing, witnesses described how DiPasquale shot the 19-year-old Black youth in the back of the head on Oct. 1, 1998.
Public outrage at the killing and numerous picket lines involving Dawson's family, friends, and anti-police brutality activists forced District Attorney Lynne Abraham to file charges against the officer. The charges were dropped in January following a hearing in Municipal Court. Abraham rearrested DiPasquale in February and filed new charges.
Early October 1, Dawson was sitting in his car in a traffic lane. He did not comply with the demand to get out of the car or, according to the cops' court testimony, to show them his left hand. DiPasquale and his partner, Kirk Dodd, said they believed Dawson was concealing a gun. At least two other patrol cars and four additional police officers joined in on the siege of the motorist.
Some witnesses testified that four or five minutes after the original cops arrived, Dawson leaned down. The cops claimed he then rose up rapidly, raising his left hand. DiPasquale said he thought Dawson had a gun, felt that his life was in danger on the other side of the police cruiser, and fired two direct shots. Dawson was unarmed and accused solely of impeding traffic.
Much of the prosecuting attorney's questioning revolved around changes in the testimony of the policemen who answered the radio call for backup that night. Several gave statements immediately following the incident that they had been told that Dawson "might have a gun." At this hearing they testified that DiPasquale told them "he has a gun." Two of the cops said that they had been under tremendous stress and may not have remembered correctly at the time.
Dodd testified that Dawson was sitting on his left hand. The cop, who weighs 200 pounds, said he tried but failed to pull Dawson's hand out from under his leg. Dawson was 5'5" and weighed 130 pounds.
The defense attorney argued that the prosecution had not made a case that DiPasquale had acted "unreasonably" in thinking that Dawson had a gun and in shooting him dead.
The judge announced his decision to drop the charges immediately after final arguments by the attorneys.
Following the judge's decision, Dawson's mother Cynthia Dawson, other family members, and 15 supporters held a spirited rally at City Hall. "We will not rest until we get justice for Donta," exclaimed his cousin Latonia Dawson.
District Attorney Abraham told the news media that she may appeal the ruling to Superior Court.
Candace Wagner is a member of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees.
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