2 Philly Cops Claimed They Were ‘Town Watch' When They Chased and Beat Man With Autism, DA Says

The victim, a 27-year-old man with Asperger syndrome, called his mother during the chase for help. She heard a voice say "Hold his legs" shortly before the call cut off

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What to Know

  • Philadelphia Police Inspector James Smith and his brother, Patrick Smith, a former Philadelphia police detective, are charged with assault after police say they chased down a man with autism and beat him.
  • The man was thrown into a pillar and then the ground in a Northeast Philadelphia shopping center parking lot in August 2020, police said.
  • The Smiths were off-duty at the time and claimed they were members of a "town watch," police said.

A Philadelphia police inspector and his brother claimed they were members of a "town watch" when they chased down a man with Asperger syndrome in Northeast Philadelphia and beat him, investigators say.

Inspector James Smith, 52, and Detective Patrick Smith, 53, are each charged with misdemeanor assault, conspiracy and reckless endangerment in the August 19, 2020 incident. Both were off-duty at the time.

It was just after midnight that Wednesday when the Smiths started chasing the 27-year-old victim in their car, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said Thursday. The man stopped in a shopping center parking lot at Fairdale Road and Knights Road when the police officers said they were part of the "Town Watch."

The victim ran and the brothers continued chase on foot eventually catching up and throwing him head-first into a pillar, authorities said. The victim was then thrown to the ground where he hit his head, police said. He suffered a number of injuries including a black eye and contusions all over his body.

District Attorney Larry Krasner announced assault charges against a Philadelphia police inspector and a former detective who allegedly chased down and beat up a man with autism last summer while they were off-duty. NBC10’s Danny Freeman has the details.

The victim is diagnosed with Asperger syndrome — a neurodevelopmental disorder on the autism spectrum, authorities said. Those with the condition have issues with social interaction and nonverbal communication.

During the foot chase, he called his mother for help. She told authorities that she heard a person say "Hold his legs," before the call cut off. The mother used a smartphone tracking app to find her son. When the man's father arrived at the shopping center, the Smiths said again said they were part of the "town watch," according to prosecutors.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said the Smiths claimed that the victim was involved in thefts from cars in the area and that his injuries were caused by him tripping and falling. An internal affairs investigation by the police department did not find evidence to back up those claims. The department opened the investigation two days after the incident.

"The allegations here involve vigilantism and brutality against civilians, which cannot be tolerated in the City of Philadelphia,” District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement.

Krasner said the victim likely was unable to communicate "his distress and fear" because of his condition.

Investigators said Smith stopped the victim without cause and in violation of department policies.

The Smiths were arrested Thursday. James Smith, the police inspector, spent 30 years on the force. In a news release, the police department said Smith will be fired after a 30 day suspension, which is standard procedure. Patrick Smith retired from the police department in September 2020, shortly after the internal affairs investigation was opened, officials said.

It's not yet clear if either brother has retained legal counsel. In a statement, John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, attacked Krasner and called the charges "baseless."

“Once again, DA Krasner is only interested in arresting Philadelphia police officers to save his failing re-election campaign.  We support our officers and they deserve a vigorous defense against these baseless charges," the statement read.

Krasner said the investigation remains active and open.

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