The police killing of Eddie Irizarry Jr. and the Philadelphia Police Department’s response to it reveal larger problems with training, culture, and accountability in law enforcement, according to criminal justice experts.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw announced this week that the department has suspended Officer Mark Dial with intent to terminate him in 30 days. Dial fatally shot 27-year-old Irizarry Jr. on Aug. 14.
Irizarry Jr. was in the driver’s seat of his car when Dial fired six shots, first directly into the vehicle and then toward it according to home security footage of the incident.
Outlaw is moving to fire Dial because of his failure to cooperate with the internal investigation into that shooting, she said. Dial did not provide a statement about the shooting within the department’s required 72-hour window.
His use of lethal force is also being considered in a criminal investigation overseen by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. Neither agency has shared updates or a timeline for that investigation.
The day the incident occurred, a PPD officer told the press that Irizarry Jr. had exited his vehicle with a knife and was lunging at Dial and another officer. Two days later, Outlaw said body-worn camera footage revealed that Irizarry Jr. never exited the car.
Thaddeus Johnson, a former Memphis Police Department officer who now teaches criminal justice at Georgia State University, said this is a major step back for the city.
“You can make a lot of mistakes, but the one thing you can’t do is lie,” said Johnson, who is also a senior fellow with the Council on Criminal Justice.
He says a false narrative making it from the shooting scene to the public has broader repercussions than Dial’s termination.
“It brings up these old feelings of George Floyd, it brings up these old feelings of Sandra Bland,” he said. “It does damage to not just the police department, but those citizens who really need police to help them who now are a little bit hesitant … How can you have homicides cleared if you don’t trust the police?”
ACLU of Pennsylvania is calling on the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to prosecute Dial and the other PPD employee present for the shooting.
“It’s very clear the police officers lied on the initial report to evade responsibility for their questionable handling of the situation,” said Witold Walczak, legal director for ACLU of Pennsylvania, in an emailed statement. “These kinds of lies to evade consequences will stop only if police and prosecutors pursue appropriate criminal charges each and every time a law enforcement officer is caught lying.”
Officer Dial is being represented by the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. The union is referring press to their attorney, Fortunato Perri Jr., who has not responded to WHYY News’ requests for comment.
‘A culturally natural process’
Outlaw said that the misinformation about Irizarry Jr. lunging at the officers came from an “internal” source, and that the narrative was established before she and others arrived on the scene.
She shared at a press conference that an administrative investigation is underway to figure out where that account originated.
Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve, an associate professor of sociology at Brown University, has studied police misconduct in Chicago, Philadelphia, and other cities. She says there are consistent patterns of officers covering up bad behavior, often spontaneously.
“They’re not in a dark room doing this — they’re out in the open and it seems a very culturally natural process,” she said. “Almost like an improvisational dance team … or someone doing jazz. They know the rhythms and the movements of the structures of these narratives.”
Gonzalez Van Cleve spent most of the 2010s working in Philadelphia. She says police officers are much more likely to shoot to kill — and to paint the person they’ve shot at as a suspect — when they’re patrolling in neighborhoods of color, and in places where crime is frequent.
“Think about the flagrant knee jerk reaction, what does it tell us about the culture of policing in Philadelphia?” she asked. “It means that you were trained in a particular way of doing business on the streets of Kensington, and you know you’ll be believed, and you know your brothers in blue will help you.”