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Police beating captured on tape; probe launched

SHARE Police beating captured on tape; probe launched

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department launched an investigation Thursday of the videotaped beating of a black suspect by police officers following a stolen car chase and shootout.

A dozen officers — black and white — were involved in the beating of Thomas Jones, 30.

Wednesday's confrontation was captured by videotape from a news helicopter and broadcast around the nation, reminiscent of the 1991 Rodney King case that ignited rioting in Los Angeles after four white officers were acquitted of state charges. Two of the LAPD officers were eventually convicted of federal civil rights charges.

"For people to start making comparisons to Rodney King, I just think is outrageous," Police Commissioner John Timoney told ABC's "Good Morning America." "He is resisting throughout. Now, does that justify the force? We won't know until we interview the officers."

The city's black mayor cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

"As inflammatory as this tape might be, we have to keep in mind that the police were in the process of apprehending a criminal suspect who had resisted a number of attempts to arrest him and who had shot a police officer," Mayor John F. Street said. "The tape raises some questions, but the tape also doesn't show everything that was going on."

At her weekly news conference in Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno said she had not seen the videotape, but the U.S. attorney "has commenced an investigation."

Before the taped confrontation, officers chased Jones in a stolen car until it crashed, then exchanged gunfire with him, according to police and witnesses. Despite being wounded, Jones was able to commandeer a police car and fled before he was cornered and subdued, authorities said.

Jones was in fair condition Thursday at Temple University Hospital with injuries to his abdomen and arms. An officer who was shot was in good condition at Hahnemann University Hospital.

Tracey Jones, the suspect's sister, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that police overreacted: "They had already shot him five times. They didn't have to beat him."

The chase began in north Philadelphia at 12:40 p.m. when officers spotted a Chevrolet Cavalier that had been taken in a carjacking July 1, police said. Two officers stopped the car, which sped off after a confrontation and then crashed.

Police then began a running gun battle with the suspect, who jumped into an empty patrol car and allegedly shot Officer Michael Livewell, 24, in the hand as the officer reached in to turn off the ignition.

The second car chase ended about a mile away when police surrounded the stolen cruiser. The beating was captured by a WPVI-TV helicopter.

Bertha Jones, 40, was sitting on her porch when she saw the first confrontation. She said she saw the suspect jump over a gate with his hands in the air, as if to surrender.

"The cops ran over and started beating on him," she said. "They was beating on the man. He got one of their guns, started shooting, and by then I ran in the house."

"He fired his shots off. They fired. There was a whole lot of shooting going on," she said.

While she thought the man had gotten a police officer's gun, police said it was unclear where the suspect got his weapon. Detectives were investigating the shooting of the officer, while two Internal Affairs probes are looking into the shooting of the suspect and whether excessive force was used.

The incident happened less than three weeks before the Republican National Convention here. Above a photo of the confrontation, Thursday's Page One headline of the Philadelphia Daily News declared: "Welcome America!"

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