Judge, Jury, and Executioner

By Timothy Welbeck, Esq.
CAIR-Philadelphia Staff Attorney
Philadelphia, PA – Oct. 1, 2018

As the Philadelphia Eagles fans rejoice over the return of its star quarterback Carson Wentz, in part because it boosts the franchise’s prospects in successfully defending its Super Bowl crown, another local team is still reeling from the loss of one of its key contributors. A few weeks ago, the Far Northeast Raiders began its first season in recent memory without its beloved coach, Jeffrey Dennis, who was killed by Richard Nicoletti, a Philadelphia Police officer.

Mr. Dennis was killed on the afternoon of Monday, August 20, 2018 after an encounter with six plainclothes Philadelphia police officers from the city’s 15th District’s Narcotics Field Unit. The six plainclothes officers, driving in two separate unmarked squad cars, followed Mr. Dennis shortly after he drove past a location under police investigation. Video surveillance from a nearby restaurant revealed the officers used their vehicles to block the path of Mr. Dennis’ vehicle (a prohibited procedure) on the 7100 block of Hegerman Street, near the intersection of Princeton Avenue. Upon immobilizing Mr. Dennis’ vehicle, the officers approached Mr. Dennis with their guns pointed at him — despite their failure to identify themselves as police officers, display law enforcement markings, and/or use their sirens. Mr. Dennis, who feared for his life, attempted to maneuver his vehicle to safety, but was subsequently killed when Officer Nicoletti fired several shots at him. He was unarmed at the time.

We believe the shooting death of Jeffery Dennis was an inexcusable homicide. It is our belief that the investigation presently conducted by the Attorney General’s office will arrive at a similar conclusion. Notwithstanding, some have attempted to justify the killing of Mr. Dennis by signaling he was the potential target of a police investigation at the time of his death. This is the wrong perspective. To quote Lee Merritt, Esq., the attorney representing the family of Mr. Dennis: “We have to stop distinguishing between good and bad victims of police brutality — as if there are people worthy and others unworthy of constitutional protections. The station in life of the victim is an irrelevant consideration in determining whether a shooting is justified or unjustified.”

Moreover, the US Constitution guarantees the state will not deprive its citizens of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without due process of the law. If indeed, Mr. Dennis was the subject of police investigation, there is a legal process that must occur before the state may take his property, his freedom, or his life. To suggest otherwise allows police officers to become judge, jury, and executioner the moment they suspect a citizen has violated the law. Mr. Dennis is one of 732 people killed by police officers this year. It is yet another brutal death that comports with a larger trend of state-sanctioned violence in the US, a continuation of the systematic racial discrimination that lies at the heart of our criminal justice system.

Mr. Dennis was more than a statistic; he was a cherished member of his community who leaves behind a devastated family mourning his loss, including his fiancée and three small children. CAIR-Philadelphia, in its endeavors to pursue justice, has joined the fight to end police brutality, in part because police brutality is yet another means in which the state abuses its power in ways that disproportionately impact marginalized people. Muslims in America know that reality well and are acutely aware of the sting of indignity that comes with unilateral harassment, discrimination, and abuse at the hand of government agents. In the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This matter deeply concerns us, as we are troubled by all who lose their lives at the hands of the state.

Consequently, we too would like answers as to why this deadly encounter with law enforcement unfolded the way it did, and what will be done in its aftermath. As we eagerly await the outcome of the Attorney General’s investigation, our office has asked that Attorney General Josh Shapiro meet with the family of Mr. Dennis to learn about him, his contributions to the community, and his devotion to his family. We have further asked that Attorney General Shapiro make it a policy to meet with the families of all victims of police shootings that his office investigates. We ask you join us in this effort, and either write a letter or call the Attorney General’s office in support of these requests. You may contact Attorney General Shapiro at the following:

Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General
Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120
(717) 787-3391

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