Drexel cops and the case of the invisible screwdriver

Former Drexel University Police Department (DUPD) Captain Fred Carbonara sued the university this month. He alleges school administrators fired him in part because he didn’t heed racial profiling directives and wouldn’t conspire to suppress evidence of police misconduct. 

Carbonara’s claims address DUPD decisions regarding a December 30, 2011 campus incident. Troy Demby and Walter Johnson triggered university security alarms by pulling door handles on several campus buildings.

Officers Lambert Rebstock and Louis Gregg attempted to arrest Demby and Johnson near 31st and Ludlow. Demby surrendered but Johnson fled. Robert Allen, a third Drexel officer, arrived and pursued Johnson in a DUPD SUV. 

Allen crushed Johnson against a brick wall with the SUV, crumpling the vehicle’s hood. The impact broke Johnson’s pelvis and gave him a compound fracture in his leg. Allen held Johnson pinned to the wall for 13 seconds before putting the SUV in reverse. The injured man fell to the ground unconscious.

The officers contacted city police and DUPD Director Ed Spangler. Spangler told them to call the city police back and rescind their initial request for assistance. City police surveyed the scene only later.

DUPD officers reported that both Demby and Johnson dropped screwdrivers, and the doors they tried to open had what resembled fresh pry marks on them. Both men faced attempted burglary charges at the recommendation of Detective Vincent Manko.

Joseph Griffin, a former university security professional, provided expert legal testimony. According to Griffin, the detective who recommended the District Attorney (DA) press burglary charges against Demby and Johnson hadn’t yet seen the university’s security camera footage when he did so.

“At some later time,” Griffin wrote in his letter of expert testimony

some of the video that captures Mr. Johnson and Mr. Demby trying a number of doors was presented to Det. Manko and/or the DA. There was substantial additional video that depicted Mr. Johnson and Mr. Demby walking in areas of the campus preceding their contact with the Drexel University dispatcher and police that was not turned over to Det. Manko. That video showed the men engaged in no criminal conduct and in possession of no tools of any sort. In all of the video, neither man is seen approaching the door with pry marks.

NBC News made some of that footage available at the time of the incident.

The DA withdrew criminal charges against Johnson after viewing the entirety of the footage available from Drexel relevant to the incident. Johnson later demanded $50,000 in damages. The suit, Johnson v. Drexel, et al., settled in August of 2014 on undisclosed terms.

Carbonara’s testimony during that trial aligns with Griffin’s: Officer Allen used his vehicle in a manner “likely to result in death and serious bodily injury,” and that “a crime scene should have been secured at the crash site” immediately and with no delay.

Carbonara alleges in his March 10 complaint that:

  • Drexel administrators told him that Johnson sustained only “only minor leg injuries” during the 2011 incident to keep him from further investigating,
  • the university didn’t tell him he’d been named as a defendant in the suit,
  • Drexel officers receive informal orders to “stop all blacks in hoodies and to stop any youth on a bicycle,”
  • DUPD’s misconduct during and after the 2011 incident is the result of these “racially motivated directives,” and that
  • Carbonara’s opposition to these policies, his refusal “to participate in the conspiracy to cover up the misconduct of Drexel Police officers” and sour testimony during Johnson’s trial among other factors led first to his termination and then a cut in his severance from one year to nine months’ salary.

DUPD officer Allen is still on duty as of this writing.

The parties involved in Carbonara’s lawsuit this week agreed to allow Drexel until May 12 to respond to the complaint filed against them.

No involved parties responded to requests for comment.

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