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Pa. mayor helps officer take down suspect during melee

After walking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright was riding shotgun in a city police vehicle when a melee erupted

By Jim Lockwood
The Times-Tribune

SCRANTON, Pa. After walking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright was riding shotgun in a city police vehicle when a melee erupted in the Hill Section around 6 p.m.

Patrolwoman Jill Foley, who was driving the mayor during his March 15 ride-along session, was the first officer on the scene of the large fight in the 400 block of Taylor Avenue. A crowd of hundreds, maybe as many as 500, was in the street, and around 10 to 20 men were scuffling, “going back and forth, pushing and shoving,” Mr. Courtright recalled.

As Officer Foley was subduing one unruly, shirtless man, another man ran up and yelled at her to leave his friend alone. As this man continued to interfere, the mayor said he told him, “‘How about backing off, buddy?’ He didn’t want to hear anything.”

The second man continued cursing and screaming at the officer and ignored her instructions to step back, so she started to arrest and handcuff him.

“The next thing I know, she’s on the ground with the guy. He’s fighting with her. She couldn’t get him under control,” Mr. Courtright said.

An ambulance worker helped hold the man down as the officer struggled to handcuff him. Mr. Courtright also helped hold the man’s arm so the second handcuff could be clicked shut by another officer who had just arrived.

The initial police report noted the ambulance worker assisted but made no mention of the mayor or his role. But that information should have been in the report from the start, and its omission was an oversight, Police Chief Carl Graziano said. The report was amended Monday by the officer to include the fact that the mayor was on the scene with her in a ride-along and helped hold the man’s arm down so he could be handcuffed.

“I agree with what he did there,” Chief Graziano said of the mayor’s actions. “You had an officer calling for backup and in an altercation. I wish any citizen would do that.”

It’s not unusual for civilians to accompany police on ride-alongs, the chief said. Mr. Courtright -- a karate instructor since 1980, a member of the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission from 2003 to 2012, a city councilman from 2004 to 2010 and city tax collector from 2010 to 2014, said he has done numerous ride-alongs with 28 police officers since 1996.

But the Parade Day fray was unlike anything he had encountered before, he said.

“That was the first time I was afraid because there were a lot of people. It was a bad situation,” Mr. Courtright said. “I’m not ashamed to say, that time, I was afraid.”

The fight call came in as possibly involving a knife, but no weapon was found, according to the police report.

Patrolwoman Foley told the shirtless man, who was being held back by others and trying to break away, to stop or she would use a stun gun on him -- but he continued to yell and got in her face. Another man gushing blood from a gash on his forehead came over and screamed, “I just got hit with a bottle.” As she was ordering the first man to get down onto the ground, a third man, Anthony Fox, 21, of Wilkes-Barre, tussled with the officer and was handcuffed with the assistance of the mayor.

Mr. Fox was charged with disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.

Some in the crowd, angry over their friend’s arrest, started closing in while chanting “USA!,” but additional officers who by now had arrived helped restore order.

“It was really chaos there,” the chief said. “She was the only officer there. She was overwhelmed. I’m glad he (Mr. Courtright) did what he did.”

Mr. Courtright said, “I think anybody would have done the same thing.”

Asked if he would do the same thing again, the mayor said, “Of course, I’d do it again. If any officer needed help, I’d help them.”

Copyright 2014 The Times-Tribune