A college student has sued the city and two Philadelphia police officers, saying one of them hit him in the face with a metal baton, shattering bones and requiring multiple surgeries, as he sat in a car filming protests that followed the fatal police shooting of Walter Wallace Jr. in 2020.
Alfonse Bowman, 20, of Philadelphia, filed a suit in federal court Wednesday detailing a previously unreported and violent encounter he said he had with an officer on Oct. 27, 2020 as unrest engulfed West Philadelphia the night after Wallace’s death.
Bowman and his attorney, Paul J. Hetznecker, have not been able to identify the officers involved.
The city declined to comment, citing pending litigation. The Police Department said its Internal Affairs Bureau is investigating the incident, and did not comment further.
Bowman, a student at Morehouse College, was visiting his parents in Philadelphia at the time, and along with two friends, wanted to witness the protests unfolding in West Philadelphia. They stopped by around 11 p.m. on their way to Center City, and briefly parked at Chestnut and Ruby Streets, where clashes between protesters and police had turned violent.
Bowman and two of his friends were taking photos and videos of the unrest from the car with their phones, the suit says. At one point, an officer wearing tactical gear and holding a shield jumped and slid across the hood of a car while chasing protesters, according to the suit, which said events unfolded this way:
“Woah!” Bowman yelled out the window from the rear passenger seat. The officer yelled “Woah!” back and continued on.
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A second officer ran toward the car and swung his metal baton through the open backseat passenger window, striking Bowman in the face. The officer left the scene chasing protesters as Bowman screamed in pain.
Bowman and his friends drove to find help and report what had happened, and spoke with an officer wearing a white shirt, believed to be a sergeant, according to the suit. But the officer “told them that there was nothing he could do about it and refused to take a report or call for medical assistance,” the suit says.
Bowman went home, and later, when he went to blow his nose, he said, his face blew up like a balloon, a telltale sign of facial trauma. His mother took him to Abington Hospital, where he said doctors found multiple bones on the left side of his face were shattered, including those supporting his nose and eye socket.
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“I was in excruciating pain,” Bowman said in an interview. “My nose felt like it was on the other side of my face.”
He underwent three surgeries over the following seven months, including facial reconstructive surgery in which a titanium plate was inserted into his face to support his eye socket.
“That first month, I actually was crying, I couldn’t look at myself,” he said. “I hated the way my face looked. I couldn’t look in the mirror for like two months.”
Even today, he said, his family says he looks different.
He sometimes feels a sharp pain under his left eye, and the vision in that eye is now slightly worse, he said. If he laughs a certain way, he can feel the titanium plate moving in his face.
Psychologically, he’s only recently come to terms with what happened, he said, and he feels anxious around police.
“As a young Black man, I learned this at young age,” he said. “But it’s something different that comes with it when you been through it. …There’s a different way your heart beats.”
» READ MORE: Residents struggle with fear, fury and trauma after police tear-gassed residential blocks amid unrest in West Philadelphia.
Hetznecker, Bowman’s attorney, said the Police Department’s Internal Affairs unit has been investigating the incident for 15 months, but still has not told him the identities of the officers involved.
“But he knows who he is and he should step forward and be held accountable,” Hetznecker said.
Bowman’s experience occurred just two blocks from where, on the same night, Rickia Young, a 29-year-old mother, was pulled from her SUV, beaten by police, then separated from her toddler. The city paid her $2 million after negotiations with her lawyers. Bowman’s suit adds to the more than 300 claims filed in response to police tactics during the 2020 racial justice protests.