Krasner files charges against former Philly cop for alleged brutality

 Philadelphia Police Department headquarters at 7th and Race streets (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Philadelphia Police Department headquarters at 7th and Race streets (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office has filed criminal charges against a former police officer for allegedly brutalizing a pedestrian while making an on-duty arrest in Kensington last summer.

Prosecutors have charged James Yeager, 26, of Northeast Philadelphia, with charges including aggravated assault, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person for picking up Kevin Medina-Rovira and slamming him head-first into an above-ground pool before placing him in a patrol vehicle.

Police say the alleged assault of Medina-Rovira, which was recorded on a cellphone by a witness, occurred during an attempted arrest on narcotics charges. Medina-Rovira was resisting arrest, swinging his arms and kicking.

While Medina-Rovira was handcuffed, video footage shows Yeager picking up Medina-Rovira and throwing him against the pavement multiple times. As a gaggle of officers attempt to place Medina-Rovira in the patrol vehicle, Yeager is shown storming over then using his baton to trap Medina-Rovira around his chest and swing his body into a swimming pool, where he collides head first.

Authorities transferred Medina-Rovira to Temple University Hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition.

Police officials announced in August that Yeager, a four-year veteran of the force, was terminated from the department for the alleged assault caught on video, which has been viewed more than 570,000 times, sparking outrage among dozens of commenters.

On Thursday, Yeager was arrested and booked for aggravated assault, possessing an instrument of a crime, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and official oppression, according to charging documents obtained by WHYY.

While it is exceedingly rare for Philadelphia police officers to be criminally charged for on-duty activity, District Attorney Larry Krasner promised during his campaign that he would hold bad-behaving and abusive officers responsible by prosecuting them. That goal comes despite how challenging it is to win convictions against police officers in court given the wide immunity law enforcement officers enjoy under the law.

Nonetheless, Krasner said Yeager’s arrest shows that his pledge was serious.

“The District Attorney’s Office is committed to the equal application of justice, including cases involving law enforcement officials,” Krasner spokesman Ben Waxman said. “Police officers must be held to the same standard as everyone else. That’s why our office approved charges against Officer James Yeager for aggravated assault and related offenses. After a careful review of all the facts, it became clear that his behavior was unacceptable and he needed to be held accountable.”

But Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby said the footage that was widely circulated around the internet offers but a glimpse into the episode.

“The viral video of this incident does not tell the entire story,” McNesby said. “Officer Yeager, like all citizens, is entitled to a fair hearing in the judicial system. And we look forward to officer Yeager being exonerated.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.