Police release name of detective who shot unarmed man in Kensington

The plainclothes Philadelphia detective shot a panhandler when the man approached the officer’s unmarked car. The wounded panhandler is allegedly developmentally disabled.

A fence near the scene of Monday night's shooting at G and Tioga streets holds tributes to Joel Johnson. Police have identified Detective Francis DiGiorgio as the shooter. (Nina Feldman/WHYY)

A fence near the scene of Monday night's shooting at G and Tioga streets holds tributes to Joel Johnson. Police have identified Detective Francis DiGiorgio as the shooter. (Nina Feldman/WHYY)

Updated Thursday at 7:15 p.m.

Philadelphia police have released the name of the plainclothes officer who shot and critically injured a developmentally disabled man Monday night when he approached the officer’s unmarked car asking for change.

According to a statement released Thursday evening, Detective Francis DiGiorgio was on his way back to Eastern District police headquarters after working a crime scene in Kensington and was stopped in traffic. A man approached his car, and DiGiorgio believed he was yelling and pointing a weapon at him.

According to police and surveillance video, the detective shot the man on G Street near the corner of Tioga Street about 9 p.m. Monday. The man was identified by his brother as 28-year-old Joel Johnson.

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Johnson was not armed, police said Tuesday, and no weapon was found at the scene.

Brian Cardoza, 24, was inside his house with his brother when he heard three gunshots. He said he thought they were fireworks at first, but went outside when he heard someone yelling, “You shot me.”

“We ran over, and it was the homeless guy we always seen asking for quarters — not for much,” said Cardoza. A second patrol car arrived immediately, he said, and those officers placed Johnson in handcuffs, searching for a weapon on him while he was bleeding from the stomach.

“They pick him up, take him to the sidewalk, drop him on the sidewalk, open the door, and throw him inside the police car like he was garbage,” said Cardoza.

A police spokesman said Tuesday that Johnson was not handcuffed or arrested at the scene,  but that police transported him to Temple University Hospital.

Johnson was in critical but stable condition, the Thursday police statement said.

DiGiorgio, 29, who joined the police force in 2011, did not immediately return an interview request Thursday night.

‘He never hurt anybody’

A surveillance video from the scene obtained by 6ABC shows Johnson going up to each car in a line of traffic to ask for change. The detective fires out of his window as Johnson begins to approach his car.

Neighborhood residents described Johnson as harmless. Anna Velasquez runs a money-order business  on the corner of G and Tioga. She said she sees Johnson walking around in front of her store every day.

“He talks to himself, but he never hurt anybody,” she said in Spanish.

Another neighbor, who identified himself as Joe, reiterated that Johnson was harmless, but he described the signature way that he would always ask for change.

“I understand why the officer shot him. He had two hands like this,” he said, and demonstrated by holding an imaginary coin in front of his face in the fingers of one hand and clutching his wrist with his other.

A police spokesman said in an email that the detective, assigned to the East Detectives Division, was on his way back to his division headquarters at 3901 Whitaker Ave. from processing a scene nearby on the 800 block of Cornwall Street. Neighbors said they did not recognize the detective from the neighborhood, but that everyone knew Johnson.

“From 6 o’clock in the morning till 10 at night, he’s out here asking for quarters,” said Cardoza. “That’s all he do, he don’t bother nobody.”

Johnson’s mother lives several blocks from the shooting site. She declined to comment for this story. Johnson’s brother confirmed Johnson’s name and that he was developmentally disabled but would not comment further.

Police mental-health training

Since 2012, fewer than 1,000 Philadelphia police officers have received mental health first-aid training run by the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. That program, which began in 2012, is designed to teach officers how to de-escalate incidents without compromising safety.

The Police Department would not confirm Tuesday whether the plainclothes detective involved in the shooting had attended that training. The department currently has 6,300 sworn officers.

The Department of Behavioral Health declined WHYY’s interview request Tuesday. The officer has been  suspended and placed on desk duty while an internal investigation continues, a police spokesman said.

Brooke Feldman worked with the Behavioral Health Department’s mental health first-aid unit from 2013 to 2014 as the program got off the ground. Part of the training involved describing  signs that a person who might be experiencing a mental health crisis exhibits.

“I think the training is helpful in teaching officers how to recognize that that’s what’s happening versus seeing someone as a threat,” said Feldman. “But the mental health first-aid training doesn’t talk at all about when to pull your gun, when not to. What officers are trained in is separate when it comes to that sort of stuff.”

Research shows that people with serious mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators.

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