Philadelphia Heroes Remembered E-mail
Written by Craig W. Floyd   

American Police Beat

March 2008 Issue

Philadelphia Police Officer Charles "Chuck" Cassidy was determined not to let the street thugs take over his beloved city. He had seen more than his share of violence up close and personal. Last March, he and his partner chased down and arrested two armed felons just moments after they shot a man. More recently, on October 23, 2007, he responded to an armed robbery at a local café. The owner, Kelly McShain Tyree, had been tied up and left in the basement.

"This is urban terrorism," Ms. Tyree said later. "This neighborhood is wonderful, and good people walk into this café every day, and we're saying, 'Hell, no! We are not going to let them take over our neighborhood.'" She knew she had an ally and protector in Chuck Cassidy – all the local business owners knew they could count on Officer Cassidy. A week later, on October 31 at around 10:30 AM, the 25-year police veteran walked into a Dunkin' Donuts shop as part of his routine patrol.

The store had been robbed at gun point just a month earlier and Officer Cassidy's frequent visits provided a level of comfort for the employees. On this particular day, though, police believe the same armed gunman had brazenly returned and Officer Cassidy walked into the robbery. The robber turned and fired a single shot, which struck Officer Cassidy in the head, leaving him mortally wounded. He died the next morning.

After a nationwide manhunt, his accused killer was arrested in Miami a week after the shooting. Officer Cassidy was the fourth Philadelphia police officer shot in just over a month, and the 29th to be fired upon up to that point during the year. The police commissioner described the shootings as attempted "assassinations." One of the thousands of fellow officers who attended Officer Cassidy's funeral blamed his death on a massive societal breakdown. He said, "The drug dealer is a more respected person on the street than the police.

There's just no respect for police anymore." Unfortunately for the Philadelphia Police Department, while the recent rash of shootings directed at police officers may be worse than usual, the "City of Brotherly Love" has experienced the third highest police fatality figure of any department in the nation's history. There are 245 names of Philadelphia police officers on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC, with two more to be added in May.

Only the police departments of New York City and Chicago have experienced more line-of-duty deaths. In addition to Officer Cassidy's name, another Philadelphia officer who died this past year will also be added to the National Memorial. His name is Walter T. Barclay, Jr. Shot three times attempting to arrest a burglary suspect on November 27, 1966, Patrolman Barclay was paralyzed from the waist down and after countless surgeries and complications, he died of his injuries last August.

The Medical Examiner declared his death to be directly related to his shooting more than 40 years earlier and ruled it a homicide. Philadelphia's first police fatality occurred on January 8, 1828, when a watchman named Steven Heimer was beaten to death during an unprovoked ambush attack.

Ten more Philadelphia officers would make the supreme sacrifice during the 1800s, including Policeman Henry O'Donnell, who died from heat exhaustion while detailed to the U.S. Centennial Celebration on July 4, 1876. Since 2000, there have been seven Philadelphia police fatalities. In addition to Officer Cassidy and Patrolman Barclay, Jose M. Ortiz, 29, was struck and killed in September 2000.

Officer Thomas M. Bray, 52, drowned on November 13, 2001, while attempting to recover a sunken channel marker in the Delaware River. Detective Anthony Johnson, 46, suffered a fatal heart attack on January 7, 2003, after struggling with a violent high school student. Officer Paris Williams Sr., 52, also died of a heart attack on June 21, 2005, after coming to the aid of his fellow officers when they were attacked by a group of protesters.

Officer Gary F. Skerski, 46, was shot and killed on May 8, 2006, while responding to an armed robbery call at a local café. The deadliest year in Philadelphia police history occurred in 1919 when eight officers were killed, all of them shot to death. The decade that followed was not much better. Forty-five Philadelphia police officers were killed in the line of duty during the 1920s, making it by far the deadliest in the city's history. Joseph E. Bell, 34, was one of the many Philadelphia officers killed by gunfire during the 1920s. He died in 1926, just two days before Christmas, and he left behind eight children. Four women are among Philadelphia's fallen police heroes.

They include: Stella Donahue, 32, who died in an automobile crash in 1957; Sandra Griffin, who was killed when her departmental vehicle was struck by a van in 1983; Pauline Harness, 49, who suffered a fatal fall while conducting an investigation in 1996; and Lauretha Vaird, 43, who was shot and killed during a bank robbery, also in 1996. Few police murders have received more national and even international coverage than the case of Officer Danny Faulkner. At around 4 a.m. on the morning of December 9, 1981, Officer Faulkner stopped a vehicle he had observed driving the wrong way down a one-way street. The stop was made in plain view of several witnesses.

According to those witnesses, the culprit, William Cook, was violently resisting arrest when the driver of a taxi cab sitting across the street got out of his car, ran across the street and fired a bullet into Officer Faulkner's back. Moments later, the gunman stood over the injured 25-year-old officer and fired four more shots. The murderer, it turned out, was William Cook's brother, Wesley (aka Mumia Abu-Jamal). At his trial, all of the eyewitnesses testified that Abu-Jamal was the killer and the jury quickly agreed. He was sentenced to death.

But Abu-Jamal remains alive in a Pennsylvania prison more than 25 years later, still awaiting the outcome of further appeals of his sentence. Meanwhile, Officer Faulkner's wife, Maureen, is left to suffer the pain of losing a loved one. She once told her family and friends at a memorial service for her slain husband that "we will continue to stand behind Danny's name and speak out about the truth on the night he was murdered."

Maureen can also be comforted in knowing that it was Danny's life and death that inspired Philadelphia lawyer Jimmy Binns, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police, to establish the "Hero Plaque Program." When completed, the program will ensure that every fallen officer in the City of Philadelphia will have a bronze memorial plaque embedded in the place they laid down their life in service to their fellow citizens.

Craig W. Floyd is chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Visit for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

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