Wareham police officer tries to grab man's phone, allegedly hits his mother

On June 18, a Wareham police officer tried to grab a man's cellphone and allegedly hit the man's 58-year-old mother in the face.

Wareham Police Officer Jon VerhaegenRichard Phillips began recording two police officers who showed up at his mother's house as they stood outside the front door. Suddenly, one of the officers -- Jon Verhaegen -- entered the home without permission and grabbed at Phillips' phone in an apparent attempt to steal it.

It's impossible to see what's happening at this point in the video, but Phillips' mother can be heard yelling. Phillips and his brother both accuse Verhaegen of hitting their mother, Trudy Phillips, in the face.

"I have no idea what intentions was on that man's brain," Phillips told The Standard-Times. "All I know is he forcibly entered this residence and swung violently and struck my mother, and then he proceeded... to start to lunge towards me until he was grabbed by his buddy."

After trying to grab the phone, Verhaegen stepped outside the house with the second officer, George Chandler. Phillips called 9-1-1 to report that his mother had been attacked.

While on the phone with 9-1-1, Phillips tried to close the front door, but Chandler blocked the doorway with his foot.

According to a post on the Wareham Police Department's Facebook page, the police were at the house because the department "received a call concerning two people fighting at 17 Camardo Drive and an unsupervised 3 year old girl left outside."

Phillips told The Standard-Times that he and his brother were visiting their mother and installing an air conditioner while his niece was playing in the front yard. At the beginning of the video, Trudy Phillips tells the police that she was outside with the child, smoking a cigarette.

After the incident depicted in the video:

More police and an ambulance arrived at the scene.

Phillips said he hoped cooler heads would prevail with more police at the scene.

"And it backfired," he said.

He said things escalated when more police arrived, threatening to arrest him if he spoke. After his mother was taken to the hospital, Phillips said police left the neighborhood.

Born and raised in Wareham, Trudy Phillips said she'd never experienced anything like this before. She said she wants to press charges for assault and battery, and for the officer to be suspended or fired over the incident.

"He couldn't even apologize or nothing," she said, standing at her front door with a walker.

"My granddaughter's scared to call the cops, and I don't even know if I ever want to call them again. She's telling everybody, 'Cops are bad, cops are bad. They hit ma, they hit ma.'"

Also born and raised in Wareham, Richard Phillips said he wasn't surprised by what happened.

"Growing up a young black male in America, as we've been taught and instilled at an early age, the police, when they are called and when they show on the scene, nine out of 10 times they are not there to make sure your interests are served," he said.

"You're basically perceived as the enemy, the guilty one, the combatant, until the facts are all done."

No disciplinary action has been taken against either of the officers involved, Chief [Kevin] Walsh said.

The Wareham Police Department said the incident is under investigation. A number of news media outlets have reported that the police chief will not comment about the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

The department has, however, said the address where Trudy Phillips lives is "known to the Police Department," and told local media they have been called there 63 times since 2000.

But whatever history the Phillips family might have is completely beside the point. It's clear from the video that Verhaegen attempted to take Richard Phillips' phone, a violation of his First Amendment right to record police activity.

All that remains to be seen is what the police department will do about it.

Attempts to reach Richard Phillips for additional comments were unsuccessful.

The email addresses for Verhaegen and Chandler are posted on the police department's website. I have emailed both of them with questions about the video.

Interestingly, WCVB broadcast part of the video, but decided to blur Verhaegen and Chandler's faces out.

Update (6/27/14): I missed this news when it was first reported on, but Richard Phillips has hired an attorney and plans to take legal action against the police. According to Wareham Week:

Phillips said Wareham police officers initially came to the house that morning in response to an abandoned child call. After being told the child was actually in the house drinking strawberry milk, the cops wanted to verify that.

He said after verifying that the child was safe the officers said they received a second call stating two men were fighting on the front lawn of the house.

Phillips claims this was completely fabricated and that the only two men at the house were Phillips and his brother, who were putting in an air conditioning unit inside their mother’s house.

But according to Wareham Police, the department received a phone call from a neighbor on Camardo Drive that two men were outside fighting on the lawn before returning inside the house and leaving the 3-year-old child outside unsupervised.

Phillips said the officers told him “We’re not leaving,” and that’s when he began filming.

“I think this is a case of police misconduct,” said Boston-based attorney Howard Friedman, who has been hired as legal counsel by Phillips. While no complaint against the town has been filed yet, Phillips said he plans on taking legal action.

“They have no right to slap a camera out of your hand because they don’t like being recorded,” Friedman said. “People have a right to record the police just like the press does. They wouldn’t have slapped a camera if it was a newscaster.”

Friedman said the police have an obligation to go and investigate a call, but in this case they overstayed their welcome.

“They had already done the investigation, at some point it’s time to say goodbye,” he said. “You can’t just keep bothering people.”

Additionally, here is the information that the Wareham Police Department has released so far: