Caught on Tape: An angry Philadelphia mob captures and beats a man charged with the rape of an 11-year-old girl.
PHILADELPHIA (AP) A dozen neighbors were so outraged by the rape of an 11-year-old girl that they chased a suspect and beat him, holding him until police arrived.
Two of them were honored with an $11,500 police union reward even before the beaten man was charged in the girl's assault.
Hailed by their community as heroes, none of the neighbors are being charged in the beating. But police officials, acknowledging the fine line between praise and prosecution, warned against vigilante justice in general.
Indeed, 25 years after Bernie Goetz spawned a nationwide debate on vigilantism, the case shows how police, prosecutors and the public struggle with whether to punish otherwise law-abiding citizens who take the law into their own hands, often violently.
"It's something that we certainly don't want people taking the law into their own hands," police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If they intervene to stop it, then you have to make a judgment. ... It's a very fine line."
John McNesby, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, was more direct, while also saying he didn't condone violence.
"We put out a call to bring this savage beast off the street, and they stepped up," McNesby said of the decision to hand out reward money Friday to Fernando Genval and David Vargas. "I think that these two guys did an outstanding job."
On June 1, the fifth-grader had just dropped off a sibling at day care and was walking to school. A man started following her, threatened her and said he had a gun; he took her to a nearby backyard and raped her repeatedly, police said. The child was so severely injured that she was hospitalized for surgery.
Police distributed a photo of 27-year-old Jose Carrasquillo, calling him a person of interest in the case. A day later, residents in a struggling section of the Kensington neighborhood went looking for him.
They roughed up the first man they targeted — not Carrasquillo. Later, in an altercation caught by a store surveillance camera, they found and confronted Carrasquillo, beating him with their hands, feet and what appears on the videotape to be a board or a large stick. Carrasquillo was taken to a hospital in serious condition and was released into police custody two days later.
Ramsey, in deciding not to pursue charges in the beating, determined the neighbors' intent was to make a citizens' arrest. He said he considered community anger, the fact that the man's head and face injuries weren't life-threatening and the video showing that the beating stopped when police arrived.
Besides rape and related charges in the girl's attack, police charged Carrasquillo on Wednesday with a separate indecent assault on a 16-year-old girl earlier the same day. Carrasquillo, police said, was well known to them: He had had 17 prior arrests, many of them drug charges.
Carrasquillo remained jailed Wednesday; police said he hadn't obtained an attorney.
The American Civil Liberties Union has decried the police commissioner's decision not to file charges against the neighbors, saying that sent the wrong message to the community.
"It's shocking that the police are not going to do anything in response to what is essentially mob violence against this guy," said ACLU attorney Mary Catherine Roper. "This went beyond apprehending the guy."
At a weekend barbecue, the family of the rape victim, who has been released from the hospital, thanked the community for its help.