Cop, Pres. Obama honoree, withdraws guilty plea in rape case

Former Philadelphia police officer Richard DeCoatsworth (pictured Dec. 10, 2007) will stand trial on charges he raped two prostitutes at gunpoint.
Jason Minick, AP

PHILADELPHIA - Richard DeCoatsworth, a former police officer who was shot in the face and later sat next to the first lady while being honored at a presidential address, is too dangerous to leave prison to await a rape trial, a judge said Tuesday.

DeCoatsworth, 28, is charged with sexually assaulting two prostitutes at gunpoint in May of 2013 and forcing them to take drugs. He withdrew a plea to reduced charges Tuesday, telling the judge he wants to clear his name.

"I'd like an opportunity to prove my innocence," DeCoatsworth said in court. "If I were a guilty man, the offer the commonwealth presented would be a good one."

"He believes he is innocent," DeCoatsworth's attorney, Charles Peruto Jr., told CBS Philly. "People who believe they are innocent should go to trial and that is what we will do."

DeCoatsworth has experienced a long slide since he was shot pursuing a suspect in 2007. According to Peruto, the former cop became addicted to painkillers after the shooting and resulting surgeries.

"The shot to the face changed his life forever. It really altered him," Peruto said. "He had his face reconstructed. The pain has been immeasurable."

"If you are truly innocent and you know you didn't do these things... to a strong-willed person, no amount of jail time is going to scare them from asserting [their] innocence," Peruto told CBS Philly of his client's state-of-mind. "He wants his day in court."

DeCoatsworth, who has a short beard covering much of the scarring below his mouth, faces decades in prison if convicted of the most serious charges. He was likely to leave prison with time served, about 10 months, had he gone through with the plea.

The accused ex-cop sat next to first lady Michelle Obama at the State of the Union address in 2009, when he was honored for his heroics the day of the shooting.

Common Pleas Judge Charles Erlich denied his request for bail Tuesday, calling him a danger to the community.

"I don't know what caused certain things to happen in Mr. DeCoatsworth's life," said the judge, who noted that drug use and psychological issues were referenced in court files.

The files, including grand jury testimony, allege that DeCoatsworth had threatened people and said he could kill them with "de facto immunity" because of his police connections, the judge said.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has said he may have let DeCoatsworth return too soon after the shooting.

DeCoatsworth, battling addiction, left the police force on disability in 2011, his lawyer said. He had been the subject of at least one civil rights lawsuit, filed by Columbia University hip-hop scholar Marc Lamont Hill over a traffic stop. The suit appears to have been settled, according to federal court records.

The suspect's trial date was scheduled for November 3, according to CBS Philly. In the meantime, DeCoatsworth will remain in jail without bail.