Philadelphia Police Reviving Practice of Transporting Suspects Recklessly in "Nickel Rides," Lawsuits Allege

Causing injury the purpose of the ride


no such thing as a free ride

Reporting by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2001 about so-called "nickel rides," the practice of Philadelphia police throwing suspects into police vans without any seatbelts or other restraints and then driving recklessly with the intent to cause suspects harm, led at the time to an internal investigation by the police department and a promise to quit it. The term "nickel ride" comes from a time when amusement rides cost a nickel, and the practice is apparently as old.

The Inquirer noted that these rides led to "massive civil settlements," including one case in which a man who alleged he was paralyzed during a "nickel ride" was paid out $1.2 million. Twelve years later, the Inquirer reports the practice may still be alive and well, focusing on three recent lawsuits alleging injury from police van rides, including one that began with an altercation between an off-duty cop and the subsequently injured victim. Via the Inquirer:

[Officer James] O'Shea was off duty and in plainclothes at the time. He says he was forced to subdue [James] McKenna and arrest him after McKenna punched a bartender in a Center City tavern.

"He was highly intoxicated and highly aggressive," O'Shea said in an interview.

McKenna denies hitting a bartender. He said the incident began after he saw a woman he knew at the bar and sent her and a friend a drink. When the women refused the drinks, McKenna said he went over to ask why.

At that point, he said, O'Shea flashed his badge and told him to leave. As he started to walk away, McKenna said, the officer jumped him from behind.

O'Shea summoned police and they arrived in an emergency patrol wagon.

"F- this guy up," McKenna said O'Shea told his fellow officers.

O'Shea denied that. "That's completely false, 100 percent," he said.

Handcuffed, McKenna was put in the back of a police wagon. He said he wasn't strapped in.

He said the van took off, taking turns at high speeds, then braking suddenly, throwing him from the seat and to the floor.

McKenna was charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor. At a trial, the bartender testified that McKenna had struck him, but McKenna said he had not seen the bartender that night. The judge found McKenna not guilty.

McKenna withdrew his lawsuit last year when his attorney dropped out after McKenna's neck surgeon said he planned to testify it was possible for McKenna to have injured himself. McKenna tells the Inquirer he wants to refile his lawsuit, asking ""What if I'd broke an officer's neck?" Read the rest of the Inquirer article, which includes the story of one suspect who died two weeks after allegedly being taken on a "nickel ride," here. Philadelphia's police commissioner, who previously invited the Department of Judtice to review his department's use of deadly force, did not offer the newspaper any comment.