A police tribunal found Norberto Cappas guilty of ordering two jailed women to perform sex acts.
The Philadelphia Police Department will fire an officer for ordering two women to put on a sex show in a Fishtown jail cell.
Officer Norberto Cappas, 32, an 11-year veteran, was found guilty by a police tribunal of conduct unbecoming an officer and lying during a departmental investigation.
Police Commissioner Sylvester M. Johnson decided to fire Cappas from his $51,000-a-year job, following a 30-day suspension, the department said yesterday.
“This shows that the Police Department takes these matters extremely seriously,” said Capt. Christopher Flacco, the department advocate who prosecuted the case and called for Cappas’ dismissal.
Cappas, who has denied any wrongdoing, hung up on a reporter who telephoned him seeking comment yesterday. He has the right to appeal the ruling, as often happens in police disciplinary cases, and ask an arbitrator to overrule the commissioner and return him to the force.
Internal Affairs found that Cappas, in September 2003, ordered two women who were locked in a cell in 26th Police District to kiss and touch each other and expose their breasts.
“I was scared – deathly scared,” said Erica Hejnar, 28, one of the victims. “I was intimidated, and I was humiliated.”
Hejnar and her friend told Internal Affairs that Cappas dangled the keys and taunted them as he escalated his sexual demands, telling them they would do as he asked if they wanted to go home that night.
The women had been picked up on suspicion of drug possession, but they had no drugs and they were not charged with any crime.
Hejnar called police later that night to report the abuse. She also filed a civil lawsuit and was awarded $17,500, in part because city lawyers concluded that she never should have been detained in the first place.
The Internal Affairs case sat in limbo for years until The Inquirer raised questions about it in an article in August.
Earlier this month, Hejnar testified before the Police Board of Inquiry, a disciplinary panel, and tearfully recounted Cappas’ behavior that night.
“I want some kind of disciplinary action taken toward Cappas because I don’t want him doing to other women what he did to me,” she told the panel.
At the hearing, Cappas’ lawyer noted that Hejnar and her friend, when shown photographs of police officers in the 26th District, did not identify Cappas. Hejnar picked out an officer who had not been working that night.
Hejnar said that was because she had been shown small, outdated photographs. The department didn’t offer a lineup, she said.
At the hearing, as she sat only a few feet away from Cappas, she said she was certain he was the officer who tormented them.
Hejnar could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Citing Hejnar’s initial failure to identify Cappas, the District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute him.
Also testifying before the tribunal was Officer Annamae Law, who said that on the night Hejnar was in custody, she heard Cappas laughing and talking to other officers about how two women in a cell had been kissing and touching each other. Law said she loudly cursed Cappas.
Questioned by Internal Affairs, the other officers said they heard nothing. Police investigators said that silence amounted to a “cover-up.”
Four other officers involved in the case were charged in connection with the incident, including one who Internal Affairs concluded had been “evasive” and another who IAD said had a suspicious “memory loss.” Three of those officers pleaded guilty to various infractions and faced penalties ranging from a reprimand to a 15-day suspension.
The fourth officer, Sgt. Oscar Martinez, was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and neglect of duty, for allegedly failing to supervise Cappas and other officers that night. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. The commissioner’s ruling in his case is expected soon.