February 14, 2017
A Philadelphia man who called police to express concerns over the department's handling of an officer with an apparent Nazi tattoo said he was surprised by the response.
"The guy told me that it was fake news," William Townsel, 28, of Fishtown, claimed on Tuesday morning. "He said, 'I'm sure you're aware of, with the election, that there is fake news. Well, this is fake news.' "
In late August, police launched an Internal Affairs investigation into Officer Ian Hans Lichterman after photos of his tattoos were posted to Facebook, prompting many angry reactions online and national news stories.
In December, the investigation cleared Lichterman of violating department policy, essentially because there was no existing policy governing tattoos. A new directive is slated to begin March 1.
Townsel said he called the Second District in the Mayfair section of the city, where Lichterman reportedly serves, to complain about the lack of response by the department, which only acknowledged that Lichterman had been cleared of any violations. Police did not say whether any specific determinations had been made about his tattoos.
"Honestly, I was bothered by the fact that they still hadn't said anything to the community," Townsel said. "I directly called and contacted them. ... I'm really bothered by the fact that it seems to be taken care of in silence."
Townsel said an officer hung up on him the first time he called Tuesday morning. When he called back a second time, Townsel claims he was told it was fake news.
"He told me that if I believed this story, then come to the window and that he would see me in a few minutes," Townsel said.
When PhillyVoice contacted the Second District station, an officer denied that Townsel was told news accounts of Lichterman were "fake news."
"I don't believe that anybody here said that," the officer said, before adding that further comment would have to come from the Public Affairs department.
Townsel said he heard from McLean on Wednesday, adding that McLean agreed the response he initially received from the district had been "completely inappropriate."
"He agreed that the interaction that I had with the officer on the phone was absolutely ridiculous," Townsel said.
Townsel added that they also discussed his concerns regarding Lichterman, with McLean defending the officer as being a good cop who is proud of his German heritage, but not racist.
Additionally, McLean told him about regular community meetings where he could voice his concerns, Townsel said.
Townsel said he also had received calls from Matthew Fisher of the city Managing Director's Office and Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
Both city officials called him Tuesday after Townsel contacted the offices of Mayor Jim Kenney and the city's chief integrity officer about his experience with Second District police.
Townsel described the conversations with Fisher and Landau as positive, saying he had an opportunity to share his concerns about the way police handled the Lichterman situation.
"He just said that it was good that I called," Townsel said of his conversation with Fisher. "It's good that people are talking about it. It's something that people should be talking about."
Fisher confirmed he had spoken with Townsel, but declined to comment on their conversation. Landau also confirmed their conversation through the mayor's press office.
On Tuesday, Townsel posted his experience to Facebook, urging others to contact the mayor's office with their concerns. After speaking with Fisher, he posted an update describing the conversation as "awesome."
Townsel said his Tuesday call to the Second District about the Lichterman matter was his third in recent months. He called in September, after photos of Lichterman and his tattoos spread across social media, and again in October.
The Fishtown resident has repeatedly posted on the Philadelphia police's Facebook page, linking to news articles about Lichterman being cleared. His posts include Kenney's statement saying he is "deeply offended" by Lichterman's tattoo.
Though police did not say much after the Internal Affairs investigation concluded, Kenney did not parse his words.
Kenney issued a statement saying Lichterman could not be dismissed because police did not have a tattoo policy. He added that he found it "completely inappropriate for any law enforcement officer to have such a tattoo given its impact on those they are sworn to protect and serve."
Photos of Lichterman and his tattoos were posted to Facebook in late August by Evan Parish Matthews, who indicated they were taken July 26 at the #BlackResistanceMarch during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.
The photos showed a German eagle tattooed beneath the word "Fatherland" on Lichterman's left arm. The eagle appeared to resemble one depicted in the Nazi Party's partieadler emblem, a symbol included in the Anti-Defamation League's Hate Symbols Database."
That symbol features an eagle with outstretched wings, its head pointed left, and holding a wreath containing a swastika. The photos of Lichterman's tattoos did not show whether his eagle was perched on a swastika.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, has defended Lichterman, saying there was "nothing wrong" with his tattoos.
On March 1, the police department will begin enforcing a tattoo policy, which forbids on-duty officers from having "offensive, extremist, indecent, racist or sexist" tattoos.