In April, when the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office charged two SEPTA Transit Police officers with beating a drunken man on the platform of the Frankford El station, the office said the decision represented "even-handed justice, everyone being held accountable for their actions."

This week, after five hours of preliminary hearing testimony, including from the emergency room doctor who treated the man who accused the officers of beating him, a Philadelphia judge threw out the charges against Johnathan Lanciano, 29, and David Simcox, 30, who were fired by the transit authority in February.

Fired SEPTA Police Officers David Simcox (left) and Johnathan Lanciano cleared of charges.
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Fired SEPTA Police Officers David Simcox (left) and Johnathan Lanciano cleared of charges.

Simcox had been accused of breaking the 28-year-old man's nose with a punch, and was charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangerment, and filing a false report. Lanciano had been charged with simple assault, harassment, reckless endangerment and filing a false report.

But after reviewing video of the Dec. 12, 2017, incident and hearing from Dr. Jamie Adamski of Jefferson Frankford Hospital, Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon concluded that the officers' accuser threw a punch and that the officers were justified in using force to take him down.

Adamski, who was called to testify by the former officers' attorneys, said that while treating the man the morning of the incident, the patient relayed that he had thrown a punch at an officer, which contradicted assertions in charging documents that the man never struck the officers while the two officers used excessive force "in direct contravention to all provided training and departmental standards."

The man drew the officers' attention shortly after midnight when he jumped from the train platform onto the tracks to retrieve his eyeglasses. When Lanciano, Simcox and three other SEPTA officers first encountered the man, he had gotten back on the platform, where he was sitting with his legs hanging over the ledge. After moving the man away from the tracks, a scuffle ensued.

"They had to use some force to get him away, to get him out of that dangerous situation with the third rail just below," said attorney Frank DeSimone, who represented Lanciano.

"The judge said [the man] threw a punch. The video showed he threw a punch. I absolutely believe the judge made the right choice. We have the complainants saying he threw a punch. What other evidence do you need?" DeSimone added.

Attorney Louis Anthony Mincarelli, who represented Simcox, said the officers used force after the man struck Lanciano in the face. "The officers were responding to an assault on a police officer, and they used the force that was necessary," he said. "Our clients were innocent and should never have been charged."

Both defense attorneys said their clients want to get their jobs back and are hopeful the District Attorney's Office will not recharge them in Common Pleas Court. "I'm hoping that they will not do that so my client can get on with his life. I'm hoping they do the right thing because this case does not warrant that," Mincarelli said.

Ben Waxman, spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, said: "We respectfully disagree with some of the court's statements of fact and its ruling.  As always, we respect the independence of the judiciary. We have not made any decision yet about refiling charges."