Imprisoned former Phila. cop, others sued by city woman who suffered years-long sexual assault while underage

By Jon Campisi | Jul 24, 2013

A Philadelphia woman is suing a former city police officer who is currently imprisoned

over allegations that the man engaged in a course of repeated sexual assaults and violence against the plaintiff beginning when she was a minor and continuing into adulthood.

Deborah Grooms, who resides in Northeast Philadelphia, filed suit at Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court earlier this month against Tyrone Wiggins, a former city cop who is now known as Inmate No. JY6603 at SCI Mahanoy, the state prison in Frackville, Pa.

The complaint, which also names as defendants the City of Philadelphia, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, and three former Police Department Commissioners – Richard Neal, John Timoney and Sylvester Johnson – says that Wiggins, who is a former Marine and master martial artist, molested Grooms when she was a minor taking a karate class at a city recreation center instructed by Wiggins.

“As a police officer, former Marine, and martial arts master, Defendant Wiggins was an imposing authority figure and exercised considerable influence and control over the youngsters and students with whom he came into contact for the purposes of gaining their trust,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed by attorneys Stewart J. Eisenberg, Nancy J. Winkler and Dino Privitera, of the firm Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck P.C.

The plaintiff claims Wiggins targeted her for sexual exploitation and commenced a two-year “grooming process” beginning in the mid-1990s, when the then-10-year-old Grooms starting taking the officer’s karate class.

The first described incident of inappropriate behavior took place in 1997, when Wiggins took Grooms, then 12, back to his home to watch a pornographic movie.

It was also during that year that Wiggins allegedly drove the girl to a secluded area in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park and forced her to perform a sex act on him, according to the civil action.

The former officer raped Grooms inside his van about a week later, the lawsuit states.

During the ensuing eight years, Wiggins engaged in a regular pattern of sexual abuse and assault against the plaintiff at the recreation center where the karate classes were taught, in his home, inside hotel rooms and at secluded spots within Fairmount Park, the complaint alleges.

Wiggins also physically and verbally abused Grooms, he constantly misused his police officer status to win over the plaintiff and her family, and he repeatedly threatened to have the plaintiff “locked up” if she ever reported the sexual abuse and violence, the suit states.

“Defendant Wiggins engaged in such violence and abuse (sic) conduct to keep Plaintiff in a state of perpetual fear and as a means of subjugating, controlling and silencing Plaintiff and to keep her from disclosing or revealing Defendant Wiggins’ sexual exploitation of Plaintiff,” the complaint reads.

Wiggins also allegedly threatened to destroy the plaintiff’s own career aspirations of becoming a Philadelphia police officer.

The lawsuit claims that Wiggins even had sex with the plaintiff while he was on duty and in uniform.

In early 2006, the suit states, Grooms finally came forward and reported the abuse to the Philadelphia Police Department, giving statements to both the Special Victims Unit and the Internal Affairs Division.

The department went on to conduct a two-year investigation of Wiggins, the outcome of which fully substantiated the plaintiff’s complaints of sexual abuse and violence.

Apparently tipped off that an arrest and criminal charges were imminent, Wiggins resigned from the department on Nov. 18, 2009, a move designed to help Wiggins hold onto his city pension, the suit states.

He was arrested the day after his resignation and charged with various crimes relating to the sexual assault.

Meanwhile, Wiggins was permitted to continue teaching his karate classes at the same recreation center where the assaults against the plaintiff occurred, the complaint states.

Soon, however, it would all be over: just over a year after his arrest, a Philadelphia jury found Wiggins guilty of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, statutory sexual assault and corrupting the morals of a minor.

He was subsequently sentenced to 17-and-a-half to 35 years in state prison.

The civil rights lawsuit contains a host of counts against Wiggins, the city, the Parks and Recreation Department, and the three former Police Department commissioners in charge of the force during the time of the plaintiff’s long-standing abuse.

The city and the additional police defendants are accused of failing to properly investigate the claims of sexual abuse and failing to dismiss Wiggins when the abuse claims initially came to light.

The Parks and Recreation Department is accused of failing to properly screen, investigate, train, control, monitor and/or supervise Wiggins during his activities and conduct at the recreation center where he taught the karate class.

The suit was filed in state court on July 1.

On July 23, attorneys representing the defendants filed a petition to remove the case to the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia.

The removal notice, filed by Chief Deputy City Solicitor Craig Straw and Assistant City Solicitor Christopher H. Rider, says that the matter belongs in federal court because the plaintiff asserts allegations of civil rights violations.

The plaintiff claims that as a result of the longstanding abuse and assault she sustained physical pain, severe emotional disturbance, shame, embarrassment, the inability to socially adjust to her peers, anxiety, fear and other permanent psychological disorders that will continue to have an adverse impact on her for the foreseeable future.

She seeks more than $150,000 in damages together with attorneys’ fees, costs and interest.

The state case ID number is 130700212 and the federal case number is 2:13-cv-04244-CMR. 

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