A Philadelphia man who was shot on Tuesday by police after allegedly running his car into several officers has been charged with a host of crimes—including attempted murder, aggravated assault, and reckless endangerment, according to his lawyer.
Rudolph “Blue” Keitt Jr., 46, was arraigned on $2 million bail yesterday during a brief bedside hearing at Albert Einstein Medical Center in the Olney section of Philadelphia. Keitt's attorney, Brian Mildenberg, said his client remains shackled to his hospital bed and under 24-hour police guard. He will be transferred into police custody upon being discharged. Mildenberg said Keitt did not enter a plea and is scheduled to be in court next Tuesday, May 17, if his condition permits.
Friends and family say Keitt has a complicated medical history that includes seizures and mental illness. He recently suffered a heart attack and required the implantation of arterial stents.
Keitt had been in a medically-induced coma until Wednesday when doctors performed surgery to address a single gunshot wound to the chest. He is in stable condition and according to his attorney was conscious and aware during the hearing.
Mildenberg said his client has no memory of the incident that led to him being shot and expressed shock and remorse for the injuries he caused.
“Blue and his family feel horrible about what happened,” the lawyer said. “They send their hearts out to the officers who were injured.”
Exactly what did happen remains something of a mystery. As of Friday, police had yet to release their official version of the events despite several requests for an incident report. A departmental spokesperson contacted on Thursday afternoon blamed the Amtrak derailment that killed eight passengers on Tuesday night—just hours after the Keitt shooting—for the delay. She seemed unaware that Keitt had even been charged, but assured The Daily Beast a statement would be forthcoming.
What is known has been pieced together from eyewitnesses, initial press reports and statements made by police officials in the hours following the incident.
The series of events—which Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter called “bizarre”—began in the late afternoon on May 12 when Keitt and a passenger, Teresa Clement, left a sandwich shop in the Fern Rock section of North Philadelphia on their way to another store to buy beverages.
Clement says that within minutes of their drive Keitt became visibly ill as he approached a stop sign and subsequently cruised through the intersection and into a retaining wall. (Photographs of Keitt's maroon Chrysler sedan show minor damage to the left front fender, presumably from the impact.)
Clement said Keitt—who had seemed fine only moments earlier—was unresponsive at this point and appeared unable to move.
“His body was stiff, he didn’t have his feet on the pedals,” she said in a phone interview Thursday night. “His eyes were rolling into his head and his mouth was moving like he wanted to say something. I thought ‘Oh God, Blue’s having a seizure.’”
Clement said that in the roughly 30 years she has known Keitt she saw him suffer just one other seizure, but she was aware of his history with them. Family members told reporters on Tuesday that Keitt had suffered his last seizure in March. Witnesses who called 911 recalled Clement exclaiming that her friend needed medical attention.
Following the crash Clement had the foresight to remove the keys from the ignition before exiting the vehicle. She says she was standing on the driver’s side of Keitt’s car when police arrived moments later. A police official told reporters on the scene that when the officers arrived Keitt was “incoherent,” and Clement says she heard one officer make a reference to turning the man on his side so he didn’t swallow his tongue—a common risk factor in seizures.
Clement says Keitt remained seated in the vehicle as the officers began attending to him. It was at that point, she says, that Keitt’s condition began to change.
“He started shaking his arms and speaking, and he seemed delirious,” she said. “He was saying something about his mom.”
Responding officers and Clement both describe Keitt as being visibly agitated. Somehow he was able to wrest the keys from Clement’s hand, restart the car and drive off—allegedly striking two officers in the process.
“I have all this guilt, like, what should I have done?” said Clement. “[The police] just lost control of the situation.”
A cellphone video of the incident shot from above shows five or six officers surrounding Keitt’s vehicle in an attempt to keep him from driving off. At least two officers are seen falling down, while a third holds on to the open driver’s-side door. It’s unclear which officers police are alleging Keitt hit at this point; however, the video—which was published by a local NBC affiliate—appears to show two officers falling backward and onto the ground after tripping over construction detritus.
Police gave chase and say Keitt hit another officer within roughly a block of the first incident before circling the street again and heading toward his mother’s home—which is about two miles away and just down the street from his own residence. When they attempted to intercept him a third time, Keitt is alleged to have hit a fourth officer. Press reports suggest that at least one of the second two officers hit was in his vehicle when Keitt plowed into it.
It was at this point in the chase that officials say two officers opened fire on Keitt’s car, striking him once in the chest. He managed to drive about a block to his home and parallel park before exiting the vehicle and collapsing on the pavement.
City officials have suggested that they believe Keitt was intentionally trying to injure the officers with his car. During a press conference on Tuesday afternoon Mayor Nutter said Keitt “used a car as a weapon against our officers.” Mildenberg said the inclusion of attempted murder in the charges indicates that prosecutors plan to argue that Keitt intended to kill police. Both the attorney and Keitt’s family strongly reject this assertion.
“This was a tragedy, but not a crime,” Mildenberg said. “The entire incident was a medical event, and was known by the police from the start to be a medical event. The allegation that Rudolph was using his car as a ‘weapon’ is outrageous.”
A police department spokesperson confirmed that the injured officers—who were treated and released Tuesday night—are doing well. The name of the officers who shot at Keitt have not been released.
As the investigation into Keitt’s shooting continues, it’s likely that police procedure will come under scrutiny. Across the country police departments are revisiting policies that govern when and why officers may shoot at a moving vehicle, and Philadelphia already has strict guidelines in this regard. Keitt’s shooting comes less than two months after a Department of Justice inquiry found “serious deficiencies” in the Philadelphia PD’s use-of-force policies and training.
Tuesday’s incident—while different in many respects—is reminiscent of an officer-involved shooting in April 2014 in which two plainclothes Philadelphia police opened fire on a pizza delivery man in a case of mistaken identity. Philippe Holland was completing a delivery when the officers approached him as part of an investigation into a call for shots fired. Holland got spooked and attempted to flee in his vehicle. The officers responded by pumping 14 bullets into his car, including three that hit the driver. They claim he was trying to hit them.
Holland survived and in February filed a lawsuit against the city citing departmental policy that prohibits officers from firing on a moving vehicle “unless deadly force is being used against the police officer or another person present, by means other than the moving vehicle.”
The policy also states that officers should never unnecessarily place themselves in jeopardy in an attempt to stop a vehicle.
In press reports published after the Holland shooting, PPD spokesman Lieutenant John Stanford reiterated those guidelines, telling The Philadelphia Inquirer: “That is our policy, ‘Don't shoot at moving vehicles’—it’s clearly laid out that way.”
Keitt was on parole for an unspecified drug offense at the time of his shooting. Mildenberg said he served three years in prison and had been out for roughly a year and a half, during which time he had been given regular urine drug screenings.
A toxicology report on Keitt is pending, but Mildenberg said the man was on several prescription medications at the time of the incident—including at least one psychotropic drug that he had taken for the first time that day. The attorney said he was waiting for a pharmacist to confirm the name of the drug, but that it was prescribed for a mental condition and is known to cause side effects. Mildenberg said that from conversations with his client it appears that the drug may have either amplified the effects of the seizure or helped facilitate it.
“He was having a hallucinogenic reaction,” Mildenberg said.
While it’s not known what ailment or combination thereof may be responsible for sickening Keitt, research shows that, although rare, temporal and frontal lobe seizures have been shown to cause aggressive and even violent behavior in some sufferers. According to the British Epilepsy Association, confusion and short-term memory loss are among the most commonly reported side effects after a seizure.