PHILADELPHIA – A police officer collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack Tuesday as police skirmished with protesters outside a biotechnology convention, officials said.
Officer Paris Williams, 52, a 19-year department veteran, was pronounced dead at Hahnemann University Hospital shortly after 1 p.m., Cpl. Jim Pauley said.
Authorities closed the street in front of the Pennsylvania Convention Center to traffic as hundreds of protesters chanted and pounded on drums. A small number of demonstrators scuffled with police.
Authorities did not think Williams was directly involved in the confrontation.
“I don’t think Officer Paris Williams was involved in the scuffle, but anyhow, he saw the scuffle, he went toward the scuffle, he collapsed,” Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said outside the hospital.
“We’re not blaming anybody for what happened,” Johnson said. “At this point, unfortunately, we have an officer that died today in the line of duty.”
About a half-dozen people were taken away by police.
Groups opposed to biotech research methods, biological weapons, genetically modified crops and other issues had announced plans to disrupt traffic and events in the city throughout the day. About 18,000 people are in the city for the convention, which runs through Wednesday.
Meanwhile, more than 500 skateboarders who want to reclaim skating rights at JFK Plaza also gathered in the city Tuesday, sometimes taking over intersections.
Officers on hand at the park near City Hall, which is also known as Love Park, welcomed the skaters but ordered them to keep their boards outside. Officers kept the skaters at bay for more than an hour before their ranks swelled and they stormed the plaza, climbing the well-known Robert Indiana sculpture and cavorting – some of them partially nude – in the fountain.
By 3 p.m., skateboarders rode freely in the plaza, hurtling themselves off steps and performing tricks.
Police made no arrests at the park, but did physically remove some skaters. Citing the biotech protests, police Chief Inspector Joe O’Connor said officers were reluctant to enforce the skateboarding ban at Love Park, which normally warrants a citation and confiscation of the skateboard.
The park had served as a major draw for skaters across the country before city officials banned them in 2001 to prevent damage.
The skateboarding protest was being held in conjunction with Go Skateboarding Day, a loosely organized international event supported by the International Association of Skateboard Companies. AP