Court to Hear Challenge to Death Penalty Moratorium

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Shutterstock.com

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear Philly D.A. Seth Williams’ challenge to Gov. Tom Wolf’s moratorium on executions, the court said Tuesday.

“In a brief order, the justices said they want to hear arguments about whether they should have taken up the matter at all, along with briefs that lay out the legal issues in the underlying dispute,” AP reports. Read more »

What Seth Williams Didn’t Say About Civil Forfeiture

Christos Sourovelis and the house he'll get to keep. The D.A.'s office in December dropped its effort to seize the home.

Christos Sourovelis and the house he’ll get to keep. The DA’s office in December dropped its effort to seize the home.

There’s probably a good case to be made for the civil forfeiture system — in which authorities seize money and property they believe has been used in drug crimes and use it for their own purposes — but District Attorney Seth Williams didn’t quite make it Sunday with his op-ed in the Inquirer. Read more »

The Brief: No Peace for the SRC

Green Williams Clarke

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission approved five out of 39 applications for new charter schools yesterday night at the tail end of a meeting that featured four arrests and lasted five hours. The decision appeared to please no one. One prominent national ed reformer called on SRC Chairman Bill Green to resign, for not approving enough charter applicants. Pretty much simultaneously, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten condemned the decision to approve any new charter schools. Gov. Wolf issued a statement saying his administration “continues to believe that the district’s financial situation cannot responsibly handle the approval of new charter schools.” We haven’t heard yet from Republicans in the General Assembly, but you can bet they would like to have seen more new charters than the five the SRC authorized. Read more »

Seth Williams, Risa Ferman Slam Tom Wolf Over PA Death Penalty Moratorium

Gov. Wolf. | Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

Gov. Wolf. | Photo Credit: Jeff Fusco

On Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf — less than a month into his new job — issued a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, saying that it is “error prone, expensive and anything but infallible.” (You can read the full memorandum below.) The Philadelphia and Montgomery County district attorneys were quick to issue statements condemning Wolf’s decision. Read more »

Police Brutality Charges Show the System Is Trying, Not That It’s Working

Commissioner Charles Ramsey, middle, looks on as D.A. Seth Williams announces charges against two Philadelphia Police officers.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey, middle, looks on as D.A. Seth Williams announces charges against two Philadelphia Police officers.

Seth Williams was almost right.

The district attorney entered last Thursday’s press conference — the one announcing brutality charges against two Philadelphia police officers — seemingly intent on one thing: Proving that this city is no Ferguson, that abusive officers will be held accountable, and that no additional layers of accountability are needed here.

“Hopefully,” he said, “this case will show Philadelphians that our system here works.”

Again, almost.

In the interest of fairness, let’s discuss what did, indeed, go right in the case: Once confronted with video evidence  supporting allegations that two officers needlessly, brutally beat Najee Rivera in a traffic stop, police and prosecutors didn’t try to sweep the matter under the rug. They took the matter to a grand jury where — despite all the lurid tales we’ve heard in recent months of police-friendly prosecutors putting their thumbs on the scale against police accountability — a recommendation for charges emerged.

That’s great: Give the system proper inputs, and you stand a better chance of getting proper outcomes.

Here’s the problem: Left to its own devices, the system likely wouldn’t have received the proper inputs. The system almost certainly would’ve put Najee Rivera behind bars for “resisting arrest” — or, best-case scenario, free on probation but with a huge black mark on his record — while the officers who beat him would still be on the streets right now.

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Officers Charged With Brutal Beating of Motorist

Officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson.

Officers Sean McKnight and Kevin Robinson.

Najee Rivera is lucky to have a very determined girlfriend, or he might be sitting in jail today, convicted of charges stemming from his own allegedly illegal beating by police.

Najee Rivera, shortly after the be.ating

Najee Rivera, shortly after the incident.

It was Rivera’s girlfriend who — in the aftermath of his 2013 beating and arrest by two Philadelphia police officers who said he was resisting arrest — canvassed the neighborhood where the incident took place and discovered security camera video showing the officers had allegedly lied about the incident. Charges were dismissed, and today District Attorney Seth Williams announced charges against officers Sean McNight and Kevin Robinson for beating Rivera and making false reports about the circumstances.

Williams held out hope that in light of policing controversies in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, Philadelphia citizens might be satisfied by the local charges. “Hopefully this case will show Philadelphians that our system here works,” he said.

But officials acknowledged that without the actions of Rivera’s girlfriend, the video might’ve gone undiscovered — and that Rivera would’ve gotten the worse of a his-word-against-the-police situation when he was brought to court.

Read more »

Brady: Kane “Asleep at the Switch” in AG’s Office

brady kane
Congressman Bob Brady, Philadelphia’s top Democrat, has harshly criticized Attorney General’s Kathleen Kane’s handling of the “abandoned sting” case — raising more doubts about her continued political viability.

The Inquirer reports that Brady said he has “no faith” in Kane as the state’s top law enforcement officer, though it did not provide a quote of him saying so. But his quoted comments were still plenty clear.

“People make mistakes,” he said. “There’s plenty of time to see how she handles herself, but this is certainly a misstep. It looks like she was asleep at the switch.”

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D.A. to Charge Two More in Abandoned Sting

Seth Williams

District Attorney Seth Williams

The Inquirer reports that D.A. Seth Williams is expected to bring charges against two more figures from the so-called “abandoned sting” case that Attorney General Kathleen Kane earlier decided not to prosecute.

District Attorney Seth Williams is expected to announce charges against State Reps. Vanessa Lowery Brown and Ronald G. Waters, both Philadelphia Democrats, for allegedly accepting cash from an undercover operative, according to people familiar with the matter.

According to investigative documents reviewed by The Inquirer, Waters pocketed the most money from the undercover operative of any of the five politicians caught up in the sting – $8,250 in eight payments.

In the documents, Brown is described as having received the second most – $5,000, in six payments.

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Charges Dropped in Philly Attempted Murder Case

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office has dropped charges against Tomayo McDuffy, a Holmesburg man once accused of attempted murder in a home invasion case in Northeast Philadelphia. He was accused by a blind neighbor who said she recognized his voice.

The original incident happened in May of 2013. Yolanda Colon, a blind woman, said two men broke into her house; her service dog was able to scare off the intruders and fetch her phone to call 911. (Good boy!) The victim said she recognized a voice belonging to McDuffy, her next-door neighbor.

Colon said the intruders left her gas on. McDuffy was arrested and charged with attempted murder. But questions abounded: Supporters claimed Colon left the gas on herself and pegged McDuffy as the culprit because of a longstanding grudge; McDuffy’s backers said Colon had a history of wrongfully accusing people.

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