Lynne Abraham’s Startling Admission Should Disqualify Her

She says she didn't charge bad cops because there wasn't a constituency back then.

Lynne Abraham | Photo by Matt Rourke

Lynne Abraham | Photo by Matt Rourke

So, Lynne Abraham essentially disqualified herself in the mayor’s race last week.

She did so in such matter-of-fact, low-key fashion that I’m not sure that Philadelphians really noticed what she did. I’m not sure she noticed what she did. But the attitude she revealed was horrifying, dangerous, and a threat to the “new” Philadelphia so many people have worked to build in recent years. It needs a bit more sunlight.

Let’s rewind to the beginning. My Philly Mag colleague Holly Otterbein wrote about one of the last big decisions Abraham made during her two decades as the city’s district attorney — the decision not to prosecute Sgt. Chauncey Ellison or his then-girlfriend, Officer Robin Fortune, off-duty cops involved in the shooting of 20-year-old man, Lawrence Allen, over … pizza.

What happened:

In 2008, according to newspaper reports, Allen was friends with a teenager who stole a pizza from Sgt. Ellison’s son. The police sergeant and Officer Fortune tracked the thief down to Allen’s block, where witnesses say Allen tried to diffuse the situation and even offered to pay for the pie.

What happened next is hotly disputed. Ellison says Allen pulled a gun on him, and Ellison then shot Allen in self defense. Some witnesses say Allen indeed appeared to draw a gun; others say he was unarmed.

No gun was ever found near Allen’s body or in his house.

Abraham didn’t press charges. Seth Williams, after he replaced Abraham, revived the case and ended up winning convictions for the two officers on charges of reckless endangerment.

What does Abraham have to say about all of this today? Pay close attention:

As it turns out, she says she would handle the case differently today. She would charge Ellison and Fortune with reckless endangerment “given the circumstances that we know now, and the evidence that we have now about the temper of the community, if you will.”

Emphasis added. Read it again. Abraham is saying, essentially, that she didn’t prosecute bad cops back in 2008 because there wasn’t a constituency for it back then.


OK, Lynne Abraham’s a politician. Politicians pander. It’s not always a bad thing — in a democracy, you don’t want a leader who is completely disconnected from the will and desires of the people he or she serves. Sometimes, though, you need a leader who will make a call based on what’s right and what’s wrong.

Abraham, however, is saying that important questions — of life or death, right or wrong, lawful or unlawful — have been decided by the community’s “temper,” as though Lawrence Allen’s death was OK back when police were popular, but is less so now that folks have been riled up by Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, the Philadelphia shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown, the death of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, and the Department of Justice report examining Philly PD’s use of force.

If you care about the current wave of police reform, why would you ever vote for Abraham, knowing she’s already deemed one man’s life an insufficient crowd-pleaser? And if you’re on the other side of the issue, can you ever trust Abraham after she’s admitted a willingness to flip-flop on such an important matter based on the voter mood?

Lynne Abraham just admitted she governs with her finger in the wind — and does so when lives are being weighed. She does not deserve to be rewarded with the mayor’s office.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.