The war of words between federal officials appointed by President Donald Trump and Philadelphia’s progressive local leadership is escalating still further.
Philly federal prosecutor William McSwain announced Thursday that his office is filing new charges against a Philadelphia man who shot a storekeeper in the leg with an AK-47 during an attempted robbery and previously pleaded guilty to local charges in exchange for a controversial three- to 10-year sentence.
McSwain called the sentence for Jovaun Patterson a “sweetheart deal” and went on to attack Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner as harboring an “anti-law enforcement agenda.”
Surveillance video showed Patterson, 30, approach victim Mike Poeng’s deli at 54th and Spruce streets in May 2018 toting an AK-47 as Poeng, 50 was outside hosing his car down, and try to shove Poeng into the shop.
Poeng, a refugee from Cambodia, fought back and even sprayed Patterson with his hose before Patterson shot him once in the right leg then fled. Poeng was comatose for weeks after the shooting. He is “now confined to a wheelchair and does not know if he will ever walk again on his own,” McSwain said.
Federal charges against Patterson include attempted robbery and using a firearm during a violent crime, and could carry another 20-years sentence. Krasner said the federal indictment was “welcome,” stating, “We do feel that there was a mistake made in the handling of this case.”
But after announcing the charges, McSwain went on a tear against Philly leaders, blaming Krasner for Philly’s uptick in homicides in 2018, his first year in office, and trashing Mayor Jim Kenney’s sanctuary city policies.
Philadelphia had 351 homicides in 2018, the highest total in a decade and an 11 percent hike over the year before, while 1,365 people were shot, also an 11 percent hike over 2017 — while nationally, and in nearby cities like Chester and Camden, those crimes went down.
“It is not a coincidence that Philadelphia saw a double digit increase,” McSwain claimed. “The policies of the district attorney’s office are undoubtedly playing a large role in this tragedy.”
Krasner rejected those claims on Thursday.
“We think it is very inappropriate to frighten people in Philadelphia with a bunch of false claims,” he said. This was gratuitous and completely unnecessary. … It’s grandstanding.”
Krasner noted that homicide rates have gradually increased over the past five years, said that overall violent crime is trending down, and blamed the higher homicide rate on the opioid epidemic, citing an increase in drug-related homicides from 60 in 2017 to 121 in 2018.
“If their point is that a policy of this administration has caused that, show it to me. … Here’s the reality. When the federal government decided it was OK to increase the number of pills that are opioids by 400 percent … they set this in motion,” Krasner said. “I call on Bill McSwain to call on the president of the United States and the DEA to screw down on the supply of opioid pills.”
Nonetheless, McSwain’s criticisms echoed attacks on Krasner’s policies that have been heard often in Philly since the reform DA took office.
“The only way to effectively deter homicide and other serious violent crime is to put fear into the hearts of those who would commit these crimes — fear of the law enforcement consequences. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office isn’t putting fear into the hearts of anybody who is contemplating violent crime,” McSwain said. before going on to repeat attacks on sanctuary city policies staunchly defended by Mayor Jim Kenney.
Earlier this week, McSwain blamed Kenney directly for the rape of a 5-year-old girl by an illegal immigrant from Honduras who had previously been in Philadelphia custody for an unrelated crime and was released in defiance of an ICE detainer.
McSwain claimed Kenney’s defense, that his office would honor warrants, not detainers, was untrue – and brought up the case of Alan Torres-Gomez, another undocumented immigrant released from Philadelphia custody in November 2018.
“They ignored the federal warrant. Mr. Torres-Gomez was then released into the community and we started looking for him. We haven’t found him. We don’t know where he is.”
A city spokesman that this individual’s release was a mistake.
“The City does not ignore federal judicial warrants,” they said via email. “There was an error related to the receipt of the federal judicial warrant for Alan Torres. Then-First Deputy Managing Director Brian Abernathy explained the circumstances of that error directly to ICE officials after it occurred. Protective steps have been put in place to prevent an error taking place in the future. … There have been several federal judicial warrants that, after being received, have been recently honored and effectuated, resulting in the relevant inmate being transferred to ICE.”
Court records indicate that Torres, 29, was arrested in 2017 on charges of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person. The charges were withdrawn after a hearing in November 2018.
McSwain went on to warn that Torres-Gomez might now commit a violent crime.
“That keeps me up at night. I’m worried about that,” McSwain said. “God forbid that he commits another crime while he’s out in the community. God forbid that he commits a violent crime, a rape or kills somebody.”