US attorney slams Philadelphia DA over SWAT officer's fatal shooting

U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain alleged the fatal shooting of Cpl. James O’Connor IV was the direct result of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s "pro-violent-defendant policies”


Julie Shaw
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain issued a sternly worded statement Monday contending that Friday’s fatal shooting of Cpl. James O’Connor IV in Frankford “was the direct result of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s pro-violent-defendant policies.”

The lengthy statement was the latest salvo in a feud between the region’s two top prosecutors, and the most recent example of McSwain’s criticizing Krasner’s policies after a high-profile crime.

O’Connor, 46, was part of a Philadelphia police SWAT team trying to serve a predawn arrest warrant on Hassan Elliott, 21, from a March 2019 killing. The cops were met by gunfire through a closed second-floor door of a rowhouse on the 1600 block of Bridge Street. O’Connor, struck in an arm and a shoulder, was declared dead a half-hour later.

In his statement, McSwain, the top federal law enforcement official in Philadelphia, contended that Krasner’s policies, which have sought to decrease the city’s incarceration levels, “put dangerous criminals like Elliott on the street.” Calling Elliott a known “gang-banger,” McSwain criticized Krasner’s office for not seeking to more aggressively prosecute him over a drug-possession case that was still open when Elliott allegedly committed the March 2019 killing.

Krasner’s spokesperson, Jane Roh, did not respond to requests for comment on McSwain’s statement.

Police have said six people were in the Frankford rowhouse Friday, including Elliott and a second suspect in the March 2019 slaying, Khalif Sears, 18. Officer Patrick Saba returned fire, police said, and two people behind the door were wounded, including Sears. Investigators found at least nine firearms as well as drugs in the house.

McSwain and Krasner — who took office in January 2018 — have frequently clashed, with McSwain accusing Krasner of endangering public safety and Krasner, a Democrat, brushing off the attacks and blasting Republican McSwain as an appointee of President Donald Trump.

Elliott, of Frankford, has been known to law enforcement because of his “longtime involvement with a violent gang called ’1700' that blights” the 1700 blocks of Brill and Scattergood Streets in Frankford, McSwain said in his statement. “This gang is alleged to be responsible for many shootings in the area and is brazen about their access to firearms.”

McSwain detailed Elliott’s past arrests and said he had been wanted for months in the March 2019 killing.

Elliott was arrested at 18 in June 2017 on gun- and drug-possession charges stemming from an incident in which he threatened a neighborhood resident with a gun, McSwain said. He pleaded guilty under a negotiated deal with the District Attorney’s Office on Jan. 24, 2018, and received a 9- to 23-month jail sentence and three years’ probation, but was allowed to be immediately paroled after serving seven months behind bars.

Elliott “violated his parole almost immediately by failing numerous drug tests, and also by repeatedly failing to report to his parole officer,” McSwain said.

On Jan. 29, 2019, Elliott was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine, McSwain said. “This arrest was in direct violation of Elliott’s parole, but the District Attorney’s Office did not pursue a detainer against him or make any attempt to have Elliott taken into custody for this serious violation,” McSwain said. “The office allowed Elliott to be released on his own recognizance — no bail was set.”

McSwain called that "stunning.”

Elliott appeared in court on his drug-possession case on Feb. 6, 2019, and again on March 1 of that year, according to Roh. The second time, authorities said, Elliott left the courthouse and on the same day took part in Tyree Tyrone’s fatal shooting.

On March 26, 2019, the District Attorney’s Office approved a warrant to arrest Elliott in Tyrone’s murder, authorities have said. The next day Elliott failed to appear in court for his scheduled trial on his drug-possession case and prosecutors dropped those charges against him. The court records for his drug-possession case were not publicly available.

The district attorney’s “prosecutorial discretion” in withdrawing the cocaine case against Elliott allowed him to remain at large until O’Connor’s shooting, McSwain said, adding: “These facts paint a damning picture of a prosecutor’s office that prioritizes ‘decarceration’ of violent offenders over public safety.”

Roh said Friday that the decision to withdraw the drug charges “had no bearing on public safety” because the homicide warrant was far more serious. Had Elliott been arrested on that warrant, he would have been jailed without bail to await his murder trial.

Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 president John McNesby also has criticized Krasner, saying his policies led to the killing of O’Connor. “Unfortunately, he’s murdered by somebody that should have never been on the street,” McNesby said.

McNesby also said FOP members and police officers formed a human barricade to block Krasner from entering the hospital Friday to see O’Connor’s family.

Roh responded on Friday saying it was “frankly ghoulish that anyone, much less an authority figure, would choose to spread lies for personal or political gain in response to this tragedy.”

On Monday, McNesby shot back, contending that police again “are under attack from the district attorney’s rogue staff.” Calling Roh a “Krasner henchman,” McNesby wrote in a statement that Roh was using “O’Connor’s murder as a reason to attack ALL Police as ‘ghoulish,’” and contended that the “vicious” attack was “tacitly approved and supported by Krasner.”

On Twitter Monday night, Roh said McNesby’s language in the aftermath of the shooting was filled with “Trumpian, deliberately inflammatory falsehoods.” She said he should be “working 24/7 to protect the health & safety of his members” during the coronavirus outbreak.

Elliott, who police said was from East Germantown, was arraigned Saturday on murder, gun, and conspiracy charges in the March 1, 2019, fatal shooting of Tyrone in Frankford. He also was arraigned on attempted-murder and related charges in a December 2019 shooting in Frankford.

Sears, also of East Germantown, was arraigned Monday on murder charges in the March 2019 killing.

Another man who had been in the house, Bilal Mitchell, who allegedly was found possessing crack cocaine, was arraigned Sunday on two drug counts, Roh said. Court records show that Mitchell, 19, was being held on $1 million bail.

O’Connor, a 23-year veteran of the force, was a married father of two. His father is a retired city cop, and his son is an officer.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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