A picture is worth a thousand words.
Or, in Humberto Fred’s case, $750,000 – the bail he’s being held on for allegedly snapping a picture of Philadelphia Municipal Court Judge Wendy L. Pew while she was on the bench at the city’s Criminal Justice Center.
Fred, 31, was due in Pew’s courtroom 603 on Sept. 17 for his preliminary hearing on charges of receiving stolen property and three counts involving illegally possessing and carrying a gun on the city streets.
Already free after posting 10 percent of his $200,000 bail, Fred was waiting in an anteroom between the courtroom and hallway. It was then, said Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline McCauley, that the prosecutor in the room, Douglas Rhoads, and a police officer allegedly spotted Fred angling his cell phone to try to take a picture through a partly obscured window into the courtroom.
McCauley said Fred was hauled into the courtroom and his cell phone confiscated. Fred was then shipped to the city prison system after Pew cited him for contempt of court and set bail at $750,000.
Pew set a contempt of court hearing for Oct. 1 and McCauley said the judge could sentence Fred to as much as 5 months and 29 days in prison if he is found guilty. Fred’s preliminary hearing on the gun case was postponed to Nov. 12.
Once upon a time, court officials required the public to hand over cell phones to a deputy sheriff while in the building. Eventually, the growing lines of people waiting for phone receipts and the maddening sound of cell phones ringing in stacks of locked metal boxes forced officials to reconsider. Since then, each courtroom has multiple signs warning that cell phones must be off, texting and photos are prohibited and phones will be seized and owners prosecuted if they aren’t.
Still, ignorance – or the more sinister problem of trying to intimidate witnesses, defendants and judges – is so pervasive that not a week goes by when cell phones and sometimes their owners are seized.
Just last Friday, Municipal Court Judge Patrick F. Dugan sentenced 27-year-old Darrell Marshall to 3 to 6 days in jail, a $250 fine and 50 hours of community service after Marshall was caught on Aug. 20 taking a cell phone photo during a preliminary hearing for Devin Smith, 27, charged in the Feb. 8 killing of Ramona Bell, 49, whose badly beaten body was found inside a house in Frankford.
Marshall, an apparent relative of the victim, has prior convictions for carrying a gun without a license and for drug possession. He begins serving his sentence for contempt of court on Nov. 1.