Philly DA Larry Krasner clears cop who fatally shot unarmed man near St. Joe's

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Richard Ferretti (top right) with his mother, Mary Lou Ferretti; his father, George Ferretti, and his girlfriend, Stacy Betts. Richard Ferretti was fatally shot by Philadelphia police while looking for a parking space on May 4, 2016.

A Philadelphia police officer who fatally shot an unarmed 52-year-old driver two years ago near St. Joseph’s University will not face criminal charges over the incident.

In a statement Wednesday morning, District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office said police officer Shannon Coolbaugh was afraid for his safety as Richard Ferretti, of Andreas, Pa., drove toward him and thus “was legally justified in using deadly force to protect himself and his fellow officers.”

The decision marks the first case in which Krasner has decided whether to charge a police officer in a shooting. As both a candidate and newly elected prosecutor, Krasner — formerly a career defense attorney with a history of suing police over misconduct — had questioned why city officers almost never were prosecuted for using their weapons while on duty.

Kenneth Rothweiler, a lawyer for Ferretti’s family, was quick to criticize the decision, saying: “It is beyond comprehension why the DA’s Office is closing their file and investigation without an indictment of those officers. The actions of the officers was in clear violation of the Police Department’s own policy on the Use of Force.”

Ferretti’s sister, Lisa Newman, said family members were disappointed — but not exactly surprised — by the outcome. They had held back from speaking publicly, believing that an investigation would yield answers in a reasonable amount of time.

“Should we have been on TV the day after he was murdered? I don’t know if it would’ve made things better or worse,” Newman said Wednesday. “We trusted in the process. Now we know better.”

Coolbaugh, on the force since 2008, shot Ferretti three times on the 6300 block of Overbrook Avenue around 1 a.m. May 4, 2016. Ferretti’s relatives — who have sued the city over the incident — said he lived in the neighborhood with his girlfriend and was looking for a parking spot when he was killed.

Police said that Coolbaugh and another officer had been trying to stop Ferretti from driving aimlessly around the block, and that Coolbaugh opened fire only after he had yelled at Ferretti to stop and felt boxed in and threatened when Ferretti continued driving toward him. Krasner’s office largely seemed to agree with that assessment, saying in the statement that it had reviewed surveillance video and interviewed witnesses, and that Ferretti “ignored multiple instructions to show [his] hands and then accelerated towards Officer Coolbaugh.”

Commissioner Richard Ross said at the time that he was “somewhat concerned about the tactics.” Police directives generally bar officers from shooting at moving vehicles because doing so can injure passengers or cause vehicles to crash, among other reasons. The directives make an exception when someone inside the vehicle poses a deadly threat “by means other than the vehicle,” such as shooting out a window.

Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a police spokesman, said Wednesday that the department still needed to conduct an administrative review to determine whether Coolbaugh — who remains on the force — had violated department policy and would face any internal discipline. As of Wednesday, Coolbaugh remained on administrative duty, Kinebrew said.

The incident was one of 24 officer-involved shootings in 2016, according to police statistics. Prosecutors declined to bring charges in 18 cases and four investigations are ongoing, according to statistics published on the department’s website.

In two cases, the officers charged were off duty when they fired their weapons. Ross Scott was accused of shooting at people in a car with which he collided while riding his motorcycle on Broad Street near Temple University Hospital. Scott was fired and is awaiting trial.

In the second case, Dorion Young shot his son in the back over an argument. He pleaded guilty last month to aggravated assault and was sentenced to at least 11½ to 23 months in prison, according to court records.

There were 14 police-involved shootings in 2017, according to police statistics, the lowest total in at least a decade. Criminal investigations remain pending in every case.

Investigations also remain ongoing for the three police-involved shootings recorded in 2018, according to police statistics.

Krasner, during his first week in office in January, noted that every city officer involved in a fatal shooting since 2010 had been cleared of charges by prosecutors. “This ain’t fair, this is biased,” he said. He also signaled he would not back down from pursuing cases “if we have facts and we have the law, if we follow the evidence instead of following anybody’s politics.”

In an address to police recruits several weeks later, Krasner discussed several hypothetical scenarios of officers using force, and said: “If you have come here with the notion that the District Attorney’s Office is out there to screw you if you make an honest mistake, we’re not.”

That speech drew the ire of the police union and its president, John McNesby, who believed that Krasner also improperly questioned whether police should always shoot for “center mass,” a law enforcement training standard that has been in place for decades.

But Wednesday, McNesby said simply that he respected the process that allowed prosecutors to uncover the facts in the Ferretti case and reach a conclusion.

Newman, Ferretti’s sister, said her family tried to honor her brother’s memory during the Christmas holiday, a time when her brother, an accomplished chef, would dazzle everyone with his cooking. They made some of his favorite dishes and told old stories but avoided discussing the investigation into his death, a topic that easily upsets his mother, Mary Lou Ferretti, who still agonizes over the loss of her son.

“She misses her nightly phone calls from Richard,” Newman said. Mother’s Day, a little more than a week after the two-year anniversary of Ferretti’s death, proved particularly hard.

Newman said of the family’s lawsuit: “We’re going to see it through regardless.”

“We’re going to fight for him,” she said.