The seven Democrats seeking to become Philadelphia’s next district attorney spent Thursday evening talking about regulating and prosecuting the city’s police officers.
Three of them, speaking in a forum aired live on WHYY-FM and WURD 900-AM and cosponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, were asked if they would prosecute cops for illegal on-duty shootings.
Civil Rights lawyer Larry Krasner, who has spent decades filing lawsuits against the city in police misconduct cases, said too many prosecutors are “too cozy” and too politically ambitious to pursue those cases. Krasner vowed to do just that.
“I agree there are a ton of great cops in this city,” Krasner said. “And you know what they hate? They hate bad cops.”
Former city Managing Director Rich Negrin, who has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and other law-enforcement groups, said he too would bring charges for bad shootings.
“The best of our police officers are great de-escalators,” Negrin said. “They go into a situation and they bring the temperature down.”
Former Municipal Court Judge Teresa Carr Deni also said she would file charges. She cited a hearing when she had to consider holding for trial police officers in a sexual assault case. The courtroom seats filled with fellow police officers, she said.
“I did not submit to that intimidation,” said Deni, who ordered that a trial be held.
Former Assistant District Attorney Jack O’Neill cited his experience prosecuting officers in domestic violence and sexual assault cases. He also handled for a time the case of former Detective Ron Dove, who was sentenced Wednesday to 23 months in prison, of which he will only serve 30 days, after he pleaded guilty to helping his girlfriend flee from arrest after killing a former boyfriend.
On the controversial police tactic of “stop and frisk,” O’Neill said he would cause a reduction in the practice by refusing to issue subpoenas for officers who repeatedly use the tactic, reducing their ability to earn overtime for court hearings on those cases.
Former city and state prosecutor Michael Untermeyer said he would use the District Attorney’s Charging Unit to reject charges when stop and frisk was illegally used. “In very short order the police will learn they can’t do illegal stop and frisk,” Untermeyer said.
In a lighting round of questions, the candidates split on the question of whether they would seek the death penalty in murder cases. In 2015, Gov. Wolf declared a moratorium for the death penalty, which has been used three times in Pennsylvania since 1978.
Tariq El-Shabazz, who until February was the first assistant to District Attorney Seth Williams, said the death penalty does nothing to help the city. Krasner and Negrin also said they would not seek death penalty sentences.
Joe Khan, a former city and federal prosecutor, said it should be used “only in extreme cases.”
Deni said she would use it in the “most heinous cases."
Untermeyer said he personally does not approve of the death penalty but would use it in “extreme circumstances.”
O’Neill said he had passed on seeking the death penalty as a prosecutor but would not rule it out.
All of the candidates said they supported the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
The primary election is May 16. Thursday’s forum will also air on WHYY TV12 on May 7 at 3:30 p.m.