As the search continues for Derrick Rollins in a seemingly random killing in Haverford Township last month, a review of his criminal history shows a young man with multiple arrests for crimes ranging from drug dealing to armed robbery – starting when he was 17.
In addition, Rollins' arrest with a gun made him the focus of a program called GunStat, designed to take the most dangerous offenders off the streets. It aims to convict them and punish them harshly with a goal of preventing future crimes. But even with that extra attention, prosecutors' efforts to keep Rollins behind bars were undermined by courtroom missteps – including the failure of two police witnesses to appear at a trial.
"This guy should have been in jail," said Bryan Lentz, the former assistant district attorney who launched GunStat in 2012. "It doesn't take a Vegas gambler to predict that he's going to commit a violent act. You had all the data to know this is a guy to watch."
Rollins, 24, was free on probation on a drug charge on July 29 when he allegedly shot and killed John Le, 29, in what police suspect may have been a botched robbery.
Earlier that day, police say, Rollins went on a shooting spree in Overbrook Park, firing 17 shots at two people in broad daylight, but, surprisingly, harming no one. Surveillance video caught Rollins running in the area of the crime scene, and police traced his movements to the shooting in Overbrook Park about 45 minutes before Le was killed.
Now, law enforcement officials are scouring the region to arrest him. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Police Department has opened an internal review into why the two officers failed to show up to testify against Rollins, causing a gun case to collapse.
A review of court records shows how difficult it can be for law enforcement officials to successfully prosecute even repeat offenders deemed at risk of future violations. It also reveals that rulings by two Philadelphia judg
es, in separate cases, set the stage for his freedom on the day police say he turned to murder.
Rollins had been arrested five times, beginning in 2010
. In September of that year, he and three other teens, including his brother Marquesse, stole a cellphone from a 15-year-old boy while riding a northbound train on the Broad Street Line. Rollins was later adjudicated delinquent on a robbery charge.
A few months later, Rollins was again charged with robbery, using a gun, court records show. The gun charges were eventually withdrawn, along with an assault charge, and he was adjudicated delinquent on robbery and conspiracy charges.
In February 2014, he pleaded guilty to dealing cocaine on a North Philadelphia street corner and was sentenced to five years' probation.
In July of that year, he was arrested for marijuana possession, a case that was later dismissed. And four days later, he was arrested on firearms charges, after police accused him of carrying a gun on an East Germantown street. While awaiting trial in that case, he spent two years in jail because he could not post his $300,000 bail.
Rollins was carrying a bag, which he dropped when he saw police, said John P. Delaney, head of the trial division for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
"He put the bag on the ground and ran. The bag had a gun in it," Delaney said. "Police never see him with a gun in his hand."
That made it a difficult case for prosecutors.
At an initial trial in 2015, Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel J. Anders found Rollins not guilty of carrying a gun in public, and the trial went forward on a count of gun possession. A jury deliberated for three days before telling the judge it was deadlocked, and the case ended in a mistrial.
Prosecutors continued to pursue the gun charge, and Rollins spent 16 more months in jail before his second trial was to begin. But on the appointed day, two key prosecution witnesses – both police officers – failed to appear in court to testify. One officer was sick and the other was on vacation, Delaney said.
In their absence, Common Pleas Court Judge Giovanni O. Campbell dismissed the case. And in an unusual move, he ordered prosecutors not to refile the charges without his approval. Prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider his position, and he denied their request. Through a court spokesman, Campbell said he could not discuss the case. Court records do not explain the reason for his decision.
On Thursday, Officer Troy Brown, a police spokesman, said the department was conducting an "internal review" of the officers' absence at trial.
Delaney, of the District Attorney's Office, lamented the gun case's dismissal. "The ultimate result we intended was for him to be convicted," he said. "That would have kept him off the street."
Disappointed but undaunted, prosecutors turned their attention to an earlier drug case and moved to have Rollins held in jail, saying his arrest in the now-dismissed gun case was a violation of the terms of his probation in the cocaine case.
Despite prosecutors' pleas that Rollins be kept in jail for a probation violation – and against the recommendation of his probation officer – Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Palumbo ordered his release. Through a court spokesman, Palumbo said court rules precluded him from discussing the case. Court records shed no light on his reasoning.
After his court-ordered release from jail on Nov. 29, 2016, Rollins regularly reported to his probation officer as required, a court spokesman said.