Monday, February 13, 2017

The Cops, The D.A., And That South Philly Bank Job

By Ralph Cipriano

Everybody agrees that on the morning of Sept. 30, 2016, the police caught Kenneth D. Dixon, 20, of West Philadelphia, inside a Bank of America branch at 23rd and Oregon in South Philadelphia.

Since Dixon was arrested inside the bank at 7:38 a.m., at a time when the bank was closed, it's safe to assume that Dixon let himself in.

The cops thought Dixon was guilty of burglary. That's because they were notified by bank security before they arrived at the scene of the crime that a suspect had been captured on a video camera "attempting to gain access to the vault” and “tampering’ with an ATM machine, according to police records.

But when the cops tried to get the D.A.'s office to approve an affidavit of probable cause, so that Dixon could be charged with burglary, the district attorney's office turned them down later that day, citing "incomplete discovery” and “insufficient evidence." 

As Deputy District Attorney Michael Barry explained in an interview last week, the cops didn't personally witness Dixon trying to break into the vault or tampering with the ATM. They had only observed Dixon inside the bank at a time when it was closed, so the cops could only testify that Dixon was guilty of trespassing. 

What happened next with the bank job is a bizarre tale of how criminal justice in Philadelphia is carried out under the reign of our now admittedly corrupt District Attorney Seth Williams. This is a guy who would be doing everyone in the city a favor by finishing the job he started on Friday, when he announced he wouldn't seek a third term in a May 16th Democratic primary, by resigning from office today.

When the D.A.'s office said it wouldn't charge Dixon, Assistant District Attorney Amanda Hedrick wrote on a form known as a “record of declination” that the bank video wouldn’t be available for three more days. And besides the cops, there were no other witnesses to the crime, she wrote.

The cops, however, knew that it would be a delay of three days before the bank surveillance video would be available. So when they applied for an affidavit of probable cause, they sent along to the D.A.'s office three still photos from the bank video that showed Dixon inside the bank attempting to gain access to the vault and tampering with the ATM machine.

The cops also included emails from the vice-president of corporate security for Bank of America, explaining what had happened at the bank.

But that wasn't good enough for Assistant District Attorney Hedrick. 

"An incident summary from an automated email address is insufficient," she wrote. "Please obtain statements from responding officers/bank employees" before resubmitting the paper work for an affidavit of probable cause.

To a bystander, the district attorney's office was behaving like a defense attorney at a pretrial hearing, arguing to the judge why their guy deserves bail, rather than acting like a prosecutor. You have to wonder when the cops have a would-be bank robber in custody, a guy they caught red-handed inside the bank, and they've got still photos from a bank security video showing that Dixon was attempting to rob the bank, why is the D.A.'s office acting like an adversary here?

No wonder the Fraternal Order of Police went on the radio in recent weeks advertising, “Attention, help wanted immediately in the city of Philadelphia . . .  Philadelphia needs an honest open and fair district attorney to lead the city immediately,” someone who is willing to “work openly and fairly with the Philadelphia police department and the community.”

Back to the would-be bank robber. After the D.A.'s office wouldn't charge the suspect, here's what happened next. Three days later, on Oct. 3, 2016, this reporter mentioned the bank job in a blog post that was highly critical of the DA's office.

In that Oct. 3 post, I was writing about the D.A.'s lame attempts to explain away their decision to overturn the convictions of more than 800 drug dealers. The two in question that I was writing about, a couple of convicted drug dealers named Mohammed and the Fatboy, were caught red-handed with 225 pounds of marijuana worth more than $2 million before the D.A. turned them loose.

Here's what I wrote:

Relations between the police force and the D.A.'s office are so bad these days, [FOP President John] McNesby said, "You have to have an act of Congress to get someone arrested." Every day, McNesby says, he hears complaints from detectives that "They're not approving arrest warrants" at the D.A.'s office unless you have an "airtight, 100 percent case."

To underscore what McNesby is talking about, this weekend, according to a knowledgable law enforcement source, a couple of cops caught a suspect red-handed inside a Bank of America branch at 23rd and Oregon after the suspect had broken in. The bank had surveillance photos of the guy trying to open the vault.

But the district attorney's office declined to prosecute the case because there was no video of the break-in and the officers were the only witnesses.

That's how bad things are in Philadelphia, under the administration of D.A. Seth Williams. Maybe drug dealing isn't the only crime legalized by the district attorney's office. Bank robbery could be next.

Meanwhile, McNesby says about the D.A.'s office's recent holiday for drug dealers, "You just let 800 people hit the lottery."

Four days after I wrote that blog post, on Oct. 7, 2016, the D.A.'s Office promptly reversed course and arrested Dixon on charges of burglary, defiant trespass and theft.

I asked Cameron Kline, the spokesperson for the D.A., if the publicity had anything to do with the D.A. arresting Dixon.

"About Dixon, the short answer is that 'publicity' had nothing to do with the decision to charge," Kline wrote in an email. "PPD [Philadelphia Police Department] did the work and we charged it."

But as far as the cops were concerned, there's no happy ending to the bank job story.

When the case went to court on Jan. 7th, prosecutors from the D.A.'s office dropped the burglary charge. Dixon pleaded guilty to a couple of misdemeanors, defiant trespassing and theft, and wound up getting placed on probation for two years.

Bank robbery and drug dealing aren't the only crimes that Seth Williams has decriminalized during his reign as D.A. Every day, according to their own statistics, the D.A.'s office declines to charge nearly four crimes a day.

Many of those crimes involve domestic violence and so called "stranger robberies" where the victim doesn't know the perpetrator.

Over the next couple of days, I'm going to report on some of those cases where the D.A.'s office has declined to charge suspects. To make a long story short, you can get shot or stabbed in Philadelphia, and the cops can know who did it, but this D.A. won't file charges. 

Or you can know who robbed you, and in some cases, actually lead the cops to the guy who robbed you. And this D.A.'s office won't file charges.

In the course of reporting a story I wrote for Newsweek last week about Seth Williams, I spoke to a criminologist with Philadelphia ties who told me that he’s baffled by what’s going on between the cops and the D.A.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Sean Patrick Griffin, a former Philadelphia cop who is an author, as well as a professor and department head of Criminal Justice at The Citadel, in Charleston, S.C.

“As a former police officer studying policing for a living I don’t ever recall hearing of a prosecutor’s office . . . at war with the police department because they’re not taking cases,” he said. “I just find this whole situation unbelievable.”

What's really unbelievable is that the D.A., who went before the media on Friday and admitted he was corrupt, and was taking money and gifts from people all over town, is still in office as the city's top prosecutor.

Hey Seth, time to do everybody a favor and resign in disgrace.


  1. Going after politicians was in the forefront for Williams, it created sensationalism and sold newspapers, as well as fed the public's lust for punishment. He capitalized on the mania of the day, going after hated targets like politicians and priests. There are certainly guilty parties to be sought but his selective injustice is what was most at fault.

    I have noticed that those that talk big almost never pursue the difficult cases it's the easy/ invented cases that they target for a feather in their caps. Maybe all prosecutors should be elected, this way we can hold them all accountable.
    Look forward to more great articles. Thanks for giving us the truth.

  2. It's about time somebody outed this guys thank you

  3. I spent 38-years in the PPD and knew him well. From day one, Williams did not care about justice for the victims of Philadelphia crime. His main goal was to build his next political campaign on having the highest conviction rate of any past DA. Any case that had even the slightest chance of not getting a conviction was tossed. He had no respect for the judgements of the police, judges or juries, and he had no respect for the suffering victims. This is just one of his many stories in this big city and his stories are a crime.

  4. Wow, I find this unbelievable. I can't believe this wasn't written about before.

    Seth Williams should be taken out of the DA's office in handcuffs after all the harm he's inflicted on this city.

  5. The Jesuit motto for schools " Man for Others" definition coined by Fr. Pedro Arrupe former Superior General of the Jesuits in a speech given in 1973. Arrupe explained that the challenge of Jesuit schools is to foster "men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors, men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce."
    Living in solidarity with the poor and with the commitment to create a more just society.

    The Catholic school concept must have been lost on Williams. What honor he has brought to his alma mater.


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