Wednesday, August 7, 2019

D.A.'s Office Caught Playing Politics With Criminal Complaint

By Ralph Cipriano 

Attention, citizens of Philadelphia. If you're going down to the District Attorney's office at 1425 Arch Street to file a private criminal complaint against somebody who's allegedly sent you a terroristic threat by text message, it might help to have some political muscle behind you.

Because when it comes to filing that kind of criminal complaint, unless you've got some juice, you might be out of luck. As a recent case demonstrates, the top officials who work for our "reform" D.A., Progressive Larry Krasner, apparently are not above playing politics. And what may ultimately matter in a case involving alleged terroristic threats is not what actually happened, but who you know.

Twice in April, Dean Bradley Brettell, 53, of 3808 Harvard Place, Philadelphia went down to the D.A.s' complaint unit on Arch Street to try to get them to file a charge of assault by terroristic threat against a former co-worker that Brettell claimed had threatened his life in two text messages.

Twice, the D.A.'s criminal complaint unit turned down Brettell, saying that's not what we do here. The third time around, after the intervention of a ward leader, Pat Parkinson, and a former congressman, Bob Brady, Brettell got what he wanted. The D.A.'s office reversed course, took the complaint, and charged the former co-worker who allegedly sent the text messages with assault by terroristic threats. He's scheduled to go on trial next week.

It was a case of selective prosecution done on behalf of a complainant who may or may not be telling the truth -- a jury may ultimately decide that -- but a complainant who had the requisite political juice to get something done down at the D.A.'s office.

The first two times Dean Bradley Brettell, who could not be reached for comment, went down to the D.A.'s office to file a private criminal complaint against his former co-worker, he was told sorry, we can't help you. That's because the D.A.'s office has a practice of not accepting any complaint that alleges terroristic threats or harassment sent by text message from a cell phone, or over social media.

The reasons why: the D.A.'s office maintains that they may not be able to prove the person who owns the cell phone is the same person who sent the threatening text message.

Secondly, the D.A.'s office says they really don't have anybody available to investigate these types of complaints.

They used to have a detective, Christopher Tankelwicz, who had a background in computers that spanned more than two decades. Tankelwicz, according to his resume, has logged hundreds of hours in computer forensic training, digital forensics training, as well as electronic surveillance training. But five years ago, Detective Tankelwicz left the Philly D.A.'s office for the Delaware County D.A.'s office.

A third reason Brettell was sent packing was that the alleged crime supposedly took place in Bucks County, where the two men were working at the time. So the Philly D.A.'s office directed Brettell to go to the Bucks County D.A.'s office and attempt to file his charges there against his former co-worker.

But Brettell had other ideas, as well as some political muscle behind him. It was something he explained on a subsequent visit to the complaint unit, when he talked -- some would say boasted --about a meeting he had scheduled with the D.A.'s chief of staff.

"No problem," Brettell was told, but you're in the wrong building, and then he was directed to the chief of staff's office at 3 S. Penn Square. Next, after some political lobbying, the Philly D.A.'s office reversed course, and decided to take Brettell's complaint against his co-worker.

Why? As explained in a contemporaneous memo, it appears to be all about politics.

On April 23, Mary Alice Brown, a clerk in the D.A.'s private criminal complaint unit sent a memorandum to Assistant District Attorney James Dellafiora, her unit chief, that summarized her recent experiences with Brettell, his attempted complaint, and his political pals.

"I, Mary Alice Brown, received a telephone call from [former U.S.] Congressman Robert Brady, in reference to a [complainant] trying to file a Private Criminal Complaint and was turned away, sent to detectives, and after returning, they were again turned away. Congressman Brady was trying to find out what happened and how they can file a criminal complaint and what the requirements are."

In that same memorandum, Brown reported that she had also received a phone call from a Democratic ward leader, Pat Parkinson, about the same alleged complaint from Bretell. Parkinson, according to Brown, was "very upset that people have to go through so much to have a Private Criminal Complaint filed. He stated that he had been in touch with the main office, spoke with Krasner's people, [chief of staff] Arun Prabhakaran, and have not heard back and it has been about five hours."

In her memorandum, Brown reported that she he had attempted to explain to the ward leader that "we have no way of knowing who sent the text messages to the [complainant], who the actor was." She added, "We do not investigate anything, there are no detectives in our unit who can investigate text messages."

But that explanation didn't sit well with the ward leader.

"He (Mr. Parkinson) did not like the process whereas people have to know somebody to have something done," Brown wrote. She added that Parkinson asked, "What happens when people do not know anyone or who to call."

"Mr. Parkinson wanted to know what the [complainant] was supposed to do, what will happen if they are killed tonight. The [complainant's] family are afraid," Brown wrote.

Brown explained to Parkinson "our process in detail," mentioning that a court date could be "several weeks away," and that police officers could be told about the situation at roll call, but until then, there would be "no immediate action" in Brettell's case.

But that wasn't good enough for Parkinson, Brown wrote; he wanted "some type of immediate order." And, after some politicking, that's what he got.

After Brady and Parkinson talked to Brown, they talked to Prabhakaran. And then, according to a knowledgable source in the D.A.'s office, Prabhakaran called Michele Comia, a civilian supervisor in the complaint unit, and ordered her to walk the complaint, and the complainant over to the D.A.'s main office at 3 S. Penn Square. The D.A.'s chief-of-staff, according to the source, took the case on the spot, without ever seeing any paperwork.

At the time, Dellafiora was out of the office, and according to the knowledgable source, Prabhakaran, the D.A.'s chief of staff, made a snap decision, based on politics.

On April 19th, a "Philadelphia Police Department Investigation Report" was filed charging James Maloney, 24, of 2800 Tolbut Street, Philadelphia, with assault by terroristic threat. The report was taken by a couple of police officers, who merely took down Brettell's charges; there is no notice of any investigation done by a detective in the case.

The police report stated that Brettell claimed he had received a couple of threatening texts from Maloney via text message that said, "I'm going to murder all of you one by one" and "I'm gonna fuck you Dean and Bill Up. Can't wait."

Maloney, who is scheduled to go to trial next week, claims he never sent either of those terroristic threats to Brettell, but to another co-worker. In an interview, Maloney claimed it was Brettell who was harassing and threatening him. Maloney said his troubles with Brettell began when they were working together at a recycling plant in Bucks County, and that Brettell offered to sell him marijuana, but Maloney said he declined, because he did not know or trust Brettell.

When I contacted Parkinson for comment, he said he was at work, and to call back, but when I did he wasn't there and he didn't answer a message seeking comment.

Brady did not respond to a request for comment.

Assistant District Attorney Dellafiora did not respond to a request for comment; neither did Prabhakaran.

Jane Roh, a spokesperson for Progressive Larry Krasner, insisted in three emails that "there is no DAO [District Attorney's office] policy against pursuing cases involving threats made through text messages, so the premise of your entire inquiry is inaccurate."

She also had a different explanation for why the D.A.'s office reversed course, and took the case.

[I first contacted Roh on Friday afternoon, and she didn't get back to me until after her office closed on Monday. Give a bunch of lawyers and flacks enough time behind closed doors to concoct an alibi and they'll come through for you every time.]

"The ADAs involved in this case initially concluded that the DAO [District Attorney's office] did not have jurisdiction (because of the location of the workplace in the suburbs)," Roh wrote. "Following requests for additional review by the complainant, a determination was made that DAO could credibly claim jurisdiction. The case is now open and we have no further comment on it at this time."

Roh also stated that the D.A.'s chief of staff was now denying that he ordered Comia to take the case. Instead, according to Roe, what supposedly happened was that the chief of staff "referred the matter to the ADA in charge during James Dellafiora's absence." She did not identify the ADA, nor did she respond to a question asking who that ADA was.

But she had some other things to say.

"For your information," Roh wrote, "Cases involving cell phone threats without other compelling evidence are very difficult to pursue and win in the courts. This is not the same as a blanket policy against pursuing such cases. It's possibly that the difficulty of the case was explained to the complainant, who either innocently misinterpreted that to mean something regarding policy, or something else."

She also stated than any assertion that the D.A.'s office has not had for the past five years a detective on staff trained in investigating computers and text messages "is blatantly false and strange to boot."

"All DAO detectives and prosecutors are trained in computers and text messages," Roh wrote. "They rely on computers and cell phones daily to do their work. Investigations routinely involve cell phone dumps, wiretaps, social media forensics and the like. And for the third and final time, the premise of your article -- that DAO does not pursue cases involving threats made by text message -- is completely false."

Oh really, is that why the D.A.'s office has turned down at least ten similar cases of alleged terroristic threats made so far this year? Or was it because these allegations came from regular citizens who didn't have political pull?

Sorry Jane, but back here in the real world, the D.A.'s criminal complaint unit, as previously stated, has a practice of not taking these cases. To prove this, I put in a call to the unit yesterday and asked the generic question of whether their office would take a criminal complaint in a case involving an alleged terroristic threat sent by text message.

"We don't investigate" those types of complaints, a woman who answered the phone, told me. "We don't know who the doer was." She added that her office had no one around who was available to investigate that type of complaint.

Hmm, sounds remarkably familiar.

She was kind enough to suggest another alternative: file a cease and desist order, which can be obtained through Family Court or the Criminal Justice Center.

But let's talk about her boss, the man she works for, our "reform" D.A., Larry Krasner.

Equal application of the law is something that Krasner spoke in favor of when he took office. After he expanded a conviction review unit in the D.A.'s office, Krasner told an admiring reporter at The New Yorker last year, "So by being even-handed and being fair, you're going to make a lot more work for yourself. But, obviously, we need to be even-handed and fair."

"My job," Krasner told Newsweek last year, "is to get it right."

Well Mr. D.A., it sounds like you've got more work to do. Because that thing about being even-handed and fair, apparently some of your staffers haven't gotten the message.

The idea is, whenever somebody shows up at your complaint unit, they ought to be treated the same, right? Whether or not they have political pull.


  1. Hard to believe anybody could be a worse DA than Rufus Seth Williams.

      Register Number: 75926-066
      Age: 52
      Race: Black
      Sex: Male
      Release Date: 11/04/2020
      Located At: FCI Morgantown

  2. Sandusky to be resentenced next month

  3. Big Trial,
    Mark your calendars, an update on the manchild Dufus Williams.. err.. I mean.. Rufus Seth Williams
    Register Number: 75926-066
    Age: 52
    Race: Black
    Sex: Male
    Release Date: 11/04/2020
    Located At: FCI Morgantown

  4. How long did he serve of his sentence?

    1. Go back and look through big trial’s coverage you’ll find the day he went to jail. I am too tired.

  5. It seems like it should be up to a jury to decide whether the defendant, or someone else, sent a "terroristic threat by text message" to the plaintiff.

    Prosecutors should be able to prove that the threatening text message came from the defendant's phone, the time and date it was sent and maybe even pinpoint where the phone was at the time.

    The defendant could have his own expert to dispute that evidence or use other types of defense, such as claiming the phone was stolen or cloned.


Thoughtful commentary welcome. Trolling, harassing, and defaming not welcome. Consistent with 47 U.S.C. 230, we have the right to delete without warning any comments we believe are obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.