Saturday, April 11, 2020

Virus Postpones Pet Therapy Session For Stressed-Out D.A.'s Office

By Ralph Cipriano

During the recent coronavirus pandemic, everybody's had to make  sacrifices. For overwrought prosecutors in the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, it's meant the postponement of a planned two-hour therapy session with six therapeutic dogs, a cat and a bunny.

On April 20th, volunteers from PAWS for People, a nonprofit organization based in Newark, Delaware that provides therapeutic pet visits, was originally scheduled to visit the D.A.'s office.

According to Clarice Ritchie, director of operations and events for PAWS, the plan was to give prosecutors a chance to "de-stress," by stroking some lovable pets, but the event had to be postponed because of the lockdown over the virus. It's a shame because the prosecutors in the D.A.'s office were certainly stressed out for a variety of reasons, and could have used a pet therapy session that even included a seasonally-appropriate Easter bunny.

As Ritchie explains, when you stroke a therapy pet, it "lowers your blood pressure, and releases all the endorphins." And when you're a prosecutor, "I can't imagine what they deal with with their jobs," she said.

When she was first contacted by the D.A.'s office, Ritchie was asked to assist prosecutors in the homicide and family violence units.

"We were thrilled because it's the first D.A.'s office" that ever requested therapeutic pet therapy, Ritchie said. "But we weren't surprised because of all people, they need de-stressing."

She  added that it was "very forward thinking" for the D.A.'s office to use pets to help calm troubled humans.

And that's just what they do at PAWS for People. Their mission statement, posted online, is "to lovingly provide elders, children, and folks with disabilities individualized, therapeutic visits with a gentle, affectionate pet."

For the volunteers who staff PAWS for People, that usually means visiting children's classrooms, hospitals, emergency rooms, cancer treatment centers, and assisted living facilities for the elderly. PAWS for People has also helped children survive trauma, high school students deal with teenage suicide, and college students cope with the stress of exams.

"It's amazing what pets can do," Ritchie said.

It was Anthony Voci, the D.A.'s head of homicide, who announced to his staff of prosecutors in March the plan for the upcoming visit from the therapeutic pets. After further chats with Voci about the needs of his staff, Ritchie subsequently expanded the scope of the planned visit to include a specialized therapy squad of six dogs, a cat and a rabbit.

"We have 545 active pet therapy teams," she explained, and the teams are staffed with pets that have undergone rigorous training and testing. Of the therapy teams, 525 feature dogs, the overwhelming top choice for requested therapeutic pets. The canine lineup at PAWS ranges from pint-sized pups like toy poodles to gigantic Irish wolfhounds.

But cats can be therapeutic too, Ritchie said. For people who don't like dogs, PAWS for People can park a cat right next to them. So when they "feel the vibration and the purr of the cat, they just start to stroke them," Ritchie said. "It's therapeutic for them to hold the cat, pet it and feel the purr."

And for people who are allergic to dogs and cats, Ritchie said, bunnies "just kind of nestle in and let you pet them."

Isn't that cuddly. But why, you ask, are the prosecutors in the D.A.'s office so stressed out?

Voci, Krasner and Jane Roh, Krasner's alleged spokesperson, aren't talking; all three did not respond to a request for comment. But we have some clues about why the anxiety level at the D.A.'s office is so high.

For starters, Krasner and the work of the D.A.'s office has been under constant attack by prominent critics that include President Trump and U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain.

The critics say the progressive prosecutors under D.A. Larry Krasner are too soft on crime and that the D.A.'s office has created a revolving door system of justice that puts criminals right back on the street, so they can wreak more havoc on the general population.

To make matters worse, both Mayor Jim Kenney and his newly-appointed Police Commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, joined the ranks of the critics last week by publicly blaming the D.A.'s office for a recent surge in shootings and murders.

As the weather warms up, it's getting increasingly ugly out there. As of Friday, 101 Philadelphians have already been murdered this year, a record pace.

Other grim statistics: the D.A.'s office under Krasner has declined to prosecute 37 percent of all illegal gun possession cases, and they've dismissed the charges in 60 percent of all gunshot cases.

The D.A.'s office has another problem -- a complete lack of experience in terms of how to try a case and convict a criminal. That's because before Krasner took office, a bunch of senior prosecutors left town because they didn't want to work with the new D.A. And when he first took over, Krasner finished the job by firing 31 senior prosecutors.

As a result, the D.A.'s office under Krasner is staffed with 60 rookie prosecutors. And the result has been the office has a losing record of epic proportions. Under Krasner, the D.A.'s office has dropped or lost two-thirds of all felony cases. As an expansion team, the D.A.'s office under Krasner rivals the futility of the laughing-stock, last-place 1962 New York Mets.

To further complicate matters, 18 of the 60 rookie prosecutors that Krasner personally recruited are still on the bench, unable to go to court or write legal briefs because they flunked the bar exam.

Just think of how stressful it's been for those 18 rookies that Krasner kept on the payroll just so they could study for the next bar exam. It was held this past February, but the results won't be known until June, which only increases the pressure on the rookie flunk-outs.

Also, it's especially stressful to be a homicide prosecutor under Krasner, because, well, Krasner doesn't like to prosecute homicides.

A case in point: the 2018 murder in Rittenhouse Square of Sean Schellenger, an unarmed man, by Michael White, who was wielding a knife with a six-inch blade. It was a savage crime caught on a cell phone video; in addition several eyewitnesses saw it happen.

If ever there was a slam dunk murder case, this was it, but what did Krasner do? Why twice he downgraded the charges against White. The first time, Krasner dropped the charges against White from first-degree murder down to third-degree murder. And then on the eve of trial, Krasner downgraded the charges again, this time from third-degree murder down to voluntary manslaughter.

Last October, Voci and a rookie prosecutor tried the case against White and predictably, they lost. A jury acquitted White of manslaughter and he walked.

It was Voci who had to tell the distraught mother of the murder victim that he had opposed both downgrades of the charges against White. But there was nothing he could do about it, Voci explained to the victim's mother, because Krasner was captain of the ship.

Imagine how stressful it must be to be the head of homicide in a high-profile media case and watch a cold-blooded killer walk?

No wonder Voci needed to pet a therapy dog. As Krasner's head of homicide he's constantly being overruled by Krasner. Honestly, if you knew the details, it's kind of humiliating.

OK, let's share some of those details.

Even though a jury acquitted Michael White of manslaughter, they did convict him of tampering with evidence, because when he was fleeing the scene of the murder, he threw the bloody knife on top of a roof.

And even though he walked on manslaughter, White was technically still under probation for tampering with evidence. So he still was required to fulfill conditions set by the judge to stay out of jail, such as report to his parole officer every week, show up for work and show up for a parole hearing in front of the judge.

White, of course, was used to being pampered by Krasner and a team of public defenders. They all had previously met behind closed doors for a private two-hour pretrial prep session. The D.A. called it a "proffer," but the real reason for the huddle was to give Uncle Larry an opportunity to coach and counsel White on how to beat the rap. And post-trial, White, used to being coddled, promptly failed to meet any of the conditions that the judge had imposed upon him for parole.

When his parole hearing came around, White didn't show. And when the judge asked where White was, the pubic defender said he was at work, but it was an alibi that turned out to be not true.

Voci got upset about White flouting the law. Especially after Voci heard what was going on with White's probation officer.

According to Jennifer Martinez, White's parole officer, White was ordered by the judge to make two phone calls to her plus two office visits every week.

But five weeks after the trial, White had only reported to Martinez's office just once and he had only made two phone calls. White also failed to report to his probation officer's office on four different occasions when he was required to do so.

An angry Voci decided it was finally time to hold White accountable and put him in jail for violating parole.

"Your Honor," Voci wrote to the judge. "The defendant is not at work, and has not been at work any time since 6:30 a.m. today," Voci wrote on the day that White was supposed to appear in court but didn't.

"This is in direct contradiction to counsel's statement 'He's at work,' made earlier today, on the record," Voci wrote the judge. "We are deeply concerned at this point and are now respectfully renewing our request for a hearing in this matter. Respectfully, ADA Anthony Voci."

But Krasner wasn't through coddling White. Once again, the D.A. overruled Voci, and White didn't have to suffer the indignity of going to jail for violating parole.

So White was free to go online and berate his critics on social media with rants about the victim such as: "Sean was a coke head alcoholic. If that night hadn't happened the drugs would've got him. Just being honest."

Thank you, Larry Krasner, for putting this upstanding citizen back on the street.

Then, the coronavirus hit. Suddenly, instead of just having to worry about how to spring more criminals out of jail, the rookie prosecutors at the D.A.'s office were now concerned about contracting a potentially deadly virus.

Some of those rookie prosecutors hit the panic button and wanted Krasner to shut down the office immediately, as well as stop sending them to court.

But the progressive D.A. didn't cater to the wishes of his young charges. Instead, the D.A. insisted that his assistant district attorneys keep showing up in court, so they could do more favors for criminals by either setting low or no bail, or downgrading charges, or just plain dropping charges all together so that criminals could immediately go free.

On top of that, Krasner saw the coronavirus as a crisis to exploit, a golden opportunity to further his agenda by emptying the jails of even more prisoners. But to accomplish that goal, he needed his staff to stay on the job, and review who was in the jails on a case by case basis. So the D.A. could decide which prisoners would be eligible for early release because of the health threat posed by the coronavirus.

That's when the hapless Voci swung into action again. On March 12th, Voci wrote First Assistant District Attorney Robert Listenbee and Krasner's Chief of Staff Arun Prabhakaran a memo about the virus, pleading for the higher-ups in the D.A.'s office to shut down the place.

"Given the uncertainty and unpredictability of COVID-19, an immediate response is required to prevent a catastrophic outcome," Voci wrote. "At this moment, the most effective mechanisms at our disposal are isolation and social distancing. As leaders, we are charged with the responsibility of protecting our staff."

Voci proposed having all trial attorneys pack up necessary files so they could leave the office and "work remotely over the next 30 days," presumably from home. Voci also proposed that he and two other supervisors personally call and/or email the other 36 members of his unit. He promised his bosses that every day they were out of the office he and the other two supervisors in the unit would communicate with everyone on staff three times a day.

As the captain going down with the ship, Voci proposed that he would work both from the office and from home "as needed until the COVID-19 threat is neutralized."

But to the frustration of the staff, the D.A.'s office stayed open, while Krasner publicly lobbied for the early release of more prisoners because of the virus. Even though some members of the D.A.'s own staff were getting sick.

On March 15th, the Inquirer reported that the 14th floor of the D.A.'s office had to be closed for deep cleaning after a lawyer got sick and three other staffers were sent home to self-quarantine.

The staff tension came to a head on March 15, when seven assistant district attorneys personally hired by Krasner in 2018 and 2019 wrote the D.A. a letter that basically gave Progressive Larry a lecture on how he wasn't being progressive enough. The letter was signed by seven ADAs from the appeals unit, the major trials unit, the municipal court unit, and the Family Violence Sexual Assault Unit.

"Dear Mr. Krasner, the seven ADAs began, "We are writing to implore you to stop sending assistant district attorneys to courthouses in Philadelphia, including the Criminal Justice Center, immediately."

"Our hope is that your refusal to staff rooms handling the vast majority of criminal cases will pressure the courts to shut down all but essential functions [i.e. arraignment] for the foreseeable future, thereby limiting the spread of COVID-19."

"As you are aware, the United States has recently declared a state of national emergency due to the spread of COVID-ID, a highly contagious virus," the ADAs wrote. And then they proceeded for Krasner's benefit a recap on the health dangers posed by the virus. The ADAs urged the immediate closing of the courts and "all but essential functions as well" in the D.A.'s office.

"Mr. Krasner, a motto of progressive prosecution has been to treat crime like a public health issue," the ADAs wrote. "Spot the invisible causes [poverty, lack of education, abuse cycles] and eliminate them before crime happens."

"Treat this public issue like you would crime," the young ADAs continued to lecture Krasner. "Pressure the courts into closing, so that we can eliminate the invisible causes of COVID-19. If you do that, we can prevent even more Philadelphians from becoming victims of this virus."

But nobody gets away with lecturing Progressive Larry Krasner on how to be progressive. He's a radical who marches to his own drummer.

On March 16th, the First Judicial District finally closed the courts. And that's when Krasner shut down the D.A.'s office.

While his overwrought staff was redeploying, Krasner's public focus continued to be trained on the welfare of criminals. On March 19th, CBSN Philly reported that the D.A.'s office was still working to identify inmates eligible for early release.

"There are thousands if not tens of thousand of people in prisons across Pennsylvania who frankly should not be there, including people who are elderly, sick, have mental and physical disabilities, and who pose no threat to the public," Krasner said in a press release.

"Jails and prisons are already dirty, crowded places," Krasner said. "The elected and appointed leaders of the Commonwealth must protect us all by moving forward with safe and timely releases of people from correction facilities who are unlikely to endanger the public."

"A COVID-19 outbreak in prison would be disastrous, and likely deadly, for incarcerated people and everyone else," Krasner concluded. "For the sake of public health, immediate action to reduce prison populations across Pennsylvania is urgently needed."

Meanwhile, when the coronavirus hit, PAWS for People had to suspend their therapeutic pet visits, because residents of Delaware are on lockdown, and are not supposed to leave the state. The governor of Delaware has declared that all residents who leave the state must submit to self-quarantine for two weeks.

PAWS for People was also concerned about the threat of people catching the virus from pets.

Animals can't get the virus from people, Ritchie explained. But people who have the virus and pet the animals can transfer the virus to the animals' fur, where it could infect other people, she said.

So until Delaware and Pennsylvania call an end to the stay at home order, PAWS for People has suspended its charitable work.

But rest assured, when they're back in action, Ritchie said, they're going to provide the D.A.'s office with pet therapy on a "regular basis," to give prosecutors a chance to "relax and de-stress."

God knows they need it.

PAWS for People doesn't even charge for its therapeutic services. Like their planned visit to the D.A.'s office, all the charity's therapeutic pet visits are free; PAWS for People only accepts donations.

[For anyone who's interested, here's how to volunteer, donate or support the charity that before it shut down, was providing therapeutic pet service at 187 different locations in four states.]

Voci wrote to his staff that besides offering to send over dogs, cats and bunnies, PAWS for People also offered to bring along some clowns to the D.A.'s office, to help lighten the mood.

But Voci told his staff that he said no to that offer, presumably because he and Krasner were already on duty.


  1. All they do is plead and withdraw prosecution, how is that stressful? Work a few days on the street with cops and they will learn about stress. Thank you Ralph. You're the only one that has the guts to expose the joke of a DA's office we have in this city!!

  2. Ralph. Meanwhile Larry quietly demoted Interim Chief County Detective Lee with County Detective Sgt. Jerry Rocks. Here is the kicker Lee was notified via email. Word is Rocks only has to answer to fat boy Chief of Staff Arun. FYI Rocks lives outside of the city. How long can he remain the Iterim according to Civil Service rules? Oh I forgot. Larry makes his own rules. Rocks apparently makes his also.


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.