Federal prosecutor blames shootout on 'rhetoric' of Philadelphia DA

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

In the wake of a shootout that injured six police officers, the U.S. attorney in Philadelphia issued a scathing denunciation of the city’s chief prosecutor for fostering a toxic atmosphere regarding the police.

“There is a new culture of disrespect for law enforcement in this City that is promoted and championed by District Attorney Larry Krasner — and I am fed up with it,” said William McSwain, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a statement released Thursday. “We’ve now endured over a year and a half of the worst kinds of slander against law enforcement — the DA routinely calls police and prosecutors corrupt and racist, even ‘war criminals’ that he compares to Nazis. The vile rhetoric puts our police in danger. It disgraces the Office of the District Attorney. And it harms the good people in the City of Philadelphia and rewards the wicked.”

McSwain, who was appointed by President Trump in December 2017, was reacting to Wednesday’s hours-long standoff with a suspect identified as Maurice Hill, who began shooting at police who were attempting to serve him with a warrant for drug offenses. Hill eventually surrendered; none of the injuries was life-threatening.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain and Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. (Photos: Jacqueline Larma/AP, Matt Rourke/AP)

Krasner, a Democrat, was elected in 2017 on a platform of prosecutorial reform and an end to mass incarceration. He immediately fired 31 prosecutors and has made a number of enemies, including in Harrisburg, where Republican legislators and a Democratic governor moved to limit his power.

Krasner joked that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office was “Paraguay,” a reference to staffers who left the DA’s office after his election, the way Nazis fled to South America after World War II. Last month, the Philadelphia police commissioner suspended 17 officers with the intention to fire 13 of them over racist social media posts he called “sickening.” An investigation by the Plain View Project released earlier this year found over 300 active-duty Philadelphia cops had posted racist, violent and homophobic messages to Facebook.

“The U.S Attorney is not a political elected office,” Krasner told Yahoo News in a statement. “I’m surprised that William McSwain would seek to detract from the great collaborative work of law enforcement last night — for which bipartisan leaders in City Hall just minutes ago had nothing but praise, and rightly so — for his own political agenda and personal gain. ... I will not be part of a distraction from the serious work before law enforcement in Philadelphia, which is to fully investigate this assault on our police officers and neighbors, and to bring the perpetrator — and any co-perpetrators — to justice.”

About Hill, Krasner said, “I think it’s clear this man should not have been on the streets.”

Police take Philadelphia shooting suspect Maurice Hill into custody. (Photo: Elizabeth Robertson/Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

McSwain blamed Krasner’s “lawlessness” for Hill’s being out of prison despite a lengthy criminal record, although his arrests predate the district attorney’s tenure. The accounts of Wednesday’s shootout give no indication that Hill was inspired by anything Krasner had said or done, rather than an effort to avoid arrest.

McSwain began his attacks on Wednesday evening during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. The comments echo those made by U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday, when he said progressive district attorneys are “demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety” because they “spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook and refusing to enforce the law.”

The administration’s attacks on lax local law enforcement defy the long-standing tradition that the Justice Department should be above politics. “It is rare and highly questionable for a federal prosecutor to publicly attack the local district attorney,” said CNN commentator Renato Mariotti, a former U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Illinois.

“Federal and state law enforcement have to work together to combat crime,” he continued, “and attacks like this undermine that relationship and hurt prosecutors who work for Mr. McSwain.”


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