Grassroots radio royalty holds court with City Hall at the last Gun Violence Response meeting.
Hello this is Sajda Blackwell – you may call me Purple Queen, a name I earned first in the music industry and next as one of the internet’s original independent Black broadcasters when I started PQRadio1.com in 2013. We’re now the tri-state area’s #1 online radio station. As the first Black woman in Philly to command her own airwaves, I’ve been an enthusiastic voice for community, equality and social justice. Also really good music. My husband’s a Grammy-nominated vocalist, but that’s another story for another time (remind me to tell you about my City Hall mural).
This month, I’m sharing a Q&A from the city’s virtual press conference on Philadelphia’s Gun Violence Response (9/15/21) where I spoke with Mayor Kenney and Councilman Curtis Jones. Fyi, these bi-weekly meetings are public, you can watch live from the City’s Facebook page or listen on the radio: 900AM or 96.1FM.
(Ed. note: this transcript has been edited for length & clarity)
MAYOR JIM KENNEY
Our administration and city council are working together to expand accountability and transparency of the department and its officers with the implementation of the new citizens police oversight commission. The new Citizens Police Oversight Commission was empowered last June to provide civilian oversight. Intended to improve police conduct and increase engagement between the department and the community.
The city will soon name commissioners to CPOC, selected by a panel including our administration, City Council, and a slate of civic & community leaders who will shepherd the process. At the end of the month, we’ll release an application that will be open to all Philadelphia residents to serve on CPOC, which is a terrific opportunity to give back to our city. I urge everyone interested to look out for the application, which will be posted on our website, phila.gov. Councilmember Curtis Jones Jr is leading this work on behalf of City Council – he joins us today to explain more about CPOC and its vision.
COUNCILMEMBER CURTIS JONES, JR
CPOC replaces the Police Advisory Commission, a group we started with Rendell in 1993 as an independent authority to oversee the complaint process that sometimes is submitted by citizens of Philadelphia. With CPOC, we’re no longer limited by funding, we can do real work restoring trust and investigating allegations. And now we’ll have a selection panel that is diverse, representing former DA’s and District Attorneys, members of the clergy and community leaders:
Pastor Carl Day of Culture Changing Christians Worship Center, and the president and founder of the outreach nonprofit Culture Changing Christians. Vanessa Garret Harley, the first deputy Managing Director at the City of Philadelphia and former Deputy Managing Director for Criminal Justice and Public Safety. Angelica Hendricks, Esquire, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Carrey Law Center, and former senior policy analyst for the Police Advisory Commission. Pastor Mark Tyler, pastor at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and co director of POWER’s “Live Free” campaign, Samantha J. Williams, Esquire, the director of legislation and policy for council member Curtis Jones, Jr, and a former Assistant Attorney for Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
I’m excited, watching this process unfold. What is important is that this commission be viewed as fair to all citizens of Philadelphia, and that the process is understandable and transparent. And finally, it needs to be properly funded & supported to actually perform its duties.
This has taken too long. Complaints dragging on, sometimes for years, often coming to no conclusion at all. I want to commend you and your team for working it out with the FOP on a contract that is fair to those public servants. And now here’s the other side, a commission to represent the citizens of Philadelphia, so they feel safe and included, even when they have complaints against Philadelphia Police officers.
COMMISSIONER DANIELLE OUTLAW
The city’s crime numbers over the last year highlights the continued need for officer presence throughout the city. Just this past Monday night shortly after 7pm. In the 1100 block of Lehigh, two 15 year olds were found shot. One, multiple times in the head and legs and the other, once in the backside. One of these children has unfortunately passed away while the other is expected to recover. These are kids with their entire lives in front of them. Now those lives and the lives of those around them are forever impacted because of the scourge of gun violence.
No parent should have to go through the agonizing pain of burying their child, and our children should not be experiencing this continued and sustained trauma. These are events that impact victims’ daily lives and follow them for years. Senseless acts of violence like this have an impact on our entire city. And we know that gun violence is a symptom of a much larger problem.
Where we find gun violence we also find group violence, narcotics use, and sales and urban decay. Thanks to assistance from city stakeholders and our state and federal partners, we’ve seen our violent crime numbers go down. While recent coordinated efforts have been a step in the right direction, we will remain cautiously optimistic. Though these statistics are encouraging, we cannot allow ourselves to take our foot off the gas, we must continue to drive forward our efforts in combating violent crime throughout the city.
Finally, I would like to encourage anyone who is interested in working for the PPD or the City in general, go to the city of Philadelphia’s hiring website: phila.peopleadmin.com to search jobs, internships and other opportunities.
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER JOEL DALES
As of September 12 of this year, Philadelphia had 1612 shooting victims, of these 372 were homicides. In comparison, last year we had 319 so homicides are up 17% and shooting victims are up 11%. However, if compare this month’s numbers to last months, shootings are actually down 11% overall. The same motives again and again for the homicides: Arguments, Drugs and Domestic.
VUFA is an acronym for Violation of Uniform Firearms Act, which basically means an illegal firearm incident. In 2020, we reached an all-time high for VUFA arrests: 2324. This time last year, we were at 1295. I would like to point out that we are currently at 1874, which is a 45% increase when compared to the year to date total. We recovered 4989 crime guns in 2020. This year, to date, we already have 4245 – if we continue at this pace, we will no doubt reach 6029.
Ghost guns are privately-made firearms. By the end of last year, we’d recovered 250. This year alone, we’ve reached 397. That’s a significant difference from this year to last, and also to 2019.
SAJ PURPLE BLACKWELL
So my first question is in regards to the shooting on Lehigh with the two 15 year olds. I know that Simon Gratz closed for two days so that the children could process all this and get counseling and things like that. What type of support is our police giving the high school in this situation? Since two of those students I believe, are from Simon Gratz.
DEPUTY COMMISSIONER JOEL DALES
We work with the schools through Chief Bethel, we communicate with him and he makes sure the support groups are in place at the schools. I’m sure that’s in progress as we speak.
SAJ PURPLE BLACKWELL
But there’s nothing that you actually know they’re doing. Because the school actually closed already. So — there’s nothing that you know of right now..?
Actually, Purple. This is Erica (interim exec director of Phila’s Police Advisory Commission). We are reaching out because Mastery is <unintelligible> we’re developing a special relationship with them and my office. A number of different departments are already in the process of meeting with them. We’ve been in communication with Gratz since before the school year started. We will continue that support and step in where needed, knowing they’re going to get through this crisis.
SAJ PURPLE BLACKWELL
This is for Councilman Jones. I would like to know more about the CPOC process. How will average, everyday Philadelphians get on the Advisory Council that you have created? Is it a long process? You need some type of credentials? What else can you tell me?
COUNCILMEMBER CURTIS JONES, JR
As far as criteria, I believe you just have to be a Philadelphian who has not been active in the FOP for the past five years. I hope that the selection panel will seek out individuals from various parts of the city, we don’t want any one Commissioner from the same police district. The other thing we are shooting for is a diverse group of individuals with a range of life’s experiences, so that we can create a fair process of evaluation of complaints.
SAJ PURPLE BLACKWELL
So now for the Commissioners or the Mayor, anyone can answer. We’re still talking gun violence numbers going down recently in the city of Philadelphia. What are we attributing this to? Does the big gun bust that went down in West Philly last Monday have any relation? Is there any committee involvement that’s actually affecting change? What is this downward trend being credited to?
MAYOR JIM KENNEY
I think it’s probably all the above. I mean, I don’t think the bust the other day necessarily had a direct impact on the last week’s numbers, unless Commissioner Dale or Outlaw can say differently. I do think it’s the awareness. It’s the work in the communities. It’s the folks on the ground who are trying to interact with these young people. And it’s also trying to get people services and jobs. We’re not resting on our laurels. We think it’s good to see a trend, but we’re not anywhere satisfied with where we are right now. We need to get this down much lower — zero being the goal.
BONUS: INVESTIGATIONS REPORTING
In addition to statistics and official releases, these Gun Violence Response briefings also include information about important, ongoing investigations by PPD’s Homicide Unit (this report begins about 17 minutes into the meeting).
DEPUTY COMMISSION PATROL OPS BEN NAISH
The first case I’m going to be talking about is Ryan Keel. This is a great example of how DNA evidence can impact a case. On November 7, 2007 at 400 West Spencer Street, officers from the 35th District responded to a radio call for a person with a gun. Upon arrival, the officers located victim shot in the back. Detectives learned three black males wearing masks entered the store, and during the commission of a robbery they shot and killed the victim who tried to intervene.
DNA evidence recovered from the crime scene, was submitted into the FBI’s DNA database which is otherwise referred to as CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. Unfortunately, no leads developed and the case went cold. However, on December 24th of 2020 — just last year — the Office of Forensic Science received a result consistent with the DNA profile of the individual pictured, Ryan Keel, who is in federal custody concerning an open FBI case against him.
On May 4, 2021, Mr. Keel’s DNA match was confirmed, and along with additional evidence an arrest warrant was obtained, charging him with Murder Conspiracy, Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act, Robbery and related offenses. On August 12th 2021, Mr. Keel was formally charged with the November 7, 2007 murder of Carlos Diaz Cotto, bringing some closure to the victim’s family almost 14 years after the crime.
Now I’m going to call attention to the last homicide of 2020. On December 31 of 2020 at 1:06 pm, 35th District officers responded to a radio call for a person with a gun at the 1900 block of 68th Avenue. Upon arrival, officers located the victim, a 15 year old male in the rear of the property and suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. Information was obtained from an officer who was familiar with the ongoing violence between two groups of juveniles and young adults in the area where the homicide occurred. And that information led to the identification of the individual Rahkeir Smith as a person of interest.
Detectives pieced together social media messages and additional evidence that show Rahkeir Smith committed this murder along with two other still-unidentified maps. On August 30 of this year, detectives obtained an arrest warrant for Rahkeir Smith charging with Murder Conspiracy, Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act and related offenses.
Soon after, on September 3, at 6pm, officers were responding to a report of a robbery on the 200 block of South 21st Street. There were three black males, all armed with guns, who had robbed a grocery store and fled on foot. Two plainclothes officers responded to the area and observed three males walking on the 600 block of South 24th Street. The officers coordinated an approach; after a brief pursuit, they apprehended the males and positively identified them as the males who robbed the store. One of these males from that incident was Rahkeir Smith, who was in possession of a loaded 9mm handgun.
Rahkeir Smith already had two active warrants at the time of his arrest. One was for the aforementioned murder, and the other was for a burglary. Mr. Smith is also a suspect in multiple commercial robbery incidents in the area and throughout the city. If anyone has any additional information about the homicide that occurred in the last day of 2020, or any information regarding any of the other suspects, please contact the Homicide Unit at 215-686-3334 or call 215-686-TIPS (8477).
Next update is in reference to the arrest of a fugitive from one of our first homicides of 2021, and another example of how beneficial DNA evidence can be.
On January 1st at 3:50am. police responded to the 3900 block of North Fairhill Street to a residence where were met by the daughter and son-in-law of the victim, Mauricio Trudeau, an 83 year old man. These individuals told police they had last seen the victim at 10 o’clock at night when they left the residence for a New Year celebration. Upon returning at three o’clock in the morning, the witnesses found the victim tied and gagged with duct tape and zip ties, and severely beaten. They reported that a large amount of cash was missing from a safe that was in the residence.
The victim was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Sadly on January 18th the victim succumbed to his injuries. Several items recovered from the crime scene were submitted to our criminalistics lab for analysis. On April 15th., our lab detected DNA from two other individuals (besides the victim) on this evidence. On June 30, a preliminary CODIS match was obtained, attributing one of the unidentified DNA samples to Jacob McMann. An arrest warrant was obtained on August the 30th, and on August 31st Jacob McMann was arrested for this brutal murder in Pinellas Florida. He’s currently awaiting extradition to Philadelphia, where he will face charges of Murder, Robbery and related offenses. If anyone has information on this incident — because there’s still one outstanding suspect — please call our tip line at 686-TIPS.
Fourth and final case highlights the capture of one of our city’s Most Wanted Fugitives by the United States Marshal Service.
On October 4th, 2020 at 10:10am, police responded to a radio call for a person with a gun at 1900 Cornwall Street. Upon arrival he discovered the victim DOA. Detectives obtained and assembled video surveillance, in which you see our offender firing multiple shots. In fact, you see him hiding behind a parked car and ambushing the victim in broad daylight. The offender chased the victim for 4 blocks, and shot him multiple times. Detectives ultimately were able to identify the offender as Carlos Morales, and on October 9, 2020 an arrest warrant was obtained for Mr. Morales charging him with Murder, Violation Uniform Firearms Act and related offenses.
Eleven months later on September 10th — just last week — members of the United States Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force arrested Mr. Morales in Albany, New York. Mr. Morales at that time attempted to flee from members of the task force by pushing an air conditioner out of a second floor window, while he jumped into the courtyard and fled. When the task for force members took him into custody, they seized 125 grams of fentanyl and 73 grams of crack cocaine from the residence. The police jurisdiction in Albany is still investigating the narcotic seizure. This apprehension would not have been possible without our dedicated homicide detectives and the diligent work by the United States Marshals Task Force.
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