Federal Murder Charges Filed in Killing of Philadelphia Police Officer

Philadelphia Police Sgt. James O'Connor IV was gunned down while serving a warrant on March 13, 2020

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Federal murder charges were announced Thursday against four men in the March killing of Philadelphia Police Sgt. James "Jimmy" O'Connor IV.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain announced federal counts against Hassan Elliott, Bilal Mitchell, Khalif Sears and Sherman Easterling. McSwain said that the men were operating a crack cocaine network.

The men face federal murder, drug and weapons charges in the seven-count indictment.

"All four defendants are responsible for the murder of Sgt. O'Connor," McSwain said.

Special findings in the indictment against the men makes Elliot, the suspected gunman, eligible for the federal death penalty, McSwain said. He noted that a jury would ultimately decide if the death penalty is warranted.

Dozens of uniformed Philadelphia police officers stood by nearby awaiting the charges to be announced outside the United States Courthouse in Philadelphia. O'Connor's family also watched McSwain's announcement.

Philadelphia Police Officers
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Philadelphia police officers line up at Thursday's announcement of federal charges.

The same four men were ordered last month in Philadelphia court to stand trial on charges stemming from the death of the Philadelphia police officer shot as police were trying to serve a warrant earlier this year.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 22-year-old Hassan Elliott, accused of being the gunman, and three co-defendants were ordered held for trial locally on charges including murder, conspiracy, attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, and weapons offenses.

The Philadelphia SWAT team was serving a murder warrant on Elliot for a 2019 killing. The first officer who entered the home in the Frankford neighborhood March 13 testified that he loudly announced that police were there to serve a warrant but officers were fired upon almost immediately as they climbed the stairs to the second floor.

"He literally gave his life to protect our community," McSwain said.

McSwain also took aim at Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Saying Krasner's policies are putting violent offenders, like Elliot, on the streets and not behind bars. McSwain said it would be "grotesque" to have Krasner's office try the case.

McSwain said that it would ultimately be up to Krasner if the local charges continue to be pursued.

A spokesperson for Kranser's office responded by noting that all four men are being tried in Philadelphia and by re-releasing a timeline of events that occurred in the days after O'Connor's killing.

"This office is currently prosecuting Elliott for three separate murders as well as one non-fatal shooting, among many other charges related to those incidents," spokeswoman Jane Roh wrote. "We have no additional comment at this time."

O’Connor a 46-year-old member of the SWAT team, was shot in the shoulder above his bulletproof vest. O’Connor, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant, was pronounced dead shortly afterward at a hospital. Two other people in the home were wounded by return fire from another officer.

O’Connor, a married father of two — including a son who also serves on the force — had been a police officer for 23 years and was with the SWAT unit for 15 years. His daughter serves in the U.S. Air Force.

O'Connor's widow, Terri, spoke briefly Thursday, praising McSwain's office for taking up the case.

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