As protests and unrest continued for a third day in Philadelphia, police and the District Attorney’s Office were working to catch up on arresting and charging individuals who were involved in the various looting and vandalism incidents throughout the weekend.
Police had arrested 429 people as of Monday afternoon, of which 165 had been charged with felonies or misdemeanors, according to city officials.
Most of the police arrests were for summary offenses such as failure to disperse and curfew violations, and do not include the dozens of protesters apprehended when they disrupted traffic on 676 during the 5 p.m. commute. Those summary offenses, or Code Violation Notice (CVN), are not criminal and usually only result in a fine.
District Attorney Larry Krasner said that as police have brought criminal cases to his office, his office has been charging and arraigning individuals. The majority so far, he said, have been second degree felony burglaries.
“I think it would be fair to describe most of these as looting cases,” Krasner said in an interview with NBC10 Monday. “They are often situations in which people are caught inside of a store... within Macy's or at some other location.”
For the looting and burglary, Krasner said it’s mostly been 18- to 24-year-olds from Philadelphia in what he called crimes of opportunity. Many of them, he said, were first time offenders.
Among the protesters, police found a few people with guns, Krasner said. So his office has charged three people with illegal gun possession charges. One of those individuals charged had a criminal record, including convictions of ethnic intimidation, which Krasner described as “concerning.” The man is also from Philadelphia.
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Although Philadelphia police announced Monday that 14 fires had been labeled arson, Krasner said police have not yet submitted any arson cases to his office.
“Obviously, we'd be very interested in pursuing arson cases, especially in light of that, frankly, terrible arson that occurred at the Vans store,” he said referring to the three-alarm fire at 17th and Walnut Saturday night.
Krasner said he also hasn’t received information on the lighting and destruction of police vehicles.
As for the looting, which occurred at countless shops throughout the city, police have said they are looking through surveillance and news video to try to identify perpetrators. As police identify suspects, they send the case to Krasner’s office for a decision on charges.
Krasner’s office also relies on video, including body cameras, to determine charges.
So far, he said, the looting videos have shown different crowds from those protesting.
“They don't seem to be carrying signs, talking about political issues or talking about police accountability, they don't seem to have t-shirts on that are political in nature,” he said. “They seem to be committing opportunistic crimes and they seem to be doing it within the context of peaceful protest.”
Philadelphia Public Defender Keir Bradford-Grey said the looting cases are difficult for police to make arrests on right away.
“I just don’t know how they can make out who is who in all of the mayhem that was going on,” she said. “I think they are really catching people in the aftermath.”
But she worries arrest warrants will pile up and cause an even bigger backlog in the criminal justice system that has already been stifled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“That really causes a bottleneck in the system, especially at a time when most of the system’s functions have not been reopened,” she said. “People are sitting waiting for their day in court and prisons are filling back up. Longer wait period for people to get their cases disposed of.”