Lt. Robert Friel had just finished his shift in South Philadelphia when he saw trouble in the parking lot of the CVS store near Passyunk Avenue. A fellow officer was confronting a man who had been reported as missing, armed, on drugs, and suicidal.
Friel stopped to help, then had to fight for his life. Inside the store, he and another officer wrestled with Richard Kralle, a local bodybuilder suspected of having ties to a biker gang. Kralle then fired two shots: one from his 9mm, and another after grabbing an officer’s gun.
Friel was struck in a leg before Kralle was wrestled to the ground.
As authorities stood Friday morning outside Thomas Jefferson University Hospital — where Friel, 48, was in stable condition before surgery — they said they were grateful the encounter did not end in tragedy.
“You’re leaving work and you’re off-duty, you can get in your car and drive home.” Mayor Jim Kenney said of Friel’s actions. “He didn’t do that. He stepped into harm’s way to look out for another officer.”
The shooting came during a 13-hour stretch in which 15 people were wounded in shootings across the city. Even as city officials have urged residents to stay home due to the coronavirus, gun violence has continued to surge, and Kenney said Friday that his administration was still searching for solutions.
“I don’t have an answer,” the mayor said, lamenting the number of guns on the street. “We’re going to keep on working hard at it and do our best to get the violence down.”
The incident also came two months after Sgt. James O’Connor IV was fatally shot while trying to arrest a murder suspect in Frankford.
Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Friel’s actions, which occurred as a national furor rose over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, show how good cops do their jobs.
“We still show up,” she said. “We still fulfill our obligations to keep people safe.”
Friel has been on the force for nearly 30 years, and was newly promoted as a lieutenant, assigned to the Third District in South Philadelphia, just blocks from the CVS.
His family has already lost someone in the line of duty: In 1994, Friel’s older brother Joseph was killed at age 25 when a drunk driver struck his cruiser in Roxborough.
The brothers had graduated the academy just six months earlier and were set to become partners.
“He was always doing something to help somebody else,” Robert Friel told the Daily News at the time, describing his brother. “Even though he liked the excitement, he knew the main part was helping people.”
Authorities said that’s what Friel tried to do Friday morning.
Hours earlier, police had received a 911 call from Kralle’s wife. Her husband had sped away from their home on Cross Street in his gray Acura, she said. He had battled substance abuse issues and was threatening to kill himself. He left with three guns that belong to his son, a Navy veteran, two handguns and a high powered assault rifle.
Police believed Kralle had ties to an outlaw biker gang with members in South Philadelphia, law enforcement sources said. He was sentenced to a year in prison in 2001 for carrying a firearm without a license and he has past convictions for assault and DUI.
On his Facebook page, he describes himself as self-employed and a “100 clean and sober gym rat.”
His son, Robert, 26, said Friday that his father did not belong to a biker gang, and that he had been sober for five years after suffering from addiction in the past.
At the CVS at 10th and Reed Streets, about 6:45 a.m., an officer approached Richard Kralle after noticing the Acura, Outlaw said.
“All persons entered the CVS, and a struggle ensued,” she said.
Friel was the only one hurt, and he was stable and in surgery for a broken femur on Friday, police said. They did not release the name of the other officer involved.
Deputy Commissioner Christine Coulter said she spoke with Friel before he went into surgery and he was in good spirits.
“He is a cop that has always been very much a law-and-order, crime-fighting cop,” Coulter said. “He was concerned about his family, made sure we passed on a message he is doing good."
Kralle’s son condemned his father’s actions and said he was hoping Friel recovered quickly.
“If anything, that man was just doing his job and my father shot him," Kralle said. "The cop wasn’t in the wrong.”
District Attorney Larry Krasner said Kralle, who was in custody, would be charged for the shooting. Krasner did not specify what charges Kralle would face.
Kenney spoke despairingly of another long night of violence — this one that ended with four people dead, many wounded, and a veteran officer in the hospital.
“It’s very sad and depressing,” Kenney said, “especially in the middle of this medical emergency.”