An employee in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a sex worker in October, but has been charged with lying to investigators and other offenses, the state Attorney General’s Office said Thursday.
DeVonte Douglass, who had worked with victims of gun violence, shot Vernon Harris on the morning of Oct. 20 in Strawberry Mansion. He told investigators he fired his handgun after Harris pulled a gun and robbed him.
In a statement Thursday, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office said that after a “thorough” investigation the office “has determined DeVonte Douglass acted in self-defense when he fired his weapon and will not be charged with homicide.”
However, Douglass was charged with soliciting prostitution, possession of an instrument of crime, and making false reports to law enforcement authorities about the facts surrounding the fatal shooting. All three charges are misdemeanors.
The Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case because of Douglass’ ties to the District Attorney’s Office.
Douglass, 28, who had worked as a peer crisis responder in the office’s Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors (CARES) program, had been on administrative leave since the shooting. He was fired on Wednesday, according to Jane Roh, spokesperson for the office.
Douglass could not be reached for comment Thursday. It is not clear if he has an attorney.
The morning of the shooting, authorities say, Douglass and Harris, 31, chatted on Instagram from 9 to 9:37 a.m., agreed to meet in North Philadelphia for a sexual encounter, and at 9:43 Douglass paid Harris $250 via Cash App.
At 9:52, police responded to a 911 call for a robbery in progress at 31st Street and Lehigh Avenue. There, they met Douglass, who told them he shot Harris after Harris had robbed him at gunpoint in a parking lot in the 2600 block of Napa Street, according to the affidavit of probable cause for Douglass’ arrest.
Harris was pronounced dead at the shooting scene.
Douglass initially told Philadelphia homicide detectives he knew Harris from high school, had recently reconnected with him, and met with him that morning to lend him money. .
After further questioning and speaking with an attorney, Douglass told detectives he met Harris for sex in exchange for money, the affidavit said.
In an April DA’s Office newsletter, Douglass was described as one of the CARES employees who “are finding creative ways to keep taking care of their clients” despite coronavirus restrictions. “They are going through trauma, but I’m there for them and understand their pain,” he said. “I’ll listen to their pain, no matter if it is a five-minute or three-hour conversation.”
Since Douglass can’t be with clients in person, the article said, “he is connecting with them by phone; using technology and the mail to relay information, updates, answering process questions; and extending logistical support.”