A former Philadelphia police officer who was shot at in 2020 while responding to a call blasted the District Attorney’s Office on Thursday for making what he called a “disrespectful” and lenient plea offer to the accused shooter.
Former Officer Patrick Keller said prosecutors had offered the defendant a plea deal that included a four- to eight-year prison sentence followed by three years’ probation.
Keller, 28, who now works as an officer in a suburban police department that he declined to identify, said that punishment would not match the severity of the crime. And he faulted prosecutors for not sufficiently consulting him before reaching their conclusion.
“I want this case to go to trial so I can show the court how close I was to losing my life,” Keller said during a news conference at police union headquarters in Northeast Philadelphia. He did not specify what sentence he would prefer instead.
John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, called the offer a “sweetheart deal” and said it was another example of District Attorney Larry Krasner being too lenient with defendants amid the city’s record-breaking surge in gun violence.
Keller was “shot at as a police officer,” said McNesby, who sat beside Keller at the news conference. “So [for] the regular average person in the community, what does that say to them? ... There’s no accountability out there.”
The remarks were another public demonstration of the years-long tension between some police officers and Krasner’s office. The union has repeatedly criticized the DA’s reform-oriented approach, saying it has contributed to the city’s gun violence crisis by emboldening criminals. Krasner has defended his policies and said his critics have not offered evidence to show that his office has made a long-standing and systemic issue worse.
Jane Roh, a spokesperson for Krasner’s office, said prosecutors view Keller’s case “as a serious crime that is being prosecuted vigorously and justly in light of the facts and the law.”
Police said Keller and another officer responded to the 1200 block of South 56th Street in Kingsessing on Dec. 22, 2020, for a reported domestic incident involving a gun. The officers encountered Devon Smith on the porch of a house, police said, and asked him where the gun was.
Smith said it was in his pocket, court documents say, and after Keller approached him, the two got into a scuffle and the gun fired as they fell onto a couch.
Keller was not struck, but his ears were ringing and he said Thursday that his neck was burned by gunpowder. Smith “shot at me through his pants pocket” from “inches away,” Keller said.
Keller’s partner disarmed Smith and he was taken into custody.
Smith was initially charged with crimes including attempted murder, but Common Pleas Court Judge Diana Anhalt agreed to drop that charge last summer after Smith’s lawyers said there was no evidence showing he had intended to fire the weapon, court documents show.
Smith still faces counts including aggravated assault, assault of a law enforcement officer, and weapons violations.
Anhalt would need to approve the terms of any guilty plea before it is imposed.
Roh said a hearing scheduled for Friday, at which Smith was expected to enter his plea, was likely to be delayed pending a mental health evaluation for Smith.