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Under DA Krasner, more gun-possession cases get court diversionary program

Statistics from the DA’s Office show that in Krasner’s first year in office, 78 gun-possession cases were disposed of in the ARD program — six times more than the prior year.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is shown in a file photo.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is shown in a file photo.Read moreHeather Khalifa / File Photograph

In June 2018, Maalik Jackson-Wallace was arrested on a Frankford street and charged with carrying a concealed gun without a license and a gram of marijuana. It was his first arrest.

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office recommended the Frankford man for a court diversionary program called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) that put him on two years’ probation. His record could have been expunged if he had successfully completed the program.

But Jackson-Wallace, 24, was arrested again on gun-possession charges in March in Bridesburg. He was released from jail after a judge granted a defense motion for unsecured bail. And on June 13, he was arrested a third time — charged with murder in a shooting two days earlier in Frankford that killed a 26-year-old man.

Jackson-Wallace’s case has been cited by some on social media as an example of how they say District Attorney Larry Krasner’s policies are too lenient and lead to gun violence.

In fact, statistics obtained from the DA’s Office show that in 2018, Krasner’s first year in office, 78 gun-possession cases were placed in the ARD program — compared with just 12 such diversions in gun-possession cases the previous year, 11 in 2016, 14 in 2015. and 10 in 2014.

Krasner on Tuesday defended his use of ARD in gun cases, saying that his predecessors had done similarly.

“You may have a law-abiding person … who gets beaten up and who goes to purchase a firearm but does not know enough to get a permit, or maybe reads some misleading website from the NRA informing him he has rights he doesn’t actually have, and so is carrying that weapon for self-defense,” Krasner said.

“If you go ahead and prosecute that person, it is very likely that you are going to seriously limit the capacity of that person to complete college. You will definitely limit their earning potential, their capacity to get a job.”

Jane Roh, a spokesperson for the DA’s Office, said Friday that gun-possession cases are considered for ARD “on a case-by-case basis” looking at the defendant’s history, whether the gun was lawfully purchased, if the defendant was eligible for a concealed-carry license, and if another crime was committed at the time.

In Jackson-Wallace’s case, Roh blamed the probation office, which she said “did not list the second arrest as a violation of ARD, which absolutely should have happened.”

‘Hindsight’s 20/20’

An Inquirer analysis of the cases of 51 defendants who received ARD for gun-possession cases in 2018, and 38 others admitted into the program this year, found that most did not have prior or subsequent arrests. The defendants typically were ordered to serve two years’ probation and to forfeit the guns.

Patrick Link, Jackson-Wallace’s attorney in the murder case, said Thursday of the DA’s prior decision to give his client ARD in his first gun-possession case: “Hindsight’s 20/20. You can’t fault them for making the decision that they did. You can’t predict future crimes."

Link said Jackson-Wallace himself had been shot in the groin area and had acted in self-defense in the June 11 shooting.

Link — a city prosecutor until 2011 — did not represent Jackson-Wallace in his ARD case or his second gun-possession case. A spokesperson for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which represented him, declined to comment.

Although no one was shot in most of the gun-possession cases that received ARD under Krasner, documents examined by The Inquirer show that a person was shot in at least two cases. The DA’s Office said those two shootings were either accidental or defensive.

In July 2018, Dymir Cave, then 18, shot his girlfriend in the leg in West Philadelphia. The girlfriend told police that Cave was trying to show her how to use a gun when he accidentally shot her, according to documents.

Cave, of Upper Darby, was charged with aggravated assault and gun offenses. He entered ARD earlier this year and was put on probation for 24 months and ordered to forfeit the gun. Because the shooting was deemed accidental, the DA’s Office considered it appropriate for ARD, an office spokesperson said.

Cave’s ARD was revoked on June 12 because he was arrested in May and charged with driving under the influence.

In the second case, in April 2018, Aleudis Velez-Arias, an employee at the Hilton Food Market in Kensington, shot and wounded a man in a bid to stop a fight in the corner store at G and Hilton Streets.

When the fighting erupted, Velez-Arias, then 25, got a handgun, which he later told police he owned but does not have a permit to carry. Trying to scare the fighting men out of the store, he fired twice toward the floor, hitting a man in his left leg, according to court records.

Velez-Arias was charged with aggravated assault, possession of an instrument of crime, simple assault, and reckless endangerment, then was admitted into ARD and put on two years’ probation. A DA’s Office spokesperson said the office considered ARD appropriate because Velez-Arias had a strong claim of self-defense or defending others.

Efforts to reach Cave at his home and Velez-Arias at the store were not successful.

Prior arrests, convictions

Several defendants admitted into ARD had been arrested before. In some cases, charges ranging from simple assault to attempted murder were withdrawn, either because witnesses failed to appear or for lack of evidence.

A few ARD candidates had prior convictions. Anthony Gatling was sentenced to a year in jail after pleading guilty in 2012 in New York to a felony gun charge, according to Manhattan prosecutors. Documents show police had recovered a loaded 9mm handgun, a stun gun, metal knuckles, a switchblade, and marijuana in an apartment where Gatling reportedly lived.

Gatling, now 32 and living in Chester, was arrested for gun possession in June 2017 in West Philadelphia. He was admitted into ARD last July, with two years’ probation. A DA’s Office spokesperson said the office has been monitoring Gatling.

Malik Bennett, 24, had been arrested twice on simple assault and related charges before being picked up on a gun-possession case in 2017. In a 2012 case, a prosecutor withdrew charges. In 2013, Bennett pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, received 30 days’ probation, and was ordered to attend anger-management counseling and parenting classes.

Still, he received ARD last year on the gun-possession case — and has since been arrested three more times. Charges last year in an aggravated-assault case and an auto-theft case were withdrawn after witnesses failed to appear in court. He was arrested last month on gun-possession charges, then released earlier this month on unsecured bail.

Dimetrious Morris, 25, of North Wales, was arrested on gun charges in Philadelphia in 2016 and entered the ARD program last October. In between, court records show, he had been arrested in November 2017 in Lansdowne, Delaware County, on gun-possession and terroristic-threat charges.

Under a negotiated plea in August 2018, Morris pleaded guilty to harassment and was sentenced to probation. His court docket notes that the rifle seized in his case was to be forfeited to the commonwealth “for appropriate use or destruction.”

Staff writer Chris Palmer contributed to this article.