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An employee in Philly’s Office of Violence Prevention was arrested on gun charges

Morris Hobson did not disclose his May arrest when he was hired to work as the office's group violence intervention coordinator. His attorney said he legally owned the gun, but let his license expire.

Philadelphia City Hall.
Philadelphia City Hall.Read moreReid Kanaley/Staff/File

A man working for Philadelphia’s violence prevention agency was placed on leave after the city learned he has open illegal gun charges against him, officials said Tuesday.

Morris Hobson, 34, declined comment. His lawyer, David Nenner, said Tuesday that Hobson legally owned the gun that led to his May arrest, but had let his license expire.

Hobson did not disclose the arrest when he began in June as the group violence intervention coordinator for the Office of Violence Prevention, according to Theron Pride, the office’s senior director of strategies and programs.

The city acknowledged that even a conviction wouldn’t disqualify Hobson. But the arrest put officials in the uncomfortable position of explaining how an office committed to reducing gun violence had hired a man facing gun charges.

“Yeah, it’s a problem that he didn’t disclose it,” Mayor Jim Kenney told reporters Tuesday, responding to a question from Fox29. “He should have disclosed it. ... He’s not being paid, and we’ll see what happens when he gets to his court hearing.”

Group Violence Intervention (GVI), launched in early August, is the city’s latest initiative to reduce gun violence. It is a rebrand of the so-called focused deterrence model that identifies people at high risk for gun-related violence, supervises them closely, and offers them services. The model has been credited with significant drops in shootings — including a 35% reduction in gun violence in South Philadelphia in 2013-14.

In his city job, which pays $64,350 annually, Hobson oversaw the social services part of the program and supervised case managers. He was placed on unpaid leave last Wednesday.

Hobson was arrested May 20 on the 6700 block of Germantown Avenue, according to court records. He was charged with carrying a gun without a license, a third-degree felony, and carrying a gun on a public street, a misdemeanor. He was released the next day on $25,000 unsecured bail.

A spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office said the case has been referred to the state attorney general, a step local prosecutors often take to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Hobson, who has a private cleaning business, carried the gun in his book bag from his business to his car, and then stowed it in an armrest compartment, Nenner said. A short while later, while Hobson was driving home, two officers pulled him over, Nenner said.

When an officer approached and asked if he had any guns or drugs in his car, Hobson replied that he had a gun but his license had expired, Nenner said.

Officers didn’t say why they stopped Hobson’s car, Nenner said. Hobson, who is Black, doesn’t think the officers saw him putting the gun in the armrest console, and believes it was a case of racial profiling, Nenner said.

The expired gun license was a mistake by a man with no criminal history, Nenner said, adding that Hobson was "not like a bandit running around with an illegal firearm.”

Pride, of the antiviolence office, said the charges would not automatically disqualify Hobson from working for the agency. “However, due to the nature of the gun violence intervention strategy he works on, it does give us pause," Pride said.

"We have hired people with criminal records and we fund programs that employ people who were previously charged and convicted of crimes, because this supports their ability to be viewed as credible messengers when engaging other individuals involved in violence,” Pride said.

Hobson was already a city employee when he transferred into the Office of Violence Prevention, Pride said.

On his LinkedIn account, Hobson says he worked from July 2019 to June 2020 as a coalition manager of Philly Counts, the city’s program to ensure people are counted in the 2020 Census.

He also coordinated social media activity in various city departments from 2014 to 2016, and before that, worked as a Philly 311 contact center agent from 2012 to 2014, the account says.