An ongoing, ill-tempered battle between President Donald Trump and the City of Philadelphia flared again on Wednesday when the chief executive used a Capitol Hill ceremony for fallen police officers to assert that local prosecutors don’t go after "criminals who pose a severe threat to public safety and community well-being.”
The president made specific reference to the case of Jovaun Patterson, 29, a would-be robber who shot and critically wounded a West Philadelphia beer-deli owner in May 2018. In November, Patterson was sentenced to 3½ to 10 years in prison as part of a plea deal that was approved by prosecutors and that stunned the victim.
“Last year, in Philadelphia, a robber shot and gravely injured a deli owner,” Trump said, not mentioning the names of those involved. "He was a good man. He’ll never be the same. But he may serve — this criminal — a sentence that is very short. In fact, they’re looking at about three years, if you can believe this. Three years.”
Under the plea agreement, the District Attorney’s Office dropped attempted murder and other charges. Patterson, of the 5400 block of Delancey Street in West Philadelphia, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault, robbery, and possession of an instrument of crime. The court hearing took about two minutes, and the victim and his family complained that they had received no prior notification.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner issued a statement Thursday in response to the president:
“As a prosecutor,” he said, "I’m used to being criticized by criminals. Donald Trump is invited to debate criminal-justice reform with me in Philadelphia, where Police Department statistics show violent crime remains down 5 percent since we took office. Warning, Mr. Trump: We will be using facts!”
The Kenney administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The city and the president have battled on multiple fronts. Philadelphia’s status as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants seems to have grated on Trump.
Philadelphia officials fought and won a lawsuit last June over the Trump administration’s attempt to withhold government law-enforcement money unless the city agreed to help enforce federal immigration laws. When the president disinvited the Super-Bowl-winning Eagles from the White House, Mayor Jim Kenney responded by calling Trump “a fragile egomanic" who was “afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party which no one wants to attend.”
On Wednesday, at the 38th annual memorial service honoring peace officers who died in the line of duty — last year there were 228 — Trump pledged to their families that the country will “never, ever leave your side, never disappoint you.”
But he went beyond memorializing. He singled out prosecutors in Philadelphia and Chicago as part of a “dangerous trend” of deciding not to prosecute criminals. He provided scant context for that claim.
Earlier this year, in announcing a federal indictment in a Philadelphia case, U.S. Attorney William McSwain said Krasner’s policies included giving “sweetheart deals to violent defendants,” which embolden criminals to “think they can literally get away with murder.”