Anti-racist protesters expected to have their day in court yesterday in a bizarre case involving the Ku Klux Klan, police and the FBI.
However, three of the four men will have to wait until at least next year to learn their fates after their trial was postponed because a prosecution witness wasn't available.
The case dates back to July when word spread that the KKK was to hold a rally at LOVE Park in Center City. The rally didn't materialize.
Instead, anti-racist activists showed up to protest the Klan. In the end, four activists - now dubbed the Love Park 4 - were arrested after they followed two men, who allegedly claimed to be neo-Nazis, to a car.
What makes this case intriguing is the prospect that the two "neo-Nazis" may have been working with law enforcement - at least, that's what defense attorneys are trying to find out.
Speaking outside the courtroom, attorney Paul J. Hetznecker called the circumstances surrounding the two "very suspicious."
He wondered if they were confidential informants working with law enforcement. That's because an FBI special agent and a Philadelphia police detective, both in civilian clothes, were inside the car the pair had entered.
In court, Hetznecker and defense attorney Lawrence Krasner asked Municipal Judge Marsha Neifield for a hearing to further investigate this matter. At the hearing, set for April 14, the attorneys will seek to reveal the identities of the two "neo-Nazis."
Hetznecker represents two defendants - Jared Schultz, 28, and Thomas Keenan, 22, both of Frankford. Krasner represents Jason Robbins, 28, of West Philadelphia. The three are members of the Anti-Racist Action group. They face eight misdemeanor charges.
The fourth defendant, James McGovern Jr., 59, of Paulsboro, N.J., is not a member of the ARA. He pleaded no contest yesterday to some charges.
The case stems from July 23, when a KKK rally was rumored to take place at LOVE Park, 15th and Arch streets. While the rally did not occur, two men showed up and "stated they were neo-Nazis," said Hetznecker.
According to a written motion by Hetznecker and Krasner, the two "neo-Nazis" began to make statements and gestures supporting the alleged [KKK] rally and photographed the counter-demonstrators.
The "neo-Nazis" then walked to Arch Street, near 14th, and one was seen talking on a cell phone, the motion said. Both men then got into a vehicle that pulled up. Defense attorneys did not go into detail about what happened next.
Prosecutor Nicholas Liermann, speaking after the court proceeding, said the two men had gotten into the back seat of an unmarked police car.
He would not reveal the identities of the two men - whom he called "confidential individuals" - and would not say whether they were actually neo-Nazis or whether they were working with law enforcement.
The four defendants then began kicking the car, denting its sides and smashing the rear-driver's side tail light, Liermann said. He contended Robbins threw a set of pliers through the car's back window.
Philadelphia Police Detective Sean Brennan and FBI Special Agent Stephen Powell were in the front of the unmarked car, the prosecutor said.
After the back window broke, Brennan and Powell got out of the car, identified themselves and arrested the four men, he said.
According to the defense attorneys' motion, it is their clients' contention that the two "neo-Nazis" "were sent there by the police and/or the FBI in an effort to gather intelligence and potentially stir up trouble."
Further, the attorneys contend that if law enforcement used confidential informants to act as "skinhead racists," to "confront, harass, provoke and incite the defendants," then such conduct could be a foundation for a motion to dismiss "based on outrageous governmental conduct."
The FBI and Philadelphia police would not comment on the case yesterday.
McGovern pleaded no contest to criminal mischief and conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, both misdemeanors, and harassment, which was downgraded in his case to a summary offense.
The prosecution dropped other charges. The judge sentenced him, in accordance with the plea deal, to three years' probation, ordered him to pay $600 - one-fourth of the cost of damages to the unmarked car - and ordered him to undergo anger-management sessions.
Samuel Stretton, McGovern's attorney, said afterward that his client, a nurse, has "devoted all his life to fighting racism."
Observing the court proceedings were two members of the Keystone State Skinheads - a guy who would only give his nickname as "Catfish," 25, and his friend, who only gave a first name of Drew, 27. They were not at LOVE Park on July 23.
Catfish said he was in court "to see these a--holes get nailed," referring to the defendants.
"I think if they do get in trouble, it would be brought to light that the ARA [Anti-Racist Action] . . . is provoking violent instances," he said.
Schultz later said his organization does not believe in the use of violence. "We're anti-racist.
We're not the ones whose politics are based on genocide." *