Police union officials are demanding that a judge renounce comments he made last week at a hearing for two robbery defendants, in which he apparently praised them for not using firearms.
"If you are going to commit a robbery, this is the way to do it, without a gun. Let's give credit where credit is due," Municipal Court Judge Nazario Jimenez reportedly said, according to Philadelphia's Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5.
FOP President John McNesby delivered a letter to Municipal Court President Judge Louis J. Presenza to announce the FOP's "displeasure" about the alleged comments and "call on Judge Jimenez to repudiate these remarks."
Jimenez didn't return telephone calls for comment yesterday, and the notes of testimony from Wednesday's preliminary hearing for defendants Raymond Ditri and James Pietrafitta weren't readily available.
Court Spokesman Jeff Jubelirer said Presenza couldn't comment on the flap because he hadn't yet gotten the notes of testimony either.
But John McGrody, an FOP vice president, said he'd heard a transcript and gotten calls from officers and a civilian who were in Jimenez's courtroom when the alleged comments were made.
"We're severely troubled by the comments - we don't think judges from the bench should be instructing people on how to commit or not commit crimes," McGrody said.
Police Spokesman Lt. Frank Vanore agreed: "We don't want anyone doing any kind of robberies, whether they're with a gun or without, because they're going to put people in danger, including the officers responding and the civilians and employees in the store and community. The last three very dangerous people who killed police officers in this city were all people who were out committing robberies."
Ditri, 29, and Pietrafitta, 30, are repeat offenders who together have been arrested at least 16 times for offenses ranging from robbery and theft to drug possession and disorderly conduct, according to court records.
Pietrafitta's criminal history includes a March 2005 arrest on offenses including carrying firearms without a license and carrying firearms in a public street or place. A judge dismissed those charges, records show.
Edwin Rivera, Pietrafitta's attorney, declined yesterday to talk about the case or the controversy over the comments. The Defenders' Association of Philadelphia, appointed to represent Ditri, didn't return calls yesterday.
In the case in question, the duo is accused of robbing a Northeast Philadelphia convenience store on March 13, according to court records.
On Wednesday, Jimenez ordered them held for trial but dismissed resisting arrest, assault and reckless endangerment charges.
That further irked police officials.
"We would ask [District Attorney] Lynne Abraham to rearrest them on those charges," McGrody said, adding that one suspect got free by wriggling out of his shirt as arresting officers tried to restrain him and was recaptured only after a nearly two-block foot chase.
"If that's not the traditional description of resisting arrest, I don't know what is," McGrody said.
Cathie Abookire, Abraham's spokeswoman, said the District Attorney's Office is reviewing the case.