A Municipal Court judge yesterday granted a defense motion to compel the identities of two police officers working as confidential informants in a bizarre case involving the Ku Klux Klan, anti-racist protesters, police and FBI.
Defense attorneys Paul J. Hetznecker and Lawrence Krasner contend that their clients - three anti-racist protesters facing trial on misdemeanor vandalism, harassment and related charges - may have been set up by law enforcement, possibly acting as agents provocateur.
The case stems from July 23, 2007, when word spread that there was supposed to be a noon KKK rally in LOVE Park, 15th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard, in Center City.
It turned out to be the "Klan rally that never was," Krasner said in court yesterday before Judge Marsha Neifield.
While anti-racist protesters showed up, the only "neo-Nazis" who appeared were two white men with short haircuts who acted as if they were white supremacists, according to a witness. It was revealed yesterday that the two men were undercover police officers.
Defense attorneys also noted in court yesterday that as far as they could tell, there never was a permit applied for by the KKK or one issued by the city for a KKK rally that day. The attorneys also pointed out through questioning of law-enforcement members that none of them could produce evidence of a KKK flier said to have advertised the rally.
On the "rally" day, witness Sheila Maddali, a law-school student, testified for the defense yesterday that she saw the two men - later determined to be the undercover cops - and thought they were KKK members. She heard one of the anti-racist protesters say to them, "You just want to lynch black people?"
A man thought to be a Klan member then said, "We lynch whoever we want," she said.
The two undercover cops then left the park and got into a black Ford Explorer parked on Arch Street near Broad, as some of the anti-racist protesters followed.
Sitting in the front of the Ford were Police Detective Sean Brennan and FBI Special Agent Stephen Powell.
Authorities have previously said that four anti-racist protesters then began kicking the SUV. One protester allegedly threw a set of pliers at the back window.
Three of those four protesters - Jared Schultz and Jason Robbins, both 29, and Thomas Keenan, 23 - still face trial on eight misdemeanor charges. They are members of the Anti-Racist Action group.
Brennan and Powell, both members of the Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force, were yesterday called as prosecution witnesses by Assistant District Attorney Jack O'Neill.
Brennan testified that he had learned of the supposed KKK rally days before. He believed he saw it advertised on a flier. He then told Powell about it that day.
On the rally day, Brennan said he drove his Ford Explorer to the rally with Powell to observe it.
He said he stopped near LOVE Park and saw the two undercover officers, then called one of them to find out what they were doing. Shortly afterward, that officer called him, saying there was "some sort of confrontation" in the park. Brennan told the officer to meet him at Broad and Arch.
Under cross-examination by the defense attorneys, Brennan agreed that in police paperwork on the arrests of the anti-racist protesters he and another detective intentionally left out that the two confidential informants were in the park and in the Ford.
"It was left out for [their] safety," Brennan said.
Powell, who testified before Brennan, differed on some details. He said he only learned of the rally about half an hour before it was scheduled to occur, and said he, not Powell, was the one on the phone with one of the undercover officers.
He said he and Powell had told the two undercover officers to get in the Ford at Arch and Broad out of concern for their safety.
Lt. John McConnell, of the District Attorney's Narcotics Division, testified that he was the person who had directed the two undercover officers to go to the KKK rally that day. He wanted them to see if any member of the local Keystone State Skinheads group attended the rally.
The two officers, he said, were undercover narcotics officers.
Under cross-examination by Hetznecker, McConnell agreed that this wasn't the first time undercover narcotics officers have been used in this city for surveillance purposes at rallies.
In making her decision, Judge Neifield said she was "extremely mindful of the safety" of police officers, but also found it "troubling" that detectives in the matter had left out in police paperwork the fact that the two confidential informants were at the park and in the SUV.
She said she also understood defense attorneys' concerns in the case and granted their motion to compel authorities to divulge the identities of the undercover agents so they could further learn why they were at the park.
She gave the commonwealth until Jan. 26 to decide if it will appeal her decision.
Two members of Keystone United, formerly the Keystone State Skinheads, were in the courtroom yesterday as observers, including the group's eastern regional director, Keith Carney.