A Philadelphia judge has dismissed witness-intimidation charges against the relative of four North Philadelphia election workers accused of adding votes to the machine after the polls closed in the November general election.
Municipal Court Judge Roger F. Gordon said Thursday that he could see no evidence of a crime on a dark surveillance videotape prosecutors said showed Brandon Way, 31, slashing the car tires of a poll watcher who had reported the alleged fraud by Way's relatives.
Assistant District Attorney Michael Bonner said he would review the evidence and likely refile the charges in Common Pleas Court.
Way had no comment after the hearing, but his lawyer, Fortunato N. Perri Jr., said: "We are satisfied with the ruling. We felt from the outset that he had absolutely nothing to do with this."
Thursday's hearing came one day after the District Attorney's Office announced election-fraud charges against three election officials involving the 2014 and 2015 primary elections in Juniata Park's 33d Ward, Fifth Division, and in Point Breeze's 36th Ward, 10th Division.
Way was arrested May 22 and charged with witness intimidation for allegedly slashing two of the tires on a car belonging to Trisha Phipps, a longtime poll watcher in the 18th Ward, First Division, near the border with Fishtown and Northern Liberties.
Phipps testified that she filed a complaint after the Nov. 4 general election saying she saw four election workers letting people into the voting booth at the Hancock Recreation Center at 1401 N. Hancock St. after the polls closed.
Phipps' testimony resulted in the arrests on May 18 - one day before this year's municipal primary - of four officials allegedly involved: Sandra Lee, 60, the judge of elections; Alexia Harding, 22, the minority inspector; and voting-machine inspectors James Collins, 68, and Gregory Thomas, 60.
All four were charged with various election-fraud counts, and city prosecutors said Harding, Collins, and Thomas did not live in the 18th Ward, First Division, though they collected the $125 compensation for the job.
The four are scheduled for a Municipal Court preliminary hearing Aug. 10.
Phipps testified that on May 19, when she went out to her 2011 Chevy Equinox parked in front of her house in the 1300 block of North Front Street, both driver's-side tires were flat.
Phipps said she called her ward leader to say she would be late arriving at the polls and then called police before getting her tires fixed for $100.
Phipps said she immediately believed the vandalism was related to the complaint she filed. When a detective from the District Attorney's Office showed her a surveillance video from the night of May 18, Phipps testified, she recognized Way from a close-up of a man walking by her car, crossing the street and then sitting on a stoop after appearing to throw something alongside the house.
Phipps said she knew Way's face from seeing him for more than 10 years at the polls and knew he was a nephew of Lee and Collins and a cousin of Harding and Thomas.
"I don't feel safe at all," Phipps told the judge. "I'm a witness and I'm afraid something is going to happen to me and my four children."
Gordon viewed the video several times, on a screen and on a laptop, and conceded that the man could be Way. But Gordon said he could not hold Way for trial because he saw no evidence of a crime.
Bonner argued that the "totality of circumstances" led to Way's being the vandal.
Bonner said the man Phipps identified as Way is seen on the video bending down alongside her car, crossing the street and throwing something away, and sitting on the steps of a house that belonged to his grandparents.
Later, detectives found a drywall saw on the side of the house that seemed likely to have been used to puncture the tires of Phipps' car, Bonner said.