Prosecutors have agreed to drop all charges against a 13-year-old Grays Ferry boy who spent three days in jail after his arrest Aug. 3 for allegedly shooting the son of a Philadelphia police officer with a plastic pellet from a toy gun.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner informed the Defender Association of Philadelphia that his office will withdraw juvenile charges of simple assault, reckless endangerment, and possession of an instrument of crime against Zahiem Salahuddin at a hearing Thursday, according to Leola Hardy, chief of the Children and Youth Justice Unit at the Defender Association, which is representing Salahuddin.
Krasner told the defense lawyers last week that the mother of the alleged victim is "a police officer who did not call 911 but called up some buddies to arrest Zahiem, and [her son] didn't even identify Zahiem," Hardy said. "So, basically, Zahiem is not guilty. He didn't do anything. The complainant in this case is saying he is not the person who allegedly shot at him."
That contradicts the police report that said the alleged victim had identified Zahiem as the shooter, Hardy said.
Neither the District Attorney's Office nor the police would comment on the case Monday.
The case raised questions — some still unanswered — about the investigation, the arrest, and the juvenile court process. Lawyers for the boy and his family contend that he was charged solely on the word of a police officer who enlisted others to arrest him without proof.
The alleged victim, a few years younger than Salahuddin, didn't seek medical treatment. Prosecutors initially offered Salahuddin a plea deal that would have given him six months' probation, but relented after further investigation. Salahuddin is black, the alleged victim is white.
Neither Salahuddin, an eighth grader, nor his mother, Zakiyyah, could be reached for comment. But in an Oct. 1 interview with the Inquirer and Daily News both maintained he had done nothing wrong.
"I don't want anything to tarnish his record," Zakiyyah Salahuddin, a SEPTA trolley driver, said then. Her son attends Universal Vare Charter School, is the starting running back for the South Philadelphia Hurricanes, and plans to attend Neumann-Goretti High School next school year, where he hopes to play on the team.
Hardy said Zahiem deserves apologies for the way authorities handled the case.
"I'm glad that someone eventually stepped up to the plate to investigate what happened, and did the right thing. But the issue is all of the trauma that this young black boy had to go through for 2½ months," Hardy said. "Going forward, someone needs to apologize to Zahiem. He's the real victim here. The police need to apologize. The complainant's mother needs to apologize. The [assistant] DAs who handled the case need to apologize. The system needs to apologize to Zahiem."
Defender Association attorney Isis Misdary, who is assigned to represent Zahiem, expressed gratitude to community groups to which Zahiem's mother had reached out after his arrest, including Mothers in Charge, Circle of Hope Church in South Philadelphia, and Reclaim Philadelphia in Kingsessing.
"This is an example of how the community rose up to defend Zahiem, and in defending Zahiem defended itself against a system, and how this system treats black and brown adults and children," she said.
The Inquirer and Daily News reported that on the day Zahiem is accused of shooting the alleged victim with a round plastic pellet from a $3.50 toy gun, he and several friends were playing with toy guns on a basketball court. They interacted with the alleged victim, who was accompanied by another boy. Zahiem said one of his friends shot the alleged victim in the stomach, but he did not see the shooting.
Shortly after the encounter, while riding his bicycle home, Zahiem said, he was stopped by men wearing street clothes and what appeared to be badges on their belts who exited a black pickup truck and announced that he'd shot a police officer's son, Misdary said.
Uniformed officers in marked patrol cars soon showed up and placed handcuffs on Zahiem, who had never been arrested before. He spent nearly three days behind bars and remains on home detention, which permits him to attend school and to participate with his football team.
"I can't imagine being 13 years old, a half a block from your own house, trying to make it in time for curfew, and that occurring to you. Any child would be scared for their life," Misdary said.
"We don't even know if they were officers, because it wasn't even a regular 911 call," Hardy said of the men from the black pickup truck who stopped Zahiem. Whether they were officers or not, the officer and mother of the alleged victim who called them stepped over the line in doing so, Hardy said.
"Completely inappropriate. There's a process, and there's a process for a reason," she said. "A black pickup truck stops you without anyone in uniform. That's scary, dangerous, and should never happen."