A city prosecutor signaled Friday that the District Attorney's Office planned to all but drop the case against the activist accused last year of spray-painting the words "Black Power" on the statue of former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo.
During a brief court proceeding, Assistant District Attorney Noel Walton told a judge the case against Wali Rahman would be resolved with a plea to a summary offense of criminal mischief.
To that, a displeased Municipal Court Judge William Austin Meehan Jr. said: "Why don't you just give a free pass to everybody in town?" The judge did not mention new District Attorney Larry Krasner, but was clearly alluding to Krasner's stated goal to reduce incarceration. "Wow, it must be nice," he added.
But the proceeding was postponed to March 28 because his attorney, Michael Coard, was unavailable. The plea is likely to occur then.
Misdemeanor convictions can carry sentences of probation or jail time. The penalty for a summary offense is typically limited to a fine.
Walton declined to comment outside the courtroom. Coard could not be immediately reached for comment.
Ben Waxman, Krasner's spokesman, later said the District Attorney's Office would not comment on a pending case beyond what the prosecutor said in court. "None of the charges have yet been dropped," he said, adding that negotiations are ongoing.
Rahman, who goes by the name Diop Olugbala, which he has said is his African name, wore a sweatshirt and jacket to court Friday, both emblazoned with the words "BLACK POWER MATTERS." He declined to comment outside the courtroom about his criminal case, but has previously admitted to defacing the statue.
Outside the Criminal Justice Center in January, he said, "Frank Rizzo represents everything I'm against, so I don't apologize for scrawling 'Black Power' on any statue."
He called the police "the military occupying force" and decried "police containment of the black community."
Police have said that Rahman spray-painted "Black Power" onto Rizzo's chest and arm about 11 p.m. Aug. 17. It appears from photos that he also had written "Matters" underneath those words. Video of the act recorded by Fox29 cameras was used to identify Rahman.
Rahman was also accused of writing "The Black community should be their own Police" on the steps beneath the statue in front of the Municipal Services Building.
John McNesby, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said Friday that he was not surprised by the expected plea deal but that other observers might be.
"There's a different guy heading the DA's Office, and there's going to be a lot of people shrugging their shoulders who are going to be surprised in the next four years," he said.
"Nobody's supposed to be spray-painting anything," McNesby said. "That's just not legal, whether it's a building or the side of 95. It just makes the city look bad."
McNesby said he would take a "wait and see" outlook on how Rahman's case is resolved.
Meehan, a Republican, is a son of Billy Meehan, who as general counsel headed the local Republican Party from 1961 until his death in 1994. The judge's brother, Michael Meehan, succeeded their father as general counsel of the Republican City Committee in 1994 and became the party's chairman last April.
Rizzo's statue has stoked heated debate, often along racial lines. Critics of the former mayor have demanded it be removed, saying he targeted communities of color. His supporters say he was a hero who made the city safer.
City Councilwoman Helen Gym sparked a conversation about the statue with an Aug. 14 tweet calling for its removal two days after white supremacists and neo-Nazis clashed with counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
On Aug. 16, a man was ticketed for throwing eggs at the Rizzo statue. Hours later, thousands of demonstrators surrounded it and called for its removal.
After months of protests and public arguments — and amid a national debate over Confederate statues and symbols — the Kenney administration in November announced it would move the bronze statue from the spot where it has stood for nearly two decades. That has not happened.
Alan Greenberger, a professor at Drexel University and chairman of the Art Commission, said in November that the city government was working "to figure out a site. When they figure that out, they'll come to us with a proposal and we'll work it out then." Greenberger, who served as a deputy mayor during Michael Nutter's two terms, also has said the commission will hold at least one public hearing and possibly more, depending on how many people hope to testify.
Greenberger and city spokesman Mike Dunn said Friday they had nothing new to announce on potential sites.
Rizzo served as police commissioner from 1967 to 1971 and as mayor from 1972 to 1980. He died of a heart attack at age 70 in July 1991.