Statement of U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain Regarding the Murder of Philadelphia Police Corporal James O’Connor
The Murder Was the Direct Result of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s Pro-Violent Defendant Policies
PHILADELPHIA – Last Friday, Philadelphia Police Corporal and SWAT team member, James O’Connor, a proud 23-year veteran of the Department from a family of police officers, was gunned down in the City’s Frankford section while trying to arrest Hassan Elliott, who was wanted for murder. Elliott was on the street for one reason: because of District Attorney Krasner’s pro-violent defendant policies. Those policies – which include permissive bail conditions for violent offenders, failing to pursue serious probation and parole violations by violent criminals, offering lenient plea deals for violent offenses, and outright withdrawing cases against violent felons – put dangerous criminals like Elliott on the street.
All Philadelphians have been living with the negative, and often tragic, consequences of these policies for the 2+ years that the City has had to endure the Krasner regime. But now those consequences could not be clearer. Corporal O’Connor’s widow, his children, his brothers and sisters in law enforcement, and the entire City deserve to know why he died.
Here are the facts:
Hassan Elliott is a 21 year-old man from the Frankford section of Northeast Philadelphia. He is known by law enforcement because of his longtime involvement with a violent gang called “1700” that blights the area of 1700 Brill Street and 1700 Scattergood Street. This gang is alleged to be responsible for many shootings in the area and is brazen about their access to firearms. For a taste of what this gang is all about, visit YouTube and look at the video entitled “Frankford Purge,” which depicts Elliott at the 1:29 mark, partially masked, brandishing a firearm.
On June 8, 2017, Elliott was arrested on firearms charges, stemming from an incident in which he threatened a neighborhood resident with a gun. On January 24, 2018, he entered into a negotiated plea: Krasner’s office offered, and Elliott accepted, a below-guidelines sentence of 9 to 23 months’ incarceration, followed by 3 years of reporting probation. Elliott was paroled on January 25, 2018, the day after his plea; he spent a total of 7 months and 16 days incarcerated for this offense.
Following his release, the Philadelphia Probation and Parole Department categorized Elliott as a “high risk” offender, and placed him under the supervision of the Anti-Violence High Risk Unit. Protocol in this unit requires weekly visits and regular urinalyses. Elliott violated his parole almost immediately by failing numerous drug tests, and also by repeatedly failing to report to his parole officer. Eventually, the court scheduled a violation hearing for February 6, 2019.
Prior to that hearing, however, on January 29, 2019, Elliott was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine. After a foot pursuit by police, 15 packets of cocaine were found in Elliott’s pockets. This arrest was in direct violation of Elliott’s parole, but the District Attorney’s Office did not pursue a detainer against him or make any attempt to have Elliott taken into custody for this serious violation. The office allowed Elliott to be released on his own recognizance – no bail was set. This is stunning, considering that Elliott was on parole for his 2018 firearms conviction. Here, there was an arrest and multiple parole violations and the Krasner regime did nothing.
In February 2019, soon after his cocaine arrest, the Philadelphia Police Department identified Elliott as an “Operation Pinpoint” target offender. Operation Pinpoint is a data-driven crime fighting strategy that targets the worst violent offenders in the City. Even with Elliott now identified as one of the City’s worst violent offenders, Krasner’s office still did nothing in response to Elliott’s violation of his parole through his cocaine arrest.
On March 1, 2019, Elliott attended a pre-trial status listing for his cocaine case, where he received and signed a subpoena for the trial, which was scheduled for March 27, 2019. It turns out that March 1 was a busy day for Elliott: after leaving his pre-trial status listing, he allegedly murdered Tyree Tyrone on the 5300 block of Duffield Street. Elliott and another man, both armed with handguns, approached Tyrone, who was sitting in his car, and allegedly opened fire at close range. Video showed Elliott fleeing the scene and his fingerprints were found on one of the alleged murder weapons.
On March 26, 2019, the District Attorney’s Office procured a warrant for Elliott’s arrest for the Tyrone murder. The next day, March 27, Elliott was scheduled to go on trial in the cocaine case.
On that day, March 27, which was the first trial listing in the case, Elliott failed to appear. Despite his absence, and the outstanding murder warrant, the District Attorney’s Office withdrew the cocaine case against Elliott, citing prosecutorial discretion. Elliott then remained at-large until the murder of Corporal O’Connor.
These facts paint a damning picture of a prosecutor’s office that prioritizes “decarceration” of violent offenders over public safety.
First, it is inexcusable that the District Attorney’s Office made no attempt to take Elliott into custody after his cocaine arrest. Had he been detained after his January 29, 2019 arrest – which was a direct violation of his parole on the earlier gun conviction – he certainly would have been in prison on March 1, 2019, when he allegedly murdered Tyree Tyrone. And if that were the case, Corporal O’Connor would not have been trying to arrest Elliott for that murder last Friday. Instead, Corporal O’Connor would be alive today, as would Mr. Tyrone.
Krasner’s office had many opportunities and avenues to detain Elliott after his drug arrest, but failed to utilize any of them. The District Attorney’s Office can always contact probation and ask that a detainer be lodged based on a new arrest, or the District Attorney’s Office could have petitioned Elliott’s supervising judge and requested that a detainer be issued. The office did neither. And even if all that had failed, the office could have requested high bail to ensure that Elliott was held pending trial on his new drug case. Again, the office did nothing.
The District Attorney’s Office had an additional opportunity to ask that Elliott be held on February 6, 2019. On that date, Elliott was listed for a violation of parole hearing based on the new cocaine arrest, as well as Elliott’s issues with repeated drug use and his repeated failure to report to his parole officer. But the docket states that the “detainer [was] to remain lifted” – meaning that no detainer had been or would be lodged – and therefore the violation hearing was continued pending the resolution of the cocaine case. Yet another opportunity wasted.
Second, it is inexcusable that Krasner’s office dropped the cocaine case against Elliott. No responsible prosecutor’s office would ever voluntarily withdraw a case against a violent defendant who doesn’t show up for his first trial date. And here, the defendant had been identified by the Philadelphia Police Department as one of the worst violent offenders in the City. He was a gang-banger wanted for murder.
Moreover, the drug case against Elliott was strong: he had been caught red-handed with multiple packets of cocaine in his pockets. A conviction in the drug case would have surely resulted in prison time, as it would have been a direct violation of his parole for the earlier firearms conviction.
Just as importantly, the drug case should not have been dropped because it could have – and should have – been used as a means to get Elliott into custody and off the street on the murder warrant. If Elliott had shown up for court, he would have been arrested for murder. He didn’t know that there was an existing murder warrant, so there was certainly a chance that he would eventually show up for the drug trial if the case had not been withdrawn (he had, in fact, already shown up for it once, on March 1). But that possibility was eliminated when Krasner’s office eagerly withdrew the case. Instead, Corporal O’Connor and his fellow SWAT officers were left to try to hunt Elliott down, with tragic consequences.
How could any rational human being possibly decide to withdraw the cocaine case against Elliott in these circumstances? Krasner might try to say that his office had to drop the case because one of the police officers involved in it could not testify (due to a potential problem with this officer’s credibility in a separate, unrelated case that the U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated and declined to prosecute). If Krasner tries to deflect blame and says this, it is a lie.
That issue had nothing to do with Krasner’s office dropping Elliott’s drug case, which is why the assigned Assistant District Attorney said nothing about it in court on March 27 when withdrawing the case. Moreover, even if Krasner had been aware of the possible credibility problem when his office dropped the drug case, that issue was irrelevant because the primary officer who had recovered the drugs in Elliott’s pockets had no credibility problems and easily could have testified to all aspects of the case. The other officer was not needed at trial.
The bottom line is that there is no excuse for dropping the cocaine case against Elliott. The case was dropped for the same reason that Krasner’s office ignored the many opportunities to purse the serious parole violation in the first place – because this District Attorney’s priorities always lie with violent offenders, consequences be damned.
This destructive ideology has earned Krasner the enmity of the Philadelphia Police Department. The Department’s disdain was on full display at Temple Hospital on Friday morning, where officers formed a line to block Krasner’s entrance into the hospital when he tried to visit Corporal O’Connor and his family, who wanted nothing to do with him.
Krasner has much to answer for at this moment in our City’s history. He should be asked tough questions and not allowed to fall back on his lazy, irrelevant and all-purpose reply to any legitimate criticism that I level against his policies – that the U.S. Attorney is a Trump appointee. This is not about the President. And it is not about me. It is about two entirely preventable tragedies that have claimed the life of a Philadelphia Police Officer and another young life.
Krasner has infected the District Attorney’s Office with a sickness that has deadly consequences for the entire City. Enough is enough. This madness must stop.