Screenshot of video footage from the press conference in Philadelphia
At a press conference today, leaders in Philadelphia's African-American community criticized the television advertisement
recently released by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala who is running for Pennsylvania district attorney.
"Mr. Zappala who I have not met uses footage of the untimely as well as unjust death of unarmed African Americans in Texas and South Carolina to make the case that he's been a leader in pursuing justice during his time as district attorney," said Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist Church. "We don't know it to be true if he has, but here's what we do know. A closer look a Mr. Zappala's record shows a failure to properly respond to overt, revolting, documented acts of violence against our community, the African-American community."
Zappala's advertisement features video footage from the traffic stop of Sandra Bland
, a black woman who was found hanged in jail in Waller County, Texas, after being taken into custody after a routine traffic stop in July 2015. The next clip is from the April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott
, an unarmed black man who was shot in the back while fleeing from police in North Charleston, S.C. The third clip is from elevator footage of Janay Palmer
, after she was beaten by professional football player Ray Rice in Atlantic City.
The leaders at the press conference included Rev. Charles Quann, Bethlehem Baptist Church; Dan Woodall, business manager of the Laborers District Council Local 135; Rev. Donald D. Moore, Mt. Carmel Baptist Church; Kevin Harden, former Philadelphia assistant district attorney; and Rep. Joanna McClinton. In addition to criticizing the advertisement they also expressed support for Zappala's opponent Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro.
“We aren’t buying Zappala’s attempt to use national tragedies, and a national conversation we’re having on social justice and criminal justice reform, to gain our votes and gloss over his record of being weak on racial justice,” Mitchell said in a statement released by the Shapiro campaign. “Plain and simple, Zappala is trying to deceive voters.”
The ad references Zappala's involvement in the conviction of Pittsburgh Housing Authority police officer John Charno who in 1995 killed an unarmed African-American man named Jerry Jackson when he was off duty.
“Charmo was given 11 months in jail for killing a man. Now Zappala thinks it’s a reason to make him Attorney General?” Mitchell said in the release.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t just one case. These cases have occurred throughout Zappala’s career,” Quann said in the release. “The Jackson case came at the beginning of Zappala’s career, and last month we’ve seen another egregious example of Zappala’s decision making in the case of Kevin Lockett."
In that case Zappala offered plea deals to five white men involved in the assault of Lockett, an African-American man. Only one of the five individuals will receive jail time.
Zappala’s campaign manager Marty Marks responded with a statement of his own saying that the “news videos in his ad have been viewed millions of times by Pennsylvanians and Americans. Stephen Zappala believes we cannot be afraid as a community to have a conversation about the hard issues depicted in the ad. Steve has been a leader working to create a criminal justice system that is more fair for nearly two decades. The news conference held today by a clearly partisan group of Josh Shapiro supporters, failed to discuss that Josh has taken thousands of dollars in donations from a top NRA fundraiser, and he stood with NRA when he voted for and passed dangerous Stand Your Ground legislation and supported legislation for carrying concealed weapons.”
In the statement Marks says Zappala is “the only DA in Pennsylvania to convict an on duty police officer of a criminal homicide shooting.” That was the John Charmo case. In Zappala’s statement, Charmo is referred to as a Pittsburgh Police Officer, however, Charmo worked for the city’s housing authority.
According to the statement: “Pittsburgh Police Officer John Charmo was charged with homicide in the April 6, 1995, shooting death of Jerry Jackson, 44. Jackson, was unarmed, died from gunshot wounds he received in the Armstrong Tunnels at the end of a five-mile high-speed chase. Charmo emptied his service weapon, and then reloaded and continued shooting — striking the Mr. Jackson 13 times. Stephen Zappala, who was appointed DA in 1998 and then elected in 1999, called for an independent investigator because he believed the previous prosecutor assigned to the Charmo case mishandled evidence.”
City Paper editor Charlie Deitch covered the Charmo trial as well as investigated potential investigatory mistakes by officers at the scene. In 1995, Charmo said the victim did a complete u-turn in the tunnel and began driving toward the officer before he opened fire. Charmo was cleared of wrongdoing, and the case was over for the next six years. A video taken the night of the incident proved Charmo’s story wrong; however, that tape and other discrepancies in the investigation weren’t discovered until Jackson’s mother brought a civil case, which she won.
The statement continues: “Stephen Zappala prosecuted Officer Steve Charmo (sic) for murder and manslaughter in 1999 (sic) when he obtained new evidence proving Charmo's original statement of what happened on that fatal night was untrue. A jury consisting of ten Whites and two African-Amercians failed to reach a unanimous verdict (the jury voted 9-3 to convict). Without a conviction, Charmo might have been able to rejoin the police force. Zappala negotiated a plea deal resulting in a conviction of Charmo for involuntary manslaughter. Charmo served more than nine months in jail, two years probation, and was permanently banned from the police force and from owning a gun.”
The plea deal was reached in October 2001, seven months after Jackson’s mother passed away. After Charmo was given credit for time served, he served less than two months in prison and was home by that Christmas. Zappala’s handling of the Charmo case and other police shootings was also examined in a 2003 CP story. According to that report, between 1998 and 2003, famed coroner Cyril Wecht said he recommended homicide charges five times. Wecht said in the CP story that Zappala only prosecuted two of those cases, and only a year of total jail time was ever served. And while Zappala blamed a former prosecutor for mishandling evidence in the Charmo case, many critics at the time claimed some officers in the other cases should have been held responsible. No on else was ever charged in the Charmo case.