Philly Police Harass Jewish Cops: Lawsuit

from Unicorn Riot

Philadelphia, PA – A new federal lawsuit alleges that a culture of anti-Semitic and racist harassment has been allowed to thrive at the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD).

Court filings submitted on behalf of two Jewish officers claim that the police department and the City of Philadelphia tolerate supervisors who have “created a racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-Jewish environment at their employment at the PPD.” Unknown PPD officers are also believed to be behind graffiti of Nazi symbols and slogans found on a Jewish cop’s locker and inscribed on his patrol car, incidents the lawsuit asserts were never looked into properly.

The primary complaint in the lawsuit was filed on November 19, 2018 on behalf of Stacey Gonzalez and Pavel Reznik, both Philadelphia Police officers and practicing Jews. The lawsuit primarily focuses on conduct by Corporal Karen Church of Philadelphia’s 9th district, who is “known for making racist remarks toward non-white and non-Christian officers” according to a sworn Internal Affairs statement by Officer Gonzalez.

The lawsuit also names the City of Philadelphia and the PPD as defendants, claiming that city administrators essentially signed off on anti-Semitic conduct inside PPD by failing to address the issue when officers brought it to their attention. 10 unknown officers, or John Does, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Corporal Karen Church commented to Officer Gonzales, “Why doesn’t the United States just take a missile and blow up Israel?” Another officer, Sergeant Oneeka Noble, is accused of making anti-Semitic remarks towards Gonzalez during preparations for a Memorial Day barbecue, reportedly telling her “Stacey, don’t bring in no motherfucking Kosher shit“.

Other incidents mentioned in the complaint were events reported by Pavel Reznik, a Russian Jewish police officer who is also party to the lawsuit.  Included along with the complaint are photographs being used as evidence exhibits in the case. The photos show Reznik’s police locker with ‘SS’ bolts scratched into it along with the German word ‘Totenkopf’.

Nazi graffiti on the locker of Jewish Philadelphia Police Officer Pavel Reznik

The locker graffiti, which seems to clearly target Reznik as a Jew, is a clear reference to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. ‘SS’ stands for ‘Schutzstaffel’, the name of an elite Nazi German paramilitary unit created by Adolf Hitler. ‘Totenkopf’ is a German word for “skull” or the “death’s head” symbol which was used by SS units assigned to concentration camps. The ‘Totenkopf’ symbol is still popular today among neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Another photo included as evidence in the lawsuit shows Reznik’s PPD patrol vehicle with a Star of David and the phrase ‘Hebrew Hammer’ inscribed in the grime that had built up on the side of the car.

A Star of David and the words “Hebrew Hammer” drawn in dust on Philadelphia Police Officer Pavel Reznik’s patrol car

According to the lawsuit, neither of the incidents of clearly anti-Semitic vandalism targeting Officer Reznik were properly investigated by the department.

Reznik wrote in his sworn statement that since he first joined the police academy in 2006, he had become aware that PPD “discriminates heavily against Jews” and claims that officers often made anti-Semitic comments around him such as “We’re just getting ‘Jewed out’.” One exchange is alleged to have taken place in which an officer made a comment about Jewish food and another officer responded, in a joking tone, “Don’t be racist,” to which Officer Marcus O’Shannesy reportedly replied “It’s not racism, it is anti-Semitism.” According to the lawsuit, another police officer named Dougherty also chimed in, saying “Jews can’t cook for shit, their Chanukah food sucks“.

The lawsuit alleges that Reznik faced further retaliation related to his religion. He was reportedly told “That’s some bullshit, no need for you to go home early… what are you, special?” when he asked to be able to attend a Jewish police officer’s honor guard event. He was also denied time-off requests while his wife was pregnant, and made to work shifts while other other officers lower in rank than himself were getting their time-off requests granted.

According to the suit, Reznik has stopped requesting time off to celebrate Jewish holidays because he assumes his requests will be denied and he will face retaliation.

Reznik said he was also subject to harassment based on his Russian nationality and other officers seeing him as an immigrant. He claims that while enrolled at the police academy, a superior told him “I must break you; we must destroy your country” in a mock Russian accent. Reznik also maintains that another officer frequently made derogatory comments about “all the benefits immigrants get, without doing any work“.

In addition to specific anti-Semitic remarks and acts of harassment, Corporal Karen Church and other PPD officials are accused of retaliating against Jewish officers by subjecting them to “unwarranted and disproportionate warnings and punishments … wherein discrimination was exhibited“. Punishments against Jewish cops complaining about anti-Semitism reportedly included being made to stay late while non-Jews were allowed to leave, and being prevented from taking time off for Jewish holidays. “There are always courtesies given to Christians to worship their holidays and leave early, but the rest of us are nailed to the directive when it comes to our holidays,” Gonzalez said in a sworn statement.

After Gonzalez complained about Corporal Church’s “bomb Israel” comment, Church retaliated by making her stay late while other officers were allowed to go home, the suit claims. Church is further alleged to have taken disciplinary action against Gonzalez for leaving work to prepare for Yom Kippur, while non-Jewish officers were said to be running similar holiday errands around the same time and were not disciplined. Church is also said to have refused to let Gonzalez work any half-days during the Jewish holiday, despite allowing Christian cops to take half-days during Christmas and Thanksgiving.

“…PPD supervisors directed discriminatory and prejudicial acts towards Jewish police officers and would intimidate these police officers by insulting them, requiring them to perform additional work not asked of other officers, (mainly white Christian officers) and precluded them from taking adequate time off for religions holidays, gatherings, and other Jewish religions expressions.” – Gonzalez & Reznik’s complaint

According to Officer Stacey Gonzalez’s sworn statement to PPD internal affairs, she believes the racist and anti-Semitic conduct by Corporal Church was knowingly tolerated by police higher-ups, including former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey:

If you know this person has a history of making derogatory comments, you are protecting her if you don’t take any action against [her] She even stated out of her mouth she was protected by someone on the second or third floor …” – Officer Stacey Gonzalez Internal Affairs interview

In her statement to PPD Internal Affairs, Officer Gonzalez also claimed that the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), which often negotiates on behalf of officers with grievances, discouraged her from speaking out about her allegations of anti-Jewish discrimination:

“…the FOP (Mike Trask and Roosevelt Poplar) said they weren’t going to have anything to do with it. They said to take it to your people … They stated they didn’t want anything to do with my complaints regarding the Christian holidays.” – Officer Stacey Gonzalez Internal Affairs interview

John McNesby of the Philly FOP, speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, claimed that the police union was not involved in, or aware of, the lawsuit about anti-Semitism in the department:

This is the first I’m being made aware of this … To my knowledge they’ve never contacted [the union] or requested any assistance, which would be their first line of defense … but they took the path that they did, and it’s under litigation and I guess they’ll figure it out on that level.” – John McNesby, President, Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police

Corporal Karen Church, as well as several other PPD officers named in the new anti-Semitism lawsuit, have all been named in previous litigation over discrimination and workplace harassment in Philly’s police department.

Karen Church and Sergeant Robert Deblasis were both sued in 2011 by Robin Middleton, an African-American Philadelphia Police Officer and Christian Baptist, who said that she was harassed by Church and Deblasis on the basis of both her race and religion. Middleton’s lawsuit claimed that Church, with Deblasis’ knowledge and approval, prevented her from being able to attend religious services. Middleton also claimed that Deblasis routinely called her “the Blessed One” and would make the “sign of the cross” gestures towards her at work. Middleton also alleged that Deblasis and Church retaliated against her for her complaints about this harassment; when she became injured on the job, they refused to provide her with either an injury report or a hospital referral.

Deblasis had also been named in a previous lawsuit that claimed he harassed PPD officers for their involvement in interracial relationships. The new lawsuit contains a statement from Officer Gonzalez to PPD Internal Affairs in which Gonzales claims another officer overheard Deblasis using the phrase “the ‘N’ word” to refer to a black person.

This fresh scandal tying Philadelphia’s police to anti-Semitism and Nazi imagery comes just two years after an uproar involving an officer sporting a Nazi tattoo while on the job. During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which was hosted in Philadelphia, pictures emerged of Officer Ian Hans Lichterman sporting a forearm tattoo with a Nazi German eagle design under the word “fatherland“.

McNesby & the Philly FOP defended the Nazi tattoo as “not a big deal” at the time, while the police department declined to discipline Lichterman, saying no policies had been violated. The department has since instituted a new tattoo policy and Lichterman was never fired, but ended up leaving PPD to take a new job as a federal police officer guarding the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Former Ian Hans Lichterman sports a Nazi tattoo while assigned to protests outside the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Photo Source: Evan Parish Matthews/Facebook

Read the full text of the complaint in Officers Gonzalez & Reznik’s lawsuit (with Internal Affairs interview transcripts) below or click here to download the PDF.


Silvia Federici book launch & discussion

from Facebook

Join us for a book launch and discussion on Silvia Federici’s two new books Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women & Re-enchanting the World

Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women is feminist call to arms providing new ways of understanding the methods in which women resist victimization and offers a reminder that reconstructing the memory of the past is crucial for the struggles of the present.

Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons centers on women and reproductive work as crucial to both economic survival and the construction of a world free from the hierarchies and divisions of capital.

Silvia Federici is a feminist writer, teacher, and militant. In 1972 she was cofounder of the International Feminist Collective that launched the Wages for Housework campaign internationally. Her previous books include Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation and Revolution at Point Zero. She is a professor emerita at Hofstra University, where she was a social science professor. She worked as a teacher in Nigeria for many years and was also the cofounder of the Committee for Academic Freedom for Africa. Her newest books are Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women and Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, both published by PM Press in 2018.

[December 12 from 7PM to 9PM at Wooden Shoe Books and Records 704 South St]

Freindly Fire November Newsletter

from Friendly Fire Collective

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You may have missed it, but we put out a newsletter a week ago! You can check it out here.

Topics included: Repentance for missions, God’s wrath, Comrade Alyssa, early Quakers – and more!

New Year’s Card Party: Monday Dec. 3rd 6:30pm

from Philly ABC

The December letter-writing event will be a New Year’s card-writing party for all US-held political prisoners. Rather than focusing on a specific set of prisoners, we will send a card to each of the nearly 60 US-held political prisoners sending them season’s greetings. This is a time we set aside annually to send short messages of solidarity to everyone recognized as being held in prison for their political beliefs or actions. This enables us to drop a line each year to prisoners that we have either already featured more in depth at letter-writing events throughout the year or those we will be doing events for in the future. We will also send birthday greetings to those with birthdays in December: Muhammad Burton (the 15th), Connor Stevens (the 17th) and Casey Brezik (the 30th).

While the circumstances of our comrades’ incarceration and the current political climate leave a lot to be desired, much good has also come out of 2018 including the freedom of Debbie and Mike Africa. Long-term prisoners Herman Bell and Seth Hayes were also release on parole this year to return to their families bringing the US-held political prisoner count to below 60. This event is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to free the remainder, stay strong and stay in the struggle.

Light refreshments will be provided. Please come join in the festivities!

[LAVA 4134 Lancaster Ave]

Columbus Monument Vandalized in Solidarity with National Day of Mourning

Submission

The monument to celebrated colonizer, murderer, and initiator of indigenous genocide, Christopher Columbus, was covered in blood red paint during the late hours of Thursday, November 22nd. This act was taken in solidarity with the national day of mourning. Why should we celebrate a holiday where the theme is so baseless that the affects of its deceit can still be seen today in the suffering, deep poverty, alcoholism, and lack of health care on indigenous reservations… thanks to European settlers like Columbus!
Stop teaching your children to worship monsters. We are tired of your lies. We are coming after your monuments, and it won’t just be the confederate ones in the South! We will continue to paint, topple and toss into rivers all statues that glorify oppressors. Frank Rizzo’s granite head will roll past city hall soon enough.

Love and rage, some anarchists

Mixed Guilty Verdict Against First Vaughn 17 Trial Group

from Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement

Mixed Guilty Verdict Against First Vaughn 17 Trial Group
“Dwayne Staats testimony reiterates the painstaking process of attempting to be heard in a society that consistently renders black voices, and especially black incarcerated voices, silent.”

The Delaware courts have issued guilty verdicts for two of the defendants of the first trial group for the Vaughn 17. Only one person, Dwayne Staats, was found guilty of murder, Jarreau Ayers was found found guilty of kidnapping and assault, and Deric Forney was found not guilty of all charges.

Dwayne and Jarreau were forced to represent themselves due to insufficient legal representation. Despite having no physical evidence connecting Dwayne to the murder he was still convicted, based solely on the word of a cooperator.

In the midst of a trial, particularly one of this magnitude, it is easy to get lost in legal arguments, the moralizing, and the grand sweeping statements from the press, prosecutors and politicians. But as the smoke clears and the dust settles, this trial, and the uprising in general is about the inhumane and barbaric conditions inmates in the US are forced to suffer.

The Vaughn 17 were protesting for very basic improvements, which are routinely ignored. Dwayne Staats’ testimony reiterates the painstaking process of attempting to be heard in a society that consistently renders black voices, and especially black incarcerated voices, silent; a society that deems it acceptable to coldly and in a calculated way, rip the humanity the away from those it incarcerates. The Vaughn 17, and many others who were incarcerated at Smyrna prior to the uprising, had protested, cried, and plead to be treated humanely. The uprising was a last resort to ask for better treatment, but the judgement confirmed that those incarcerated should have no voice and should accept this treatment.

While this outcome is a hardly surprising result from white supremacist America, we would like to celebrate the principled stance of the Vaughn 17. They stood strong in their solidarity and did not implicate each other and have successfully politicized their trial. In light of the prisoner led anti-slavery campaign, the Vaughn 17 is proudly poised as an important voice and example in this movement. We will continue amplifying their voices, making their case known and struggle along side them as these trials continue, and they face their sentences.

Dare to struggle! Dare to win!

Delaware Vaughn Prison Revolt Trial Ends In Mixed Verdict

from Unicorn Riot

Wilmington, DE – The trial of three prisoners accused of involvement in a February 1, 2017 prisoner uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center finished testimony and closing arguments last week. After a trial lasting about a month, jurors began deliberations on Friday, November 16, and reached a verdict Tuesday afternoon.

In what has become known as the Vaughn Uprising, prisoners took over Building C at the Vaughn prison in Smyrna, Delaware, and took three prison guards and one prison counselor hostage. Demands issued during the hostage standoff included that Delaware Governor John Carney investigate poor living conditions at the facility. One correctional officer who was taken hostage, Steven Floyd, would later be found dead after police re-entered the facility.


On the afternoon of Tuesday, November 20, jurors in the case returned a verdict, according to the Delaware News-Journal:

After a nearly four-week trial, a New Castle County jury found Dwayne Staats guilty of first-degree felony murder, first-degree murder of a law enforcement officer, kidnapping, assault and conspiracy. 

Staats was found not guilty of intentional murder in the first degree.

Jarreau Ayers was found not guilty of any of the three murder charges but guilty of kidnapping, assault and conspiracy. 

Deric Forney was found not guilty of all charges against him and is set to go free. – Delaware News Journal, November 20, 2018

Below is Unicorn Riot’s full report on the evidence and testimony made in the first Vaughn Uprising case.

Read our first report from the trial, covering opening arguments, here. 


The three defendants in the first trial group were charged with riot, three counts of murder in the first degree (Delaware law allows to charge multiple counts based on the same murder), two counts of assault, four counts of kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit riot. 13 other defendants from the uprising are also slated to face trial throughout 2019.

A cooperating defendant, Royal Downs, was also indicted on lesser charges and still awaits trial and sentencing, with results presumably depending on how pleased prosecutors are with his performances at trial.

Defendants Derric Forney, Dwayne Staats, and Jarreau Ayers (left to right). Composite image via WDEL News

Judge William Carpenter’s courtroom held a tense, electric energy at times as two of the defendants – Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats, both of whom represented themselves in court and are already serving life sentences for previous murder cases – each took the stand to testify on their own behalf. Both men denounced the conditions in Vaughn, mocked the contradictions in the prosecution’s evidence, and refused to implicate other prisoners they knew to be involved in the takeover.

It is unclear what punishments the court could impose against the two men, since they both already are sentenced to life without the chance of parole. Conservative Delaware lawmakers recently failed to reinstate the death penalty, which the state’s Supreme Court effectively abolished in 2016. Jarreau Ayers told jurors that the Department of Corrections could still retaliate against them by essentially keeping them in solitary confinement, or “the hole“, for the rest of their lives.

The two men representing themselves added an explicitly political element to the case, allowing details and opinions about prison life to come up in court that probably wouldn’t have been mentioned otherwise. In his closing argument, Jarreau Ayers thanked Judge William Carpenter, saying that Carpenter had been highly conscientious in allowing himself and Dwayne Staats a wide latitude to defend themselves in court. Both men were provided with standby counsel, lawyers who did not represent them but directly assisted them in matters such as evidence and motions.

The third defendant, Derric Forney, serving an 11-year robbery sentence, was barely mentioned at all by the prosecution. A few inmate witnesses claimed to have seen Forney attack and handcuff corrections officer Joshua Wilkinson, although other state’s witnesses testified that they saw the entire attack and Forney was not involved. Forney was represented by defense lawyer Ben Gifford. Forney himself took the stand to say that he was not involved in the uprising. He also shared his trauma of being brutalized by officers who he said went cell to cell violently beating and pepper-spraying inmates after police retook Building C. In closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General John Downs seemed to gloss over the lack of evidence against Forney by calling him a “soldier” in contrast to Ayers and Staats, whom he cast as “leaders“.

A fourth defendant, Roman Shankaras, who prosecutors had accused of being the “mastermind” behind the uprising, had been a part of this first trial group but was later severed from the case. He is expected to face trial sometime in 2019.

While the state showed jurors mountains of evidence, very little of it was tied directly to the defendants. Among primary pieces of evidence against both Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats were radio recordings from the hostage negotiations, in which both men’s voices can be heard. Prosecutors have also used a letter from Dwayne Staats to another inmate, seized during a cell search, in which he appeared to take responsibility for organizing the revolt. Another letter from Roman Shankaras to Royal Downs, an influential prisoner involved in the uprising who later flipped and became a state’s witness, was cited as evidence of a conspiracy.

One defining element of the case is a total lack of any video evidence from inside Building C; no surveillance cameras existed inside Vaughn’s Building C at the time of the uprising when the building was taken over. Some video of inmates and hostages being released from inside the building were filmed by a state police bomb squad robot in the yard outside the building, but no defendants could be seen in the video. Another video the state played for the jury showed police in SWAT gear entering the building during their operation to retake Building C. However, none of this footage showed any of the defendants and offered little insight as to what exactly happened inside Building C.

Some physical evidence was introduced by the state, such as various shanks, fire extinguishers, and mop wringers allegedly used as weapons to subdue prison guards who were taken hostage. However, Delaware State Police Sergeant Andrew Weaver, the main investigator in the Vaughn case, would admit under cross-examination that only some items were sent for forensic DNA testing. Weaver appeared unable to give an explanation for this inconsistent testing of evidence, with untested items including several shanks as well as blood-soaked gloves. Weaver repeatedly denied responsibility for deciding which items were tested, instead referring to the “collaborative effort” by the prosecution team of which he is part.

Sergeant Weaver also told the defense that he only sent in for DNA testing items which he believed to have been used in the attack on Sergeant Floyd. Weaver was unable to offer an explanation as to how he could determine, before testing, which items had or had not been used in the attack. Assistant Attorney General John Downs suggested that some items had not been sent for forensic testing due to concerns about high cost, but multiple state forensic technicians who later testified denied that cost was a consideration in testing evidence for the case. Jarreau Ayers asked Weaver if it was true that “you just left five shanks and a pair of bloody gloves off the list” of evidence to be tested in a case involving the murder of a corrections officer. Weaver did not deny that he left those items off of his list of what was sent for testing.

Other issues with evidence used by the prosecution included a map that jurors were told represented the layout of Building C and showed where pieces of evidence, such as shanks, were recovered. However, upon cross-examination, a state investigator admitted that the map, which he had claimed was simply “not to scale“, in fact left out an entire portion of the building. The defense also pointed out how many evidence items were misrepresented on the map, being shown as found in locations other than where they were actually recovered. Prosecutors quietly dropped any further use of the map from the rest of their case, although Ben Gifford, defense counsel for Derric Forney, referenced it in his closing arguments, calling it a “gem” and reminding jurors that the state had made a false representation of the evidence.

With a total lack of video evidence from inside the prison, and inconsistent testing for DNA and fingerprints, the prosecution’s case relies almost entirely on cooperating inmate witnesses. The state’s primary cooperating witness, Royal Downs, is alleged by the defense to have been an influential gang leader within the prison. At one time, Royal Downs was romantically involved with a female correctional officer who was working at Vaughn, who was eventually fired over her relationship with Downs. Opening arguments by Jason Antoine, defense counsel for Roman Shankaras (who ended up getting severed from the first trial group) alleged that Downs himself could have been the one to order the killing of Sergeant Stephen Floyd.

Several inmate witnesses for the state, including Royal Downs and Walter Smith (aka Abdul-Hafid Al-Salafi), gave the prosecution the kind of evidence they sought, namely claiming that all three defendants were involved in one way or another in the actual assaults on correctional officers. However, other inmate witnesses for the state contradicted much of this testimony.

For instance, Al-Salafi claimed that he saw one of the defendants assault a correctional officer because he was on the phone in the prison’s barber shop at the time, where he was able to see the incident through a window. Other state’s witnesses, such as prisoner Anthony Morrow, testified that they were in the barber shop using the phones at that same time and that Al-Salafi was not there. Notably, no phone records were produced by the state to prove that Al-Salafi even made a call from that phone at that time. State police detective David Weaver admitted under cross-examination that his investigation had pulled records of thousands of prison phone calls from Vaughn, and that he was not aware of any instance of DOC phone records going “missing“.

The defense claims that Al-Salafi, like other cooperating witnesses, is fabricating his testimony in order to curry favor with the Department of Corrections. While prosecutors claimed they had promised inmate witnesses no favors, defense counsel Ben Gifford pointed out the constant courtroom presence of several Delaware DOC officials, who he said easily had the means to reward prisoner witnesses with better living conditions in return for helping them “get justice for their brother” Steven Floyd, the guard hostage who died.

Delaware DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps, Deputy Commissioner Alan Grinstead, Bureau of Prison Chief Steven Wesley, and other state prison officials have been a constant presence at the trial, often taking up an entire row. Many of them were seen actively texting on their phones while inmate witnesses were testifying. Daniel Masi from the Criminal Intelligence section of the Delaware Department of Justice has also been seen in attendance.

The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

During his closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Downs admitted that Building C after the uprising was “a large, contaminated crime scene” and tried to downplay the significance of the inconsistent DNA testing done by investigators in the case. Downs instead asked jurors to rely on eyewitness testimony, saying “this case is about what the witnesses said“, apparently ignoring the blatant contradictions in different versions of events that had been offered by state’s witnesses.

According to the prosecution’s summary of their case in closing arguments, Ayers is guilty because he knew about “the plan“, he told inmates to remove locker boxes from their cells to be used to barricade doors, he “was a shotcaller” among prisoners, and allegedly had keys he was using to let prisoners out of their cells.

The case against Dwayne Staats largely relied on Staats’ own testimony in which he admitted to planning the uprising and taking Counselor Patricia May hostage. Assistant Attorney General Downs also claimed that cooperating witnesses saw Staats with a shank. One inmate witness claims he saw Staats attack Sergeant Floyd, although other state’s witnesses’ testimony contradicted this claim.

After the state rested its case, defendants Jarreau Ayers and Dwayne Staats both took the stand to testify on their own behalf. Ayers shared his version of event surrounding the uprising, saying that he had been involved in planning a peaceful protest over living conditions at Vaughn.

Ayers told the jury that eventually he was cut out of the planning and that those involved in the uprising didn’t inform him of their plans. He said he called his sister shortly before February 1, 2017 and asked her to put money on his commissary because he knew some sort of protest might happen at the facility, and he wanted to have food and supplies stocked in his cell ahead of a potential lockdown. The state has argued that the prison phone call to Ayers’ sister represents his participation in the conspiracy.

Ayers also stated that his only real active role in the uprising was to find inmates with medical conditions and make sure they were released from Building C earlier on in the takeover. He described opening the door to first try to let the inmates out (“nobody wanted to open that door“, he said) only to see a SWAT team charging towards him, leading him to quickly close the door again. He says at that moment, frustrated with the police seeming to break their word, he grabbed a walkie-talkie from Royal Downs. The police outside reportedly told him their attempted charge was a “misunderstanding” and he then re-opened the door to release the rest of the inmates with medical needs.

When Dwayne Staats took the stand, he began by reading jurors portions of a letter he wrote another inmate that had been seized as evidence. Staats told jurors that he planned the uprising as a building takeover well ahead of time, because he decided that something had to be done to bring state officials and the public to pay attention to poor conditions at Vaughn. Staats had previously surprised courtroom observers by admitting during his cross-examination of prison counselor Patricia May that he was the inmate who took her hostage.

Staats spoke about how he saw everyone at Vaughn, not just prisoners in Building C, as “victims” and described inmates, guards, and staff all being subject to a culture of “physical abuse, mental abuse…” and said he saw prison staff routinely “bullied or looked down upon by their own coworkers.

Staats said that “I didn’t kill anybody, I didn’t even assault anybody” but that he accepted responsibility for anything other than those acts. Previously during his cross-examination of Counselor Patricia May, the prison counselor who was taken hostage during the uprising, Staats surprised many observers in the court by telling Ms. May he “owed” it to her to tell her that he was the one who took her hostage that day.

Staats told jurors that “my goal was to do something to expose this place” so that the public and Governor Carney would pay attention: “It was mainly about the Governor at least acknowledging what as going on.

Staats told the jury that after his 14 years at Vaughn, “these petitions, lawsuits, peaceful protests…in my eyes, that stuff’s run it’s course.” He also said that he felt the need to create a situation that would get the attention of Delaware’s Governor, because current DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps had previously been the warden at Vaughn for 10 years “So I had to go over their head.

Staats said his plan to take over Building C to draw attention to conditions at Vaughn was “no rash decision” but rather the result of months of “deep contemplation“.

Staats claimed that his plan for the building takeover only extended so far as getting on the radio with state authorities to express prisoners’ demands. He said he was aware that Correctional Officers might be attacked as part of the takeover, but denied any knowledge of Sergeant Floyd’s death until after the uprising had ended. He claimed to be unaware of several other aspects of events, noting that he was surprised when he heard that some inmates and CO hostages had been released from Building C during the negotiations.

While Assistant Attorney General John Downs seemed on his cross-examination to try to cast Staats as the mastermind of the uprising, Staats downplayed this notion, claiming responsibility while also highlighting what he claimed was the disorganized nature of what took place. “All it took was a little push,” Staats said, adding that it wasn’t “a plot to break out of jail.

Staats said that state negotiators on the radio promised him a letter of intent from the Governor to look into the demands made by prisoners in the uprising. That letter never came, although Staats hinted that if he had received it, Sergeant Floyd could have been released. (The medical examiner who did Floyd’s autopsy said the CO likely would have survived with his wounds if he had gotten to a hospital earlier, as his wounds weren’t inherently fatal.)

Staats told jurors that while he never received that letter of intent, the same conditions at Vaughn addressed in the uprising’s demands came out in a report on the state’s investigation into Vaughn after the uprising. Staats also seemed to feel somewhat successful in regards to the plan he had executed, saying “a lot of people’s families didn’t know what was going on until the prison got lifted from obscurity.

Assistant Attorney Generals John Downs and Brian Robertson both both quite agitated during their cross-examinations of both Ayers and Staats, going red in the face with veins visibly pulsing, raising their voices and slamming fists on tables, although these behaviors may have been a deliberate emotional appeal to the jury. With Staats having taken responsibility for a fair amount of the conspiracy alleged by the prosecution, much of the prosecution’s cross-examination of him consisted of Assistant Attorney General Downs angrily repeating his own testimony to him, which he would usually nonchalantly answer in one-word responses like “yeah“.

Staats told jurors that six inmates were involved with him in the plan to take over Building C. But when he was cross-examined by Assistant Attorney Downs, he refused to identify them, answering “I can’t recall” in an ironic quotation of many of the state’s own witnesses. When AAG Downs continued to press the matter, Staats chuckled slightly and told him, “You know, I think me and Mr. Weaver have the same condition.” (Sergeant Andrew Weaver, the Delaware state police investigator assisting prosecutors with the case, had extensive testimony to offer the state but when questioned by the defense claimed to “not recall” or have forgotten many of the details he was asked about.)

Staats also told the Assistant Attorney General that he believed Lieutenant Charles Sennett, one of the first DOC officers to enter Building C, could have freed Ms. May as a hostage and ended the standoff hours earlier, but he chose not to. “The officers left her, the governor didn’t show his face to come get her, but I bet you didn’t care about that.

In closing arguments by the defense, Ben Gifford, representing Derric Forney, lambasted the state’s “poor, shoddy investigative work” in the Vaughn Uprising case. He told jurors that the lack of proper police work in the case was something Sergeant Floyd “didn’t deserve“:

What happened to Sergeant Floyd was a tragedy…so was this investigation.” – Ben Gifford, defense counsel for Derric Forney

Staats had previously written in a letter published by supporters of the Vaughn 17 that “the trial is an extension of the uprising.” Building on this theme, he closed out his testimony by telling jurors “I guess y’all witnessing the conclusion. Y’all gon’ put the exclamation mark on the whole thing.


Anti-Racist Crowd Overwhelms Small Far-Right Rally in Philly

from Unicorn Riot

Philadelphia, PA – Over a thousand anti-racist protesters gathered on Independence Mall on Saturday to oppose a “We The People” rally organized by right-wing groups tied to groups like the Proud Boys and the Three Percenter militia network.

The rally was organized by a Facebook page called ‘Sports Beer and Politics’, associated with Philly-area far-right organizers Zachary Rehl and Holly Delcampo. Social media postings leading up to the event showed organizers coordinating with members of the violent “western chauvinist” Proud Boys, a group which has been called a “gang” by its founder Gavin McInnes. Members of the neo-Nazi group, Keystone United (formerly called Keystone State Skinheads), had also indicated that they would be attending.

Around 10:30 AM, as both the far-right rally and the counter-protest began, Philadelphia police made their first arrest as officers with bikes pushed anti-racists and journalists across the street to create a wider perimeter. After police forcibly created a control zone, the event largely consisted of two opposing rallies on either side of the street. The far-right group had between 12-50 attendees throughout the day, with the anti-racist counter-protest opposing them made up of roughly 1,000 people.

See our livestream coverage from the event below:

(Correction: At times in our livestream Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector Melvin Singleton is misidentified as Police Commissioner Richard Ross. Any reference to Ross in our stream narration actually refers to Singleton. Unicorn Riot regrets the error.)

Many different Philadelphia groups came out for the event, including several unions, the Philly Coalition for Real Justice, and a coven of witches.

Witches hex Proud Boys in Philadelphia. Photo by Unicorn Riot.

The Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot, ‘Gritty’, who has become an international antifascist symbol, made several appearances, along with internet sensation ‘Grumpy Cat’:

‘Grumpy Cat’ puppet operated by two people at the anti-racist counter-protest. Photo by Unicorn Riot.

After about an hour of speakers with a sound system and a marching band drowning out the right-wing rally from across the street, two Proud Boys were spotted in the counter-protest crowd. The two men, David Kuriakose and Simon Greenwood, had previously been identified as present at the Proud Boys’ gang beating attacks in New York City outside the Metropolitan Republican Club last month. Kuriakose was charged and arrested for his alleged role in the Proud Boys attack, according to the New York Post. The two men were escorted across the street, after some counter-protesters pushed them and threw items like water bottles.

Proud Boys David Kuriakose and Simon Greenwood ushered out of the counter-protest in Philadelphia by police, as hundreds of people chanted “assholes” at them. Photo at left by Unicorn Riot; New York photos by Shay Horse in upper right & Sandi Bachom in lower right.

Another altercation occurred down the street a few minutes later, in which a man seen hiding his face from cameras appeared to have been headbutted. Police who were already present at the scene quickly made two arrests. An unconfirmed report claims this scuffle was the result of a case of a man being mistakenly identified as part of the far-right rally.

Shortly after that incident, 48-year-old Proud Boy Alan Swinney, wearing body armor and holding a large flagpole, left the right-wing rally area in an apparent attempt to provoke a confrontation with counter-protesters. Quickly surrounded by anti-racists and reporters, Swinney was quickly escorted back into the fenced-off “We The People” rally area by Philadelphia Police as well as federal park rangers (the Independence Visitor Center where the rally took place is under federal jurisdiction).

48-year-old “Proud Boy” Alan Swinney in Philadelphia. Photo by Unicorn Riot.

A few minutes later, a group of the “We The People” rally attendees walked away from their rally location on Independence Mall. The group then walked a few blocks, escorted by dozens of police and about as many counter-protesters, to the old Philadelphia police headquarters. After presenting an award to police inside the building, the group waited around behind their police escort waiting to get picked up. However, the group had a hard time getting a ride, as an Uber driver, and later a taxi driver, both declined to pick up the passengers once counter-protesters told them they were affiliated with the Proud Boys.

Around this same time, Philadelphia police made a major show of force by Independence Mall in order to prevent counter-protesters from approaching far-right rally attendees who were leaving. Video by local reporter Joshua Scott Albert shows officers pushing a man into a tree before hitting him on the head with overhand baton strikes. At around the same time, officers were ushering Alan Swinney, the Proud Boy who had shown up wearing riot armor, into his Uber.

Red liquid that seemed to be blood was seen on the ground shortly after the police beatings. Philadelphia Police did not directly respond to an inquiry about whether overhand baton strikes to the head are consistent with policy, instead directing us to visit a webpage that includes PPD use-of-force directives.

According to Philadelphia Police Public Affairs, a total of four people were detained or arrested on Saturday, November 17: two for failure to disperse, one for disorderly conduct, and another for allegedly assaulting a police captain. No attendees from the far-right rally were cited, detained, or arrested.

The day after the rally, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story incorrectly claiming there was “no indication” that Proud Boys or Three Percenters were present at the rally. The story was eventually corrected two days later, but not before a headline on the front page told readers there had been “no sign of hate groups“.

The Inquirer’s curious claim was easily disproven by the documented presence of Proud Boys Alan Swinney, David Kuriakose, and Simon Greenwood. Numerous rally attendees were also photographed with clothes bearing the insignia of the Three Percenter militia movement, which provided security for neo-Nazis at Unite The Right in Charlottesville.

The event’s official organizers, Zachary Rehl and Holly Delcampo, also have their own unique and checkered backgrounds. Zach Rehl is the son and grandson of Philadelphia police officers, a fact he often uses when explaining the pro-police messaging of his events. However, Rehl himself has a criminal record, including a 2015 incident that resulted in him facing charges of aggravated assault, criminal mischief, terroristic threats, assault, reckless endangerment, and drunk driving.

Comments made by Holly Delcampo on Facebook have claimed that anti-racist protester Heather Heyer died in Charlottesville from a “heart attack” and “was not hit by a car“, echoing debunked conspiracy theories spread by the alt-right about the car attack at Unite The Right.

Notably, events organized in 2017 by ‘Sports Beer and Politics’ under a pro-Trump, pro-police banner, were attended by white supremacist extremists who were seen at Unite The Right in Charlottesville.

Unicorn Riot has previously reported on the involvement of “Three Percenters” in attacks and right-wing activity at demonstrations: Three Percenters attacked a Democratic Socialists of America gathering in Kentucky in September 2018; Three Percenter social media amplified false stories that Georgia police used to craft crowd management in April 2018; Three Percenters participated in an August 2018 rally in Portland; and through data requests Unicorn Riot recently determined that in St. Paul, armed Three Percenters were improperly released from police custody after detainment in the summer of 2016.

Live reporting, photo editing and research contributed by Dan Feidt, Unicorn Riot. 

Editors note: An earlier version of this story had mistaken Holly Delcampo for another person. Unicorn Riot regrets the error. 


How Gritty Saved Philadelphia

from It’s Going Down

Report from Philadelphia, where a broad antifascist mobilization pushed the far-Right off the streets.

by Sam Bishop

In times of turmoil you often hear of certain individuals rising to the occasion and doing what must be done when others aren’t strong enough to do so.

In the city of brotherly love where many across the state are still reeling from the aftermath of last month’s deadly synagogue shooting, when faced with the prospect of far right marchers invading their city one individual did step up to the call. One individual did do what must be done when others weren’t strong enough to do it.

His name was Gritty and he was the one who scared the fascists out of Philly.

Only a few short weeks ago The Keystone State Skinheads, group whose members have been charged with hate crimes ranging from random attacks on minorities, to indiscriminately murdering the homeless had pledged to attend the rally. So had the now infamous Proud Boys who had been planning to attend the rally since its announcement just before many of their members were charged with assaulting protesters in New York.

Despite pledging to ban hate groups from attending the rally and despite the Proud Boys classification as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and despite the groups own founder describing the Proud Boys as a “gang” who “commits violence for fun.” Many of the organizers of the rally defended the group as tensions escalated.

The defense of the Proud Boys by the organizers of the rally only seemed to embolden those opposed to the rally who began organizing a counter protest named the “Push Back Campaign” and began monitoring some of the attendees of the rally. Going as far as to getting one man who was apparently invited as security for the rally fired from his job at Comcast after publicly revealing him as a member of the Proud Boys.

As more and more news came out about the rally, more members of the community became opposed to it. A local petition received over 1,000 signatures asking that the permit for the rally be pulled and fliers were put up around the city with pictures of far-Right leaders who vowed to attend warning citizens to be on the lookout for them.

Tensions escalated more as leaked chat logs revealed that right wing rally goers were planning to bring any weapons they legally could.

But as the day finally came the far-Right rally attendees were outnumbered within minutes. Police made quick work with their bicycles to push counter-demonstrators away from the sidewalk and across the street, allegedly injuring a protester in the process.

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As the rally got underway the number of right wing attendees expanded into tens of people while the number of counter-demonstrators swelled into the hundreds.

People from all walks of life showed up to oppose the Proud Boys they believed to be invading their city. Some at the event included Antifa and other local left wing political groups, while others were made up of ordinary people. Such as Priests, Rabbis and Veterans who came armed with signs that promoted peace and ‘civility.’

Chants were made and the crowd continued to swell until the number of attendees at the Pushback Rally passed 1,000 and the number of attendees at the, We the People Rally totaled at 34.

None of the promised Neo-Nazis or skinheads were spotted in the tiny crowd and though those who were involved in organizing the event had histories of clear bigotry most of those who were there resembled something closer to members of the Tea-Party as opposed to members of the Aryan Brotherhood. Trump and NRA hats covered the heads of those in attendance and heated conversations between self-described Libertarians and Republicans included arguments over whether or not Patriot Act became evil under Obama but Trump somehow is using it for good again or if it was always bad.

Speakers at the event included Tye Smith a black Trump supporter who is president of a police foundation that hosts its event dinners at the Church of Scientology and whose primary source of income appears to be through a company he owns which organizes erotic sex parties. [1]

Others who took charge of speaking during the rally includes a man self-identified as a Delaware small business owner who runs a Conservative Facebook page and who rallied against taxation being theft.

Just as he had begun to invite counter-demonstrators to send someone to cross the police barricade in order to debate him was when the first skirmish occurred.

Police began to mobilize and press was apparently pushed from the scene. Many of the right wing organizers assumed that the commotion was caused by Antifa attempting to force past the police barricade but it only took a few minutes before an officer explained how a member of the rally had snuck into the counter-demonstrator area and began attacking the counter-demonstrators. At that point they were instructed to wrap up the rally, which they soon did an hour before they had scheduled to end it.

After being followed by press and counter-demonstrators to a nearby a police station, officers formed a barricade around the exit to protect the right wing demonstrators until their Ubers could arrive. After two Ubers and a cab driver refused to pick up any of the right wing attendees upon learning who they were, many of the attendees at the rally were forced to simply walk home in shame.

Despite having three chapters and dozens of members in the state of Philadelphia I was told by rally security that only two members of the Proud Boys actually showed up.

What happened to scare away the dozens if not hundreds of far-Right members who planned to march besides the Liberty Bell leaving only the few moderate conservatives left to actually attend?

The answer of course is Gritty. More than a sports mascot or a grotesque assemblage or fur and felt, Gritty is someone that resides within us all. Gritty is an idea. Gritty is a drive within the people of Philadelphia that drove over 1,000 of them to spend their day making signs and preparing to march against injustice.

Perhaps it was the Gritty inside a twitter user who promised to ID anyone that showed up to the rally. Which scared them away. Perhaps it was the Gritty inside Reddit users who hinted that the Socialist Rifle Club would be armed and ready to defend themselves. That made them stay home. It could have even been the Gritty inside the people who posted flyers that identified likely rally attendees and warned citizens to be on the lookout for them. Perhaps it was the Gritty inside every single one of the people who showed up at the Pushback rally, and the Gritty that made them let the world know they would be coming that made the Proud Boys and the Nazis realize this isn’t a game and that the people of Philadelphia won’t let them be welcomed into their city.

All that matters now though is the few who came to the rally ran home hiding behind the police and regretting having come to it in the first place. While members of the resistance made history as Gritty today became the face of the revolution.

Hate Group Organizers In Philadelphia

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