As you watch the epic eight-part docuseries Philly D.A. unfold, you may want help keeping track of key figures in this sprawling story of the battle over criminal justice reform in America’s sixth-largest metropolitan area. Here are some of the characters, both living and no longer with us, that feature prominently in Philly D.A.
Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney
- Krasner went to high school in Tredyffrin Township, a suburb of Philly, in an area that was ahead of its time in school integration, dating back to the 1930s (after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education court case, more widespread integration of schools began in the ’50s and ’60s).
- He was a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia for 30 years, and represented Black Lives Matter and Occupy Philadelphia members.
- Despite once declaring his own career made him “completely unelectable,” Krasner defeated Republican opponent Beth Grossman by more than 40 percentage points in the 2017 race for District Attorney.
- According to Krasner, during his time at Stanford Law, he focused on “the legal rights of Indigenous people, homeless people, and the poor.”
- Surprise trivia: his father William was a writer of pulp mysteries, most notably Walk the Dark Streets as well as The Gambler and The Stag Party.
Key Quote: “We believe in transparency. They’re going to have to get used to it.”
LaTonya “T.” Myers, Activist and Bail Navigator, Defender Association
- Formerly incarcerated person-turned-activist and the first-ever Bail Navigator for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, a position to help those arrested navigate the bail review system.
- Prior to joining the Defender Association, Myers’s life was upended while she sat in jail saddled with a $1,500 bail that she couldn’t afford to pay. She’d been in and out of the system for much of her life, but the issue of unaffordable bail and pretrial incarceration turned her onto activism.
- Gave out what she called the Probation Awards, a ceremony recognizing people “doing their best to do good, but living under constant threat of incarceration.”
- Currently works as the Support Coordinator with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund.
- Started a new organization to help others who are system impacted, Above All Odds.
Key Quote: “It’s hard to live life like this, always being looked at your worst and not really at your best. You can’t really move forward. Once you get convicted, you already have that scar, the letter F, that you’re a felon. You’re going to fail, and that’s not what motivates people to want to change.”
Captain Javier Rodriguez, 25th Police District
- The Captain of the 25th PPD district in North Philadelphia.
- Born and raised in the Fairhill neighborhood of Philadelphia.
- Served in the Marines.
- Previously as a Sergeant, Rodriguez was responsible for the tactical and narcotics units and oversaw operations involving the investigation of crimes related to illegal possession and/or sale of narcotics, promotion and involvement in prostitution, as well as suspected violations of alcohol and ordinances.
- Wife Maria Ortiz-Rodriguez is herself now a Captain in Philadelphia PD, making her and her husband two of the top three highest-ranking Latinos in the PPD.
Key Quote: “Let’s stop worrying about prisoners or people who choose the life that they are living and let’s start worrying about the actual people who live here.”
Robert “Bob” Listenbee, First Assistant District Attorney
- Prior to joining Larry Krasner’s office, Listenbee was appointed the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) by President Barack Obama. His primary focus there was to address the core protections outlined in the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention Act, reduce out-of-home youth placements, and oversee the nation’s juvenile justice system by creating evidence-based practices and programs.
- Served as Chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 16 years and as a trial lawyer with the Association for more than two decades.
- The MacArthur Foundation honored him as a Champion for Change in juvenile justice reform in 2011.
Key Quote: “Here’s my beef. I ask people wherever I’ve gone, throughout this entire country, one simple question, okay? In our juvenile justice system in your area, would you wanna put your kids in that system and send them to out-of-home placement programs that we’re sending kids to? You wouldn’t want your kids there? I wouldn’t want my kids there. Then we really have to find a way to get other people’s kids out of there. We’re locking up too many kids, we really are.”
John McNesby, President of Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 5
- The FOP describes itself as a “full-service member representation organization” which represents police members and lobbies congress and government agencies on behalf of law enforcement. Supporting 14,000 Active and Retired officers of the Philadelphia Police and Sheriff’s Department, Lodge 5, over which McNesby presides, is essentially Philadelphia’s most powerful local police union.
- The FOP sued District Attorney Krasner to block the addition of police officer names to the D.A.’s Police Misconduct Disclosure Database, claiming it “result[ed] in the lost wages, damage to reputation and professional harm to those police officers rights.” In 2019, Courts rejected the lawsuit, stating the database is “fully within the discretion of D.A. Krasner as he is tasked with carrying out his responsibilities to fairly prosecute crimes and maintain the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
- McNesby ran into national notoriety a few years ago when he referred to Black Lives Matter protestors as “rabid animals”, For protesting outside the home of former Police Officer Ryan Pownall (seen in Episode 7) [Source: USA Today]
- He remains popular and influential with police in the Philadelphia area.
- Considered running for State Senate in 2014, but did not pursue it.
Key Quotes: “We have enough officers on that Do Not Call list to invade Cuba. It’s really sad.”
“We’re to make sure that we send a message to Larry Krasner that we have the officers’ backs.”
Joseph “Pooh” Chamberlain, Juvenile Lifer
- Nicknamed Pooh from Winnie the Pooh—As a kid “that became my favorite character. I had Winnie the Pooh everything.”
- Convicted of first-degree murder as a teenager, sentenced to life plus two and a half years consecutive.
- Oldest sister Tondalaya was a kindergarten teacher who taught Pooh how to draw. Their mother was an alcoholic, and Tondalaya was the mother figure. In 1990, Tondalaya was stabbed to death. She was pregnant with twins.
- Zakia Pugh, girlfriend of Joseph in the series, is a pre-school principal. They are no longer together but remain friends.
Key quote: “Both of us were young, black boys and we could have been best friends. Who knows? It could’ve stopped at any moment. I’m sorry that happened. I wish it never happened.”
Lisa Harvey, ADA, Juvenile Unit Chief, 2012-2019
- Started in the Philadelphia D.A.’s office as Senior Trial Attorney in 1995.
- Spent nearly 18 years of her career there, rising to Chief of the Juvenile Court Unit.
- Appointed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to be a member of the Juvenile Court Procedural Rules Committee
- Co-author of article “Factors associated with successful completion of a community based, post arrest, juvenile diversion program.”
- Now serves in Philadelphia Family Court as the Chief of the Juvenile Division.
Key Quote: “You can make the changes, I just think you don’t have to destroy the system to get the results you want.”
Anthony Voci, ADA, Chief of Homicide | 2018-2020
- Voci served 15 years with the District Attorney over three different decades, first in the early ’90s under then-D.A. Ron Castille, and later under his successor, Lynne Abraham.
- Larry Krasner appointed Voci head of the homicide unit after taking office in 2018; Krasner then demoted Voci in 2020. Replaced by Chesley Lightsey.
- Voci was accused of using his influence improperly in a 2020 road rage incident but all charges against the driver were later dropped.
Key Quote: “Keep thinking. Never stop thinking.”
Pernell Jackson, Assistant District Attorney
- Jackson is an Assistant District Attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office who works under Krasner and Listenbee.
- Before that Jackson was an intern in the District Attorney’s office as well as in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C.
- Studied law at American University.
- Currently serves in the Gun Crime Strategies and Prevention Collaborative working with Philadelphia police officers.
Key Quote: “I think especially as an African American male you really have a special duty to make sure that you’re not just moving the assembly line along. There’s something that can be done that maybe doesn’t necessarily have to involve this defendant going to prison. You really have to take that extra moment to examine what it is what you’re doing.”
Judge Scott DiClaudio, Common Pleas Court
- Was elected judge to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in 2015; the election had 12 open seats and DiClaudio finished 12th.
- DiClaudio was endorsed in 2015 by the AFL-CIO.
- In Dec. 2020, DiClaudio was found by the state Court of Judicial Discipline to have violated the state judicial ethics code by repeatedly defying court orders to pay back thousands of dollars in dues money owed to a Bala Cynwyd “fitness and socializing club” and by mishandling his financial disclosures; he also faced ethics charges a year earlier.
- The Courts of Common Pleas are organized into 60 judicial districts and are the trial courts of Pennsylvania. Major civil and criminal cases are heard in these courts.
Key Quote: “A judge has a ridiculous amount of power. He, or she, could change a person’s life by a snap of a finger. I want the defendant to know that we are there to help them succeed. Mr. Krasner has the perception that probation tries to jam the defendant up, get him in trouble, report him, put him in jail. That’s a perception. See, the carrot without the stick, in my opinion, will not be effective. Mr. Krasner’s not explaining to each defendant, ‘Take advantage of this opportunity or else.’ And without the or else, which Mr. Krasner is not, it’s not part of his message, respectfully.”
Dana Bazelon, District Attorney’s Policy Team | 2018-present
- Has been an attorney specializing in primarily criminal defense and civil rights work.
- She became a Senior Policy Advisor to D.A. Larry Krasner, where she drafts and helps implement policies on criminal justice reform, including ending cash bail for minor offenses, no longer charging or diverting minor offenses and reforming Philadelphia’s probation system.
- Her sister Lara is a law professor who also just wrote a crime thriller; and sister Emily is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School, and co-host of the Slate podcast Political Gabfest.
Key Quote: “The law gives all prosecutor’s offices a huge amount of power, but I fundamentally don’t buy the idea that we can fix people in the criminal justice system.”
Maria Quiñones Sanchez, City Council Member (District 7)
- A member of the Democratic Party, she was the first Hispanic person elected to Philadelphia City Council, in 2008.
- She was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the mainland in the 1960s with her mother and brothers.
- She represents Kensington, one of the Philly neighborhoods hardest hit by the opioid crisis so much so that it became the focus of a New York Times story “Trapped by the ‘Walmart of Heroin.”
- Rumored to be a Mayoral candidate in 2023.
Key Quote: “Electing people is one thing. Helping them become successful is another thing. [Krasner’s] work is a generational work and people are not going to see the results for another 10 years and they want the here and now.”
Sgt. Robert F. Wilson III, Philadelphia Officer Killed in 2015
- Was shot and killed on March 5, 2015, when he and his partner interrupted a robbery at a video game store at 2101 West Lehigh Avenue at approximately 4:45 pm. Wilson was there to buy a video game for his young son.
- Served with the Philadelphia Police Department for eight years, and was posthumously promoted to Sergeant.
- Wilson and his sister Shaki’ra lost their mother at a young age, which she credits for tightening their bond.
- She supervised Victim Services and Restorative Justice units in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
- She was the founder of the CHARLES Foundation (Creating Healthy Alternatives Results in Less Emotional Suffering) to help at-risk children in Philadelphia, established in 2011 after the mistaken identity shooting death of her 18-year-old son, Charles André Johnson.
- Was the first female Muslim member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2019 in a special election held after Vanessa Lowery Brown resigned due to her conviction on corruption and bribery charges. [Source]
- Johnson-Harrell was forced to resign from the House in December 2019 after pleading guilty to charges of perjury, tampering with public records, and multiple charges related to her personal use of $500,000 over the course of a decade from the non-profit Motivation Education and Consultation Associates. She began serving under house arrest in 2020 after an early release, when she was diagnosed with COVID-19. [Source]
- In March, Movita lost her older son to gun violence, when Donté Johnson, 30, was fatally wounded while visiting Los Angeles, the victim of happenstance in what was believed to have been a drive-by shooting. [Source]
- Movita will be the subject of a forthcoming documentary Murders that Matter by Marco Williams.
Key Quote: “Larry’s not going to allow them to do things the same old way, so get with the program or get to stepping.”
Note: This article has been updated to reflect the stories current as of May 6, 2021, during Philly D.A.’s initial broadcast on PBS.
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