"It's Still Edgy Here"

The feds are helping with the Faheem Thomas-Childs case, but fear still rules Philadelphia.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 18, 2004

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Police wondered when the citizens would do their part and identify the culprits. The streets had been filled with people, yet no one would agree to testify. Where, the police asked, are the citizens?

In the midst of the standoff, the feds took action. Cassius Broaster had already been caught with a handgun four months earlier. The feds didn't move on Broaster initially but took him after Thomas-Childs' death.

Ten years ago, perhaps even five, federal law enforcement wouldn't have made this move. But these days federal prosecutors routinely look at city homicide, shooting and gun possession arrests and "adopt" cases involving particularly nasty criminals.

Attorney Rob Reed makes those decisions. As supervisor for the firearms unit of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Reed reviews every case involving a gun and decides who should be targeted for federal prosecution. Though Reed rarely handles cases himself anymore, he signed on as lead prosecutor for Cassius Broaster, whom he calls "a priority."

Arresting Broaster seemed to turn things in law enforcement's favor. For one thing, 98 percent of gun possession cases adopted by the feds end in convictions--often through a guilty plea. Even better, while prosecutors in DA Lynne Abraham's office might walk away with a sentence of a year or so, federal guidelines entail mandatory minimums for previously convicted felons like Cassius Broaster. And there's the obvious benefit of getting Broaster off the streets, which could encourage the fearful to testify.

Reed got the expected guilty plea from Broaster, and both sides have agreed to a 33-month sentence. But neither the feds nor local police have resolved the Thomas-Childs shooting.

So far, just two of five suspected shooters have been arrested. One of them, Kennell Spady, identified the Broasters as the people he was shooting at. But the word of an indicted murderer is deemed too suspect to warrant an arrest. The result is that Cassius Broaster sits in a federal jail cell with little to do but keep his big yap shut.

In the meantime, his brother Jerome incurred a brand-new gun-possession charge of his own. Early last month a highway patrol cop spotted Jerome Broaster stashing a gun inside a brown Oldsmobile in the course of a routine traffic stop.

It seems a foregone conclusion that Jerome will soon join his brother in federal custody--the feds swooping in again to try to break the case. (In fact, by the time you read this, Jerome Broaster may already be in federal custody). But the enemy they're up against--a drug trade that's become a culture all its own--may prove too fearsome for even the feds to overcome.

Thomas-Childs' shooting is a sad example of the ways in which drug dealers rule neighborhoods. The Broasters have been charged with murder before, for a shooting in a North Philadelphia speakeasy that killed three and wounded five more. Prosecutors claim witnesses came forward then declined to appear in court. One suffered a gunshot wound to the head and survived to testify. But the Broaster brothers walked.

Commissioner Johnson says many people also stepped forward to offer information on Thomas-Childs' shooting, but none volunteered to testify. One person even walked up and shoved a note in Johnson's pocket that told him who did it.

"We don't need any more information," says Johnson. "We know who did it. We need someone to testify."

"We're Targeting People Supplying Guns to Violent Criminals"

The community's fears have only increased in recent weeks.

The murder of Kevin Coles on July 21 sent ripples that left many residents feeling uneasy.

While people in West, Southwest and North Philadelphia refused to speak to PW or declined to give their names, many invoked the tale of Kevin Coles before closing their front doors.

A barber from Logan, Coles ventured a bit too far in combating neighborhood drug dealers before he was shot. After years of asking the locals not to congregate in front of his business, he confronted a group he believed vandalized some of his property.

Not one to back down, he got into a fistfight with the dealers and wound up, like Faheem Thomas-Childs, with a fatal bullet in his head.

The impact of such events on the city's psyche isn't hard to calculate.

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