PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, 2020 saw a rise in violent crimes across Philadelphia. From the ballooning homicide rate and the number of children killed by gun violence to the looting stemming from the George Floyd and Walter Wallace Jr. protests and police accused of assaulting protesters, these are some of the biggest crime stories of the year — solved and unsolved.
Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was shot 14 times and killed by Philadelphia Police Officers Sean Matarazzo and Thomas Munz after, police say, Wallace walked towards them while holding a knife and refused to drop it. Wallace’s family say he was suffering from a mental health crisis when he was killed. Bodycam footage shows Wallace Jr. continue to walk around the area before both officers open fire, killing him. In the video, one of the officers can be heard saying “shoot him” before both officers opened fire. Wallace’s death sparked outrage and nights of looting and protests throughout Philadelphia. The officers have not been charged.
Meanwhile, in New Jersey, officials released bodycam footage moments before an unarmed black man, 28-year-old Maurice Gordon, was shot and killed by a New Jersey state trooper during a fight on the Garden State Expressway.
The nationwide protests following the fatal police shooting of George Floyd in Minneapolis made its way to Philadelphia. While most of the protests were peaceful, some did become violent. Cop cars were set on fire, protesters and cops fought, looting took place across the city, and several ATMs were vandalized. One ShopRite store in West Philadelphia was looted for 15 consecutive hours. The National Guard was deployed to the city and Philadelphia issued a curfew for several nights.
Some Philadelphia police officers were charged with using excessive force against George Floyd protesters over the summer. Philadelphia SWAT Officer Richard Nicoletti was charged for a pepper-spraying incident that made national headlines. Nicoletti could be seen pepper-spraying peaceful protesters on I-676. The video also showed him pulling down the mask of a woman, spraying her in the face and dousing two others with pepper spray. Philadelphia Police Staff Inspector Joseph Bologna was charged after striking 21-year-old Temple University student Evan Gorski with a baton and arresting him during protests near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City. And former SEPTA Police Sgt. Matthew Sinkiewicz was charged after being accused of hitting two protesters with his baton.
Philadelphia Police Sgt. James O’Connor, 46, was shot and killed in the Frankford section of the city in March while serving a warrant. The warrant was being served to 21-year-old Hassan Elliott for a robbery and murder that happened in March 2019. The 22-year-old Elliott is accused of firing the gun that killed O’Connor. Elliott has been charged with murder and is facing the death penalty. Three others are also facing charges. O’Connor was survived by his wife and two children.
The deadly COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t quelled the city’s homicide rate. As of Dec. 18, Philadelphia has seen a 39% increase in murders (476) compared to all of 2019 (356). The number of homicides so far this year is higher than any year since 1990, which had 500 homicides.
Meanwhile, in nearby Montgomery County, 18-year-old Morgan McCaffery was fatally stabbed during a domestic incident at the Meadowbrook SEPTA station in July. Gilbert Newton III, 18, of Philadelphia, was charged in the murder. Officials say an investigation revealed that the McCaffrey had broken off a yearlong relationship with Newton a month prior and she had gone to the train station to meet him to discuss their relationship.
More than 20 juveniles lost their lives to firearms in Philadelphia this year alone, almost double compared to last year. Data obtained by Eyewitness News shows 23 victims ages 17 and under were killed by gunfire in Philadelphia so far in 2020. That’s up from 12 children killed by guns during the same time last year. More than 100 children under the age of 18 have been shot in the city so far this year.
Notable gun violence against children include:
- A 14-year-old boy who was shot twice and killed in Olney earlier in December.
- 12-year-old Sadeek Clark-Harrison was shot in the face and killed while answering the door of his Frankford home in November.
The Philadelphia community also mourned an act of violence against 2-year-old King Hill, who was allegedly killed by his babysitter 24-year-old Tianna Park. Police say King’s stepfather, Marvin Reese, put the toddler in Parks’ care. Officers arrested Parks after the investigation uncovered cell phone video confirming the child was killed. Parks now faces numerous charges, including murder and abuse of corpse.
It was a disturbing case that came out of Lower Providence Township. Officials say 10-month-old Zara Scruggs died after she was raped and beaten by her father, 29-year-old Austin Stevens. He has been charged with first-degree murder, rape of a child, aggravated assault, and other related charges.
A 61-year-old woman was left blind following an unprovoked attack when a man threw a mixture of dangerous chemicals in her face. The attack happened in October in the Germantown section of the city shortly after Helen Jones left her home. The attack left her with burns to her lips, tongue and eyes. Family members told Eyewitness News the potent mixture included Draino and it burned through Jones’ skin, leaving her blind. Police are still searching for the suspect.
A Sesame Place employee was attacked trying to get a couple to do the right thing during a pandemic. A New York couple was charged in the violent attack of a 17-year-old employee at the Sesame Place amusement park in Langhorne in July. Investigators say 39-year-old Troy McCoy and 31-year-old Shakerra Bonds attacked the teen after he reminded them to wear a mask. The victim spent a week in the hospital recovering from surgery to his fractured jaw and damage to his teeth.
The former president of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity at Temple University has been sentenced to 3½-to-seven years in state prison for the attempted sexual assault of a female student in his bedroom during a frat house party. Ari Goldstein, 23, was convicted in February of attempted involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, attempted sexual assault and indecent assault of a woman who was a freshman at Temple in February 2018. But jurors also acquitted the Wrightstown resident of sexual assault and indecent assault of another woman in the fraternity house in November 2017.