Pa. Senate approves bill creating SEPTA crimes division in Philly DA’s office

The bill sponsored by Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, is now before the House Judiciary Committee

By: - May 9, 2023 10:45 am

(*This story was updated on 3:06 p.m. on May 10, 2023 to correct a reporting error)

By Sherry Stone

PHILADELPHIA —  The Pennsylvania Senate has approved a bill that could create a Philadelphia office in charge of prosecuting heinous crimes on SEPTA property.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, cleared the Senate on a nearly party line 29-21 vote on May 2, according to an official Senate roll call. Democratic Sen. Jimmy Dillon, of Philadelphia, crossed over to vote with Republicans on the bill.

The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee. If it clears the full House and is signed into law, there will will be a new division of the Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office, specifically in charge of cleaning up SEPTA.

The Mass Transit Special Prosecutor’s Program has a few detractors.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that the bill “is a brazen attempt to undermine the authority of one district attorney, in one county, to override the votes of every Philadelphian who elected him.”

The group said that the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits the state from creating special laws that interfere with local governing authorities.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said that the District Attorney’s Office in 2023 has an 87.8% prosecution rate and doing a great job on its own. He is concerned about the removal of responsibility for handling these cases from the D.A’s office, and added that the real problem is manpower in law-enforcement.

Hughes noted that the Philadelphia Police Department is down about $1,000 officers and the SEPTA Transit Police, Temple University, Drexel and Penn campus police and even the Pennsylvania State Police need some help recruiting and retaining officers.

Riding SEPTA has required some extra prayer and courage the last year or two with the crimes on its vehicles.

A 37-year-old man was stabbed in the back and head, just last Sunday evening, in Kensington while waiting for Market Frankfort elevated train.

On April 9, 21-year-old Joseph Lighty was shot and killed during an argument at the Walnut-Locust SEPTA station of the Broad Street Line in Center City. Phillip Riddick was arrested on the scene for homicide after shooting Lighty in the thigh multiple times.

On March 31, a 19-year-old man was shot in West Philadelphia near the 52nd and Market Street stop. Several men got into a fight and one of the men pulled out a handgun and shot the teen in the arm.

That incident followed a shooting on Broad Street subway when Saquan Ausborne, 29, was arrested for a shooting his girlfriend in the leg, and for shooting her ex-boyfriend in the hip, near Snyder Station. Ausborne was arrested on two counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault.

That’s not to mention two shootings on SEPTA buses: Quinzel Kane was riding the 56 bus to work in November of 2022, when a stray bullet struck his inhaler in the breast pocket —and the route 23 bus from Center City, through North Philadelphia to Germantown, was hit by a stray bullet around 11th Street and Lehigh Avenue.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and members of the District’s Office of Homicide and Non-Fatal Shooting Unit, announced a win last week, in a major SEPTA crimes case. Krasner’s office announced the conviction and sentencing of Tahmir Banks, 24, in the fatal shooting of a homeless man. Nicholas Troxell, 41, was murdered at SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line, at Allegheny Station, in March 2020.

Banks and another male, slapped Troxell in the face during a train ride. Later, when he got off the elevated train, surveillance cameras show that Banks followed him and pulled out a .380-caliber handgun, firing one shot at Troxell’s head. Banks and a second man fled the scene while Troxell bled to death — he was pronounced dead at Temple Hospital.

“This terrible crime is a stark reminder of how marginalized member of society can be treated as an after-thought by others … We will continue to seek equal justice for all residents of Philadelphia, and hold those accountable to the fullest extend of the law.”

Assistant D.A. Erica Rebstock thanked the Philadelphia police department for their “tireless investigation” of the case. Troxell was described by Rebstock as as “a beloved member of this family. He was shot down in cold blood. I’m pleased that law enforcement was able to achieve some justice for his his family’s tragic loss.”

Sherry Stone is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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