A former Philadelphia Police officer blasted a plea deal allegedly offered to a man accused of firing his gun at law enforcement nearly two years ago, describing the proposed agreement as “disrespectful.”
The District Attorney’s Office, which purportedly drew up the deal, continues to prosecute the suspect, 21-year-old Devon Smith, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Smith’s attorneys successfully argued last year to have the most serious charge — attempted murder — dropped, arguing that the gun went off accidentally during a scuffle.
Back in December 2020, Patrick Keller, then an officer with seven months on the job, and his partner responded to a domestic disturbance at a house in Kingsessing.
When they arrived, the officers asked Smith about a gun, and he admitted to having one in his pocket. Smith’s hands were in his pockets, and Keller immediately attempted to grab his wrists. During the struggle, a bullet was fired.
“When he fired at me, I was inches away from him,” Keller told reporters Thursday. “He shot at me through his pants pocket.”
Keller wasn’t shot, but he suffered gunpowder burns to his neck, face and ears and has had hearing loss. No officers at the scene returned fire.
Though the Defender’s Association of Philadelphia, which represents Smith, declined to comment on the case, attorneys for Smith have claimed that he did not intend to fire a shot that night.
In a May 2021 motion, they say Keller did not give Smith a chance to safely surrender his gun. Smith immediately yelled that the gunfire was accidental, which he also told police who interviewed him later, according to court documents.
“The defendant never made any aggressive movement towards the officer,” Smith’s lawyers said in the motion. “He never made any threats. He did not remove the gun from his pocket or point it at the officer.”
Court of Common Pleas Judge Diana Anhalt was apparently partially swayed, agreeing there was not enough evidence to move forward with the attempted murder charge.
“You have to pull the trigger for a gun to go off. I certainly didn’t pull the trigger,” Keller said. “Guns don’t go off by themselves.”
Smith’s trial is scheduled for later this month, and Keller said he had not heard from prosecutors until last week, when he was informed of a plan to offer Smith a sentence of four-to-eight years in prison with three years probation at a hearing Friday.
“I was never once considered or gave any input on what I thought would be an appropriate plea deal,” Keller said, adding that he wants to see the case go to trial.
After learning of the possible plea agreement, he declined a meeting with representatives from the DA’s Office.
Jane Roh, a spokesperson for the office, did not confirm the terms of the proposed plea and said prosecutors were limited in their ability to comment on an active case. The DA’s office intends “to seek justice and accountability in a court of law — not through the media,” she added.
“The DAO views this incident as a serious crime that is being prosecuted vigorously and justly in light of the facts and the law,” Roh said in a statement.
She said Friday’s pre-trial hearing was going to be postponed for a mental health evaluation; although Keller said such tests had already occurred.
Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 President John McNesby, who spoke alongside Keller during the news conference at the union’s Far Northeast headquarters, sought to connect the potential plea deal to recent spikes in gun violence, repeatedly mentioning the rash of shootings over Memorial Day weekend.
“We have a community that is being held captive in the city of Philadelphia and we’re hearing it from every neighborhood in the city,” said McNesby, who has a long-running feud with DA Larry Krasner.
Keller, 28, said the shooting was a factor in him deciding to leave the PPD after a year-and-a-half. He now works for a suburban police department, which he declined to name.
Smith has been behind bars since his arrest. Barring a plea, his trial is tentatively scheduled to begin June 21.