BEATING THE RAP: The Revolving Door Of Justice

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INQUIRER: Just 23 years old, John Gassew has been arrested 44 times, mostly on charges of sticking a gun in people’s faces and robbing them. But in the eyes of the law, Gassew isn’t an armed robber. He’s never been convicted. Despite being called one of the city’s more prolific, and sometimes violent, stickup men by police – they say he bashed a delivery man over the head with a bat, shot at a 13-year-old neighbor, and smashed in the face of a robbery victim – Gassew has been sentenced to jail only once, for a drug charge. The Northeast Philadelphia man has become so confident in his ability to beat charges, police say, that he openly scoffs at the system. In December 2007, officers arrested him as he ran down a street, leaving behind a car that police said was filled with the loot from 21 robberies he committed in just one weekend. “It looked like a store in there,” said Detective Bob Kane. As Kane and Detective Robert Conn of the Northeast Detective Division tell it, when they confronted Gassew with four trash bags of evidence, he leaned back in his chair and told them he’d take his chances in court. “The bad guys know that if they come in the front door, the back door is usually open,” Conn said. It’s an all-too-common story in Philadelphia: A small-time criminal emboldened by a system that fails time and again to put him away graduates to more violent acts and, eventually, a standoff with police. Gassew has beaten cases in almost every way – including three trials in which he was found not guilty after witnesses changed their story on the stand or were found not credible. “Twenty-three years old and 44 priors. There’s no excuse for that,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. “A second chance? OK. A third chance? OK. But how about a 30th? At some point, you have to realize this guy’s a menace to society. You can’t keep cranking him out,” said Ramsey. MORE

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