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May 07, 2024

Pa. House GOP calls for probe into Philly DA's handling of Kevin Boyle warrant

A letter urges the attorney general to consider 'serious questions' about Larry Krasner's announcement the day before the primary.

Investigations Politics
Larry Krasner Boyle Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Republicans are calling for an investigation into Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, above, for his role in withdrawing an arrest warrant for state Rep. Kevin Boyle the day before last month's primary election.

Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have urged Attorney General Michelle Henry to open an investigation into Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner's handling of the withdrawal of an arrest warrant for state Rep. Kevin Boyle last month.

Boyle, a Democrat who has severed seven terms in the 172nd District, had been shrouded with controversy heading into the primary election on April 23, which he lost to Democratic challenger Sean Dougherty. A week before the election, a warrant had been issued for Boyle's arrest for an alleged violation of a protection from abuse order. Boyle was accused of breaking the terms of the protective order by texting his estranged wife, but he refused to surrender to authorities ahead of the election. 

The day before the primary, Krasner and Philadelphia Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel held a news conference to announce the warrant for Boyle's arrest had been withdrawn because the protective order was no longer active during the period the text messages were sent. Krasner said his office had received "previously unavailable" information that morning about the status of the warrant, meaning charges could not be pursued.

"As best we can tell, nobody lied," Krasner said at the time. "There is simply a gap in information."

Bethel said the police department would conduct an internal investigation to understand why the officer who handled the case took action against Boyle using out-of-date information.

“The involvement by District Attorney Krasner and his office in the issuance and withdrawal of the arrest warrant issued for Rep. Boyle on the literal eve of a primary election in which he was a candidate for office raises serious questions,” Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (Lancaster) said Tuesday.

Cutler, joined by his colleagues, sent a letter to Henry requesting an investigation of the matter. A spokesperson for the attorney general said Henry received the letter and that her office is reviewing it, but they did not indicate whether an investigation will take place.

At the time the arrest warrant was withdrawn, Krasner acknowledged that the timing of the announcement might raise questions about the case. 

"Regardless of what candidate I might like or might not like, I don't think it's right for people to end this day without information that can be corrected," Krasner said.

Tuesday's move by House Republicans is the latest salvo in an ongoing campaign by GOP lawmakers to call Krasner's record in Philadelphia into question. His political opponents have long painted his progressive and reform-minded tenure as soft on crime.

"This case is symptomatic of an office that has repeatedly exploited its power, not merely bending the rules but breaking them," said Republican state Rep. Martina White, whose 170th District covers parts of Northeast Philly.

Dustin Slaughter, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office, said in an email that the GOP leaders' call for an investigation into the Boyle case is another example of "political theater" led by "enemies of democracy."

"It's ironic that many of those pushing for this investigation were also involved in disputing the 2020 election," he said.

Cutler and White, along with other Republican colleagues, including state Reps. George Dunbar and Seth Grove, are among a list of Pennsylvania lawmakers who contested the results of the 2020 election, according to the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center.

"Regardless of these Republicans bogus efforts at distraction, we will continue to fight crime as they require us to fight stupid," Slaughter said.

Last week, a group of Republicans from the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a field hearing on violent crime victims in Philadelphia. The hearing called on several witnesses to discuss the state of crime and law enforcement in the city, including family members of the victims of high-profile crimes. The hearing characterized the district attorney's office as overseeing "pro-criminal policies" in the city.

Krasner, who was not invited to testify at that hearing, acknowledged the grief of some of the witnesses who were called to share their insights. But he said the event was driven by an agenda.

"It's not a hearing at all," Krasner said. "It is a dog and pony show with pre-arranged witnesses where they are going to deliberately make sure there is a one-sided representation."

At the hearing, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), one of former President Donald Trump's staunchest supporters, characterized Krasner's role as part of a concerted effort to shape national crime policy. 

"This dynamic, this soft-on-crime progressivism, it's not just an isolated circumstance in one area," Gaetz said. "But the DAs who are doing these policies, they actually see themselves as part of a broader movement to impact the whole country this way." 

Krasner, now in his second term, previously was the target of a failed impeachment effort led by Republicans in Harrisburg who had their case tossed out of Commonwealth Court before it went to trial. Two-term state Rep. Craig Williams, who was the GOP's House leader for the impeachment effort, lost in the Republican primary for attorney general last month to York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, who does not support impeaching Krasner.

The attorney general race in November could play a pivotal role in the political fight between Krasner and Republican lawmakers. Henry is not running to retain the office. To date, she has not appointed a special prosecutor to oversee some of the crimes that occur on or near SEPTA property in Philadelphia, a new position that was authorized by the passage of a law in December. Krasner has filed a legal challenge against the law, arguing it undermines the Democratic will of Philadelphia voters.

Sunday will face Democrat Eugene DePasquale in November for the chance to replace Henry in a role that's often viewed as a stepping stone to higher political ambitions.

Boyle, the brother of U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, has battled mental health issues over the years, his family said. He hasn't made any public remarks about the arrest warrant, its later withdrawal or the outcome of the primary election.

Krasner did not rule out the possibility that Boyle could still face charges, saying his office will continue to investigate whether he committed any crimes.