A judge berates three who took part in last month's Center City youth mob attacks

Posted: August 19, 2011

A Juvenile Court judge gave voice to a city's frustration Thursday as he berated three young people for their roles in last month's Center City youth mob attacks.

"Your actions, behavior, and attitude are appalling and disgusting for civilized society," Judge Kevin Dougherty said during a hearing for two teenagers and an 11-year-old who ran riot with a large group on July 29 around 15th and Walnut Streets. Four people were bloodied and beaten.

The teenagers, who said they were members of the "Young Money Gang," went to Center City to fight a group from West Philadelphia. When that failed to materialize, they went looking for other targets, the 11-year-old in tow.

"Downtown is not terror town," Dougherty said. "Philadelphia will not be a laughingstock because [of] a few individuals who decide to hunt human beings and laugh about it."

Dougherty ordered the oldest of the youths, a 17-year-old described as the ringleader, to a state juvenile detention facility, where he could be held until he turns 21.

He sent the other teenager, 16, to a residential school for delinquents, and placed the 11-year-old in his maternal grandmother's care pending a behavioral evaluation this month. For now, he will be fitted with a GPS monitoring anklet and forbidden from leaving the house without his grandmother.

The youths, all male, are not being identified because of their ages. All three pleaded guilty to assault, robbery, and riot charges. A 19-year-old, Raymond Gatling, was also arrested in the attacks. On Thursday, his scheduled hearing was postponed until October.

The two teens, who have been held at the Youth Study Center since the attacks, were led handcuffed into the packed courtroom. The 11-year-old, who had been held at a separate juvenile facility, was not handcuffed. He wore Sunday clothes, and smiled and waved through the back of a chair at his younger brother, who sat in his father's lap.

To begin the hearing, prosecutor Leslie Gomez read a narrative of the events from the night of the attack:

Around 9 p.m., 911 calls flooded in about a large group of teenagers walking south on 15th Street near Sansom Street.

Jeremy Schenkel, 23, of Northeast Philadelphia, was walking north on 15th when the 17-year-old punched him in the head. A half-dozen other teenagers then joined in. The 16-year-old and the 11-year-old tried to rip Schenkel's bag away from him.

The teenagers then moved on to a homeless man down the street, punching and kicking him and tossing his change in the air.

At Locust Street, they pounced on a 25-year-old law student from New York on his way to meet his girlfriend. He was calling to let her know he would be late when he heard one of the teenagers yell, "iPhone! iPhone!" The teenagers punched him to the ground and clawed his pockets.

"Wallet! Wallet!" one screamed.

"They continue to punch and kick him even after his wallet is taken," Gomez said.

Next, at Juniper and Walnut Streets, a female member of the group knocked the hat off a 59-year-old Center City man. The teenagers then beat the man bloody.

Gomez handed the judge hospital photos of the man, his face swollen and bruised purple, a gash on the back of his head.

Dougherty examined the photos. As the 16-year-old picked at his fingers, looking bored, the judge exploded.

"You are showing absolute disrespect not only to me, but to your family and the victims," he said. "I strongly suggest you pick your fingers later and show some compassion or I will dispense similar justice."

Then Gomez played recordings of the 911 calls.

"It's a flash mob, hurry up," the first caller said.

Seconds later a woman called: "They just jumped this white guy, a group of black kids. . . . Tell police to hurry up. They just beat someone else up. It's like 20 of them."

That woman, a 41-year-old custodian heading home to North Philadelphia, followed the group, told police she would wait for an officer to meet her, and eventually identified two of the youths.

"They beating people up," another caller said. "I got drumsticks in my hand. I don't mind hitting someone. That's how bad it is."

In the background of calls about the attack on the 59-year-old man came sirens, shouting, and a woman's voice telling the man to take deep breaths and stay calm.

"Send an ambulance. He's in the middle of the street!" someone yelled.

When police arrived, the 17-year-old ringleader smiled at one of the officers before turning to run, Gomez said.

All the victims, except the homeless man, whom police have not found, were in court. The 59-year-old still had a deep bruise on his cheek.

The attacks "significantly affected [the victims'] lives," Gomez said. They were more concerned for their own safety now and did not want to relive the attacks by offering victim-impact statements, she said.

Dougherty then interviewed the defendants, one by one.

"Now the hard part," he told them. "You have walked into my world. I don't take nonsense from my own children, and I won't take it from you."

First, he called on the 16-year-old. A dozen family members joined him, including his girlfriend. She rolled her eyes, and Dougherty had her thrown out of the courtroom.

"The fact that you choose to have that as your girlfriend tells me a lot about your character," he said.

The teen's mother spoke on her son's behalf. She began to cry, drawing tears from her son.

"It's good to see you cry," Dougherty told him. "I didn't see you cry over the victims' pain."

The 10th grader missed 89 days of school at Simon Gratz High last year and was late 86 times, Gomez said.

"There's only about 180 days of school," Dougherty snapped.

The judge asked him about the "Young Money Gang."

"Is it a dance group?"

"No, sir."

"What is it then?"

"Just a big group," the teen answered.

The teenagers' cellphones contained messages about that group and others, including ones called ATM, Mac Dollie, and W.T.F. Dougherty said he would turn the information over to gang intelligence officers.

Next, he told the 11-year-old's family to stand, asking: "What was an 11-year-old doing in Center City at 9 o'clock at night?"

The boy's mother said she had him with her at a Bible study group she teaches for about 50 children at a neighborhood center near their Frankford home.

The boy said he sneaked out to a playground, where he ran into the teenagers, who told him they were going to a cookout. They took the El to the city, he said. His mother said she did not realize he was gone until Bible study ended.

"What do you do at age 11?" Dougherty asked.

"Play basketball and play football," he replied.

"Why did you leave Bible school?"

"Because I didn't want to be there."

"What did you think you were going downtown for?"

"Just to be there," the boy said.

The judge then called up the 17-year-old, the alleged ringleader who threw the first punch of the night at Schenkel and later laughed in a police officer's face as a man lay bleeding in the street.

"How come you're not smiling here?" he asked. "Tell me what was so funny smiling at a cop."

"He is scared," the teen's lawyer said.

"I wonder if it is similar to the fear of the human beings who saw a pack of people running down the street at them," Dougherty said.

The judge said he saw no remorse from the teen. "I'm putting you away," he said.

The teens were taken from the courtrooms, and Dougherty told the victims he hoped the proceedings had brought them some closure.

Schenkel, the first victim, said he had made peace with what happened and it did not make him want to leave Philadelphia.

"Not one bit," he said. "I love this city. This is my city."

Contact staff writer Mike Newall at 215-854-2759 or mnewall@phillynews.com or @MikeNewall on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writer Vernon Clark contributed to this article.

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