Prosecutors in Delaware have strongly denied reports that passengers who witnessed an alleged rape on a Philadelphia metro train simply filmed the act on their phones without intervening or calling police.
Delaware County district attorney Jack Stollsteimer said it was “simply not true” that groups of bystanders were “callously sitting there filming and didn’t act” when the incident took place last week.
That contradicted claims made by Philadelphia transport police earlier this week, who ignited furious media coverage when they said no 911 calls had been made in the city about the incident and blamed witnesses for not stopping it sooner.
"There were other people on the train who witnessed this horrific act, and it may have been stopped sooner if a rider called 911,” said the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (Septa) in a statement.
Septa police chief Thomas Nestel III chimed in at a press conference on Monday: “I don’t want to, and I can’t, frankly, speculate as to what was on people’s minds. But from the video it does appear that people were holding their phones up, in the direction of what was happening.”
Timothy Bernhardt, police superintendent for the Philadelphia township of Upper Darby, called passengers’ actions “troubling” and said: “There was a lot of people, in my opinion, that should have intervened. Somebody should have done something.”
Some officers even suggested that witnesses who failed to help might face criminal prosecution.
But at another conference on Thursday, an apparently frustrated Mr Stollsteimer called this narrative “misinformation”, saying many passengers who passed by the incident might not have realised what they were seeing in the regular rush.
He said: “People in this region are not, in my experience, so inhuman and callous ... that they’re going to sit there and just watch this happen and videotape it – as one journalist said today – for their own private enjoyment.”
“The picture that people have gotten, that this crowd of people sitting there were filming and not doing anything, isn’t true.”
He noted that a suspect in another Septa sexual assault on Wednesday night had only been arrested after a bystander alerted police, saying: “That’s how people are in Delaware County. If people need help we stand up and help.”
Prosecutors have charged Fiston Ngoy, a 35-year-old man originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo who previously pled guilty to a sex offence in Washington DC, with rape and sexual assault over the incident last week. He remains in custody on a $180,000 (£131,000) bail.