Massachusetts man charged for racist, threatening emails sent to Philly Police Commissioner Outlaw

Danielle Outlaw is introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney as the new Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, in December 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Danielle Outlaw is introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney as the new Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department, in December 2019. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Last week — amid days of protests against police violence — Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw received at least two emails containing racist and threatening language, including one that asked where she lives.

According to U.S. Attorney William McSwain, Peter Fratus, 39, of West Dennis, Massachusetts, was arrested and charged via criminal complaint for transmitting threatening communications in interstate commerce on June 6.

“As alleged in the criminal complaint, Peter Fratus’ racist threats towards Commissioner Outlaw were vile and disturbing,” McSwain said. “We take such threats very seriously, and let this be a warning to anyone who might feel the urge to fire off an online threat directed at a public official: we will trace your digital footprint, track you down and hold you accountable.”

Fratus made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Tuesday, and will be transferred to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Eastern District plans to file a motion seeking detention of Fratus pending trial.

The case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Asst. U.S. Attorney Robert Livermore.

“While the First Amendment gives us the right to express our own opinions, violent physical threats are certainly not protected speech,” said Michael J. Driscoll, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia division. “When someone threatens the life of another person, it’s a clear red flag and we have to take their despicable words at face value.”

If convicted, Fratus faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Outlaw, who is the first Black woman to lead Philly police, became commissioner in February. Her hiring came six months after a national investigation showed over 300 Philly officers made racist or otherwise offensive posts on social media. Most of those officers had resigned or retired as of January.

It also follows the sudden resignation of former Police Commissioner Richard Ross, who left in August after a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed, alleging sexual harassment as well as racial and gender discrimination. Ross was among 11 defendants from the police department named in the suit.

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