12/7 UPDATE: After publishing this story on Monday, Evan Bochetto, son of George Bochetto, shared video with Broad + Liberty that lends credence to the side of the story told by, George.
At 0:17, you can hear a man who appears to be a corporal in the Philadelphia Police Department say about the removal operation, “He’s got to stop where he’s at.” It’s unclear if he’s referring to Bochetto or the contractor, but it’s clear he’s referring to the removal operation.
Amid other conversations that sometimes obscure the audio, a bystander or partisan of some sort says, “For what Constitutional reason?” and the Lt. says, “Apparently, it’s the mayor.” He then adds, “And we follow the mayor’s orders.”
At 1:10, he says, “My captain is telling me nothing can be taken down.”
The response from Mayor Kenney’s office largely mirrored the statement already issued and published in the story below..
Although the holiday honoring Christopher Columbus has passed this year, the passions of many of the legal combatants over the statue are still running hot, and several legal challenges are still unwinding in court which could determine the fate of the statue in South Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza.
George Bochetto is the primary attorney at the forefront of several legal cases in which he is trying to keep the statue in its place and uncovered for years to come.
But when he was engaged in the well-publicized overnight flurry of court activity from Oct. 8-9 about whether a box covering the statue could remain, Bochetto now further alleges he observed what he thought was a severe breach of the spirit of the rule of law from Mayor Kenney’s administration — something the administration denies.
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Bochetto had a court order in hand allowing him to use a contractor to remove the box the city had placed over the statue immediately but says Philadelphia Police quickly showed up and delivered a different message.
“I pointed to my [contractor] and I said, ‘Start taking the box down,’ when a [police lieutenant] said, ‘Look, George, I’m very sorry to have to do this. But we are under strict instructions from the mayor’s office. If you touch that box, we are to arrest you for damaging city property.’ And of course, I said to the Lieutenant, ‘That’s just absolute nonsense.’”
Although much smaller in scale, Bochetto’s allegations mirror many of the rule-of-law debates that flourished during the Trump presidency, such as when opponents of the president accused him of abusing the rule of law when officers were used to clear protesters at Lafayette Square in 2020.
“There is no more rule-of-law principle than a specific court order, by a court of competent jurisdiction that says, ‘you shall’ or ‘’you shall not do’ a specific thing,” Bochetto told Broad + Liberty.
‘There is no more rule-of-law principle than a specific court order, by a court of competent jurisdiction that says “you shall” or “you shall not” do a specific thing.’
“And anybody under any circumstances that violates that or stands in the way of that or obstructs the carrying out that order commits a criminal act. And it should never ever be countenanced because if that’s the way we’re going to start working things, then whoever’s in control of the police department or the mayor’s office suddenly becomes not an elected official by democratic process. He becomes a king or a dictator or a tyrant. That’s not what we signed up for in this country.”
Mayor Kenney’s office denies the allegation and intimated it could have been a misunderstanding of words.
“We have no way to verify Mr. Bochetto’s one-sided account of a conversation with a police officer on the scene. The Administration made no order that anyone be arrested that day, however, after Mr. Bochetto’s emergency motion was transferred to Judge Patrick, she issued the order without providing an opportunity for the City to file its opposition,” said Kevin Lessard, the communications director for Mayor Kenney’s office.
“The city immediately filed an Emergency Application to reinstate the stay and preserve the status quo—the box protecting the statue. The Commonwealth Court quickly reinstated the stay and overturned the Court of Common Pleas. As such, no action can be taken with respect to the statue. If Mr. Bochetto had moved forward as he threatened to do, he would have been in violation of law.”
As that legal squabble was unfolding in October, the Kenney administration was saying that keeping the box over the statue was necessary to preserve public order.
As the legal squabble was unfolding in October, the Kenney administration was saying that keeping the box over the statue was necessary to preserve pubic order.
“Removing the plywood covering during this holiday weekend would pose a serious public safety risk,” Lessard said at the time.
The Inquirer reported that at one point police had erected a fence around the statue while waiting on the outcome of the emergency hearing filed by the city to block Bochetto’s court order.
Bochetto is the named partner of Bochetto & Lentz and represents a community group the Friends of Marconi Plaza, which volunteers to help with the park’s upkeep and organizes the Columbus Day parade.
As for his allegations that he was threatened with arrest that day, Bochetto says he considered proceeding with the removal of the box with the understanding he would be arrested, but then worried that doing so might cause his clients further grief.
“I decided against it because I’ve got other litigation against Mayor Kenney in other areas concerning this whole cancel-culture effort that he’s on,” Bochetto said.
“My concern was that if I did that, I would then perhaps disqualify myself from continuing to serve as the attorney, both in this case and the other cases that I brought against them.”
Bochetto is the attorney in a federal civil complaint that alleges Kenney is “unmistakably bent on prejudicing Italian Americans and governing the City of Philadelphia according to crude racial stereotypes and unconstitutional racial classifications.”
That case is awaiting rulings from the judge on two motions to dismiss.
Last Wednesday, Bochetto filed a petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court asking it to overturn the ruling by the Commonwealth Court that allowed the box to remain in place over the statue.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com