The Delaware County district attorney is challenging assertions made by authorities that straphangers recorded videos of a rape last week on a SEPTA train and failed to stop it or alert authorities.
Riders wouldn’t have been so “inhuman” as to record the attack on public transportation for their “own private enjoyment,” District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said.
The comments during a news conference on Thursday, reported by WCAU, diverged from earlier suggestions made by transit officials and police who said train riders appeared to stand idly by and in some cases even record video of a woman’s rape aboard a train in a Philadelphia suburb last week.
According to Stollsteimer, the “narrative” about voyeuristic passengers who not only didn’t stop the rape but “took videos of it for their own gratification” was inaccurate.
“That is simply not true. It did not happen. We have security video from SEPTA that shows that is not the true narrative,” he said. That video has not been released amid the ongoing investigation.
The DA’s new assertion comes after police said for days that train passengers had captured cellphone video of a man identified as Fiston Ngoy, 35, who allegedly ripped clothes off of a woman and raped her, just before 10 p.m. on Oct. 13 as the train made its way toward Upper Darby.
Timothy Bernhardt, the superintendent of the Upper Darby Township Police Department, stood alongside Stollsteimer on Thursday but had previously said he was “appalled” by idle passengers who “did nothing” to help as the woman tried to stop Ngoy.
“Anybody that was on that train has to look in the mirror and ask why they didn’t intervene or why they didn’t do something,” he said on Sunday, according to The New York Times.
At the time it was unclear how many passengers were on the train, but Bernhardt asserted that “collectively, they could have gotten together and done something.”
Authorities said that responding officers arrived within about three minutes of a 911 call from a transportation authority employee.
In the aftermath of the assault, police said Ngoy claimed that he knew the woman he sat down beside and that the alleged rape was a consensual encounter—assertions that she said were false, according to the affidavit of probable cause for his arrest obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Ngoy faces a slew of charges including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and sexual assault, among other offenses, the outlet said.
The Delaware County District Attorney’s Office had said on Wednesday that prosecutors didn’t anticipate pursuing charges against train riders who did not step in to help the victim.
“Pennsylvania law does not allow for the prosecution of a passenger who may have witnessed a crime,” Stollsteimer told the Associated Press.
The news agency said that according to SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch, transit police had estimated about “10 people were walking through, sitting or standing near where the attack was occurring at points throughout the assault.”
“Our hope is that people will realize when they see this type of activity, whether they fully understand it or not, that they will push the emergency call button or call the police. There really was no way to not see it even if they didn’t fully understand,” Busch said Wednesday.
But on Thursday, Stollsteimer contended that the “handful” of riders may not have realized what was going on, according to WCAU.
“This is the El, guys. We’ve all ridden it. People get off and on at every single stop. That doesn’t mean when they get on and they see people interacting that they know a rape is occurring,” he said.