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A top prosecutor in Pennsylvania is disputing the narrative provided by transit officials regarding a horrifying rape that took place aboard a Philadephia-area commuter train last week, claiming that it is inaccurate that a crowd of passengers watched and filmed the attack while doing nothing to intervene.
On Thursday, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer acknowledged that a passenger did provide cell phone video of the Oct. 13 attack, but told reporters that the narrative from Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority officials that multiple riders were “callously sitting there filming and didn’t act” amid the appalling Oct. 13 rape of a woman by a man aboard a train in Upper Darby is inaccurate.
“People get off and on at every single stop,” Stollsteimer said. “That doesn’t mean when they get on and they see people interacting that they know a rape is occurring. … The picture that people have gotten, that this crowd of people sitting there were filming and not doing anything, isn’t true.”
The victim, whose name has not been released by authorities, was a passenger on the train heading westbound on the Market-Frankford Line near Philadelphia on the night of Oct.13 when a man "attempted to touch her a few times," Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority spokesperson Andrew Busch said, according to The New York Times.
When the woman rebuffed the man’s advances, “he proceeded to rip her clothes off,” Busch said. The suspect was later identified as 35-year-old Fiston Ngoy. The attack was caught on surveillance camera and lasted around eight minutes before an official intervened, the Times reported.
Officials have said there were about 10 people in the car when the rape occurred.
Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt of the Upper Darby Township Police Department said fellow passengers failed to intervene or call 911, commenting that such callous disregard for a person amid a rape “speaks to where we are in society,” and added, “collectively, they could have gotten together and done something.”
Bernhardt said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com this week that eventually, a SEPTA employee boarded the train car and noticed that “something wasn’t right.” The employee notified the police, who boarded the train at the next stop. Authorities arrested Ngoy and took the victim to a local hospital, where she cooperated with police and provided information on the attack.
Bernhardt said there were reports of train passengers recording the assault on their phones, but police did not officially confirm the claim of multiple witnesses filming the attack and declining to intervene. Bernhardt added that the decision to possibly file criminal charges against the passengers would be left to Stollsteimer’s office.
“I’m appalled by those who did nothing to help this woman,” he said.
On Thursday, Stollsteimer said that no charges will be filed against witnesses, as the commonwealth of Pennsylvania has not adopted a Good Samaritan law, which could make bringing charges difficult. He also pointed to transit officials for what he claims is an inaccurate version of events, according to NBC News.
“I think it really came from SEPTA officials,” Stollsteimer said. “I saw the video where they talked about ‘these people,’ acting like there was a group of people just callously recording this incident.”
Appearing visibly frustrated during the press conference, Stollsteimer did not name any specific officials for spreading what he called “misinformation,” and said that amid public outrage and media coverage of the incident, he hopes to “calm the community down.”
“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,” Stollsteimer said.
Stollsteimer told reporters that he had not yet viewed the passenger-shot video of the rape and that he was unsure if the footage includes the actual moment that the woman was assaulted. He also said that “we think” there may have been two individuals that filmed the incident.
On Thursday, SEPTA did not budge in their account of what happened, the Times reported.
“We stand by what we said before,” SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch told the outlet. “We really want to come out of this highlighting the need for people to call if they see something that doesn’t look right.”
Bernhardt did not walk back his earlier statements, either.
“What I committed to at the time, and commit to now, is that there were people getting in and getting off that I thought could have intervened and done something,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean they were sitting there filming it, but as the district attorney said, there were plenty of people getting on and off that witnessed it. Now what they witnessed or what they thought, I don’t know, because we haven’t been able to speak with them.
Ngoy, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo who was unhoused at the time of the incident, has overstayed his student visa, the Times reported. He is being held at the Delaware County Jail in lieu of $180,000 bail.
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