Man charged with misdemeanors relating to death of sex worker

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DeVonte Douglass

DeVonte Douglass, a former employee of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, acted in self-defense when fatally shooting a sex worker but has been charged with lying to investigators and related offenses, the state Attorney General’s Office announced on Feb. 25.

Douglass, 28, has been charged with soliciting for prostitution, possessing an instrument of a crime and making a fictitious report to authorities relating to the killing of Vernon Harris in October 2020. All three charges are misdemeanors, according to court records.

At the time of the shooting, Douglass was employed as a peer crisis responder at the D.A.’s Office. His job duties included going out to crime scenes, hospitals and the medical examiner’s office when there’s been a homicide, to assist victims and their families. He was placed on unpaid administrative leave two days after the incident and terminated on Feb. 24.

The A.G.’s Office issued this summary of the incident: “After a thorough investigation into the fatal shooting of Vernon Harris on October 20, 2020, the Office of Attorney General has determined DeVonte Douglass acted in self defense when he fired his weapon and will not be charged with homicide. Mr. Douglass was arrested and charged for other crimes surrounding Mr. Harris’ death, including soliciting for prostitution and misleading investigators about the facts surrounding the fatal shooting.”

The shooting of Harris occurred shortly before 10 a.m. Oct. 20, in a parking lot near Mount Peace Cemetery in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city. 

According to a criminal complaint, Douglass arranged to meet Harris through Instagram and subsequently paid Harris $250 for a sexual encounter. After driving to the parking lot, Harris pulled out a gun and robbed Douglass. Harris reportedly continued to act in a menacing manner. Douglass pulled out a gun and shot Harris in self-defense. Then, Douglass ran across Lehigh Avenue, pleading for someone to call police. Upon arrival, police recovered a 9 mm Glock handgun from Douglass.

A spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office confirmed to PGN that the cause of Harris’ death was a single gunshot wound to the chest and the manner of his death was homicide.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department released this summary of the incident: “On Tuesday, October 20, 2020, on the 2600 block of North Napa Street, at 9:52 a.m. on the highway, a 31-year-old black male [Harris] attempted to rob [Douglass at the] point of a gun. [Douglass] fired his own weapon one time striking the male in the chest. The Philadelphia Fire Department – Medic Unit – pronounced the male [deceased] at 10:05 a.m. The scene was held. Two weapons were recovered. [Douglass] was transported to the homicide division. The investigation is active and ongoing with the homicide division.”

Harris, 31, who lived in the Frankford section, had an extensive arrest record, including a 2019 arrest for aggravated assault, robbery, theft, and related charges, according to court records.

Douglass, who lives in the Allegheny West section, couldn’t be reached for comment. He had a preliminary arraignment on Feb. 25 and remains free, pending the outcome of his case. He’s scheduled for a status hearing on March 29. Since all of the charges are misdemeanor offenses, there won’t be a preliminary hearing. His attorney, Raymond C. Driscoll, declined to comment. “I have no comment at this time,” Driscoll said, in an email.

The matter was referred to the state A.G.’s Office because of a conflict that would exist if the local D.A.’s Office investigated one of its employees, a spokesperson for the A.G.’s Office said in a prior interview.