PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A Pennsylvania House committee held the first of two hearings Thursday as an effort to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner intensifies. The chairman highlighted violent crime and lawlessness in the city and pointed the finger at Krasner.
Five families spoke at the hearing Thursday, describing the pain of losing loved ones to the violence in the city as well as their disappointment in how their case was handled by the Philadelphia Police Department and the DA's office.
Krasner was not invited to testify, but a group of his supporters protested outside the hearing.
"Shattered and broken, I sit here before you," Nakisha Billa said.
Billa delivered emotional testimony in front of the Pennsylvania House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order more than a year after her son, Dominic, was murdered near the Philadelphia Mills Mall.
"This is not an attack or witchhunt as I heard Mr. Krasner reference to this," Billa said. "It's about taking steps to restore law and order."
Billa was one of several families sharing their grief in person and virtually during a hearing Thursday as the house committee pushes to impeach Krasner.
"I can't see my daughter again," Malikah Womack said. "I have to live with this every single day and it hurts."
"Crime and lawlessness are holding the city back from achieving its full potential," U.S. Rep. John Lawrence said.
Led by Republicans in Harrisburg, there has been a push to oust Krasner since June, blaming the Democrat's policies for rising crime and the city's ongoing gun violence.
But across the street in the Navy Yard, protesters countered what they called the political circus upstairs. They're defending the DA, who was re-elected by the majority of voters.
"People wanted to come out here today," Saleem Holbrook said, "and essentially say you can't impeach us."
"They can't take away the votes of Philadelphians and can't disenfranchise us," Kris Henderson said.
Krasner was not invited to testify Thursday, and earlier this month, the House voted to hold him in contempt for declining to comply with a subpoena issued by the committee.
"The DA has had four opportunities to cooperate with this committee and he chose instead to sue the committee," Lawrence said, "so I would encourage him to withdraw his lawsuit before the committee and instead cooperate with the committee."
The DA issued a statement Thursday afternoon criticizing the committee for not opening the hearing to the public.
"I again request that the select committee allow me, the target of their inquiry, the opportunity to speak and answer their questions in a fully public and accessible forum," Krasner said in the statement.
Krasner's full statement:
"I'm not surprised that a GOP-run committee that is openly abusing the impeachment process to invalidate Philly elections and erase Philly votes did not actually open today's taxpayer-funded hearing to all of the taxpaying public. People they did not like were turned away from the door with no explanation given, despite the committee's visible failure to fill the 50 seats they made available in a 150-person-capacity space at the Naval Yard. Nonetheless, many more Philadelphians than attended this hearing showed up outside and exercised their constitutionally protected right to express their feelings about non-Philly legislators overturning their vote.
"The trauma and grief expressed by co-victims and survivors at today's hearing, many of whom my staff and I have personally met, was heartbreaking. The dedicated staff of Victim/Witness Services and CARES Peer Crisis Responders in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office work tirelessly to provide services and supports for co-victims and survivors – including in instances where a homicide has occurred but police have not made an arrest.
"I do appreciate that the committee invited its own legal scholar, Professor Bruce Antkowiak, to provide testimony on Pennsylvania grand jury law and procedures. Professor Antkowiak validated our position on the illegality of the Select Committee's subpoena of grand jury notes of testimony in a pending homicide trial of a former Philadelphia police officer. This expert testimony undermines the suggestion that our office has done anything outside of the law or unethical in our prosecution of this matter or in our policies and use of discretion.
"Professor Antkowiak concludes in his public report to the Select Committee: 'The checks and balances system the framers of our government chose was believed to be effective to limit arbitrary abuse by any individual branch. In such a scheme, the primary check on the discretionary authority of a District Attorney lies with the same authority upon which the system relies to be the ultimate corrective authority for abuses in the other branches. That ultimate authority is the people who, with respect to local prosecutors, exercise that authority most directly and effectively by the electoral process every four years when a District Attorney stands before the public to account for his or her discretionary judgments.'
"I again request that the Select Committee allow me, the target of their inquiry, the opportunity to speak and answer their questions in a fully public and accessible forum."
Another hearing is scheduled for Friday.
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