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When FBI agents showed up on the 300 block of Daly Street before sunrise Wednesday morning, they looked ready for a hostage negotiation.
Nearly a dozen federal agents dressed in tactical gear arrived on the quiet side street in the Whitman neighborhood shortly before sunrise, training their flashlights and guns on the windows of a brick rowhouse as they prepared to breach the door.
They were delivering an arrest warrant for Gregory Fiocca, the 28-year-old nephew of labor leader John Dougherty, both of whom federal prosecutors charged in a union-related extortion and conspiracy case on Wednesday.
Ring doorbell video reviewed by Billy Penn shows agents breaking down Fiocca’s rowhome door with a battering ram shortly before 5:30 a.m.
“FBI! Warrant!” one agent yells, while others train the lights from their long guns on the upstairs and downstairs windows.
Video also shows agents detaining Fiocca in the street in only his underwear, as a woman who appears to be his wife pleads with officers to let her stay in the house.
Frank Keel, a spokesperson for Local 98, condemned the early morning warrant execution as overkill. “Greg, his wife and their two terrified young children were home and up,” Keel said. “The kids had automatic weapons pointed at them.”
Keel said FBI agents gave Dougherty “similarly rough treatment” and threw him on the floor “for no reason” when they arrived at his home early Wednesday, though they did not break down the door of his South Philadelphia residence. No video has surfaced of that encounter.
Fiocca and Dougherty were arrested and charged with 19 counts of extortion and conspiracy for allegedly threatening a contractor last summer.
Did the charges merit a battering ram and a dozen armed agents? Overwhelming shows of force have been standard practice for decades, according to former FBI agents. But they often come under criticism when the suspect isn’t deemed an immediate violent threat.
Carrie Adamowski, a spokesperson for the FBI’s field office in Philadelphia, said “extensive planning” takes place in advance of serving federal warrants, and that tactics are tapered to each situation.
“We don’t want anyone to get hurt — not our agents and task force officers, not those we’re investigating, not bystanders,” Adamowski wrote in an email.
Most warrant executions don’t make headlines, but as sometimes happens to local police, federal agents occasionally encounter violence while trying to apprehend a suspect. In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, two federal agents were killed and three were injured in a shootout last month while serving a warrant in a gated community. In Philly, a SWAT officer was shot to death while serving a warrant in the city’s Frankford neighborhood last year.
Rev. Mark Tyler, a police accountability advocate who is senior pastor at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, noted aggressive arrest warrants can also end fatally for civilians — particularly Black people.
Tyler noted the case of Breonna Taylor, the 26-year-old EMT who was fatally shot last year by Kentucky police serving an arrest warrant. He said the charges against Fiocca, while serious, did not merit 10 armed officers breaching a private residence in the early morning hours.
“What surprises me is that this happened to someone who’s not Black,” Tyler said. “Black people don’t often survive to complain about this…There have been far far too many instances like this where people wish the only thing they had to worry about was replacing a door.”
Dougherty was arraigned Wednesday morning and has since been released from federal custody. Fiocca is scheduled to appear in court on Friday. Court records do not indicate whether he has retained an attorney.