Content warning: This story includes descriptions of sexual assault, including sexual violence against women and minors.
In criminal court on Monday, Philly prosecutors shared what they say is a fraction of the photo and video evidence they've collected that shows a former Kensington police officer sexually assaulting women and children in his patrol car while on duty in at least two North Philly police districts.
Patrick Heron, who faces over 200 sex crime charges, worked as a police officer for the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) for 24 years before resigning in 2019. During that time, Heron worked for the 23rd, 24th, 25th, and 39th Districts, a spokesperson for the PPD said.
According to a spokesperson for the PPD, Heron began working for the 23rd District in 1995, the 24th District in 1997, the 39th District in 2001, and the 25th District from 2010 until his resignation in 2019.
So far, investigators from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office have connected the charges against Heron to at least 48 female victims, 44 of whom are unidentified “Jane Does,” prosecutors said. According to Jane Roh, the spokesperson for the Philly DA's Office, some of those victims may have been as young as 10 years old.
While Heron, 53, was on the police force, he targeted vulnerable women and girls who would be less likely to report a sexual assault, prosecutors said. Those victims included children who ran away from home, women and children in police custody, and others struggling with drug addiction.
However, after Heron retired from the police force, he allegedly targeted a different demographic, including his eighth-grade daughter’s friends at a Northeast Philadelphia middle school. Prosecutors said he texted his daughter’s friends asking for “spicy” selfies and how much money they would charge.
“The way that he decided to be a police officer continued into his private life,” said Lyandra Retacco, the assistant district attorney leading the case and supervisor of the DAO’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), during Monday’s hearing.
Heron’s arrest timeline
All of Heron’s arrests stemmed from a school-related conflict at his daughter’s middle school, prosecutors said. The incidents involving Heron’s daughter’s friends were reported by the school’s staff, and also by a mother who published a Facebook post about a man posing as a police officer who was sending inappropriate messages to young girls.
In April 2022, Heron was arrested and charged with stalking, retaliation against a witness or victim, and harassment, after he allegedly sent the mother who wrote the Facebook post a fake court order in March 2022. The court order, which prosecutors shared in court on Monday, threatened the mother with involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility if she did not stay away from Heron and delete her social media post. Heron also showed up at her house and threatened her, prosecutors said.
Then, in August 2022, Heron was charged with conspiracy and an additional count of stalking for a total of five charges. But by September 2022, the charges against Heron grew to a total of 32, including multiple counts of unlawful sexual contact with a minor, intimidating witnesses, forgery, and child pornography, among many others. Those additional charges were connected to incidents that occurred in March 2021, after Heron had retired from the police force.
However, in June 2023, the charges against Heron ballooned to over 200 after investigators were able to retrieve over 440 gigabytes of data from his cloud-based, online storage account. Through that account, prosecutors said they discovered hundreds of pieces of photo and video evidence from 2005 to 2016 that shows how Heron sexually assaulted women and children while on duty as a police officer in the 25th and 39th Districts.
"It's a lot bigger than what it started as," Retacco said on Monday.
Heron now faces over 200 charges, including (among others):
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse (IDSI) by forcible compulsion
- IDSI by threat of forcible compulsion
- Kidnapping of a minor
- Unlawful contact with a minor
- Sexual assault
- Unlawful restraint
- False imprisonment of a minor
- Institutional sexual assault
- Corruption of minors
- Endangering the welfare of children
- Indecent assault
- Luring child into a motor vehicle
- Official oppression
Heron’s latest court appearance
During Monday’s hearing, prosecutors sought permission to combine all of the charges against Heron into one trial. Retacco said her team believes the evidence they collected demonstrates a pattern of conduct requiring consolidation.
Despite some technical difficulties with the courtroom’s television monitor, prosecutors presented dozens of pieces of visual evidence, mostly photos and videos they said they retrieved from Heron’s online storage account. Heron’s eyes remained locked on the screen as they presented each picture and video, including a photo collage of sexual assault victims investigators said they recovered from his files.
As prosecutors shared their evidence, Retacco emphasized the presence of Heron's uniform and gun in some of the footage prosecutors collected.
"He manipulated that uniform and those tools of the state that he was given," Retacco said.
The earliest sexual assault prosecutors presented occurred in 2005. The first victim was a Black female minor — “a runaway” with problems at home —, who allegedly met Heron when she was arrested for marijuana possession and booked at the 39th District, prosecutors said. She called him "Mr. Pat."
While the victim was at the police headquarters, Heron gave her a business card with his personal contact information, prosecutors said. She called Heron after she was released, and they arranged to meet in a marked police car. When they met, prosecutors said Heron made her crouch down so that nobody could see her. He then drove her to a park, where he asked her about her home life, whether she had a boyfriend, or if she had ever had sex or oral sex.
"It would help to have a police officer on your side," Heron allegedly said.
Prosecutors then shared a video they retrieved from Heron's files of someone wearing a patrol jacket as they sexually assaulted the same victim.
The other video evidence prosecutors presented included sex assaults that allegedly occurred while Heron worked for the 25th District in 2016.
In one video clip prosecutors shared, Heron is driving a police car in full uniform, while a thin white woman gazes out the back window. In the clip that followed, filmed from the back seat, the same woman is unconscious and eventually sexually assaulted by a man, whose face is out of frame.
"I can hear the way he breathes," explained Gerald Rocks, the SIU investigator who testified during Monday's hearing.
In another series of videos, prosecutors showed a clip of a Black female adult losing consciousness as she injects drugs in the back of a police car. Then a man — allegedly Heron — says, "Yo, wake up! Yo, honey — finish that needle." Then he removes the needle from her arm, sexually assaults her in the back of the police car, and eventually says, "It's me — it's me; you're okay."
Finally, prosecutors shared photo and video evidence of one of the two victims Heron allegedly assaulted after he met them while driving them home from Temple University Hospital when he worked for the 25th District. One of those victims was an adult, and another was a minor.
Prosecutors presented a picture of the minor — taken while she was still wearing a hospital bracelet —, who ran away from home and ended up in Temple’s triage. After driving her home, Heron connected with her again. Prosecutors said he then sexually assaulted her after taking her out for some candy and a drink.
During the hearing, Retacco emphasized that across the evidence they’ve collected, they have identified a clear set of patterns of sexual violence.
In each victim’s case, prosecutors presented evidence of grooming — pleasant small talk or promises that he’d look out for his victims, followed by video footage of the victims being sexually assaulted as they were fully or mostly unconscious. Often, in the videos, the victims’ faces were covered, and he’d reassure them that they were safe by saying, "It's me — it's me."
The judge granted the prosecution's request, stating the chronology of events they presented requires consolidation.
Heron is currently held without bail at a Delaware County prison. His next hearing date is Oct. 20, 2023, at 2:30 PM.
His attorney did not provide comment.
For people with information about this case
Victims and witnesses who may have more information about this case are urged to contact the DA Office's Special Investigations Unit at 215–686–9608 or DAO_SIU@phila.gov. The Victim Services Unit can be reached directly at 215-686-8027 or DA.VictimServices@phila.gov.
For victims of sexual violence
For those who suspect child abuse
This story was edited by Siani Colón. Reach Siani at firstname.lastname@example.org.