Man who carjacked U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon sent to prison for 7-plus years

The Delaware man who carjacked U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon in FDR Park two years ago was sentenced Wednesday to 7 ½ years in federal prison, even as the congresswoman urged the court to grant him an opportunity to reform.

Josiah Brown, 21, of Wilmington, apologized for stealing the three-tern Democrat’s 2017 Acura MDX at gunpoint — a crime that drew national attention to Philadelphia’s carjacking epidemic due to the high profile of its victim.

But while U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe said she believed Brown was remorseful and supported Scanlon’s desire that he be given a second chance, she was ultimately bound by mandatory minimum sentencing laws that required her to hand down a sentence of at least seven years.

“We cannot tolerate this in our city, in our country,” the judge said. “It can’t be commonplace.”

» READ MORE: Carjacking continues to plague Philadelphia. Here’s how young carjackers say they get away with it.

Scanlon — whose district includes Delaware County and parts of South and Southwest Philadelphia and who has made legislative solutions to gun violence a priority since taking office — did not immediately return calls for comment on Brown’s punishment Wednesday.

She did not attend the sentencing hearing but shared her views on the case in a letter to the judge.

“What Josiah Brown did was wrong,” she wrote. “It was a dangerous and criminal act, and he should be held accountable. But punishment is not the only goal of our criminal justice system. Rehabilitation and reform are also important goals — especially for someone so young.”

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Brown was 19 when he and another teen, whose identity has not been disclosed by prosecutors, attacked the congresswoman and her staff in December 2021 as they wrapped up a meeting with constituents and other elected officials on development plans for the South Philadelphia park.

By that point, he was already on probation for participating in the armed robbery of a Days Inn hotel in Chester County and had racked up prior convictions for resisting arrest, disregarding a police officer and a robbery of a 7-Eleven.

He’d also been arrested in late 2020 after his fingerprints matched those in a string of vehicle break-ins in Kennett Square and again that year by authorities in Cecil County, Md., in response to reports of car thefts and gunshots.

A month before carjacking Scanlon, Brown would later tell police, he and accomplices carjacked another man outside of a Wawa in Philadelphia.

Scanlon, in her letter to the judge, said she quickly handed over her keys as well as her credit cards, purse and cell phone as Brown and his accomplice pointed a gun at her chest.

“The moments during which my colleague and I retreated and sought cover …. were certainly terrifying,” Scanlon wrote in her letter to the court, adding: “I did not know if they were so lacking in judgment that they might shoot us as they made their escape.”

But Brown said later he was unaware of who the congresswoman was or that her SUV had been equipped with a tracker that police used to track the vehicle back to his home in Wilmington within hours.

Investigators watched as Brown and four other teens drove the vehicle to the nearby Christiana Fashion Center in Newark, Del., where all five were arrested.

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Brown was charged with federal counts of carjacking and brandishing a gun during a violent crime — a charge that carries a seven-year mandatory minimum sentence that must be served after the prison term for any associated convictions.

The other four were charged in juvenile court in Delaware with receiving stolen property.

Scanlon, in her letter, said the car had been returned to her undamaged — save for a lingering smell of marijuana — but that her sense of safety remains shaken to this day.

She told Rufe she still feels wary in public spaces and worries that the crime contributed to an impression of Philadelphia as an unsafe place to visit.

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Carjackings in Philadelphia hit a record high last year. In 2022, the city saw more than 1,300 reported carjackings — a 53% increase over 2021, and nearly six times the annual total reported three years ago.

» READ MORE: Carjackings in Philly are on a record pace. Officials aren’t sure why.

In January, another government official, former City Controller Alan Butkovitz, was carjacked at gunpoint outside his home in the Northeast.

Since his arrest, Brown wrote a letter to Scanlon apologizing for the fear he inflicted on her and explaining that he “was with the wrong people at the wrong time.”

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But in court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan B. Ortiz questioned his sincerity.

“That apology was in a very great regard deflecting of from his own responsibility,” he said.

Brown said little during the hearing, only briefly addressing Rufe in a soft, hesitant voice as he sat at the defense table next to his attorney, federal public defender Rossman D. Thompson, in a green prison jumpsuit.

“I think Mr. Brown has done everything he can possibly do to accept full responsibility for his crimes,” he said.

For now, the judge appeared willing to accept that.

“It’s a long time,” Rufe said of the sentence she eventually imposed. “But I want to make sure you stay straight.”

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