Police protester arrested on gun, assault charges


On Dec. 30, 2014, Tony Soto wielded a bullhorn as he helped lead a march through the streets of Mayfair in protest of so-called “racist police.” Last week, Soto allegedly brandished a gun and posed as a police officer in the midst of a parking dispute in Oxford Circle.

Now, Soto is a Philadelphia prison inmate facing criminal charges of aggravated assault, conspiracy, gun possession by a convicted felon and related offenses. And once again he’s blaming a police conspiracy for his own troubles.

Soto, 29, a self-proclaimed “civil rights activist” and “public figure” on Facebook, took exception to an apparent violation of his parking rights on May 18 shortly after 10:30 p.m. Police say that another man parked a car temporarily in a driveway behind Soto’s house on the 6200 block of Castor Ave. and when the motorist returned, Soto’s own car had been moved to block the path of the first car.

The motorist asked Soto to move his car, but Soto refused, identified himself as a police officer and stated, “I’m taking that [expletive],” according to the official police account. Soto is not a cop, although he has been arrested twice before and convicted once of impersonating a public servant. As the men continued to argue, Soto allegedly identified himself as a police officer again, but did not show any credentials.

Witnessing the argument, the other motorist’s sister called her fiance, who is a real police officer. The off-duty cop arrived at the scene a short time later and attempted to intervene in the dispute. That’s when a woman exited Soto’s house with a gun and handed it to Soto, police said. Soto allegedly pointed the gun at the other three people while the woman encouraged him to “pop them, shoot their [expletive]s.”

When the off-duty officer identified himself as a cop, Soto allegedly walked to his house and returned to the driveway without the gun. The officer declared that he was going to arrest Soto, who allegedly ran away briefly and threw several punches at the officer. Uniformed cops arrived a short time later and completed the arrest.

Authorities identified Soto’s companion as Isabela Mota, 18, of the same address. She also was charged with aggravated assault, conspiracy, weapons offenses and related crimes.

Soto is being held at the city’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in lieu of $900,000 bail — $300,000 for each of three separate prosecution filings that correlate to the three alleged victims. Mota is held at the city’s Riverside Correctional Facility for women in lieu of $450,000 bail ($150,000 for each of three cases). Each defendant must post 10 percent of his or her total bail amount to obtain his or her release. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 3.

In the days after the arrests, someone purporting to be Soto’s mother has posted several rants on Soto’s public Facebook page, including one containing a link to a GoFundMe campaign seeking “justice for Tony Soto.” The Facebook page has almost 33,000 followers, but the GoFundMe page has been taken down for unknown reasons.

The initial post states in part: “And so it begins Again….smh…the lies threats intimidation n the attenpt to frame my son….its disgusting hw NBC10 has already printed an article slandering my son with new lies in regards to the incent that took place last nite….”

“….yet they put their own fabricated spin on their version of wat took place last nite n attempt to nail my son to the cross rite frm the start wit LIES!…..this world needs to do bettr”

Previously, Soto gained notoriety locally and on social media after he created and posted on Facebook a 13-minute video of a Philadelphia police officer stopping his car on the street not far from the scene of the fatal shooting of armed ex-convict Brandon Tate-Brown by police on Dec. 15, 2014. In the video, which was posted on March 25, 2015, Soto challenged the officer’s probable cause for the car-stop. An officer cited the illegal tinted windows on Soto’s car.

The city’s broadcast and daily print news media publicized the video, helping it to amass almost 1.9 million views on Facebook. Soto has posted numerous other videos online depicting purported police misconduct, civil rights marches, religious services and other topics, but none have garnered the level of attention as the first video. Most of them have several thousand views.

Prior to his emergence on social media, Soto showed up at the Dec. 30, 2014, march protesting the death of Tate-Brown, during which participants chanted slogans about “black lives matter” and “racist police” as they marched from the 6600 block of Frankford Ave. to the 15th Police District at 2831 Levick St. During the event, Soto was photographed wearing the patches of a Montgomery County fire marshal on a duty-style jacket, although there is no information that he is affiliated with a fire department or service.

Following the release of the March 2015 video, a Philadelphia police spokesman and leaders of the city’s Fraternal Order of Police union issued public warnings about Soto, citing his lengthy record of criminal arrests and convictions. He has at least eight arrests in Philadelphia since 2004 for charges including drug offenses, weapons offenses, theft, fleeing police, filing false reports, impersonating public servants, sexual contact with a minor, promoting prostitution and disorderly conduct.

Court records show that he was convicted of receiving stolen property, a felony, in 2008 and sentenced to serve 11–1/2 to 23 months in a Philadelphia prison. He was convicted of impersonating a public servant later that year and sentenced to one year probation. In several other instances, records show, charges against him were withdrawn by the District Attorney’s office or dismissed by a judge on procedural grounds. ••


In police custody: Tony Soto (right) attended a 2014 protest in Mayfair, during which he chanted slogans about “racist police.” Soto was arrested last week after allegedly impersonating a police officer and pointing a gun at neighbors, including an off-duty cop. He’s again blaming his troubles on a police conspiracy. TIMES FILE PHOTO