Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Jason Miyares spar over prosecutorial reforms

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti at an NAACP and Black Lives Matter rally in June 2020 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares visited Arlington yesterday (Thursday) to launch a political fund aimed at unseating progressive prosecutors.

The reform-minded approach of “left-wing liberal prosecutors” has “directly resulted in higher crime in our communities and they must be stopped,” Miyares said in a statement that specifically called out Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.

The goal of the Protecting Americans Action Fund, he said, is to “elect District Attorneys who will enforce the law and prosecute criminals, instead of this warped version of criminal justice, which is endangering Americans.”

Miyares did not name-drop Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Descano’s Arlington counterpart, but coming to Arlington was enough to prompt her to mount a defense of her prosecutorial approach.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church fired back on Twitter with a volley of tweets.

Dehghani-Tafti was elected in 2019 on a pledge to reform the criminal justice system by reducing racial disparities in prosecution as well as recidivism and incarceration, while investigating wrongful convictions. Last year, there was an effort to recall her that accused Dehghani-Tafti of offering criminals lenient plea deals.

Miyares contends crime is up in places like Northern Virginia, under the leadership of Descano, Dehghani-Tafti and Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj. But Arlington’s top prosecutor says these jurisdictions “have the lowest crime rates of any large jurisdictions in Virginia and country.”

She reiterated the crime trends she touted earlier this year, including that her jurisdiction recorded no homicides in 2021 — down from three homicides in 2020 and two in 2019.

(Two reported deaths last year were in federal jurisdiction, including the police officer who was stabbed, shot and killed outside the Pentagon and the security contractor who died at the U.S. State Department’s National Foreign Affairs Training Center.)

“I’ve long resisted the claim that the drop in homicide is due solely to my policies. Instead, I’ve credited the work of our County Board, local delegation, police department, school board, defense bar, public defender, and community and faith groups in teaming up to prevent crime,” she said.

“And yet, the AG and other anti-reformers have no hesitation in cherry picking any individual incident or any uptick in any crime, however slight, to mislead the public and paint a false picture of our reform achievements,” she continued.

Some crimes were trending up during her election year, 2019, and continued upward during her first year of office. This includes an uptick in property crimes, driven largely by carjackings, according to 2020 crime data — the most recent available from Arlington County Police Department.

This uptick prompted more police patrols and coordinated regional response in 2021, which may explain why, according to preliminary ACPD data for last year, carjackings dropped from 16 in 2020 to eight, while car thefts dropped from 323 in 2020 to 306.

Comprehensive data for 2021 is set to be published this summer.

Property crimes from 2016 to 2020 (via ACPD)

Meanwhile, aggravated assaults rose while sex offenses fell, according to ACPD.

Crimes against people from 2016 to 2020 (via ACPD)

After rising between 2018 and 2019, drug offense charges fell in Dehghani-Tafti’s first year in office. But weapon law violations, like brandishing a weapon or firing one in an occupied building, have risen since 2018. One offense, using a firearm to commit serious crimes such as murder or rape, rose between 2019 and 2021, ACPD previously told ARLnow.

“Crimes against society” from 2016 to 2020 (via ACPD)

Miyares says “rogue, activist, left-wing District Attorneys” — like the self-identified reformers leading Los Angeles and San Francisco — are taking a “lenient approach [that] is pushing away business and economic development from the areas that need investment the most.”

The Protecting Americans Action Fund, of which Miyares is honorary chairman, is intended to build a network of conservative prosecutors and develop a pipeline of future Republican Attorneys General. The fund’s board also includes attorneys general from Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky.

But Dehghani-Tafti said her office’s reforms — driving down the jail population, establishing a conviction review unit and not trying children as adults — have not resulted in leniency in tough cases.

Her office obtained convictions in two serial rape cases, convictions in three child sex abuse cases, guilty pleas in three homicide cases (with two dating back from 2018) and an indictment in a 23-year-old cold case homicide.

She concluded her Twitter response by taking shots at Miyares’ rhetoric.