(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) Arlington’s police union is endorsing challenger Josh Katcher in the race for Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Dehghani-Tafti campaigned on criminal justice reform and won her first term in 2019, after beating Theo Stamos, for whom Katcher previously worked (he also worked for Dehghani-Tafti before leaving the office).
The incumbent has focused her re-election campaign on the reforms she has made, such as ending cash bail, a requirement that defense attorneys hand copy all the prosecutor’s files about their criminal case, and prosecution for marijuana possession. She has endorsements of several current and former state legislators and members of the Arlington County Board and School Board and the Washington Post.
Katcher has focused on allegations of rising crime, staffing issues within the top prosecutor’s office and crime victims who say they were not respected. He picked up the endorsement from Arlington Coalition of Police (ACOP) because, the organization says, the current relationship between local police and the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney is crumbling.
“ACOP has spent the last 7 months attempting to stay out of the Commonwealth Attorney’s race,” it said in a press release. “We understood that whoever won, officers would still need to have a working relationship with the winner. Although that current working relationship is extremely poor, we worried that any statement would make the relationship even worse.”
The organization says it was reluctant to speak up until now — with less than a month before the primary on June 20 — but wants to correct the record about statements Dehghani-Tafti has made on the campaign trail.
In a recent Arlington County Civic Federation debate, the current Commonwealth’s Attorney said her office has a “healthy” relationship with officers and that prosecution rates are down because police are apprehending fewer people.
ACOP says this “could not be any further from the truth” and it “cannot sit by idly while she intentionally misleads the public.”
It listed some of the issues officers say they have with how the top prosecutor’s office currently runs:
On almost a daily basis, members of ACOP email their union representatives with complaints about Ms. Tafti’s office. The most common recurring complaints are about a lack of preparation from the prosecutors, subpoenas not being issued in a timely manner (sometimes never being issued at all), a case getting dismissed without ever contacting the arresting officer, DUIs being plead down to reckless driving with no explanation, subsequent DUIs being plead down to first offenses, and a general lack of communication about cases and outcomes.
Citing felony arrest and indictment data, it countered a claim she made in the debate that police are apprehending fewer people. ACOP says the number of arrests is “the highest it has been for at least six years,” if marijuana possession arrests are removed.
“Felony arrests in Arlington County have remained relatively consistent with the exception of 2020 during Covid,” the release said. “What has not remained consistent is the percentage of felonies that were indicted by the Commonwealth Attorney.”
In the 2019 fiscal year — the year before Dehghani-Tafti took office — approximately 41% of felony arrests were indicted to Arlington County Circuit Court, compared to 15% in 2022, ACOP says, citing recent budget materials.
Dehghani-Tafti provided data the state collected from Arlington indicating a steady decline in arrests made since 2012. while a sharp uptick in simple assaults — from 721 in 2018 to 1,146 in 2021 — may explain an uptick in offenses.
Meanwhile, a sharp uptick in simple assaults — from 721 in 2018 to 1,146 in 2021 — may explain an uptick in offenses.
As for indictments, Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow these are lower because her office is not hitting defendants with several charges related to one criminal incident, a tactic she says prosecutors can employ to force defendants to plead guilty and not go to trial.
“It’s our policy to not stack charges and over charge,” she recently told ARLnow. “We’re not afraid to go to trial and check our evidence with fair and reasonable charges. When we go to trial, we win more than the prior administration.”
Between 2020 and 2022, prosecutors in her office obtained guilty verdicts on cases with one or more charges 75% of the time compared to 64% under Stamos, she said. Guilty verdict for the most serious charges brought forward, across all misdemeanors and felonies tried, was 72% between 2020-22, up from 57% from 2015 to 2019.
(The chart, also provided by ACOP, does not include data for 2017 or 2018. ACOP said it could not find publicly available data for those years. ARLnow also could not immediately find data from those years in budget documents.)
ACOP said it has worked with Katcher for the last decade and see him as “experienced and competent.”
“Josh will be able to lead the office through his experience and mold the attorneys in the office into skilled litigators,” the organization said. “Most importantly, we know Josh will get the relationship between ACPD and the CWA office back on track to where prosecutions are a collaborative effort between the two departments.”
“Ms. Tafti has had four years to work together with ACPD in a collaborative manner but has failed to do so,” the union added. “Each time she had the chance, she has thrown officers under the bus. The most recent implication that officers are not doing their jobs is shown to be false… We know that we will never agree with either candidate on the outcomes of every specific case. However, we also know that an office run by Josh will communicate effectively with officers about cases, be prepared ahead of defense motions and suppressions, and see prosecutions as the collaborative effort that they are.”
I am so proud to announce that I have received the endorsement from the Arlington Coalition of Police. Real reform and real justice require not only honesty and transparency, but also having a productive relationship with our law enforcement agency partners. There is a way to simultaneously uphold public safety, respect victims, and improve our justice system. Let’s show Virginia how it’s done.
In a statement, Dehghani-Tafti said the news of this endorsement is not a surprise as the union supported Stamos during the last election.
Mr. Katcher has long touted his close personal relationship with members of the union, going as far as to use on-duty ACPD officers to stage a fake arrest of his wife as a birthday present when he was serving as a prosecutor. Aside from demonstrating a lack of mature judgment, this is simply not an appropriate relationship for a prosecutor with the police department in any jurisdiction, and certainly not in Arlington. For our part, we will continue to maintain a professional working relationship with the ACPD, but one that is independent due to our oversight responsibility.
The statement references the photo shown below, which was recently surfaced. Katcher’s campaign told ARLnow it will not comment on this attack, “designed to distract from her failed record and relationship with the police.”
🚨 While Josh Katcher worked in the CA's office under Stamos, he used his position to have @ArlingtonVaPD "fake arrest" his wife for her birthday. Not only a grave misuse of ACPD but an event that is traumatizing for most ppl was used as a joke. This is privilege w/ power. pic.twitter.com/XPtsZK4tOW
— Adam Theo in Arlington 🏘️🚴💛 (@TheoForARL) May 8, 2023
Dehghani-Tafti and Katcher, and the three candidates for Arlington County Sheriff, will be squaring off tonight from 6-8:30 p.m. in forum hosted by the Center for Youth and Family Advocacy at the law offices of Bean, Kinney and Korman in Courthouse (2311 Wilson Blvd Suite 500).
The group is asking attendees to RSVP and submit questions.
This story was updated with a statement from Dehghani-Tafti
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