Stamos Picks Up Endorsements From 50 Local Attorneys As She Fends Off Primary Challenge

(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington’s top prosecutor has won the endorsement of 50 local attorneys, a key feather in her cap as a former public defender mounts a primary challenge attacking her credentials as criminal justice reformer.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos (D) announced the news in an email to supporters yesterday (Thursday), writing that it’s “gratifying to know that I have earned the respect and endorsement of so many local defense attorneys.” She’s hoping to win her party’s nomination for a third term in office, in her first intraparty challenge since winning the job in 2011.

Parisa Tafti, who currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and has worked in D.C.’s public defender’s office, is hoping to oust Stamos for the job, arguing that she’s been insufficiently committed to reducing racial and economic inequities in the criminal justice system. Arlington’s public defenders have been similarly critical of Stamos on a variety of fronts in recent months.

But Stamos argues that this latest show of support from many of her nominal adversaries in the courtroom reflects well on her “record of competence, fairness and decency.”

“She has a well-earned reputation as someone who knows when to take a stand against violent and career criminals, but appreciates that incarceration isn’t the answer to people who make mistakes or suffer from illness or addiction,” the attorneys wrote. “While we may not always agree, Theo has always maintained an open-door policy, listens respectfully to opposing counsel and responds in a principled, thoughtful, and responsible way.”

Notable members of the group of lawyers endorsing Stamos include Denny Rucker of longtime Arlington firm Rucker & Rucker and Jim Korman, a decorated divorce lawyer from prominent Arlington firm Bean, Kinney & Korman.

Bruce Deming, who frequently represents local cyclists and pedestrians struck by vehicles, also joined the letter, as did Dave Albo, a former state delegate who practices as a DUI lawyer in Arlington.

Tafti has picked up some prominent endorsements of her own in recent months, including support from the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The former governor has made a series of endorsements in local commonwealth’s attorney races recently, targeting prosecutors who opposed his efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons, Stamos included.

Tafti has criticized Stamos over the issue in the early days of the campaign, in addition to charging that her efforts to reform the county’s cash bail system have been ineffective — lead public defender Brad Haywood agrees with her on that front. However, even though she worked in leadership roles for the county’s Democratic Committee, Tafti has yet to attack Stamos for her decision to twice cross party officials and endorse independent John Vihstadt in his runs for County Board.

Stamos recently offered a bit of a mea culpa for those endorsements to local Democrats, citing her long family ties with Vihstadt. She’s also defended her record as a prosecutor as one that balances the rights of victims and defendants, pointing to her decisions to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses and to embrace diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

Voters will decide the primary contest on June 11. Primaries are also shaping up in some of Arlington’s state legislative races, though only Katie Cristol has declared a run for re-election with two County Board slots on the ballot this fall.

Photo of Tafti, left, via Facebook

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After Backing Vihstadt, Stamos Looks to Mend Fences with County Democrats Ahead of Primary Contest

Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has officially kicked off her bid for re-election, looking to rebuild bridges among her fellow Democrats after repeatedly endorsing independent John Vihstadt and drawing a primary challenger from her left flank.

Stamos emphasized that she’s “been a Democrat since I was holding up signs for Hubert Humphrey on the south side of Chicago” in a speech announcing her run for re-election last night (Wednesday) at the county Democratic committee’s monthly meeting.

The county’s top prosecutor has ruffled plenty of feathers among party leaders in recent years, becoming one of just three elected Democrats in Arlington to back Vihstadt’s independent bids for County Board.

And with Parisa Tafti (a former public defender who’s served in leadership roles for the local Democratic party) hoping to win the party’s nomination for the post this June, Stamos began her campaign on a bit of a conciliatory note. After all, the committee threatened to boot County Board member Libby Garvey out of the group over her support for Vihstadt, leading her to briefly resign instead.

Accordingly, Stamos primarily cited her long history with the entire Vihstadt family in explaining her support for the independent, who won a pair of elections in 2014 to become the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999. Vihstadt lost his bid for re-election last year to Democrat Matt de Ferranti, returning the Board to one-party control.

Stamos regaled the audience with memories of relying on the Vihstadts, her neighbors for years, to look after her kids as they were growing up. She says her family and the Vihstadts still celebrate holidays together, making her backing of his candidacy as personal as it was political.

“Back in 2014, when John asked, and again last year, if I would support him, I wasn’t going to say to him, ‘You know, I’ll support you privately but I can’t do it publicly,'” Stamos said, according to a video of the event posted on the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. “I didn’t want to do that. And, as President [John F.] Kennedy once said, and it’s an important thing to remember, ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’ And my support for John was one of those times.”

However, Tafti has so far chosen to base her challenge to Stamos on policy disputes, rather than any party infighting. She claims that Stamos, who was first elected in 2011, has been insufficiently committed to reforming the county’s criminal justice system, and even exacerbated some of the system’s racial disparities.

“Safety is justice and justice is safety,” Tafti said Wednesday night in formally announcing her own campaign. “In Arlington, it is long past time that we start leading on this issue.”

Tafti, who recently won the backing of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has pledged not to seek the death penalty if she’s elected in Stamos’ stead, and to end the practice of requesting cash bail for all criminal defendants. Stamos has pledged to end cash bail for most defendants accused of misdemeanors, but both Tafti and other local public defenders believe that change doesn’t go far enough.

Tafti also took aim Wednesday at Stamos’ relationship with local legislators, arguing that they need “an honest partner who understands, even outside of campaign season, the need to support policies important to Democrats” in order to pass criminal justice reforms at the state level.

She specifically singled out Stamos’ comments to ARLnow back in June for criticism, after Stamos dismissed a letter by the state’s legislative delegation urging her to do away with cash bail entirely.

“When our delegation seeks my help to reform the bail system, I shall do so with an open mind, not dismiss the request as ‘silly’ and ‘misguided,'” Tafti said.

But Stamos also took some time to defend her record heading up the prosecutors’ office in her kickoff speech, claiming she’s “led our office on a set of values that any Democrat would support.”

“I’m proud to say that, as of last Friday night, the inmate population in the Arlington County jail is the lowest it’s been in the past five years, and that’s not by accident,” Stamos said. “It’s because of smart policing and smart prosecution, because of innovations that I’ve supported and championed.”

She also pointed to her decision to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as a move toward reform, and her embrace of diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.

“The core mission of our office will always remain the same: the principled prosecution of criminal defendants, the vigorous protection of victims’ rights and never losing track of the public’s and community’s safety,” Stamos said.

Local activist Nicole Merlene also formally announced her primary challenge to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) at the meeting, while Treasurer Carla de la Pava proclaimed her own bid for a second full term in office.

Unlike Stamos, de la Pava did not address her support for Vihstadt in her speech. She has yet to draw a challenger this year, and has never run a contested race for the post — she was appointed to replace retiring treasurer Frank O’Leary, then won a special election and general election in consecutive years to retain her role.

School Board Chair Reid Goldstein also used the meeting as a chance to announce his bid for a second term, as he hopes to once more win the party’s endorsement for the nominally nonpartisan role.

Only one seat on the Board is up for grabs this year and Goldstein has yet to face any challengers in the race, though he has attracted some criticism for his handling of the controversial process of drawing new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools last year.

Nevertheless, Goldstein used his speech as a chance to present the school system’s challenges as issues arising from the quality of county schools.

“These are tough issues, but we have to be in a situation where people aren’t eager to leave our schools,” Goldstein said.

The committee is set to select a Democratic School Board nominee in a caucus sometime in May or June. A June 11 primary will decide the other races on the ballot this year.

Photo via Facebook

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Arlington’s Top Prosecutor Draws Primary Challenger, Kicking Off Battle Over Criminal Justice Reforms

(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Now that Arlington’s top prosecutor has drawn a primary challenger, the stage is set for a battle next year over many of the criminal justice issues that have electrified traditionally sleepy races across the country.

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti announced Monday (Dec. 10) that she plans to challenge Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos (D) in 2019, arguing that she’d rely on her background as a defense attorney to bring a series of reforms to the office. Stamos was first elected in 2011 and has served as a prosecutor in the county since 1987, experience that Dehghani-Tafti claims has blinded Stamos to the criminal justice system’s flaws.

“Perhaps nothing exemplifies the current [commonwealth’s attorney’s] unsuitability to lead meaningful reform than the fact that she has publicly denied that mass incarceration even exists and has argued that the system is working perfectly,” Dehghani-Tafti wrote in a Facebook post announcing her candidacy. “I want to dismantle the mass incarceration machine and replace it with policies that pursue justice, increase accountability, prevent crime, prioritize serious crimes and protect civil rights.”

Dehghani-Tafti’s arguments are similar to those advanced by a variety of other defense attorneys who have begun challenging incumbent prosecutors across the country. Former public defenders and civil rights attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia have been swept into office by promising substantial reforms to the system, claiming that prosecutors have the discretion to cut back on the number of people sent to prison for low-level offenses.

“We can no longer hope for reform from the very same lifelong prosecutors who’ve spent their careers building this flawed machine,” Dehghani-Tafti wrote.

But Stamos argues that Dehghani-Tafti’s critiques of her record are mistaken, accusing her of discussing issues applicable to “Baltimore, Chicago, Baton Rouge, or Los Angeles,” not Arlington. Though she has yet to formally announce her bid for re-election, she seems ready to vigorously defend her seven years in office.

“Not only do I not support mass incarceration, I know no prosecutor who does,” Stamos wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “Every person who is prosecuted by my office is an individual with a name, a family and a story to tell and a crime they have committed for which they are held accountable. I have never once lost sight of the humanity of any defendant prosecuted by my office. Is the criminal justice system perfect? Absolutely not, and I’ve worked for years and spoken out in support of many reforms.”

In fact, Stamos claims she’s been a “statewide leader” in criminal justice reform efforts in Virginia. She points to her support for a bill to raise the felony larceny threshold as one example — before the General Assembly passed reforms this year, anyone accused of stealing an item worth $200 or more could be charged with a felony — and her work to lessen penalties for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as another.

Yet Dehghani-Tafti, who currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and has worked in D.C.’s public defender’s office, believes that Stamos’ attempts at reform haven’t gone far enough. Namely, she points to Stamos’ opposition to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push to restore voting rights to felons who completed their prison sentences as one troubling stance, and argues that Stamos has “opposed real bail reform.”

Stamos has taken some heat on the latter issue in the past, after she refused calls from a coalition of state lawmakers to stop requesting cash bail for criminal defendants. She subsequently agreed to end cash bail for people accused of most low-level misdemeanors, but even that step drew criticism from local public defenders for being “so limited as to be meaningless.”

“It’s not reform if it doesn’t change anything, and it doesn’t seem to me that she’s actually changing much of anything,” Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow. “And getting rid of cash bail and coming up with alternatives will take a lot of work, and no one size fits all, but it’s not something that gets done in a press release.”

In general, Stamos has grounded her resistance to more comprehensive bail reforms in her concern that, without a cash bond in place, defendants won’t appear for court dates, therefore wasting the time of victims and witnesses alike. Stamos highlighted her “vigorous protection of victims’ rights” as a key part of her response to Dehghani-Tafti’s announcement, arguing that her newfound challenger fundamentally misunderstands the prosecutor’s role.

“It’s interesting that she describes herself as an “innocence protection attorney,” as that is what I’ve been engaged in for more than 30 years — protecting innocent victims from the hell of intimate partner violence, giving voice to the innocent victims whose loved one has been brutally murdered, or providing protection to the innocent elderly couple whose life savings became easy prey for the greedy and the unscrupulous,” Stamos wrote. “It’s striking that the word ‘victim’ is not mentioned once in Ms. Tafti’s announcement.”

But Dehghani-Tafti accused Stamos of creating a “false choice between protecting defendants’ rights and protecting victims” with such a focus.

“It’s a classic fear tactic, that’s, frankly, straight out of Trump’s playbook,” Dehghani-Tafti  said. “I think we can have a justice system that honors victims of crime and provides just outcomes for the whole community. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Notably, Dehghani-Tafti’s post also did not touch on Stamos’ support for County Board member John Vihstadt in all three of his independent bids for office — Stamos is one of just three Democratic officeholders in the county to support his candidacy over the years, ruffling a few feathers among party leaders. Dehghani-Tafti, by contrast, has served as the county Democratic Committee’s lead spokeswoman as its press and public relations chair.

However, she said Stamos’ support for Vihstadt had “zero influence on my decision to run.”

“If she had a record that I believed in, I wouldn’t be running,” Dehghani-Tafti said. “I’d be supporting her wholeheartedly.”

A June 11 primary will decide the Democratic nomination in the race, and quite likely its ultimate winner as well — Stamos has run unopposed in both of her general election contests, thus far.

Photo of Dehghani-Tafti, left, via Facebook

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State Lawmakers Urge Arlington’s Top Prosecutor to Reform Cash Bail System

A group of state lawmakers is urging Arlington’s top prosecutor to reform the county’s cash bail bond system — but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos thinks they’re barking up the wrong tree.

Each one of the three state senators and four state delegates representing Arlington in Richmond, not to mention two lawmakers from nearby Falls Church, sent a letter on the subject to Stamos last Thursday (June 21).

Echoing efforts by criminal justice reform advocates around the country, the lawmakers argued that requiring people to post a cash bond to earn their freedom contributes to the “disproportionate incarceration of low-income individuals and people of color.” They’d rather see Stamos adopt a system for pretrial release “based more on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s perceived public safety and flight risk, rather than the ability to pay.”

“The current system of cash bail is broken in that it conditions the pretrial release of individuals on the ability to pay, violating the principle of the presumption of innocence that is foundational to our criminal justice system,” the lawmakers wrote.

Stamos says she’s joined some of her colleagues around the state in examining such a policy change, but, fundamentally, she feels this “was a rather silly letter to send me.”

“I think the letter is misguided on a number of levels,” Stamos told ARLnow. “If these members of the General Assembly have a problem with cash bail, they should change the law. It’s perfectly within their power to do so.”

Stamos says prosecutors in her office regularly recommend releasing people on “personal recognizance bonds,” giving them the chance to go free before trial with paying. However, Stamos feels bound by state law, which obligates prosecutors to evaluate if someone charged with a crime “is a flight risk or a threat to the community” when assigning a cash bond.

“I understand the considerations around cash bail, but the countervailing considerations are: who is being held and why are they being held?” Stamos said. “Do they have a prior criminal history? Are they a flight risk? Many of our defendants are from D.C. or Maryland, and we don’t have the resources to be extraditing everyone.”

Yet the lawmakers argue in their letter that other jurisdictions have seen success with such a policy change, noting that prosecutors in Richmond agreed to end cash bail earlier this year.

They point out that most low-income people can’t afford to post a sizable cash bond, which often “translates to weeks of missed income, employment or education before ever having been convicted of a crime.” The lawmakers add that holding so many people before their trials start can be costly for the county — they estimate Arlington pays as much as $182 per day for each person it holds in jail, while other methods of pretrial monitoring can cost as little as $7 each day.

Stamos agrees that there could be “some adjustments we can make” to the process, but she also urged the lawmakers to consider the impact of a policy change for everyone involved in each court proceeding.

“There is a cost as well for witnesses or victims of crime who come to court and the defendant doesn’t show up,” Stamos said.

Most of all, however, Stamos is confused why the lawmakers chose to fire off a letter to her on the issue, rather than working with her a bit more directly.

“Not one of my good colleagues in the General Assembly have one time picked up the phone about this,” Stamos said. “This is news to me that this is a big concern of theirs. Not one has asked me about my position.”

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Morning Notes

Stormy sunset over Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber)

Janitors to Rally with Candidates in Ballston — About 150 part-time janitors will rally in Ballston this afternoon for a new union contract. The rally is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. in front of the National Science Foundation at 4201 Wilson Blvd. Democratic County Board candidates Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey are expected to attend the rally to lend their support, according to a press release from the 32BJ SEIU union.

Arlington Man Killed in D.C. Pedestrian Crash — An Arlington man, 31-year-old George Mina, has died several days after being struck by a car on Wisconsin Avenue NW in D.C. Mina, a pediatric phlebotomist, was struck by the driver of a Jaguar while crossing Wisconsin at Veazy Street NW on June 10. A rally for pedestrian safety was held in the area last night, with advocates calling for D.C. to implement pedestrian safety measures currently in use in Arlington. [NBC Washington]

No Opponent for Commonwealth’s Attorney — A potential independent candidate for Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney came up just a couple of verified petition signatures short of the 140 he needed to qualify for the ballot. Criminal defense attorney Frank Webb said he will drop his bid to get on the ballot. Incumbent Democrat Theo Stamos is now running unopposed. [InsideNova]

WW2 Vets Boogie at DCA — Video posted on YouTube shows a group of World War II veterans, in a Reagan National Airport terminal last month awaiting their honor flight back to Kentucky, dancing to a live rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” [Patch]

Flickr pool photo by Joseph Gruber

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Morning Notes

Central Place construction site

Public Defender Decries Pay Gap — Arlington’s deputy public defenders can make up to $33,000 less than their counterparts at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Chief Public Defender Matthew Foley said the gap creates an unfair balance, one that allows the deputy Commonwealth’s attorney to grow their salaries on the job and talented public defenders — whose wages are locked in — are leaving the office. He called it “an unfair game going on with people whose liberties are at stake” at the Arlington County Board’s budget public hearing. [Connection Newspapers]

Fairfax Car Chase Result of Arlington Warrants Updated at 1:05 p.m. — A car chase that broke out at the same time as yesterday’s manhunt was also the end result of Arlington police work. Lakisha Tracy was apprehended in Fairfax County yesterday morning after leading police on a high-speed chase that ended on Fairfax County Parkway in Lorton. Tracy was arrested on outstanding warrants for credit card and identity theft in Arlington County. [Washington Post]

Behind Arlington’s Meals on Wheels Program — Our Man in Arlington columnist Charlie Clarks goes behind the volunteers and beneficiaries of the Meals on Wheels charity, which was started in the county 44 years ago. Those receiving the meals, which are prepared by inmates at the Arlington County Detention Center, can range from the poor to, as one volunteer put it, “one four-star general dressed in a tie.” [Falls Church News-Press]

AFAC Sets 100,000 Meal Goal in April — With continuing record demand, the Arlington Food Assistance Center is hoping to receive 100,000 donated meals this month to distribute to Arlington families in need. AFAC expects to exceed its food budget by $150,000 for the second straight year, and Executive Director Charles Meng has said the nonprofit serves 100 new families a month. [InsideNova]

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Central Library Machete Attacker Sentenced to Life in Prison

Derrick Sutherland (photo via ACPD)(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) A jury has sentenced a man to life in prison without parole for the June 2013 machete attack on two homeless brothers outside Arlington Central Library.

Derrick Sutherland, 30, was convicted of aggravated malicious wounding for attacking twins Brian and Tim Kern while they were sleeping outside on June 24, 2013, sending both to the hospital with serious injuries. Sutherland was also homeless at the time, and he was “known to carry a machete,” according to police.

Arlington Circuit Court Chief Judge William T. Newman will hand down Sutherland’s final sentencing in an April 17 hearing, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney John Lynch, who tried the case along with Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lindsay Brooker.

“What broke this case open was some great police work,” Lynch told ARLnow.com this morning. “Officer Stephanie Rodriguez was on the ball that night, she went to where Brian was. She remembered that 48 hours earlier, she went to that very same place and encountered a guy with dreadlocks, a Jamaican accent and a pink shirt, and he was homeless.”

After searching for several hours, police located Sutherland near Wilson Blvd and N. Piedmont Street, a few blocks from where the attack took place. Within the previous six months, Sutherland had been convicted twice on weapons charges, once for carrying a concealed Bowie knife and once for brandishing a machete or Bowie knife, Lynch said.

Just days before the attack, three officers had encountered Sutherland and confiscated a machete, which Sutherland said he needed to protect himself. At two separate points since the attack, Lynch said, Sutherland was ruled mentally incompetent and had to be treated at a state mental facility in Staunton.

According to the Washington Post, Tim Kern suffered a broken collarbone and an injured knee during the attack. He also required staples in his shoulder and stitches in his arm. Tim also suffered a cut on the back of his neck that went through “his skin, his fat, his muscle all the way to the muscle surrounding the spinal cord,” Lynch said. “It was deep and it was long. I categorized it as an attempt to decapitate him.”

Brian Kern lost the vision in one of his eyes, and both of his wrists and three fingers were broken in the attacks. He also suffered large wounds to both of his hands, and Lynch said he had to learn how to write left-handed because of the injuries to his right hand.

Tim Kern died in a homeless shelter two months after he was attacked, but the machete wounds he suffered “did not contribute directly to his death.” He and his brother were 26 at the time. Brian, now 28 and living with a family friend, testified against Sutherland during the trial.

“The victim showed a lot of patience,” Lynch said. “June 24, 2013, was a long time ago. He showed courage throughout. Just surviving and getting up and testifying showed a lot of courage.”

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Life in Prison for Man Convicted in Murder-for-Hire Plot

Mack Wood, Jr.(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) Arlington Circuit Court Judge Daniel S. Fiore II sentenced Mack Wood, Jr. on Tuesday to life in prison. The 49-year-old Wood, Jr. pled guilty for the murder of his 87-year-old father.

Wood, Jr. was one of three people arrested last year in the murder-for-hire case. Mack L. Wood was found dead in his Arlington home in October 2012 from what first appeared to be an accident. However, an investigation by the Arlington County Police Department and the Henrico County Police Department uncovered evidence leading to the arrests of Wood, Jr., as well as Jean Caleb Pierre and Sapien Edmonds. All three men lived in Henrico, VA.

Prosecution documents state Wood, Jr. agreed to pay Pierre and Edmonds $25,000 each to kill his terminally ill father. The three began conspiring in April 2012, according to prosecutors, and made a failed attempt to kill Wood in July 2012. They kept in contact and came up with a new plan, which they successfully carried out in October 2012 when prosecutors say Edmonds beat and strangled Wood. Edmonds reportedly then positioned the body to appear as if the victim died from a fall down the stairs.

Mack L. Wood“It was horribly tragic for the Wood family. Mr. Wood was 87 years old and his wife had died a number of years earlier. They had adopted both of their children. He gave Mack Wood, Jr. his name, and they raised and provided a very good home for them,” assistant commonwealth’s attorney Andrew Parker told ARLnow.com. “Mr. Wood lived by himself and had been diagnosed months earlier with terminal cancer and was very ill. But because of these three men, he died at the hands of a stranger in his own home, by himself.”

Judge Fiore sentenced Wood, Jr. to life in prison for capital murder and an extra 20 years for the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. He is not eligible for parole under Virginia law.

Pierre and Edmonds both are waiting for their sentencing. As part of a plea deal, they agreed to provide information to authorities and therefore will be sentenced for first degree murder instead of capital murder. That means they will receive prison time, but not a death sentence.

Wood, Jr. has claimed his father abused him, but prosecutors have not been able to find any evidence to corroborate the claims. Evidence indicates Wood, Jr.’s motive was to inherit his father’s money. Wood, Jr. told Pierre he forged his father’s name on a contract to sell timber on land his father owned, and that he had received money from the sale. Wood, Jr. said he was afraid his father would reduce or eliminate his inheritance when he found out about the forged contract.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Wood, Jr. gave a lengthy statement. Part of his statement involved apologizing to his sister, Laura Kopack. She read her own statement, in which she explained what a blow this was to her and the family.

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Man Sentenced In Fatal Christmas Eve Crash

Farhan Khan (photo courtesy ACPD)A 22-year-old Alexandria man received a net seven year prison sentence today after being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the Christmas Eve 2012 death of a pedestrian in Ballston.

Farhan Khan was sentenced today in Arlington Circuit Court for the death of Shabnam Motahhar-Tehrani, 32, who was killed in the accident at the corner of N. Glebe Road and Randolph Street. Khan was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with three years suspended. Additionally, his driver’s license will be revoked and he will be on probation for 10 years after his release, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Jay Burkholder.

Witnesses said Khan was driving between 50-60 mph when he ran a red light and struck another vehicle. The collision caused his vehicle to spin out and hit Tehrani, who was standing on the sidewalk of Glebe Road. Khan had been cited eight times for previous moving violations, including for speeding the day before the fatal accident, Burkholder said.

“The defendant’s driving behavior was extraordinarily dangerous, particularly because of his excessive speed, the rainy road conditions, and the flagrant manner in which he ran the red light,” Burkholder told ARLnow.com. “Considering his extensive history of speeding, including an offense the day before this accident, and the fact that his gross negligence directly caused the death of Ms. Motahhar-Tehrani, we believed that a significant sentence was appropriate. We are grateful to the Court for its consideration of the evidence.”

The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 10 years in prison. Video of the accident was captured by a camera on a Metrobus that was stopped at the intersection, and it was introduced as evidence against Khan, Burkholder said.

Photo courtesy Arlington County Police Department

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Arlington Changes Parking Ticket Appeals Process

A Crown Vic ticketed in ClarendonDrivers who are issued a parking ticket can no longer go to the police department to try to get it dismissed if it wasn’t issued in error.

Arlington County Police Department Chief Doug Scott and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos agreed earlier this year that parking tickets that were issued correctly could no longer be reviewed by the police department, and all appeals would have to be taken to court. The policy took effect Oct. 1.

Tickets issued erroneously — for example, a ticket written at 6:05 p.m. for a meter that expired at 6:00 p.m. — can still be resolved administratively, according to Stamos.

When the ticket “was erroneously issued, in that case… the motorist will come to the police department and they’ll take care of that,” Stamos told ARLnow.com. “They’re going to continue to get rid of tickets that were erroneously issued.”

Before Oct. 1, a driver who was issued a ticket could walk into the police station and request a dismissal, and it would be up to the attending officer whether to enforce or dismiss the ticket. For instance, sometimes tickets for compliance violations like an expired state inspection sticker would be dismissed if the recipient could prove they worked quickly to get their vehicle inspected.

“[Chief Scott] didn’t like the idea of officers saying ‘you know what, we issued it, but we’re going to recall it, even though it was legitimately issued for a violation of some kind,’” Stamos said, noting the previously policy was also a drain on police resources. “If the recipient feels that it’s an injustice, they can go to court and deal with it in court.”

If a ticket recipient wishes to meet with a prosecutor to discuss a ticket, they will need to fill out the form on the back of the ticket and receive a court summons first. Then, Stamos said, they can bring the summons to meet with a prosecutor and try to get the ticket dismissed.

The process still involves showing up in person on a work day, something many ticket recipients decide is not worth the time and aggravation. Occasionally, for out-of-state visitors, prosecutors will conduct a dismissal discussion via phone or letter. Stamos estimated that 90 percent of ticket recipients are local.

File photo

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Food Trucks Claim Victory as Judge Tosses Loitering Charge

Food truck has its license inspected by police in Rosslyn (file photo)(Updated at 6:25 p.m.) Food truck owners are declaring victory after a successful showdown over a street vending ordinance in Arlington General District Court.

Currently, under Arlington County Code 30-9, food trucks are prohibited from vending on a public street for more than an hour in one spot. The enforcement of that portion of the Arlington County Code led to an outcry among food truck owners, who say it unfairly targets their business in order to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Late last year, the Institute for Justice, an Arlington-based libertarian law firm, announced that it was taking up the case of Arlington food trucks as part of its National Street Vending Initiative, which seeks to break down legal barriers for street vendors. Today, that effort bore fruit.

Seoul Food truck serves up Korean cuisine (File photo)An Arlington County judge, at the request of prosecutors from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, dismissed a loitering charge against Hyun “Anna” Shil Goree, co-owner of the Seoul Food truck. Goree was charged with the crime — a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 — after a police officer determined that she had not moved her truck “far enough” to comply with the law.

Last year Goree was fined $25 and $200 after pleading no contest to street vendor loitering charges in August and October. After being charged again in December, she decided to fight back, enlisting the help of the the Institute for Justice and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP. The charged was dismissed today via a nolle prosequi motion.

The Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has spoken out against the Arlington ordinance, says the dismissal is a victory against an arbitrary law that’s “vague and open to different interpretations.”

“This case highlights the absurdity of treating what amounts to a parking violation as a crime on par with assault,” said Doug Povich, co-owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound truck and Chairman of the Food Truck Association. “The Food Truck Association hopes to work with the County in the months ahead to craft a food-truck law that serves the County’s residents and workers and keeps food trucks as a vibrant part of Arlington’s business community and streetscape.”

Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius said the county is indeed working to change the ordinance.

“We realize that the 60-minute time limit is challenging for vendors and for customers, and we are working to change it,” Curtius said. “We hope to be bringing something forward in the Spring.”

Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said she asked for the charges to be dismissed after consulting with the police department.

“I made the decision… in consultation with the police department and with the awareness that the current ordinance is very difficult to enforce,” she told ARLnow.com. “It’s difficult to enforce because it requires a police officer to watch a truck for an hour (or some other witness willing to come to court to testify to the fact that the food truck hasn’t moved in 60 minutes)… then there is the definition of ‘move’ that is also problematic. Does it mean an inch? A parking space? Around the block?”

“The officers were responding to requests from store owners to enforce the ordinance,” Stamos continued. “Unfortunately, the ordinance, as written, is rather unclear and a criminal statute is always construed against the Commonwealth and in favor of the defendant, which is as it should be.”

Stamos said it’s “unlikely” that her office will prosecute additional loitering cases against food trucks until the County Board updates the ordinance.

The full press release from the Food Truck Association, after the jump.

File photos

An Arlington County judge today granted the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s motion to nolle prosequi in its case against the Korean fusion food truck Seoul Food, completely dismissing the case.

Anna Shil, who owns Seoul Food with her husband JP Goree, faced the possibility of up to a year in jail and a fine of $2,500. Her alleged crime? Not moving her truck “far enough.”

Seoul Food has been serving Arlington residents for the past year and a half. But in recent months the County began enforcing a provision in its law that forces food trucks to move every 60 minutes. Violating the anti-competitive restriction is a Class 1 misdemeanor, meaning that Arlington treats serving customers for 61 minutes as harshly as driving drunk or assault.

Worse yet, Arlington County’s law is vague and open to different interpretations. The law does not specify how far a food truck must move, only that it must “remain stopped for … no longer than sixty (60) minutes.” On three different occasions, three different Arlington officials gave Seoul Food three different explanations of how far their truck must move to comply with the law. Most recently, Shil moved the truck within the 60-minute period, but Arlington police still cited her because the officer felt that Seoul Food had not moved “far enough.”

With today’s dismissal, Shil can breathe easy knowing that she won’t go to jail for the crime of serving customers from her food truck.

“I’m happy this is behind us and we can focus back on making the food we love, serving our regulars and preparing to open our brick-and-mortar restaurant,” said Shil. “And I hope this case spurs the County to get rid of its 60-minute rule.”

Seoul Food is a member of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington, which has more than 50 members in Arlington and Washington, DC.

“This case highlights the absurdity of treating what amounts to a parking violation as a crime on par with assault,” said Doug Povich, Co-Owner of Red Hook Lobster Pound-DC and Chairman of the Food Truck Association of Metropolitan Washington.

“We have had good discussions with [Arlington Economic Development] and [the] County Board… to revise a law that just doesn’t make sense,” Povich said. “The Food Truck Association hopes to work with the County in the months ahead to craft a food-truck law that serves the County’ residents and workers and keeps food trucks as a vibrant part of Arlington’s business community and streetscape.”

Shil was represented in the case by attorneys in the Washington, DC office of Gibson, Dunn, & Crutcher LLP, a leading international law firm. Gibson Dunn attorneys Noah Sullivan, Michael Huston, Alex Harris, and Michael Diamant vigorously pursued Shil’s defense in order to secure the case’s dismissal. “We applaud the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s decision in this case and think it shows that they understand why this ordinance is problematic. A person cannot be prosecuted for a crime when the rules are vague, unclear, and conflicting,” said Noah Sullivan, one of Shil’s attorneys.

Also supporting Seoul Food was the Institute for Justice, which is based in Arlington.

“The Institute for Justice works to improve vending laws around the country, so when we heard about what was happening in our own backyard, we had to get involved,” said IJ attorney Robert Frommer. “Until recently, Arlington County has been lauded as a vending success story. We hope that the County will scrap its counterproductive 60-minute rule and let food trucks get back to what they do best: serving their customers.”

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UPDATED: Criminal Investigation Launched into Moran Video

(Updated at 7:25 p.m.) The Arlington County Police Department has opened a criminal investigation into a video of Patrick Moran, son of Rep. Jim Moran (D) and former field director of his reelection campaign.

The video, released yesterday by conservative activist James O’Keefe, allegedly shows Moran offering advice on how to cast fraudulent ballots. The advice was given to an undercover reporter who approached Moran with a scheme to fraudulently vote on behalf of 100 people.

Moran has since resigned from the campaign.

From an ACPD press release:

The Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Arlington County Police Department have been made aware of a video released yesterday allegedly depicting Patrick Moran, former Director of Field Operations for the Jim Moran for Congress campaign organization, assisting another to vote illegally.

The Arlington County Police Department has initiated a criminal investigation of this matter.

Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck promised a “thorough investigation” into the “election offense allegations.”

“All parties will be involved in the investigation,” he said, adding that “it would be irresponsible” to not investigate the video. Police will turn over the results of the investigation to the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, which will then decide whether or not to prosecute.

Patrick Moran, in a statement issued following his resignation from the campaign, denied any wrongdoing.

“At no point have I, or will I ever endorse any sort of illegal or unethical behavior, he said. “At no point did I take this person seriously. He struck me as being unstable and joking, and for only that reason did I humor him. In hindsight, I should have immediately walked away, making it clear that there is no place in the electoral process for even the suggestion of illegal behavior: joking or not.”

Arlington GOP Chairman Charles Hokanson, meanwhile, called for Rep. Moran to resign over the video during an interview that was scheduled to air this afternoon NPR, according to an Arlington County Republican Committee press release.

Update at 10:10 p.m. — Rep. Jim Moran issued the following statement tonight.

I don’t condone the actions of the right wing organization in question, but I recognize that this incident is teaching Patrick a tough lesson early in life. I know that my son’s intention was to deflect the line of questioning by this trained political operative bent on goading him into a specific response.

But the fact remains that the conversation drifted into discussions that reflected a serious error in judgment that Patrick wishes he could take back.

In life, if we learn from our mistakes, we move forward stronger, wiser, and committed to ensuring they are not repeated. I know Patrick will come out of this tough situation a better man for it.

The Moran campaign also issued a statement.

Our campaign welcomes a thorough investigation and we will fully cooperate. The incident involving Patrick was an unfortunate situation. While clearly lacking good judgment, Patrick’s unsolicited interaction with a right wing political operative seeking to trap him in a damaging conversation did not constitute an unlawful action. We are confident this unwelcome chapter in the campaign will be quickly and favorably closed.

Photo via YouTube/Project Veritas

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Morning Notes

Illegal Gambling Bust — This morning the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force will announce that it has made multiple arrests and taken down a gang-related illegal gambling operation after a months-long investigation. Arlington County was one of the police agencies that aided the task force by assisting with the investigation and executing warrants, according to a spokesperson.

Overview of Arlington Prosecutor’s Race — In race for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has far out-raised defense attorney David Deane. But Deane is hoping his stance against the death penalty will give him an edge against Stamos in the upcoming Democratic primary. [Washington Post]

An Outsider’s View of Seven Corners — To anyone who has driven far enough west on Wilson Boulevard, Arlington Boulevard or Route 7, an anecdote in this article, written by a recent Arlington transplant, will ring true. [The New Atlantis]

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Morning Notes

Monday Hopes to Enliven Rosslyn’s Restaurant Scene — Building owner Monday Properties is hoping to bring in some new restaurants to the Rosslyn area and shake off the “stigma” that there’s no nighttime foot traffic in the office-oriented neighborhood. The company just signed two new restaurants — Roti Mediterranean Grill at 1501 Wilson Blvd and Ahra Cafe & Sandwich Bar at 1100 Wilson Blvd. It’s hoping to find more restaurant tenants for its 1501 Wilson property. Ahra Cafe, meanwhile, is replacing three existing businesses, including a beloved coffee shop. [Washington Business Journal]

Stamos Handily Wins Fundraising Crown in Prosecutor Race — Theo Stamos has a nearly 30-to-1 cash advantage over David Deane in the Democratic primary for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington. [Sun Gazette]

Sauca Now Serves Beer, Liquor — Sauca Restaurant (4707 Columbia Pike) has obtained its liquor license and is now serving a selection of beer and fruity cocktails. [Pike Wire]

Best Cellars in Clarendon Closes — Best Cellars in Clarendon opened its doors to customers for the last time yesterday. The wine store closed after being unable to reach new terms for a long-term lease renewal with its landlord, ARLnow.com is told. However, in the store’s window was a more humorous list of explanations for the closing. [Clarendon Culture]

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Morning Notes

Moran: Arlington an Example for the Nation — Rep. Jim Moran (D) says that Arlington’s transit-oriented growth sets an example for other communities to follow.  For communities currently lacking such infrastructure, Moran says that tax policy can be used to help entice developers to build near transit hubs. [WAMU]

Death Penalty May Be Dividing Line in Race — The death penalty may be a key difference between the two Democrats who are running for Commonwealth’s Attorney in Arlington. “The death penalty doesn’t have a place in a civilized society,” said one candidate, defense attorney David Deane, in a recent appearance. His opponent, Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, has previously said she supports capital punishment in certain circumstances. [Sun Gazette]

Public Access Idea for Comcast — In response to the news that the county is holding focus groups regarding the upcoming renewal of Comcast’s cable franchise in Arlington, one blogger has floated an idea for a different type of ‘public access’ channel. The idea: allow members of the general public to upload videos to a ‘staging server’ where they would be reviewed, screened for inappropriate content and then broadcast in rotation with other community-generated videos. [Ode Street Tribune]

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