(Updated at 12:30 p.m.) A year ago, Arlington County launched a diversion program for youth and young adults who commit certain misdemeanor and felony crimes.
Heart of Safety is a voluntary program facilitated by Restorative Arlington, a nonprofit that facilitates meetings between victims who choose this approach and the people who committed crimes against them.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney or the local court services unit — which provides services to juvenile court-involved youth and their families — refers victims of crimes who want to stay out of court proceedings to the program.
There, victims and the people who harmed them meet with facilitators and each other to discuss what happened and why, the results of that crime and how the perpetrator can make amends — typically by adhering to a restoration plan to which both parties agree. This approach borrows from longstanding indigenous traditions that have been implemented and studied in some U.S. communities.
The Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney has referred eight cases to the program as of November. That figure comes from a Freedom of Information Act request filed last fall by the campaign to elect Josh Katcher, challenger to Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in the Democratic primary on June 20. His campaign released its findings on Friday.
Program Executive Director Kimiko Lighty says that the number of cases that have gone through the program is higher. It does not include cases referred from court services unit, those completed in 2022, ongoing cases, or those on who are on a six-month waitlist that she would take if the program had more capacity.
“Heart of Safety is working at capacity right now and has a waitlist,” Lighty says. “There are people who are saying, ‘We would rather wait to have a restorative option than go to court.'”
Participants include people from middle school through 26 years old who committed a fairly broad range of crimes, though Lighty did not elaborate on what kind, citing privacy.
“What they have in common, every single one, is that the person harmed asked for a restorative process,” Lighty said.
Dehghani-Tafti, elected in 2019 on a platform of prosecutorial reform, has said on the campaign trail that Heart of Safety is an avenue for victims to heal and for people who committed crimes to reckon with their actions, demonstrate remorse and commit to making amends.
She tells ARLnow the cases that went through the program “have gone really well” and been consistent with a memorandum of understanding and referral policies governing the program, both of which were provided to ARLnow.
Katcher and his team take issue with how the program has been promoted and how much credit Dehghani-Tafti can take for it, maintaining that people should be skeptical about why Dehghani-Tafti is not more forthright about program outcomes.
His team requested the number and types of cases that have gone through Heart of Safety, the number referred back to the courts, the memorandum of understanding and referral criteria governing the program, and a definition of recidivism.
In response, his campaign says it received the number of cases, eight, and the same documents Dehghani-Tafti’s campaign provided to ARLnow.
“Parisa Dehghani-Tafti wants the community to think of her as a reformer. However, when pressed for information to prove that she’s living up to our community’s expectations for what that means, her office refuses to answer basic questions around the efficacy of her highly-touted commitment to restorative justice,” the campaign manager for Katcher, Ben Jones, said in a statement.
“Her refusal to answer simple questions about a program that she has touted as being one of her signature promises is another sign that she’s not the right person to be trusted with ensuring our community’s safety and security,” he continued.
With early and caucus voting underway, some candidates for local office are getting boosts from prominent Arlington Democrats.
Arlington is a Democratic stronghold for state and national politics. On the local level, that ethos has fueled intense focus on who will get the official support of the local party — even for non-partisan positions on the Arlington School Board.
Among sitting County Board members, there is strong support for Acting Sheriff Jose Quiroz, who has received endorsements from outgoing Chair Christian Dorsey, Vice-Chair Libby Garvey and member Matt de Ferranti. Quiroz also has support from State Sen. Barbara Favola and Dels. Alfonso Lopez and Patrick Hope, as well as his predecessor, former sheriff Beth Arthur.
His opponents, retired Deputy Sheriff Wanda Younger and Arlington police officer James Herring, have not published endorsements on their websites.
No other candidate websites list endorsements from Dorsey or outgoing member Katie Cristol, both of whom are stepping down this year. Of the remaining County Board members, they diverged on their support for a Commonwealth’s Attorney. De Ferranti and Karantonis support incumbent Parisa Dehghani-Tafti while Garvey supports challenger Josh Katcher, who worked for Dehghani-Tafti and her predecessor, Theo Stamos.
Dehghani-Tafti’s website lists a slew of endorsements from elected Democrats, including Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer McClellan, State Sen. Barbara Favola, Dels. Hope and Lopez as well as endorsements from the Washington Post and the Falls Church News-Press. Campaign financing records show she has received donations from political groups that support progressive prosecutors.
Katcher’s supporters including former Arlington School Board member Barbara Kanninen, education activist Symone Walker and the local firefighters union. Campaign materials shared with ARLnow show that Stamos has promoted meet-and-greet opportunities with Katcher, one of which former independent County Board member John Vihstadt hosted.
Campaign financing records show some of Katcher’s biggest recent contributors of $1,000 or more include himself, former School Board member Abby Raphael, retired Deputy Chief of Police Daniel Murray, a former candidate for Stafford County’s treasurer, and longtime local GOP civic figure John Antonelli, who previously donated to Vihstadt and Stamos.
For County Board, stances on housing and development seem to have informed which sitting Board members support them.
De Ferranti endorsed two candidates to join him on the Board: Julius “J.D.” Spain, Sr. and Maureen Coffey, who also picked up an endorsement from Takis Karantonis and $5,000 contributions from a labor union. The stances of the two candidates on housing and the environment have also earned them the support of YIMBYs of Northern Virginia, Greater Greater Washington and the Sierra Club.
Vice-Chair Libby Garvey has diverged from her colleagues, endorsing Natalie Roy and Susan Cunningham, who previously ran for County Board as an independent.
Cunningham, who has led affordable housing and social safety net nonprofits, and Roy, who also considers environmental action a top priority, staked out positions opposed to the zoning changes known as Missing Middle for being short-sighted. Garvey helped usher in the new ordinance, allowing by-right development of 2-6 unit buildings on single-family lots, but later elaborated on her misgivings.
Supporters for Roy and Cunningham include some previously elected Democrats as well as community and civic association leaders and, for Cunningham, advocates for affordable housing and more robust social safety net initiatives. Roy picked up the support of former School Board members Nancy Van Doren and James Lander.
Roy’s largest contributor donated $7,000 in this race, including $4,000 to her, $1,000 to Cunningham and $2,000 to Katcher. Cunningham’s largest supporter donated $2,000 to her this race and in her 2020 bid as an independent.
Arlington residents may soon hear the dulcet sounds of John Legend on the phone, asking them to vote for Parisa Dehghani-Tafti.
The singer, songwriter, actor and media personality is again weighing in on the local race for Commonwealth’s Attorney. An advocate for justice reform, Legend endorsed Dehghani-Tafti in 2019 and has recorded an endorsement for the prosecutor’s reelection this year.
“Hi, this is John Legend,” the singer’s voice will say to those who pick up the phone. “Why am I calling is because Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, your Commonwealth’s Attorney who needs your vote in the June 20 Democratic primary.”
“Parisa has delivered on her promises,” Legend continues. “She stopped prosecuting low level marijuana possession and ended cash bail. Under Parisa’s leadership, Arlington is one of the safest cities in America. Parisa’s work to establish treatment programs and reduce racial disparities has made her a leader on safety and justice reform both locally and nationwide.”
Dehghani-Tafti posted a copy of the recording on social media this morning.
I'm excited to announce the endorsement of singer, songwriter, and philanthropist, John Legend. John's activism has led him to work on justice reform in America and I'm proud to receive his support! Here's the call YOU could receive from him soon! @johnlegend pic.twitter.com/3PaKJr3lj0
— Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (@parisa4justice) May 8, 2023
Dehghani-Tafti is facing a challenge in the Democratic primary from her one-time deputy, Josh Katcher.
The challenger has outraised his former boss $105,562 to $66,613, though Dehghani-Tafti has criticized him for accepting money from GOP donors. Katcher, who also describes himself as a justice reformer, has linked a local rise in crime — albeit one in line with national trends — with the alleged “multiple failings” of Dehghani-Tafti’s leadership.
While lacking the star power of John Legend, Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey is among those who have endorsed Katcher.
(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) Two candidates have emerged as top fundraisers ahead of this year’s Democratic primary: Natalie Roy for Arlington County Board and Josh Katcher for Commonwealth’s Attorney.
That’s according to newly-filed quarterly campaign financial reports.
The six candidates for County Board, two for Commonwealth’s Attorney and three for Sheriff will run in a primary on June 20 to determine the local party’s nominees headed to the general election. The Arlington County Democratic Committee will hold a caucus in May to endorse a School Board candidate.
In statements, Roy and Katcher said the numbers show their message resonates with people who do not feel heard or are concerned with the direction Arlington is headed — whether on housing and community engagement or on prosecutorial reforms.
Roy, a realtor noted for getting around on bicycle, kicked off her campaign by expressing misgivings with the zoning ordinance changes known as Missing Middle, which passed in March. She instead suggested other solutions — such as turning the vacant, condemned Key Bridge Marriott into housing and county amenities.
She comes in first at $51,237, followed by former Arlington NAACP branch president Julius “JD” Spain, $48,032, and businessman Tony Weaver, $46,087.
While Roy has the most donations over $100, her campaign highlighted that 80% of donors were Arlington voters and 80% donated less than $250.
“This shows both strong grassroots and widespread community support, a sign that Natalie’s message has been resonating with Arlington voters who feel like their voice has not been heard in recent years,” per a statement she released on Tuesday.
“From hosting small meet & greets in their living rooms, to knocking doors, to donating, their strong and steady support has made it possible for me to do the best part of a campaign — meeting with and hearing from Arlingtonians across the county,” Roy continued.
With $105,526 raised and more than $90,000 spent, Katcher — who worked as a prosecutor under Theo Stamos and his now-opponent, incumbent Parisa Dehghani-Tafti — outraised and outspent his former boss.
“Ours is the people’s campaign, and once again the Arlington and Falls Church City communities have stepped up and proven that,” he said in a statement. “Since I kicked off my campaign in November, we have surpassed our fundraising targets — twice. Thank you to all the supporters who have helped make this possible.”
Katcher’s campaign said all his support is derived from individuals. Per the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, which compiles campaign reports, some 400 people have donated to his campaign. Dehghani-Tafti has received donations through some 150 individual contributions in addition to three PACs.
The largest of these is an in-kind donation of $8,000 from Justice and Public Safety PAC, a PAC funded by George Soros. The billionaire philanthropist donated millions to the PAC, supporting dozens of progressive prosecutor candidates in the U.S., including several hundred thousand dollars in cash and services to Dehghani-Tafti’s successful 2019 campaign.
(Updated at 11:40 a.m.) No defendant under 18 years old has been tried as an adult in Arlington County since Parisa Dehghani-Tafti became Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2020.
For Arlington’s top prosecutor, this is an important reform. It keeps children in a system designed for guiding them, and holding them accountable while providing rehabilitative services.
But Rose Kehoe, the mother of Braylon Meade, would have wanted to see the 17-year-old who killed her son while driving drunk last November tried as an adult. In a letter to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D) — shared with other elected officials and with ARLnow — she wrote the decision not to charge the teen as an adult in Arlington County Circuit Court is one reason they felt justice was not served and they were not heard.
“Meaningful reform requires nuanced thinking regarding the facts of each individual case and applying the law fairly and appropriately,” Kehoe wrote to Favola, who endorsed Dehghani-Tafti in her reelection campaign. “In the case of Braylon Meade, we have no doubt that Ms. Dehghani-Tafti’s political rigidity on the issue of refusing to charge juveniles as adults is what governed this case.”
“This was a campaign slogan that worked to drive voters to the polls in 2019 but when applied in the real world of running her office, it stripped our voice away from us and denied a meaningful discussion on how to seek justice for Braylon,” Kehoe continued.
She said Dehghani-Tafti categorically rejected trying the offending teen as an adult despite being two months shy of his 18th birthday at the time of the offense, “despite the defendant’s history of alcohol and THC abuse, despite him driving 94 miles per hour down Old Dominion Drive, despite him only applying his brakes for one half of one second.”
The teen was sentenced to one year of detention and two years probation, though Dehghani-Tafti sought three years in detention.
In a statement to ARLnow, Dehghani-Tafti empathized with the family but said many conditions have to be met to try a child as an adult, and it is not certain the offending teen would have met those criteria.
“As a mother, I know that the death of a child is life shattering. Braylon’s death is a devastating loss for his family and friends, and I am heartbroken over it,” she said. “I understand why Ms. Kehoe feels the way she does. And I don’t want to say anything that adds to their pain. There is simply no good outcome because the only good outcome would be for Braylon to be home.”
The decision to certify
State code allows juveniles to be transferred to adult court in limited situations and after considering several factors, such as the severity of the crime and if the child has committed other crimes in the past.
Factors that could lead to transfer include if the offense was premeditated and a weapon was used, Dehghani-Tafti said. Factors that may argue against transfer include the mental health of the defendant and the availability of services.
“All this is because we know from both experience and science, kids are different from adults,” Dehghani-Tafti said. “My team and I met with Braylon’s family, listened to them, and carefully considered this case — with the guideposts of justice and the safety of the community — before determining it was not an appropriate case for transfer. We pursued this case with diligence, and asked for the maximum sentence available, three years. After hearing both sides, the court gave 12 months with a period of probation.”
But Kehoe says she walked away from the one meeting her family had with Dehghani-Tafti feeling less considered than the defendant.
A fundraiser for Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Josh Katcher has drawn some notable local names.
Katcher is running in June’s Democratic primary to unseat his former boss, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, as Arlington’s top prosecutor. Both bill themselves as justice reformers, though Katcher is associating a local rise in crime — albeit one in line with national trends — with what he calls the “multiple failings” of Dehghani-Tafti’s leadership.
Garvey emailed supporters Friday evening, inviting them to a fundraiser for Katcher this coming weekend. More from the email, below.
The first local candidate that I am supporting publicly this year is Josh Katcher running for Commonwealth’s Attorney. I hope you will consider supporting Josh as well and perhaps join me at the event on Saturday, March 25 at 3:30 pm. It would be great to see you there.
If you have any questions, I’m happy to discuss the race.
Names also appearing on a flyer for the event include former School Board member Barbara Kanninen, former Rep. Jim Moran, and former County Board candidate Chanda Choun.
Endorsements listed on Dehghani-Tafti’s website include Reps. Don Beyer and Jennifer McClellan; County Board members Matt de Ferranti and Takis Karantonis; former County Board member Mary Hynes; former state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple; current state Sens. Barbara Favola, Scott Surovell, and Dick Saslaw; School Board member Mary Kadera; former School Board members Nancy Van Doren and Monique O’Grady; Dels. Alfonso Lopez and Marcus Simon; Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson; Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy; and County Board candidate JD Spain.
Katcher recently criticized Dehghani-Tafti for her decision to prosecute a murder-for-hire suspect who was quickly found not guilty by a jury, after the case was highlighted on ABC’s 20/20. ARLnow hears that NBC’s Dateline is also planning to air an episode about the 1998 murder and the case against the victim’s then-fiancee.
This Saturday, Arlington County’s top prosecutor, its Circuit Court clerk and some attorneys will help people who want their criminal record expunged for free.
The clinic will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. this Saturday (Dec. 3) at Arlington Presbyterian Church, located off Columbia Pike at 918 S. Lincoln Street. It will provide everything attendees need in one place to request arrests that did not result in convictions be removed from their record.
“Even if you’ve been arrested and not convicted, that arrest can follow you every time you apply for a job, school, or an apartment,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti tells ARLnow. “That harms people, their families, and the community. This clinic is one way we can mitigate that harm and give people a chance to live productive lives.”
She says this is the first time Arlington has offered an opportunity like this, but she hopes it isn’t the last.
“We wanted to do this for a long time but had to delay because of Covid,” she said. “Prince William has done it recently but I am not aware of any other jurisdictions in Virginia, though it is possible.”
Courts do not identify who is eligible to have their record expunged, so the aim of the clinic is to let people know what is available and what is possible, she says.
“The biggest difficulty is twofold: people don’t know they’re eligible and don’t apply, or others who are not eligible and apply are surprised to discover they are not,” she says. “So, one of our main goals is public education.”
2/2 The point of our clinic is simple: People who are committed to contribute to our community deserve the opportunity for a second chance.
— Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (@parisa4justice) November 27, 2022
Ahead of the clinic, her office partnered with the public defender’s office, the defense bar, local churches, and other community organizations to reach people who may be eligible.
Attorneys will provide pro-bono assistance and clinic sponsors are covering the $86 filing fee on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Attendees need to bring the arrest warrant or final letter of disposition for each charge they would like to be expunged.
Currently, Virginia law limits expungement to narrow circumstances, Dehghani-Tafti says. The Virginia General Assembly passed a new law that would expand eligibility for record sealing, but the changes won’t take effect until July 1, 2025. Even so, there is still room for improvements, Dehghani-Tafti adds.
Clinic sponsors include the Arlington Branch of the NAACP, the Arlington Coalition of Black Clergy and Black Parents of Arlington, as well as local nonprofits Bridges to Independence, Offender Aid and Restoration, Arlington Thrive, Arlington for Justice and the D.C.-based Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, where Dehghani-Tafti used to serve as legal director.
OAR Associate Deputy Director Mustafa Saboor said in a statement that this clinic is an important first step in helping people overcome unjust barriers.
“Our criminal legal system is overly punitive, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the way arrest records destroy people’s ability to work and live,” Saboor said. “Because Black and Brown communities are overpoliced throughout this country, barriers to work because of arrest records fall disproportionately on those communities, further entrenching deeply racist lines in this country.”
Dehghani-Tafti’s former deputy prosecutor announced on Tuesday that he will be challenging her in the 2023 Democratic primary.
Flickr photo by Joe Gratz
Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti now has a challenger — someone who once worked for her.
Former Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Katcher will go up against the incumbent in the Democratic primary in June. Katcher was hired as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney by Theo Stamos in 2012 and he was promoted to deputy in 2021 near the outset of Dehghani-Tafti’s tenure.
“I am running because my opponent Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has not only broken her promises on reform prosecution, she also has broken the office in the process,” he said in an email to supporters, reprinted on Blue Virginia.
In a separate statement, tweeted out by Washington Post reporter Teo Armus, Katcher says he brings “unique insight” to the “multiple failings under the current administration’s leadership.”
“Crime is rising in Arlington,” Katcher said in the announcement. “There is no doubt about it and we have the data from the Arlington County Police Department to prove it. People are concerned about their safety and their property. Denying this or falsely alleging it is part of some media-driven narrative doesn’t solve the problem.”
Katcher said his first two promises are to acknowledge what he says is rising crime in Arlington and to increase transparency by releasing data housed in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney within a year of taking office.
“The stakes could not be higher for our community,” Katcher said. “This election is not about whether we should be engaged in reform prosecution. The question is really whether we are going to miss this generational window of opportunity to get it right. Every victim, witness and defendant who comes through the doors of the courthouse deserves a Commonwealth’s Attorney that delivers real reform and real justice.”
Reported property crimes offenses increased 7.4% over 2020, according to the 2021 ACPD crime report, mostly driven by fraud and theft, but also increases in vandalism, robbery and burglary. In 2021, ACPD says it arrested several suspects who were “frequently responsible for multiple cases within Arlington or regionally.”
Crimes against people increased 24%, driven by increases in simple and aggravated assaults, an upward trend since 2018, according to ACPD stats. The police department, meanwhile, has cut some services, such as follow-up investigations on “unsolvable” property crimes, in the face of staffing shortages.
In interviews with ARLnow and statements on Twitter, Dehghani-Tafti says that crime is not, in fact, trending upward. She points to low murder rates and to the fact that Arlington’s overall crime rate remains well below state and national averages.
It’s not but I guess we’ll have to now suffer through the right wing talking points we just lived through in the midterms. It didn’t work for Fox News. It’s not going to work in Arlington.
— Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (@parisa4justice) November 30, 2022
In response to concerns about property crime sprees and repeat offenders, she has said the approach for the last 40 years is to blame, as is a lack of investment in diversion programs.
Dehghani-Tafti beat incumbent Theo Stamos in the 2019 Democratic primary, with a platform focused on criminal justice reform. She pledged to fix systemic flaws in the criminal justice system such as cash bail and punishment for marijuana possession.
Since taking over, her office has launched a wrongful conviction unit and a restorative justice program for young adults. Her critics, however, say she offers criminals lenient plea deals and lets them go free as a result of bond reforms.
Ahead of the primary, Katcher says he faces “an uphill road” to victory because Dehghani-Tafti will “receive hundreds of thousands of dollars from PACs outside of our community.”
She has received a substantial donations from the Justice and Public Safety PAC, which is funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. By contrast, Katcher promises a “people-powered” campaign.
Whoever wins the Democratic primary in June will face off, in November, with any independent or Republican challengers who may emerge over the next year.
Katcher was born and raised in Fairfax County, according to his website. He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia and briefly worked in litigation in New York City before becoming a local prosecutor.
He currently lives in Arlington with his wife Jill, their children Juliet and Jamie, and their dog Louie and has served in a variety of roles within the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti announced today (Tuesday) that she is running for reelection as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.
Dehghani-Tafti, who campaigned on criminal justice reform, won her first term in 2019, after beating incumbent Theo Stamos (D) in a contentious and expensive primary that saw more than half a million dollars in donations to the challenger from a justice reform group.
She pledged to fix systemic flaws in the criminal justice system to which, Dehghani-Tafti asserted, Stamos was blind. This included cash bail, a requirement that defense attorneys hand copy all the prosecutor’s files about their criminal case and punishment for marijuana possession.
“Three years ago, when I first sought our community’s support, I promised that our community would become a model for how to run a criminal justice system that provides safety and justice for all,” Dehghani-Tafti said in a statement. “In just three years, in the midst of a global pandemic, in the face of constant resistance from the forces of the status quo, and fighting against a right-wing recall campaign against me, we’ve achieved that and more.”
The recall effort, which never amounted to a serious threat to her seat, was led by a political group named Virginians for Safe Communities that also targeted as her counterparts Buta Biberaj and Steve Descano in Loudoun and Fairfax counties, respectively.
Today, in a press release announcing her reelection bid and on Twitter, Dehghani-Tafti says she has made good on many of her campaign promises.
2/6 In just 3 years, in the midst of a global pandemic, in the face of a right-wing recall campaign and constant resistance from opponents of reform, I’ve kept my promises and together we’ve achieved extraordinary progress. Now I’m running to protect our progress. pic.twitter.com/5oACiH3bLq
— Parisa Dehghani-Tafti (@parisa4justice) November 22, 2022
Her office launched Virginia’s first Conviction Review Unit to investigate wrongful conviction claims, after the General Assembly passed a law expanding the pool of defendants who can challenge convictions.
It started a program, dubbed “the Heart of Safety” program, to find alternatives to prosecution in certain misdemeanor and felony cases committed by juveniles and young adults. It also partnered with local and national nonprofits to create diversion programs that reduce racial disparities in the criminal legal system, and received a U.S. Department of Justice grant to run restorative justice program.
In her Twitter thread, she added that her office never asked for cash bail and stopped prosecuting simple marijuana possession before the General Assembly decriminalized it. She says her office assigns one prosecutor to preside over a case from start to finish and allowed defenders to access court records electronically. Over the last three years, the jail population has dropped by 30%, as have certain types of crimes.
Additionally, she says, her office did not certify a single child as an adult in 2021 and Arlington’s behavioral health docket now allows individuals experiencing mental health crises to obtain treatment without incurring a criminal record.
“We did all of this while making sure our community remains safe,” she said in today’s statement. “While homicides rose 30% nationwide, in our community they dropped by 50%. In 2021 and for about 16 months, Arlington County and the City of Falls Church recorded zero homicides. This year, to date, one.”
Critics, however, have asserted that crime is up under her tenure. They accused Dehghani-Tafti offering criminals lenient plea deals and letting them go free as a result of bond reforms. In one case, an Arlington County Circuit Court judge rejected her plea deal — a local example of a broader judicial tug-of-war between judges and reform-minded prosecutors — and Dehghani-Tafti fought for prosecutorial discretion, with support from a criminal-justice organization. Read More
A man who was charged in connection to the death of Darryl Becton in Arlington County jail in 2020 has been found not guilty.
Antoine Smith was charged in September 2021 with the misdemeanor of falsifying a patient record.
Smith worked for Corizon Correctional Health, the jail-based medical provider at the time of Becton’s death, which has been sued multiple times across the nation for inmate deaths allegedly connected to inadequate care.
When reached by phone, Smith’s attorney declined to comment on the outcome of the case.
The charge was levied against Smith as part of a year-long investigation into the circumstances surrounding Becton’s death at the Arlington County Detention Facility.
In the wake of his death, the Arlington branch of the NAACP called for an independent investigation. The jail, meanwhile, cut ties with Corizon and updated its protocols.
One month later, Becton’s family filed a $10-million wrongful death lawsuit against Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur, the elected official who oversees the jail and the Sheriff’s Office, as well as Corizon and four medical staffers, including Smith.
The suit alleges that medical staff did not treat and properly monitor Becton’s drug withdrawal symptoms or high blood pressure, despite being aware of his condition and the risks associated with it.
The lawyer for the case did not return a request for comment on how the not-guilty verdict for Smith impacts the lawsuit.
Becton was the fifth person — and the fourth Black man — to die in the facility while in custody in five years, according to the Arlington branch of the NAACP. Since then, the number of people who have died in the detention facility has risen to seven, prompting the Arlington County Board to pledge greater oversight over how the jail is managed.
For the NAACP, the charges against Smith were never its focus.
“Even had Mr. Smith been found guilty of that charge, it would not have answered the central question: why did Mr. Becton die?” Arlington NAACP President Julius “JD” Spain told ARLnow. “The NAACP remains committed to helping our entire community understand how this avoidable tragedy happened, so we can work together to ensure it never happens again.
“We will continue to advocate for a better public safety system that reduces the reliance on prisons as means of solving social problems, and advances effective law enforcement,” Spain continued.
The verdict does raise a host of questions about who supervises jail-based healthcare providers and their employees, and where was that supervisor when Becton died, Spain said.
“So, finally, why did it take this unnecessary and tragic death, seven in seven years, to ultimately cause the Sheriff’s office to find a new contractor?” Spain said. “To date, no one has been held accountable. Is it a toxic work environment, fear of retaliation, or improper management of personnel? Every day that passes without an answer, trust and confidence in leaders and the justice system erode.”
The jail has taken some corrective steps to improve its treatment of inmates, including hiring a quality assurance manager, planning to buy a new medical tracking device and updating health check protocols.
These actions led Virginia’s Jail Review Committee, part of the Board of Local and Regional Jails, to conclude that “no further measures are necessary” and close its investigation into the Arlington jail last month. Its investigation found evidence suggesting the jail had broken state regulations in Becton’s death, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Flyover This Morning — Updated at 9:15 a.m. — “The US Air Force reports 2 flyovers in the NCR consisting of 4 military aircrafts (in both flyovers) at Arlington National Cemetery today, July 14… at 9:55AM and 11:43AM.” [PoPville]
Arlington Again No. 1 ‘Digital County’ — “Arlington County continues to be a national leader in technology, once again being recognized as the No. 1 Digital County by the Center for Digital Government and the National Association of Counties. The 2022 award marks the fifth time that Arlington has received the top honor in the 150,000-249,999-population category.” [Arlington County]
County Seeking Funding for Crash-Prone Ramp — “Arlington County officials are slated to apply for $10 million in federal funding to improve an interchange at Arlington Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, while seeking a similar amount from the state government as a backstop in case the federal cash never materializes. The proposal aims to reconfigure two existing interchange ramps and create a straighter, two-directional ramp with signalization.” [Sun Gazette]
Another Group Backs ‘Missing Middle’ — “Count Habitat for Humanity on board with the Arlington government’s Missing Middle housing proposal. The proposed zoning change ‘is not the answer to the affordability crisis, but it is one answer, that the county [government] could and should implement,’ John Smoot, co-president and CEO of the organization’s D.C./Northern Virginia chapter, said in a recent letter to County Board members.” [Sun Gazette]
Jewelry Robbery on the Pike — “Columbia Pike at S. Four Mile Run Drive. At approximately 1:50 a.m. on July 13, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery by force. Upon arrival, officers made contact with the victim who stated he and the witness were in a parking lot when the unknown male suspect approached them. The suspect became confrontational and a verbal dispute occurred during which the suspect implied he had a weapon. The suspect then forcibly removed the victim’s necklace and fled the scene of foot. The witness recovered the chain of the necklace from the suspect as he fled.” [ACPD]
Prosecutor: Long Sentences Not Always the Answer — From Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “I understand the easy answer is to simply say: keep people locked up for as long as possible because if they’re locked up they can’t commit any crime. But, what about if doing so increases the chance they will reoffend once released, thereby decreasing public safety?” [Twitter]
Local Neighborhood Profiled — “Madison Manor is composed primarily of brick ramblers and ranchers, some with recent additions, interspersed with larger contemporary homes. Most of the original homes maintain the red brick facade; a few have been painted white or partially covered with siding.” [Washington Post]
Two Charged in Rare Liquor Scheme — “In the search for hard-to-find bottles of bourbon at Virginia ABC stores, some liquor enthusiasts have been worried about leaks of a more serious kind… The conspiracy theories apparently weren’t wrong. An ABC investigation led to four felony indictments against two men who were arrested last month and charged with computer trespass and embezzling ABC’s inventory list.” [Virginia Mercury]
It’s Thursday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 87 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:56 am and sunset at 8:35 pm. [Weather.gov]