At least six inmates in the Arlington County jail have been released ahead of schedule, following the announcement that a sheriff’s deputy tested positive for coronavirus.
The releases came after the public defender’s office filed motions with Arlington Circuit Court to reconsider the sentences of around 20 inmates, a day after the April 23 announcement. Public Defender Brad Haywood says he also petitioned Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for clemency for 63 local inmates, though that request is still pending.
“We have spoken with the administration and they appear to be taking the request seriously,” Haywood said of the petition. “We are providing more detailed information to them at their request. No movement yet, but we remain optimistic.”
Jails and prisons across the U.S. have been especially vulnerable to spread of the virus, with around 5,000 infections and more than 100 deaths attributable to correctional facilities, according to the CDC.
Coronavirus “spreads easily and aggressively from person to person,” Haywood noted in an April 24 letter to the circuit court. “While there are no reported cases of COVID-19 among the Arlington County Detention Facility’s incarcerated population, because of and as evidenced by the Arlington Deputy Sheriff’s positive test, infiltration is inevitable.
“The risk to inmates is going to persist regardless of how effectively the pandemic is dealt with in the community,” he added. “This is a problem that cannot be avoided, and it is quite literally a matter of life and death.”
Haywood has been assisted in his efforts by Arlington’s top prosecutor, who took office at the beginning of the year after running on a criminal justice reform platform, and the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail. All three have been working to reduce the inmate population during the pandemic.
“Pretty early on, the public defender and I, and the Sheriff and I, got together and realized that what we really needed to do was thin out the jail population, both for the safety of the people who were incarcerated and also for the safety of the Sheriff’s deputies,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, during an online town hall about a week ago.
“We started going through the lists to ask the question, for each person do they really need to be there? So we were pulling files and proactively calling defense attorneys and suggesting they file motions for reconsideration,” she continued. “The public defender was doing this at exactly the same time. We’re lucky that we have a good relationship and so we were talking about the cases and collaborating.”
Despite concerns for the incarcerated, Tafti said it’s not realistic to empty the jails completely.
“Obviously we can’t let everybody out, but trying to get as many folks, and to be as surgical as possible — to ask the question: is this person really going to flee or is this person really going to reoffend?” said Tafti.
There has been a 25-30% reduction in prison population “over the past few months,” according to Tafti. Judges, meanwhile, haven’t always been as receptive to the idea of releasing inmates as the prosecutor’s office. The Washington Post reported in March that at least one Arlington judge was pushing back against recommendations to release certain inmates.
Arlington County police are contributing to the thinning of the jail population, Tafti said, in part by being more selective about who is held in jail and who is released pending trial.
“[Police] are actually issuing summonses more than arresting people, so they’ve tried to pull back that way,” she said. “In the initial bond hearings we’re still trying to be as surgical and careful as possible, and make sure as many people [get bail] as possible.”
Tafti said her office no longer asks for cash bail, but depending on circumstances still has to ask for some detainees to be held. It’s a tough decision, though, given the health risks in jail.
“It’s important that we don’t put them in a position where they’re likely to get sicker when they haven’t been convicted of a crime yet,” she said.
Jowan Zuber, owner of Arlington Smoke Shop in the Green Valley neighborhood, said 33-year-old Hamzeh Abushariah was sleeping in the store’s back office when he was awoken by loud noises. He encountered three masked suspects breaking in and fired three shots to scare them off, Zuber claimed.
One of the suspects, a boy under 18 years of age, was struck and suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, police said.
To Zuber’s surprise, police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney decided to level felony charges against Abushariah that could land him in prison for upwards of two decades, if convicted. Abushariah was denied bond, Zuber said, leading to concerns for his health while confined during the coronavirus epidemic.
“We thought we’re in the right. Three masked men at 4:30 on a Sunday morning,” Zuber told Carlson. “This is very sad for America today, as American citizens practicing the Second Amendment to protect the store and the lives.”
Zuber claimed that police asked Abushariah, “why didn’t you run out the back door?”
“This [tells] the criminals out there, hey we can rob stuff, kill people, hurt people, and guess what — people have to run out the back door,” Zuber said. “This is mind boggling.”
The Commonwealth’s Attorney Office, led by reform-minded prosecutor Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, defended the decision to charge Abushariah earlier this week.
“There’s evidence we are not at liberty to share that support the charges, the decision was not made lightly,” the office said on Twitter.
1/5 As part of our office commitment to public transparency, we’d like to offer a few comments regarding the incident and arrest described in the article below. cc @ARLnowDOTcom https://t.co/gj1lTSIpRo
— Arlington & Falls Church Virginia CA (@CA4Arlington) March 30, 2020
3/5 Second, public comments risk impeding the rights of the accused who, while accused, is entitled to the presumption of innocence. In other words, we don’t prematurely discuss the facts of a case because we are obligated to safeguard the accused’s due process rights.
— Arlington & Falls Church Virginia CA (@CA4Arlington) March 30, 2020
5/5 In short, we ask there not be a rush to judgment on what is very much on our part and on the part of the Police a live case.
— Arlington & Falls Church Virginia CA (@CA4Arlington) March 30, 2020
Update at noon — The Arlington County Republican Committee has weighed in on the controversy via Twitter, calling for charges against Abushariah to be dropped.
“The Commonwealth's Attorney should drop the charges against Mr. Abushariah immediately and go after the real perpetrators here." – Arlington GOP Chairman Andrew Loposser cc: @ARLnowDOTcom @VA_Gun_Rights @NRA @psullivan1
— Arlington GOP (@goparlington) April 1, 2020
Update on 4/24/20 — Two of the break-in suspects are now facing charges.
Reminder: Tap Water Change Today — “The District of Columbia, Arlington County and northeastern Fairfax County will clean out their tap water network starting Monday — a safe, annual process. Service continues uninterrupted during the process, which runs from March 30 through May 4. During that time, drinking water in the may taste slightly different. But the purification process remains unchanged and the water is essentially unchanged.” [ARLnow]
Jail Takes Extra Precautions — “We have created a unit that is strictly for all new individuals that are committed to the jail. These individuals are ‘quarantined’ from the rest of the population for an initial 14 days and checked daily by our Medical Staff. With the Detention Center population being low, we were able to move inmates around, creating the safest environment for those individuals that have been remanded to our custody and for new individuals entering the facility.” [Arlington County]
Human Services from a Distance — “Arlington’s Department of Human Services (DHS) is taking steps to provide services that don’t require in-person visits in an effort to contribute to the community slowdown of the spread of COVID-19.” [Arlington County]
Post Editorial Assails Arlington Judges — “Parisa Dehghani-Tafti last fall ran for commonwealth’s attorney on a promise of criminal justice reform, and voters in Arlington County and Falls Church chose her — and that platform — over the longtime, tough-on-crime incumbent. Now her efforts to deliver on her promise of progressive justice have run into opposition from judges who have taken highly unusual — and some say inappropriate — steps to undermine her discretion as the jurisdiction’s top elected prosecutor.” [Washington Post]
Shirlington Circle Closure in Place — “The northern section of the Shirlington Circle bridge over the general purpose and express lanes on I-395 will close from 10 p.m., Sunday, March 29 until midnight, Wednesday night, April 1… Travelers driving north on the I-395 general purpose lanes will not be able to access Shirlington from Exit 6.” [Press Release]
New Cap Gets Arlington Orientation — “When trying to adjust to life in a new city, it can be nice to have a familiar face around to help you. That’s exactly what Brenden Dillon had after he was traded to the Capitals in Joel Ward… Dillon and Ward were teammates in San Jose for three seasons from 2015 to 2018. Dillon credited Ward for helping him get acclimated to Arlington, Va. and the Washington area.” [NBC Sports Washington]
Tree Advocates Worry About Fate of Big Oak — “In the latest in Arlington’s tree wars, homeowners at 5920 N. 35th St. joined with passionate volunteers from the Arlington Tree Action Group to sound alarms over the threat to a towering water oak outside their home of 28 years, which might soon be a tear-down… The owners believe it is Arlington’s tallest outside the national cemetery.” [Falls Church News-Press]
The repeal will take effect July 1, after which it will no longer be a misdemeanor to curse up a storm while out and about in the Commonwealth. Well, except in Arlington.
“It shall be unlawful for any person to be intoxicated or to profanely curse or swear in any public place in the County,” the ordinance says. “Any person convicted of such public intoxication or profanity shall be guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.”
The good news is that even if you are somehow arrested for profanity, you probably won’t be prosecuted.
“I don’t see prosecuting the use of profanity on its own as a reasonable or efficient use of resources, so no,” said new Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, when asked by ARLnow whether she would prosecute someone just for cursing.
Nonetheless, the ordinance remains. Prior to the governor signing HB 1071, we asked whether Arlington officials had any plans to repeal the county’s cussing prohibition.
“The County routinely reviews its ordinances whenever a new state law may impact them,” said county spokeswoman Mary Curtius.
Biden Wins Virginia — “Virginia voters have overwhelmingly given former Vice President Joe Biden a sizable win over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s primary election. According to unofficial state election returns, Biden has been called the winner of the state with 53.3 percent of what was a record primary turnout, and will capture the largest share of its 99 delegates.” [Patch, Washington Post]
Bernie Underperforms 2016 — In the two-way race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in 2016, Sanders captured 33% of the vote in Arlington. Yesterday, he received 19% of the vote, a close third to Elizabeth Warren at 20%.
FAA Taking Comments on DCA Noise — “After changing the routes for planes taking off from Reagan National Airport, in Arlington, Virginia, the Federal Aviation Administration is holding a public comment period. The comment period closes March 30. In an email, Libby Garvey, chair of the Arlington County Board, said that even if people in the community submitted earlier complaints, the FAA will not be officially considering them.” [WTOP]
Tafti Defends Changes at Prosecutor’s Office — “There’s this false critique that these reforms are making our communities less safe. We’ve been fed a story for decades that we have to incarcerate and have zero tolerance in order to be safe. More and more we are finding that harm reduction — for drug use, mental illness treatment, restorative justice — is more effective.” [Arlington Magazine]
Police: Two Arrested in Stolen Vehicle — “At approximately 2:40 p.m. on March 1, officers [in Pentagon City] were alerted to a license plate reader hit on a vehicle previously reported stolen out of Washington D.C. Officers observed two subjects walking away from the parked vehicle and conducted surveillance in the area. The subjects were taken into custody without incident as they returned to the vehicle… A search of the vehicle located suspected narcotics.” [Arlington County]
Chamber Cheers Tourism Tax Bill — “The Arlington Chamber of Commerce celebrates the General Assembly’s establishment of permanent funding for tourism promotion in Arlington. This 0.25 percent Transient Occupancy Tax surcharge on hotel rooms is used exclusively by Arlington Convention and Visitors Service… to grow travel and tourism in Arlington. Previously, the tax surcharge was enacted with a July 1, 2021 sunset” provision. [Arlington Chamber of Commerce]
Bill Could Boost N. Va. Metro Funding — “Northern Virginia localities could soon have the ability to spend more money on Metro service increases after state lawmakers approved a bill that tinkers with the dedicated funding agreement for the transit agency… Virginia’s total financial contribution to Metro can’t increase by more than 3% each year, a condition designed to impose fiscal discipline on the agency. The bill from Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale would exempt any costs associated with service increases from that cap.” [Washington Business Journal]
Trash Collection Cancelled — Updated at 8:55 a.m. — Trash and recycling collection is cancelled today, according to Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services. Christmas tree and brush collection will be completed as normal, however. [Twitter]
Rep. Beyer Calls for Peace — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted the following after Iran’s airstrike on U.S. military bases in Iraq — a response to the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general: “De-escalate. Exercise diplomacy. Talk. Listen. Give peace a chance.” [Twitter]
Civ Fed Worries About Upzoning — “‘None of us are interested in destroying all our single-family neighborhoods,’ new County Board Chairman Libby Garvey said during the board’s Jan. 2 meeting with the Arlington County Civic Federation… At the forum, Garvey promised that the Civic Federation would play an integral role in any civic-engagement process that transpires in coming months. She reiterated the board’s position that zoning changes are not a done deal.” [InsideNova]
Board Defends Amazon’s Housing Contribution — “Arlington County Board members are defending their decision to trade additional office-building density for affordable-housing funding, but the decision provoked tension with some delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation. Meeting with board members on Jan. 2, several federation members asked why the county government had decided to allocate all the $20 million contribution from Amazon to affordable-housing efforts.” [InsideNova]
Marijuana Possession Cases Dismissed — In court Tuesday, Arlington’s new top prosecutor successfully sought for judges to dismiss charges against those charged with simple marijuana possession. [Twitter]
Police Investigate Pike Robbery — A portion of westbound Columbia Pike was shut down near S. Glebe Road early Tuesday morning while police investigated a robbery. An ACPD spokeswoman told ARLnow that a victim was robbed and suffered minor injuries; no weapon was involved in the robbery. [Twitter]
New Coworking Space Coming to Crystal City — “Hana is coming to Greater Washington, and it’s going to be neighbors with HQ2. CBRE Group has picked a Crystal City office building to serve as the first East Coast location of its flexible space concept, named after the Hawaiian word for work.” [Washington Business Journal]
Local Pawn Shop Helps Return Lost Ring — “Mary Nosrati, a certified gemologist who works at a pawnshop in Arlington, Va., likes to say that every diamond has a story. This is the story of Marsha Wilkins’s diamond, of how it was lost and how it was found.” [Washington Post]
Metro Tests New Tech in Pentagon City — The Transportation Security Administration and Metro rolled out new security technology at the Pentagon City Metro station on Tuesday. The system “can detect an individual concealing an improvised explosive device, such as a suicide vest or another weapon.” [Fox 5, Twitter]
HQ2 Leads to Development Boom — “Arlington officials, developers, market researchers — everyone, really — predicted that Amazon.com Inc.’s arrival in the county would generate a development boom in the company’s neighborhood. So far, they’ve been right.” [Washington Business Journal]
Tafti Sworn in as Prosecutor — Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was sworn in Monday as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church. On Tuesday she warned a crowd at a progressive think tank there has been a “growing narrative in pretty extreme circles that trying to reimagine the criminal-legal system is somehow going to make us less safe…somehow disrespects victims.” [Twitter, Blue Virginia]
Airport Authority Voting on $15 Wage — After years of protests, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority is set to vote today on a new policy that would increase the hourly wages of contracted workers — baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants, lobby agents, skycaps, cabin cleaners, airport concessions and airline catering workers — from $12.75 to $15 by 2023. [Press Release]
Beyer Pushing for Quieter Airplanes — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), who has long advocated against excessive noise from aircraft landing at and taking off from Reagan National Airport, is calling on NASA to study ways to make commercial jetliners quieter and cleaner in a new bill. [Press Release]
Northam Proposes Nixing Vehicle Inspections — “Gov. Ralph Northam wants to end state-mandated vehicle safety inspections and cut vehicle registration fees in half, proposals his administration says would eventually save Virginians more than $280 million per year. But motorists would have to pay a few dollars more each time they fill up on gas under a proposal to increase the state’s motor vehicle fuels tax from about 22 cents per gallon to 34 cents per gallon over three years.” [Virginia Mercury]
Parents Protest APS Proposal — “School officials tasked with the perpetual jigsaw puzzle of reassigning school zones have stirred new tensions… If you drive McKinley Rd., you can’t miss the printed signs ‘SAVE MCKINLEY: Our Neighborhood School Since 1951.’ The Madison Manor Civic Association has revved up with nearby PTAs and community groups to assemble contrary arguments.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Tafti Pushes Back on AG Comments — From Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “We are neither righteous warriors nor avenging angels. We are public servants. So a little humility in how we do our job and how we accept public critique of our work would go a long way toward building a system that is both safe and just.” [Twitter]
Free Holiday Grief Support Service — “For those who’ve suffered loss-whether recently, or even years prior-the holiday stress can make the season more difficult. To help those grieving in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia during the holidays, Capital Caring Health, a local non-profit, offers a wide range of free counseling and support services.” [Press Release, Arlington Public Library]
Special Burial at Arlington National — “Private Edwin Francis Benson was killed in action at Tarawa during World War II. In 2017, his remains were located. Earlier this year, his remains were identified and a couple weeks ago he was laid to rest in Section 60. We honor his service.” [Twitter]
APS Students Learn About the Census — “The U.S. Census Bureau kicked off its Statistics in Schools program, offering Arlington teachers and others a wide array of resources that teach students not only about data but also about the importance of being counted in the upcoming 2020 Census. Arlington Public Schools shared the free program with its teachers, who can integrate it into their lesson plans.” [Arlington County]
Road Closures for Race in Pentagon City — “The Jingle Bell Run/Walk 5K for Arthritis will take place on Saturday, December 7. Police will conduct road closures in the area of South Joyce Street and Army Navy Drive to accommodate this event.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
New Additions to Story Map — A number of properties have been added to the Arlington Historical Society’s Story Map, per organizer Charlie Clark, including: 817 N. Irving St. (Lyon Park), built circa 1904; Hendry House, 2411 N 24th St. (Woodmont), built circa 1900; 3405 N. Glebe Rd. (Country Club Hills), built circa 1907. [Arlington Historical Society]
Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has announced plans to visit the correctional facilities to which she and her assistant prosecutors will be sending guilty defendants.
Tafti, who will take over at the top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church on Jan. 1, says it’s important for prosecutors to understand the correctional end of the criminal justice system to ensure “a just punishment for defendants.”
Tafti and her staff will, over the next year, “complete visits to their local prison, jail and juvenile facilities, and implement ongoing requirements for staff,” according to a press release. Nearly 40 prosecutors across the country have committed to similar visits.
The future of Arlington’s juvenile detention center is currently up for discussion. Tafti, meanwhile, last week announced the appointment of her chief deputy, a respected veteran of the Commonwealth’s Attorney office.
More on the correctional visits, from the press release:
Today Parisa Dehghani-Tafti joined 38 elected prosecutors from across the country and committed to personally visit the correctional facilities in which individuals prosecuted by their office are placed. Recognizing that “it is vital for prosecutors to understand the true impact of their decisions and to see firsthand the jails, prisons and juvenile facilities in their jurisdiction,” these elected leaders also committed to implementing requirements for all prosecutors in their offices to visit these facilities and to incorporate this concept into ongoing job expectations.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Commonwealth’s Attorney Elect for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, said, “A prosecutor’s job is to hold in her mind and weigh in practice the safety of the community, the needs of victims, and a just punishment for defendants. How can we achieve that balance unless we see and understand for ourselves the outcomes of our decisions?”
Despite the fact that prosecutors have immense influence over who becomes incarcerated and for how long, many have never set foot inside a prison, jail or juvenile correctional facility. As more prosecutors implement reforms to shrink the footprint of the justice system, it is critical to develop a deep understanding of correctional facilities – including an understanding of how isolated, dehumanizing and unsafe conditions can impact an individual’s rehabilitation efforts, and in turn the safety of the communities to which they return.
“Prosecutors control the front door of the justice system through their charging decisions — and so much that follows in the lives of individuals in their community when that door is opened,” said Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution. “As such, they have an obligation to see and understand the conditions in the jails and prisons where their advocacy sends people, as well as the impact of those decisions on the individuals incarcerated within their walls, their families and the broader community. Today’s pledge, joined in by a wide swath of prosecutors from around the country, seeks to embed in the culture of DAs’ offices the recognition that decisions to incarcerate someone should never be taken lightly. We hope that by bringing prosecutors closer to those impacted by their actions, they will have a new perspective as they weigh the decision to incarcerate against other options that will keep individuals in community settings.”
The pledge will be implemented by Ms. Tafti’s Office over the coming year, during which time she, as well as all prosecutors in her office, will complete visits to their local prison, jail and juvenile facilities, and implement ongoing requirements for staff. This is a build out of the initiative launched by FAMM as part of their #VisitAPrison challenge, an effort to encourage elected policy leaders throughout all levels of government to personally visit correctional facilities.
Read the full pledge statement here and see below for a full list of pledge participants.
Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has announced her first planned appointment.
The incoming top prosecutor says she will promote current Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cari Steele to Chief Deputy, lauding both her prosecutorial chops and participation in groups like the Mental Health and Criminal Justice Review Committee and the Sexual Assault Response Team.
Tafti, who will take office on Jan. 1, issued a press release about the move — perhaps signaling a departure from outgoing Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, whose office issued few such communiques, aside from coordinating with police on press releases about the resolution of major cases.
More from the press release:
As her first planned appointment, Commonwealth’s Attorney elect Parisa Dehghani-Tafti will promote to Chief Deputy Cari Steele, who currently serves as Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney, effective January 1, 2020. Ms. Steele is a 17-year veteran of the office, having served since 2002. Throughout her career she has successfully handled numerous jury trials and bench trials before the courts of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, including homicide, sexual assault, and robbery.
Ms. Dehghani-Tafti noted that “Ms Steele is uniformly well respected by the bench, bar, law enforcement, and the community at large, and will be invaluable in maintaining the institutional memory of the office. But just as importantly, her deep experience as a member of the local Mental Health and Criminal Justice Review Committee, as coordinator for the Sexual Assault Response Team, and as a liaison to the Arlington County Drug Treatment Court makes her a wonderful fit to implement our restorative justice and diversion policies.”
For her part, Ms. Steele stated “It has been a privilege to serve the citizens of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church for the last 17 years and I am excited to continue that service in this new role under the vision and leadership of our Commonwealth’s Attorney-Elect.”
Ms. Steele is currently the liaison to the City of Falls Church Police Department, the Child Advocacy Center, and the Special Victims’ Unit of the Arlington County Police Department. She is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington County Bar Association. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Methodist College and received her J.D. from the University of Richmond in 2000. Ms. Steele is married to William Wetzonis and they have three children.
Last night, reform candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected the next top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church, leaving questions about how her campaign promises could affect the area’s political and legal landscape.
Throughout her unusually contentious — and expensive — campaign, Tafti promised to stop prosecuting some marijuana possession cases, eliminate some cash bail requirements, and make it easier for defense attorneys to access case files, among other reforms.
Tafti declined to discuss details about her plans for the prosecutor’s office itself, but the other agencies most affected by her reforms say her tenure could have a big impact on their work.
Public defenders may have more time with their clients
Chief Public Defender Bradley Haywood has been a vocal critic of outgoing Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos and donated to Tafti’s campaign. He told ARLnow her win will “absolutely” change the work his office can do, adding that her election was an “amazing opportunity” for judges, lawyers, and prosecutors to work together on criminal justice reform.
One reform Haywood said will majorly impact public defenders is Tafti’s promise to do away with the the requirement that defense attorneys hand copy all the prosecutor’s files about their criminal cases — a process several attorneys say is “horribly inefficient” and makes preparing large cases impossible.
“We estimated that there were about 1,000-1,500 hours we spent in that stupid room typing manually,” Haywood said of his office’s work in the past year. “It’s going to go down from 1,000 hours to zero probably in January. That will give us time to actually learn more about our clients.”
Tafti told ARLnow last night after the polls closed and her campaign declared victory that she was “absolutely” still committed to digitizing the document policy.
The Arlington County Bar Association, which includes private defense attorneys, declined to comment when asked how the new prosecutor’s policy priorities could affect members’ work.
The Sheriff’s Office may need a budget bump
Another one of the reforms Tafti focused on during her campaign was ending the practice of “cash bail,” which she said penalizes lower-income people who might instead remain jail as they await trial.
Outgoing prosecutor Theo Stamos announced last November she would stop seeking bail for people accused of low-level misdemeanors after seven state lawmakers urged her to fix the system. However, public defenders criticized the plan for still excluding too many defendants, calling it a “cynical PR move” to help her bid for re-election.
Sheriff Beth Arthur, who won her re-election last night, told ARLnow she didn’t necessarily oppose more changes to the bail system. But she did express concern about how to manage resources if judges choose to release defendants before trial with conditions — like weekly drug testing — in lieu of bail.
“I do have concerns from a staffing perspective and from an operational perspective on how how this impacts the poor people who are managing the program and who have a caseload of 60-65 people,” she said of her office’s pre-trial program that supervises such defendants. “That’s a lot.”
However, Arthur said she’s hopeful that the county will grant her office additional resources to staff pre-trial programs should they be affected by Tafti’s reforms — or the jail diversion program for people with mental illnesses.
In June, the Arlington County Board approved a $45.3 million total budget for the Sheriff’s Office in fiscal year 2020.