Arlington, VA

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.

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(Updated at 10:20 p.m.) There were no surprises in Tuesday’s general election in Arlington, as Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was elected Arlington’s new prosecutor and all Democratic incumbents won new terms.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney race saw an elevated level of write-in votes — 10% of the overall vote — but the result was never in doubt as Tafti received 90% of the vote. She will take office as the top prosecutor for Arlington and Falls Church starting in January.

Tafti ran a progressive campaign centered on criminal justice reform during a contentious and expensive primary. She ran unopposed in the general election after beating incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos in a surprising upset in the primary, with 52% of the vote to Stamos’ 48%.

“It was really surreal,” Tafti told ARLnow of her win, after the final precinct results came in.

The incoming prosecutor added that she was “lucky” she had time between the June primary and the November election to start work on her transition. Tafti she’s looking forward to rolling out reforms come January — which one expert has said is the most aggressive policy transition for the office in living memory.

“I’m really excited to get a restorative justice program started,” she told ARLnow.

Elsewhere on the ballot, Arlington County Board incumbents Katie Cristol (D) and Christian Dorsey (D) defeated independent candidates Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell with 40% and 38% of the vote, respectively. Clement’s 13% and O’Dell’s 7% compares to the 10% Clement and 19% Republican Mike McMenamin received in 2015, when Cristol and Dorsey were first elected.

In contested General Assembly races in Arlington, state Sen. Janet Howell, who ran unopposed in the primary, won out over Republican candidate Arthur Purves, 73% to 27%. Del. Alfonso Lopez defeated independent challenger Terry Modglin, 83% to 16%.

Other Democratic candidates won bids for re-election tonight after running uncontested races:

  • Del. Patrick Hope
  • Del. Mark Levine
  • Del. Rip Sullivan
  • State Sen. Barbara Favola
  • Sheriff Beth Arthur
  • Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy
  • Treasurer Carla de la Pava
  • School Board member Reid Goldstein

Acknowledging that most of its candidates were not facing strong challengers, the Arlington Democratic party has instead focused on supporting other Virginia progressives they hoped could flip the GOP-controlled state House and Senate. As of 10 p.m., the Associated Press projected that Democrats would, in fact, win control of both.

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The following op-ed was written by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Democratic nominee for the top prosecutor job in Arlington and Falls Church. Voters will head to the polls this coming Tuesday, Nov. 5.

If you had told me two years ago that I would be writing as the Democratic nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, I would not have believed you. People with my personal and professional backgrounds don’t often run for, much less win, political office.

I came to the United States as an immigrant. Like many immigrants our family struggled with poverty, with a new culture, and unfortunately, with discrimination. But my parents had faith in the opportunities America offered and they believed, above all, in the power of education. Thanks to their sacrifice and with the help of federal grants, I graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a BA in Philosophy and Comparative Literature and later earned a JD from New York University School of Law.

I was inspired to go to law school because a dear friend was wrongfully convicted of a crime he did not commit. He spent three years in San Quentin before being exonerated.  Since then, for the last nineteen years, I’ve worked to reform the criminal legal system.

I’ve worked as a public defender with the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service, litigating cases of constitutional magnitude; as the legal director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, exonerating innocent individuals in DC, Virginia, and Maryland; and as a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center and George Washington University School of Law, training the next generation of criminal law attorneys.

My platform is rooted in a simple principle: Safety and justice are not opposite values – we can’t have one without the other.  I believe:

  • Prosecutors should focus on serious crimes that threaten public safety and community well-being, including sexual assault, elderly abuse, and wage theft;
  • Prosecutors should support programs that help victims recover from the trauma of crime and restorative justice programs that help reduce crime;
  • The default approach for children who make mistakes should be diversion and education;
  • People should not be in jail because they are too poor to afford bail;
  • Whenever possible, people with disabilities, mental illness, or those suffering from addiction should be offered treatment rather than incarceration;
  • It is wrong to continue to saddle people with a criminal record for simple marijuana possession when it has life-long consequences on employment, education, and housing;
  • No criminal legal system can achieve justice if it tolerates racial and class disparities;
  • People who have served their time should be reintegrated into society as returning citizens with voting rights;
  • The government should not take your property without a conviction; and
  • The death penalty has no place in a civilized society.

These issues are grounded in sound science and supported by a wide cross-section of our community.

Since the June 11 primary, I’ve been meeting with and listening to our delegates, senators, members of the County Board and the School Board, the police, faith groups, local leaders and activists because I believe listening to their expertise and taking heed of their priorities is key to maintaining safety and pursuing justice.

I started this campaign as far back as February 2018 when it was just me, meeting one on one with members of the community in the early morning hours before work, during lunch breaks – eating on the run, weekends, and late in the evening after putting my kids to bed. I had no name recognition, no staff, and no money but the encouragement I received from so many of you is something I will never be able to repay.

Little by little, I gained the support of advocacy groups, local grassroots groups, and people who normally don’t have a voice in the system. Little by little, we became a movement right here in Arlington and Falls Church before attracting national attention. So, it is deeply encouraging that criminal justice reform is now a central part of every single Democrat running for president’s platform. But, what’s even more encouraging is that our community took the lead on this issue by voting for reform during the Democratic primary this past June and by supporting our local representatives who have long championed reform in Richmond.

I am Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. I humbly ask for your vote on Tuesday, November 5 for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church so that we can continue the movement for reform and build a criminal justice system that keeps us safe, treats everyone fairly, and reflects our values.

Editor’s note: “Why Should You Vote for Me” essays by candidates in competitive races in Arlington will run on Monday.

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Morning Notes

ACPD Provides Crystal City Shooting Update — “The Arlington County Police Department continues to investigate a non-fatal officer-involved shooting which occurred on August 28, 2019. The police department is committed to providing professional law enforcement services to the Arlington community while remaining transparent with the public regarding our operations. As a matter of transparency, the officer involved in the August shooting is Officer J. Clark.” [Arlington County]

Redevelopment Plan Includes Unique Towers — “The most interesting design among all of JBG’s proposals is for the two residential towers at 2525 Crystal, currently the home of the Crystal City Workout Park and a handful of sand volleyball courts.
Plans call for two interconnected towers with a stepped design, forming a V shape when viewed in profile.” [Washington Business Journal]

Favola Endorses Dehghani-Tafti — State Sen. Barbara Favola writes in an endorsement of Democratic Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney nominee Parisa Dehghani-Tafti: “Parisa will work day and night to bring balance to a justice system that has relied excessively on jail time when diversion programs and common-sense drug laws would better serve us. I look forward to working with Parisa as I continue to fight for expunging the records of juveniles and decriminalizing marijuana.” [Twitter]

Comcast Outage ReportedUpdated at 9:10 a.m. — Several tipsters are reporting a large Comcast cable outage in Arlington. A portion of the Comcast outage map reviewed by ARLnow shows at least 500 customers were without cable service as of 9 a.m.

Nearby: Squirrel Prompts Call to Police — “Scanner: Alexandria PD just dispatched a call regarding an ‘aggressive squirrel.'” [Twitter]

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Arlington County is considering a new program to divert people with mental illnesses into treatment instead of jail.

The proposed program would waive incarceration for people with mental illnesses who are convicted of non-violent misdemeanors if they agree to an intensive treatment program supervised by a judge. All the officials who spoke to ARLnow about the program supported it, but some weren’t aware the county was working on the program and said they had little opportunity to add input.

The Arlington County’s Department of Human Services is spearheading the program. A spokesman told ARLnow on June 27 that in response to “recent requests” it would host a public meeting on the so-called Behavioral Health Docket on Wednesday, July 17 at 3 p.m. The location of the meeting has yet to be determined.

“The aim is to divert eligible defendants with diagnosed mental health disorders into judicially supervised, community-based treatment, designed and implemented by a team of court staff and mental health professionals,” said DHS Assistant Director Kurt Larrick.

This new docket aims to accept defendants 18 or older who reside in Arlington and who are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, Larrick said. Additionally, only defendants who have been charged with misdemeanors, not felonies, would be eligible for the diversion program. Defendants would need to agree to work with a team of mental health professionals and program staff to enroll in the docket and agree to follow a treatment plan with some supervision.

“These programs are distinguished by several unique elements: a problem-solving focus; a team approach to decision-making; integration of social services; judicial supervision of the treatment process; direct interaction between defendants and the judge; community outreach; and a proactive role for the judge,” Larrick said.

Where Mental Illness and the Law Collide

Officials and advocates say they hope that the docket will help break the cycle of recidivism that some people with mental illnesses fall into.

“Arlington has a significant number of people with mental illnesses that intersect with the criminal justice system,” Deputy Public Defender Amy K. Stitzel told ARLnow. “Evidence-based mental health dockets not only treat instead of criminalizing behavior that is a result of mental illness, they increase treatment engagement, improve quality of life, reduce recidivism and save money.”

“We’re talking about people who are arrested for vagrancy and loitering and trespassing,” said Naomi Verdugo, who has been an activist for people in Arlington with mental illness for several years. “These are largely misdemeanors and stupid things, and it’s because they aren’t well. We would be better off putting services around them than paying to incarcerate people who are just going to reoffend.”

“It is clear that the local and regional jails in Virginia have a substantial number of persons with mental illness in their care, and that this care is costly to the localities and to the Commonwealth,” says a 2017 study of similar programs statewide.

The most recent data from Virginia jail surveys indicate that statewide 1 in 10 of the inmates counted was diagnosed with a serious mental illness, such as PTSD or schizophrenia, and about 20% of all inmates had some kind of mental illness.

In Arlington, data from 2016, 2017, and 2018 indicates the most common diagnoses for inmates are bipolar disorder/major depressive and schizophrenia.

Chief Public Defender Brad Haywood said his office has been part of a team discussing mental health improvements for 15 years with the county’s Mental Health Criminal Justice Review Committee, and for the past five years with a subcommittee dedicated to creating a docket, called the Behavioral Health Docket Committee. Haywood strongly supports the idea of a Behavioral Health Docket but noted his office wasn’t notified the county had advanced plans for the docket until recently.

“This is not a transparent approach”

While he applauded DHS for moving the program forward, Haywood said he would have liked more input on the design when organizers decided to require defendants plead guilty before participating in the program.

“From our perspective, until early spring of 2019, the process for drafting and submitting an application for the Mental Health Docket seemed to be moving very slowly,” he said. “I don’t know what changed that took the process to where it is now, to having tight deadlines and short comment periods.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who recently won the Democratic primary against incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos, said she heard about the docket for the first time two weeks ago. During her campaign, Tafti advocated for a mental health court as part of larger criminal justice reforms, but said she wasn’t given a chance to comment on the Behavioral Health Docket.

She told ARLnow that she has concerns the new program “criminalizes mental illness” by requiring a plea to participate.

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The following op-ed was written by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, the Democratic nominee for Arlington and Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney. As the presumed victor in the unchallenged November election, which followed a heated primary campaign, Dehghani-Tafti will be the area’s chief prosecutor amid questions about how the prosecutor’s office will change under her leadership.

Moments after 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11, while standing on a sidewalk on Clarendon Boulevard near Courthouse, I received a phone call from my friend and deputy campaign manager excitedly telling me that the voters of Arlington County and the City of Falls Church had selected me as the Democratic nominee for Commonwealth’s Attorney. In that moment, with the sounds of supporters cheering in the near distance and the sight of young people milling about on a warm spring evening, I was reminded, as I knew from the very start of the campaign, that it would soon be my charge, together with other branches of law enforcement, to help maintain the safety, welfare, and wellbeing of nearly 250,000 people.

The campaign had been long and hard-fought, but in our very first debate, I was asked to name one thing I admired about Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos. I honestly answered that I found it admirable Ms. Stamos had chosen public service when she could have long ago leveraged her skills into more lucrative private sector work. Had I had another moment for thought, I would have added what I also believe to be true: she persevered in a field that had long been dominated by men and, in doing so, opened a path for other women, myself included.

The campaign, of course, is not over. As I prepare for the November general election, I will be guided by three principles. First, I want to keep faith with members of the community who supported, volunteered, and voted for me, and earn the trust of those who did not. Elections come and go, but what endures is community. Second, I want to approach the work ahead with both an open mind and moral courage. I fundamentally believe that the choice between safety and justice has always been a false one; at the same time, I have the utmost respect for the institutional knowledge and professional expertise that resides in the current office. Last but not least, I want to keep foremost in my mind that what’s needed for the office is both integrity and humility. Our delegates, senators, county board, and school board members have deep and intimate knowledge of the needs in our community; I see as one of my main tasks to be an honest partner with them, to listen to their expertise, and take heed of their priorities — because I know the criminal justice system cannot and should not be the tool to solve every problem.

Late Tuesday evening, after all the well-wishers had gone and I’d returned home to my family, I stayed up into the early hours of the morning, making two lists: one, of the people I needed to personally thank for making this moment possible; the other, of the immediate tasks I needed to accomplish to plan for the office. Both lists grew incredibly long but each list, in different ways, made it clear to me that at this moment we have a chance in Arlington and the City of Falls Church to show the Commonwealth and the country what it means to have a criminal justice system that is safe and transparent, truly cares for victims, treats everyone fairly and humanely, and honestly addresses systemic disparities in race and class. “The world stands before you,” James Baldwin once wrote, “and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” I’m eager for the work ahead.

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(Updated at 4 p.m.) Last night, commonwealth’s attorney candidate Parisa Dehghani-Tafti defeated incumbent prosecutor Theo Stamos in a surprise victory that shocked many in the the county, and left some wondering about the future.

One person who wasn’t shocked was political strategist Ben Tribbett — also known as @notlarrysabato — of the Fairfax-based campaign consulting firm TRR Group.

“I think Parisa basically brought two very large groups together,” he told ARLnow today. “One are people newer to the county who really care about criminal justice reforms. The second was a coalition of people mad about internal Arlington politics.”

Tribbett said the first group is important because, “transient voters tend to get their info from national outlets.” He said the Washington Post’s endorsement of Tafti and the The Appeal’s critical look at Stamos’ handling of some juvenile cases could have helped sway those voters. The campaign even attracted an endorsement from multi-talented star John Legend.

A map of yesterday’s voting shows the densest support for Tafti was located along the county’s more dense and Metro-accessible areas — places where young transient voters often live. Tribbett pointed out state Senate candidate Nicole Merlene, who lost her race against incumbent Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st), performed well in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor but struggled in the leafier, single-family-home neighborhoods to the north.

Tribbett said Tafti’s other supporters, long-time residents fed up with Arlington politics, are part of the fallout from the election of John Vihstadt, who won the race for County Board in 2014 as an independent. Progressives are continuing a “decade-long war” against Democratic candidates like Stamos who supported Vihstadt over a fellow Democrat, Tribbett said, and could target County Board member Libby Garvey in the future.

But he said infighting costs the party influence at the state level, which comes at a time when Democrats across Virginia are striving to flip Richmond blue.

“What should have been a temporary rift has become a permanent rift,” Tribbett said. “It’s not good for the Democratic Party.”

Another perspective on the race comes from Paul Ferguson, current Clerk of the Circuit Court and former Arlington County Board member, who spoke to ARLnow in his personal capacity on Tuesday afternoon before polls closed.

Ferguson said Tafti has six months to settle in and choose which (if any) of Stamos’ assistant prosecutors she plans to keep on staff. (Stamos said last night she hopes her challenger will retain at least some of them.) Tafti will then be able to roll out policy changes, like her pledge to not prosecute low-level pot convictions, but Ferguson said it’s difficult to anticipate the impact because her victory is unprecedented.

“It’s reasonable to say in modern history, the last 40-50 years, the new prosecutor has always come from within the office, leaving very little policy transition,” he said. Nonetheless, he thinks it’s likely that there could be fewer misdemeanor cases cases in District Court, and perhaps fewer cases in Circuit Court, as a result of her changes.

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Throughout her Democratic primary campaign for commonwealth’s attorney, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti pledged to stop the prosecution of simple marijuana possession cases.

Now that she has defeated incumbent Theo Stamos, Tafti is likely to have the opportunity to keep her campaign promise while in the prosecutor’s office.

More from the candidate’s website:

Between 2013 and 2018, the current Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office prosecuted over 3200 cases of simple marijuana possession. African-Americans are at least 8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, despite the fact that studies show that different racial groups use marijuana at about the same rates. Marijuana should be the subject of civil regulation, but we should put our limited prosecutorial resources to better use focusing on serious crimes. Parisa will not prosecute simple possession of marijuana and support decriminalization and legalization, with appropriate government regulation.

The Arlington Green Party supports that stance, penning an open letter just before primary day calling for Stamos to “stop prosecuting people caught with small amounts of marijuana in Arlington.”

“Arlington police and prosecutors should concentrate on crimes of violence and significant felonies, and not waste our public dollars jailing and prosecuting mostly youth caught with a marijuana cigarette,” the party said in an email.

What do you think?

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(Updated at 10:25 p.m.) The top prosecutor in Arlington and Falls Church has lost her bid for re-election.

In the most closely watched local race in today’s Democratic primary, incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has been defeated by challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who ran a campaign centered on criminal justice reform. Tafti has 52% of the vote compared to 48% for Stamos, with all 59 precincts in Arlington and Falls Church reporting, though the results are unofficial until certified.

The total unofficial margin of victory was 1,128 votes.

“I knew it could happen!” one supporter shouted at Tafti’s victory party at Fire Works Pizza in Courthouse as the final votes were tallied.

“Change can come here to Arlington,” said a campaign volunteer, Arlington resident Symone Walker, who said she’s mailed postcards and held meet and greets for Tafti because of her belief the challenger could reform the county’s justice system.

Tafti herself was breathless and wide-eyed as she passed through the group and gave hugs to her supporters. When Stamos called to concede around 8:15 p.m., Tafti thanked her and offered to meet with the incumbent later this week.

In a speech a few minutes before 9 p.m., Tafti thanked a crowd of her supporters, saying “it would have been easy for you to be silent.”

“I feel humbled and grateful and excited but with no illusions about the work ahead,” she told ARLnow afterward.

“I always thought she could win and should win, but it’s never an easy battle against an incumbent,” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin, who supported Tafti’s campaign and stood next to her as she addressed the crowd.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe cheered during the event, later telling ARLnow that he supported Tafti’s campaign because he was “looking for new leadership” after Stamos opposed his legislation to restore voting rights to felons in 2017.

“I think a lot of people wondered why I did it,” he said of wading into a local prosecutor race. “But it was the right thing to do.”

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(Updated at 10:55 a.m.) Starting at 6 a.m. today, voters began showing up at their polling places across Arlington as voting in the Democratic primary kicked off.

At Randolph Elementary School in Douglas Park, St. Agnes Catholic Church in Cherrydale, and Madison Community Center in Old Glebe, lines were short and skies were clear.

“It’s been slow, but steady. There’s been 83 people so far, or 2.7 percent turnout. It’s pretty normal,” said Bill Harkins, election officer at St. Agnes.

At Randolph Elementary around 41 people had cast their ballots by 7:41 a.m., according to election officer Harry Dunbar, and another 13 voters arrived in the next half hour. Dunbar said there are 3,000 people who live in the precinct.

“Half of that is normal for a busy general election,” Dunbar said, noting that primary election turnout is usually much lower.

By mid-morning, Arlington’s elections office reported that turnout was somewhat light, but higher in precincts in Arlington’s northwest. Voters in residential northwest Arlington tend to be a bit more conservative, at least relative to the rest of the county.

The only hiccup noticed so far was a ballot that wouldn’t scan at Randolph Elementary. At around 8 a.m., officials had identified the likely culprit: blocks that printed too faintly along the border of the document.

Today’s primary marks the end of several hotly contested races between the Democrats on the ballot — namely the race for commonwealth’s attorney and the state Senate seat in the 31st District. With most races still lacking a non-Democratic candidate, the primary could also decide the Nov. 5 general election.

At Randolph, the race on most people’s minds was the one for commonwealth’s attorney between incumbent Theo Stamos and challenger Parisa Dehghani-Tafti who have clashed in debates since kicking off their campaigns last winter.

Evelyn Luis, a long-time Douglas Park resident, said she doesn’t usually vote in the primaries but showed up today to support Stamos.

“Even though she’s running as a Democrat and I am not a Democrat I know I have to make a choice between the two candidates.” Luis said.

Luis wore a shirt from the 1990s-era Crime Prevention Council of Arlington County, on which she was a board member. She said she disagreed with Tafti’s platform and PAC funding.

Another voter, Aaron Willis, who has lived in the area for a decade, said he’s voted in every primary since moving to the D.C. region. He feels part of the “nerve center” of politics after coming from Ohio where he sometimes felt disconnected.

Willis said he supported Tafti in today’s election, citing her record of pushing for reproductive rights and restoring voting rights to felons.

The interest in the prosecutor’s race also ran high at St. Agnes.

“The important race to me was the commonwealth’s attorney,” said St. Agnes voter Chris Guest. “I think it’s always good to have options, but I wanted to vote against outside money, especially when that’s heavily for one candidate.”

“All of the races are important. Arlington is a great place to live and we have good candidates,” said St. Agnes voter Sarah Devoe this morning. “I’ve been surprised with the commonwealth’s attorney race; it’s not really a race I think of as being competitive. There’s been a lot of TV and print ads. There are two strong candidates.”

Stamos’ record in office and Tafti’s proposed criminal justice reforms have split support among local attorneys and sparked conversations about police brutality and the county’s discovery policy in criminal cases.

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Last week, we asked the two Democratic candidates in the Commonwealth’s Attorney race to write a sub-750 word essay on why the county’s residents should vote for them in the June 11 primary.

Here is the unedited response from Parisa Dehghani-Tafti:

My family and I are blessed to be part of this community. We are rightly proud of our schools, our local government, and the leadership role Arlington and the City of Falls Church have taken in the Commonwealth across a number of issues. The glaring exception remains our criminal justice system. But together we can change that and bring much needed reform to our Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office while keeping our families safe.

Many of you have told me your stories of the need for reform, and these stories have fueled this campaign:

Victims and people within the system told me the Commonwealth’s Attorney does not prioritize prosecuting acquaintance rape; wage earners said the office refuses to prosecute wage theft cases; our elected officials told me the Commonwealth’s Attorney routinely opposes their reform bills; parents of young teens report they have been pressured into pleas that leave their children with criminal records for youthful mistakes; families of loved ones with disabilities, mental illness, or addiction live in fear of the lack of real diversion programs; and community members are shocked to learn of the racial disparities in prosecutions and the jail population.

The data confirm your stories:

Since 2011, reports of rape and sexual assault have gone up 63% while the number of convictions has gone down 73%. Last year, the most frequent charge brought by the office was for simple marijuana possession.   In the last 6 years, over 3,200 such cases were prosecuted, 57% of which in the last 2 years were of Black people. Between 2013 and 2018, the average daily jail population increased 17% and is still higher per capita than it was at the height of the 1980s War on Drugs. Only in this election cycle has it suddenly gone down.

I will bring real reform by using restorative justice to decrease recidivism and help survivors; expanding diversion programs for youth; eliminating cash bail; establishing a mental health docket so that mental illness is treated and not prosecuted; stop prosecuting simple marijuana possession; being mindful that minor charges not lead to deportation; providing fair electronic discovery; working to establish an independent review mechanism for use of force; focusing on violent and serious crimes such as sexual assault, elder abuse, financial fraud, and wage theft; and collecting and sharing data to make the office transparent.

These reforms are well within the discretion of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Charlottesville eliminated cash bail almost 20 years ago; Prince William and Norfolk have mental health courts; Washington County, with a fifth of our population, has a drug court that serves 37, while ours serves only 9; Fairfax and Alexandria have long provided electronic discovery; Loudoun and Fairfax have restorative justice programs.

I know the community is eager for these reforms because of the breadth of support our campaign has received. The Washington Post endorsed me because I have the right experience for the job.  Governor McAuliffe, former State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple, former County Board Members Mary Hynes, Walter Tejada, and Chris Zimmerman, and former Arlington Deputy Police Chief James Younger endorsed me because they trust me to keep us safe. Delegates Marcus Simon and Mark Levine, as well as Senator Adam Ebbin endorsed me because I will be an honest reform partner with them.  School Board Members Nancy Van Doren and Monique O’Grady, and the Arlington Education Association endorsed me because I will treat kids like kids. The carpenters, electrical workers, pipe trades, and service workers unions all endorsed me because I will protect workers’ rightsGreater Greater Washington, Indivisible Arlington, BlueNova, Arlington Action Group, Our Revolution Arlington, CASA in Action, New Virginia Majority endorsed me because it’s time to put justice back in the criminal justice system.

I humbly ask for your vote on June 11 as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and the City of Falls Church so that we can build a criminal justice system that keeps us safe and that reflects our values.

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