Disagreements over campaign contributions and criminal justice reform during a debate last night revealed fault lines between some of the Democrats running for the party’s nomination.
Six candidates running for Commonwealth’s Attorney, state Senator and Delegate who sparred during the Wednesday night debate agreed on green energy and defeating Republicans. But their disagreements on other topics showed that even in an all-Democratic playing field there are shades of blue.
One area of disagreement was campaign contributions.
Sen. Barbara Favola was asked by a moderator why she continued to accept contributions from the controversial Advanced Towing company in light of complaints about employees allegedly towing a vehicle with the owner’s pet still inside.
The state senator called the story “extraordinary unfortunate” but said that the solution was for people “to go back to the landowner and complain about the contract” they have with a company.
Her challenger, Nicole Merlene hit back by referring to the 2017 NBC 4 report that Advanced Towing gave Favola $1,500 in campaign contributions after she voted to loosen towing regulations and allegedly convinced then-Governor Terry McAuliffe to do the same.
Favola said she voted “with the county” and that “what Governor McAuliffe had decided to do is Governor McAuliffe’s prerogative.”
Both candidates spoke in strong support of increasing affordable housing and paying interns.
A flash point Wednesday night was the issue of criminal justice reform.
Arlington law enforcement officials are launching a program to help people with addictions get help without jail time.
“Operation Safe Station” allows the Office of the Magistrate to waive charges on people with an addiction who turn themselves and their drugs in, and ask for help.
“Forgoing a prosecution and connecting individuals to treatment professionals is a first step in fighting this pernicious epidemic,” said Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos in a statement Tuesday.
The program is the latest effort combatting the opioid crisis after the county saw a 245 percent increase in patients seeking treatment for opioid addiction between 2015 and 2017.
Operation Safe Station will refer participating people to “support groups, outpatient office based opioid treatment programs, Methadone programs, and when appropriate, residential treatment” per the description on the county’s website.
The program is a joint creation of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Arlington County Police, and Arlington’s Dept. of Human Services (DHS).
In a Tuesday press release, Chief of Police Jay Farr, DHS Director Anita Friedman, and Sheriff Beth Arthur praised Operation Safe Station for “removing barriers” preventing people from seeking help with their addictions.
However, the program does not accept people who:
- Have outstanding arrest warrants
- Have been convicted of giving, selling, or distributing drugs, or convicted of doing so with the intent to manufacture
- Are under 18 years old and don’t have a guardian with them
- Are determined to be a threat to program staff by police
Those who do not meet these criteria still face arrest if they turn themselves in with controlled substances at the Magistrate’s Office.
Operation Safe Station participants must also agree to a search and sign an agreement committing themselves to the program.
The program’s announcement comes several months into Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos’ campaign for re-election. Challenger Parisa Tafti has criticized the prosecutor for being slow to implement criminal justice reform measures like eliminating cash bail.
Stamos has defended her record earlier this week by referencing success of her “Second Chance” program she says diverted 500 minors struggling with addict from court since its start in 2011 as well as a Drug Court program.
(Updated at 2:50 p.m.) Arlington’s top prosecutor has won the endorsement of 50 local attorneys, a key feather in her cap as a former public defender mounts a primary challenge attacking her credentials as criminal justice reformer.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos (D) announced the news in an email to supporters yesterday (Thursday), writing that it’s “gratifying to know that I have earned the respect and endorsement of so many local defense attorneys.” She’s hoping to win her party’s nomination for a third term in office, in her first intraparty challenge since winning the job in 2011.
Parisa Tafti, who currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and has worked in D.C.’s public defender’s office, is hoping to oust Stamos for the job, arguing that she’s been insufficiently committed to reducing racial and economic inequities in the criminal justice system. Arlington’s public defenders have been similarly critical of Stamos on a variety of fronts in recent months.
But Stamos argues that this latest show of support from many of her nominal adversaries in the courtroom reflects well on her “record of competence, fairness and decency.”
“She has a well-earned reputation as someone who knows when to take a stand against violent and career criminals, but appreciates that incarceration isn’t the answer to people who make mistakes or suffer from illness or addiction,” the attorneys wrote. “While we may not always agree, Theo has always maintained an open-door policy, listens respectfully to opposing counsel and responds in a principled, thoughtful, and responsible way.”
Notable members of the group of lawyers endorsing Stamos include Denny Rucker of longtime Arlington firm Rucker & Rucker and Jim Korman, a decorated divorce lawyer from prominent Arlington firm Bean, Kinney & Korman.
Bruce Deming, who frequently represents local cyclists and pedestrians struck by vehicles, also joined the letter, as did Dave Albo, a former state delegate who practices as a DUI lawyer in Arlington.
Tafti has picked up some prominent endorsements of her own in recent months, including support from the progressive group Our Revolution Arlington and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The former governor has made a series of endorsements in local commonwealth’s attorney races recently, targeting prosecutors who opposed his efforts to restore voting rights to convicted felons, Stamos included.
Tafti has criticized Stamos over the issue in the early days of the campaign, in addition to charging that her efforts to reform the county’s cash bail system have been ineffective — lead public defender Brad Haywood agrees with her on that front. However, even though she worked in leadership roles for the county’s Democratic Committee, Tafti has yet to attack Stamos for her decision to twice cross party officials and endorse independent John Vihstadt in his runs for County Board.
Stamos recently offered a bit of a mea culpa for those endorsements to local Democrats, citing her long family ties with Vihstadt. She’s also defended her record as a prosecutor as one that balances the rights of victims and defendants, pointing to her decisions to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses and to embrace diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.
Voters will decide the primary contest on June 11. Primaries are also shaping up in some of Arlington’s state legislative races, though only Katie Cristol has declared a run for re-election with two County Board slots on the ballot this fall.
Photo of Tafti, left, via Facebook
Over the last few years, Arlington police and prosecutors have embraced a controversial tactic to deal with people who are frequently drunk in public — but most county residents don’t even know it exists.
The unusual process, known as “interdiction,” allows county prosecutors to ask a judge to declare someone a “habitual drunkard” if they’ve committed several alcohol-related offenses. That designation means these “drunkards” can be charged with a misdemeanor and jailed for up to a year if they’re found so much as buying or drinking alcohol again.
Virginia and Utah are the only states in the entire country with this sort of law on the books; the commonwealth’s statute passed just before the turn of the 20th century.
Accordingly, interdictions are far from commonplace in the county — prosecutors estimate that they’ve only interdicted 12 people dating back to September 2015, and that just 50 people around Arlington are currently deemed “drunkards.”
But the latter figure is the third highest for any locality across the entire state, according to statistics compiled by the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center. Only Virginia Beach and Roanoke have more interdicted people, with 616 and 140 respectively.
And Arlington’s place on that list disturbs attorneys and advocates alike, given the brewing controversy over interdictions.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, the county’s top prosecutor, dubs interdiction a “tool of last resort,” helping officers force people who are constantly drunk to finally get help. Yet critics believe it has a massively disproportionate impact on the homeless, and that police use it as a cudgel against people living on the streets who are struggling with substance abuse issues.
Others still argue that it robs interdicted people of due process — prosecutors request the “drunkard” designation in a civil hearing rather than a criminal one, meaning that even indigent defendants aren’t entitled to have an attorney present for the proceedings.
A legal challenge to the law on those grounds is currently working its way through federal court, while an Arlington public defender-turned-state lawmaker is working to repeal the statute in this year’s General Assembly session.
Yet, as those efforts proceed, some legal observers can’t understand why county police and prosecutors still pursue interdictions at all, given their stated commitment to other kinds of criminal justice reform.
“It’s inappropriate, unfair, and it doesn’t work,” Brad Haywood, Arlington’s chief public defender, told ARLnow. “In over 15 years as an attorney, I’ve served as a public defender in two of the few jurisdictions that still actively enforce this law. While I can think of many who owe their sobriety to residential alcohol treatment, intensive outpatient services and the expertise and compassion of mental health professionals, I can’t think of anyone who owes their sobriety to interdiction. Not a single person.”
Criminalizing the homeless, or a ‘last resort’ for addicts?
To Haywood, who has strongly criticized Stamos in the past, interdiction effectively criminalizes homelessness. After all, he points out that the law “only targets people who possess or drink alcohol while visible to others,” which essentially leaves just the homeless, many of whom turn to alcohol to make it through the day or are gripped by addiction.
“They live their entire lives in public,” Haywood said. “If they have alcohol, drink it, or are drunk, they will be seen, and under this statute, they will be arrested.”
Of course, he believes there are other “problem drinkers” around the county. As he puts it: “I read ARLnow, I know what happens on the Wilson Boulevard corridor on weekends.”
But he argues police have embraced a completely different strategy for those cases, choosing to work with popular bars to encourage stronger partnerships and prevent arrests, even though the circumstances are similar.
“If the goal of interdiction is to curb problem drinking generally, and to be equitable about it, then I’d think the Arlington bar scene would receive some attention,” Haywood said. “It hasn’t, obviously, and I’m not suggesting it should, but if it had, you’d have certainly have heard about it by now. “
However, law enforcement officials note that they’re not using interdictions indiscriminately, or targeting all homeless people. County police spokeswoman Ashley Savage says officers ask for interdictions “only in the most significant cases, where public safety resources are utilized for the same individual on a [recurring] basis.”
She adds that police take into consideration whether people are committing “criminal violations while intoxicated” as well as “concerns for the safety of the individual or those around them” in making such a decision.
“The goal is not to wantonly incarcerate people,” Stamos said. “A lot of these people are not mindful of their surroundings and can be victimized… and it’s a safety concern. We see pedestrian accidents every single day, and in some cases it’s because people are wandering into the street.”
Stamos says that, in many cases, her office only interdicts people after family and friends urge some sort of drastic step to force them to get help.
For instance, Stamos says prosecutors have interdicted four people since July 2017 — and those people had an average of 19 prosecutions each for alcohol-related offenses before being declared a “drunkard.” Prosecutors pursued a high of 37 cases against one person; the person with the smallest total had been prosecuted four times, and even then they’d been drunk during 35 different encounters with county medics over a two-year period.
“This is absolutely a last resort to hook them up with services,” Stamos said. “It’s a deprivation of liberty, but it’s done with the purpose of getting these people in jail, and getting them sober.”
It may not be a perfect solution, but county officials say they work hard to find people with substance abuse issues once they’re in jail, then get them help.
Kelly Nieman, who works on the county’s forensic jail diversion team, says Arlington has been a leader across the state in finding ways to treat inmates’ mental health issues or substance abuse problems, which are often interconnected. She hopes that helps stop people from “revolving in and out of the system.”
“We have a model to intercept individuals at junctions when they butt up against the legal system,” Nieman said. “We screen people for services and develop a release plan to get them back into the community.”
Stamos says she’d love to have another way to “induce compliance” with a treatment program for homeless addicts, but she just doesn’t see one available to her prosecutors.
“Give us another tool, and we’ll use it,” Stamos said. “If you do away with this statute, give us more money for treatment services.”
While he acknowledges that the county does good work in this area, Haywood pushes back against the notion that workers at the county jail should be “front-line caretakers for the chronically mentally ill, which is what most interdicted people actually are.” He’d rather police connect the homeless to dedicated treatment services, rather than simply sending them to jail.
“That’s a job for mental health professionals, in settings appropriate to the treatment of addiction and serious mental illness,” Haywood said. “If what we want is to help the most destitute, vulnerable people in our community, we should ensure they have access to intensive mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and stop pretending we’re making the situation better by locking sick people away so the public can’t see them.”
Challenging the process
Elaine Poon, the managing attorney for the Legal Aid Justice Center, also believes that the very manner in which the statute is written makes the process punitive, not rehabilitative. Her group is leading a legal challenge to the law, arguing that interdictions create a vicious cycle for people declared “drunkards.”
Poon notes that police can — and do — pursue all manner of charges against people who are drunk in public. What sets interdictions apart is that people designated as “drunkards” can be prosecuted for simply drinking alcohol or having it in their possession, which she believes help police wrack up charge after charge against the same people.
According to Stamos’ own statistics, the 12 people her office have interdicted since 2015 have subsequently been prosecuted an average of three times each for possessing alcohol or appearing drunk in public. Poon believes this shows how interdicting someone can simply compound the time they spend in jail, criminalizing people “just for being who they are: a homeless person on the street.”
Poon feels this is all the more disturbing because many people who are declared “drunkards” don’t understand the process, and don’t have legal representation at the hearing deciding whether they’ll be interdicted in the first place. Most homeless people rely on the service of court-appointed public defenders, as they can’t afford their own lawyers, but the civil nature of the interdiction proceedings means that a judge is not required to assign them counsel.
Stamos says her prosecutors go to great lengths to find people set for an interdiction hearing, and get them to a sign paperwork acknowledging they’re aware of when they can come to court.
But Poon points out that many of her clients easily lose any forms they’ve been given by police — they don’t have homes, after all — and don’t attend the hearings, or are too mentally ill to understand a complex legal matter.
Jennifer Carroll Foy, a public defender in Arlington, says she’s often come to court and made such arguments to a judge about her interdicted clients. But her protests are commonly dismissed as a “collateral attack” on a civil case — even though that case has a direct impact on the charges her clients are facing.
“It may be a civil process, but there are criminal ramifications,” Foy said. “If there’s a possibility you’ll go to jail, I absolutely believe an attorney should be there.”
Stamos says her hands are tied by the statute in this case, arguing that public defenders “have no role” under the law in these interdiction cases.
“Their frustration shouldn’t be with my office, it should be with the system,” Stamos said.
Changing the law
Foy is in a unique position to address such displeasure with the law; she doubles as a state delegate representing parts of Prince William and Stafford counties, and has introduced legislation to repeal the “habitual drunkard” statute this year for a second time in a row.
Her bill died quickly in a subcommittee last year, but she’s more optimistic this time around, now that she’s worked to raise awareness about the issue.
“The most difficult part is educating people about it, because they don’t even know this law exists,” said Foy, a Democrat representing the House of Delegates’ 2nd District. “I hope it picks up a lot more traction this time.”
Though Democrats have a bit more clout in Richmond after a wave election in 2017, the party is still in the minority in both chambers of the General Assembly. That means Foy will face an uphill battle in getting anything passed, at least for now.
Poon is hopeful that the courts could provide some relief instead. A three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the case last August, but Poon’s organization is appealing the ruling to the full court, which could have the final say on the law’s constitutionality.
However, she says it’s “a mystery” when, or if, the court will agree to take the case.
In the meantime, interdictions in Arlington continue. County police referred two more people to Stamos’ prosecutors to be designated as “drunkards” just last fall.
“We have to do better when it comes to how we help the most vulnerable class of citizen in this state,” Foy said. “We’re not doing a very good job right now.”
Free Pet Food for Furloughed Feds — Kriser’s Natural Pet, which has stores in the Courthouse area and the Lee-Harrison Shopping Center, is giving a free bag of food for anyone affected by the shutdown who shows a government ID. [Tysons Reporter]
County Clears Trash from TR Island Lot — With National Park Service maintenance workers furloughed, Arlington County crews helped clear overflowing trash from the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking lot last week. [Twitter]
County Opens ‘Safe Haven’ for Families — “The Arlington County Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court Services Unit is pleased to announce the grand opening of its Safe Havens Supervised Visitation and Exchange Center. Located at the Department of Human Services at 2100 Washington Blvd., the program will serve families who have been affected by domestic violence.” [Arlington County]
McAuliffe Vs. Stamos — Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has endorsed defense attorney Parisa Tafti over incumbent Theo Stamos in the race for Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney. All three are Democrats, but McAuliffe is still upset that Stamos “joined Republicans in arguing to the state Supreme Court that his mass rights restoration was unconstitutional.” The endorsement has earned a rebuke from Alexandria’s former Commonwealth’s Attorney, who called it “sad.” [Washington Post, Washington Post]
More Money Woes for Arlington Startup — “Danny Boice, the CEO and founder of private investigation company Trustify Inc., allegedly used company money to pay for personal expenses, including $600,000 for a documentary film about him and his wife, Jennifer Mellon, according to a new lawsuit filed by former Trustify employees seeking back pay and other damages.” [Washington Business Journal]
Forum to Discuss Dementia — “A community forum on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will be held on Wednesday, Jan. 23 from 6:45 to 8:45 p.m. at Shirlington Library.” [InsideNova]
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has officially kicked off her bid for re-election, looking to rebuild bridges among her fellow Democrats after repeatedly endorsing independent John Vihstadt and drawing a primary challenger from her left flank.
Stamos emphasized that she’s “been a Democrat since I was holding up signs for Hubert Humphrey on the south side of Chicago” in a speech announcing her run for re-election last night (Wednesday) at the county Democratic committee’s monthly meeting.
The county’s top prosecutor has ruffled plenty of feathers among party leaders in recent years, becoming one of just three elected Democrats in Arlington to back Vihstadt’s independent bids for County Board.
And with Parisa Tafti (a former public defender who’s served in leadership roles for the local Democratic party) hoping to win the party’s nomination for the post this June, Stamos began her campaign on a bit of a conciliatory note. After all, the committee threatened to boot County Board member Libby Garvey out of the group over her support for Vihstadt, leading her to briefly resign instead.
Accordingly, Stamos primarily cited her long history with the entire Vihstadt family in explaining her support for the independent, who won a pair of elections in 2014 to become the first non-Democrat on the Board since 1999. Vihstadt lost his bid for re-election last year to Democrat Matt de Ferranti, returning the Board to one-party control.
Stamos regaled the audience with memories of relying on the Vihstadts, her neighbors for years, to look after her kids as they were growing up. She says her family and the Vihstadts still celebrate holidays together, making her backing of his candidacy as personal as it was political.
“Back in 2014, when John asked, and again last year, if I would support him, I wasn’t going to say to him, ‘You know, I’ll support you privately but I can’t do it publicly,'” Stamos said, according to a video of the event posted on the Democratic blog Blue Virginia. “I didn’t want to do that. And, as President [John F.] Kennedy once said, and it’s an important thing to remember, ‘Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.’ And my support for John was one of those times.”
However, Tafti has so far chosen to base her challenge to Stamos on policy disputes, rather than any party infighting. She claims that Stamos, who was first elected in 2011, has been insufficiently committed to reforming the county’s criminal justice system, and even exacerbated some of the system’s racial disparities.
“Safety is justice and justice is safety,” Tafti said Wednesday night in formally announcing her own campaign. “In Arlington, it is long past time that we start leading on this issue.”
Tafti, who recently won the backing of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, has pledged not to seek the death penalty if she’s elected in Stamos’ stead, and to end the practice of requesting cash bail for all criminal defendants. Stamos has pledged to end cash bail for most defendants accused of misdemeanors, but both Tafti and other local public defenders believe that change doesn’t go far enough.
Tafti also took aim Wednesday at Stamos’ relationship with local legislators, arguing that they need “an honest partner who understands, even outside of campaign season, the need to support policies important to Democrats” in order to pass criminal justice reforms at the state level.
She specifically singled out Stamos’ comments to ARLnow back in June for criticism, after Stamos dismissed a letter by the state’s legislative delegation urging her to do away with cash bail entirely.
“When our delegation seeks my help to reform the bail system, I shall do so with an open mind, not dismiss the request as ‘silly’ and ‘misguided,'” Tafti said.
But Stamos also took some time to defend her record heading up the prosecutors’ office in her kickoff speech, claiming she’s “led our office on a set of values that any Democrat would support.”
“I’m proud to say that, as of last Friday night, the inmate population in the Arlington County jail is the lowest it’s been in the past five years, and that’s not by accident,” Stamos said. “It’s because of smart policing and smart prosecution, because of innovations that I’ve supported and championed.”
She also pointed to her decision to not seek jail time for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as a move toward reform, and her embrace of diversion programs to keep people struggling with addiction or mental health issues out of jail.
“The core mission of our office will always remain the same: the principled prosecution of criminal defendants, the vigorous protection of victims’ rights and never losing track of the public’s and community’s safety,” Stamos said.
Local activist Nicole Merlene also formally announced her primary challenge to state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) at the meeting, while Treasurer Carla de la Pava proclaimed her own bid for a second full term in office.
Unlike Stamos, de la Pava did not address her support for Vihstadt in her speech. She has yet to draw a challenger this year, and has never run a contested race for the post — she was appointed to replace retiring treasurer Frank O’Leary, then won a special election and general election in consecutive years to retain her role.
School Board Chair Reid Goldstein also used the meeting as a chance to announce his bid for a second term, as he hopes to once more win the party’s endorsement for the nominally nonpartisan role.
Only one seat on the Board is up for grabs this year and Goldstein has yet to face any challengers in the race, though he has attracted some criticism for his handling of the controversial process of drawing new boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools last year.
Nevertheless, Goldstein used his speech as a chance to present the school system’s challenges as issues arising from the quality of county schools.
“These are tough issues, but we have to be in a situation where people aren’t eager to leave our schools,” Goldstein said.
The committee is set to select a Democratic School Board nominee in a caucus sometime in May or June. A June 11 primary will decide the other races on the ballot this year.
Photo via Facebook
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Now that Arlington’s top prosecutor has drawn a primary challenger, the stage is set for a battle next year over many of the criminal justice issues that have electrified traditionally sleepy races across the country.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti announced Monday (Dec. 10) that she plans to challenge Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos (D) in 2019, arguing that she’d rely on her background as a defense attorney to bring a series of reforms to the office. Stamos was first elected in 2011 and has served as a prosecutor in the county since 1987, experience that Dehghani-Tafti claims has blinded Stamos to the criminal justice system’s flaws.
“Perhaps nothing exemplifies the current [commonwealth’s attorney’s] unsuitability to lead meaningful reform than the fact that she has publicly denied that mass incarceration even exists and has argued that the system is working perfectly,” Dehghani-Tafti wrote in a Facebook post announcing her candidacy. “I want to dismantle the mass incarceration machine and replace it with policies that pursue justice, increase accountability, prevent crime, prioritize serious crimes and protect civil rights.”
Dehghani-Tafti’s arguments are similar to those advanced by a variety of other defense attorneys who have begun challenging incumbent prosecutors across the country. Former public defenders and civil rights attorneys like Larry Krasner in Philadelphia have been swept into office by promising substantial reforms to the system, claiming that prosecutors have the discretion to cut back on the number of people sent to prison for low-level offenses.
“We can no longer hope for reform from the very same lifelong prosecutors who’ve spent their careers building this flawed machine,” Dehghani-Tafti wrote.
But Stamos argues that Dehghani-Tafti’s critiques of her record are mistaken, accusing her of discussing issues applicable to “Baltimore, Chicago, Baton Rouge, or Los Angeles,” not Arlington. Though she has yet to formally announce her bid for re-election, she seems ready to vigorously defend her seven years in office.
“Not only do I not support mass incarceration, I know no prosecutor who does,” Stamos wrote in a statement to ARLnow. “Every person who is prosecuted by my office is an individual with a name, a family and a story to tell and a crime they have committed for which they are held accountable. I have never once lost sight of the humanity of any defendant prosecuted by my office. Is the criminal justice system perfect? Absolutely not, and I’ve worked for years and spoken out in support of many reforms.”
In fact, Stamos claims she’s been a “statewide leader” in criminal justice reform efforts in Virginia. She points to her support for a bill to raise the felony larceny threshold as one example — before the General Assembly passed reforms this year, anyone accused of stealing an item worth $200 or more could be charged with a felony — and her work to lessen penalties for people convicted of their first marijuana-related offenses as another.
Yet Dehghani-Tafti, who currently serves as the legal director for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and has worked in D.C.’s public defender’s office, believes that Stamos’ attempts at reform haven’t gone far enough. Namely, she points to Stamos’ opposition to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s push to restore voting rights to felons who completed their prison sentences as one troubling stance, and argues that Stamos has “opposed real bail reform.”
Stamos has taken some heat on the latter issue in the past, after she refused calls from a coalition of state lawmakers to stop requesting cash bail for criminal defendants. She subsequently agreed to end cash bail for people accused of most low-level misdemeanors, but even that step drew criticism from local public defenders for being “so limited as to be meaningless.”
“It’s not reform if it doesn’t change anything, and it doesn’t seem to me that she’s actually changing much of anything,” Dehghani-Tafti told ARLnow. “And getting rid of cash bail and coming up with alternatives will take a lot of work, and no one size fits all, but it’s not something that gets done in a press release.”
In general, Stamos has grounded her resistance to more comprehensive bail reforms in her concern that, without a cash bond in place, defendants won’t appear for court dates, therefore wasting the time of victims and witnesses alike. Stamos highlighted her “vigorous protection of victims’ rights” as a key part of her response to Dehghani-Tafti’s announcement, arguing that her newfound challenger fundamentally misunderstands the prosecutor’s role.
“It’s interesting that she describes herself as an “innocence protection attorney,” as that is what I’ve been engaged in for more than 30 years — protecting innocent victims from the hell of intimate partner violence, giving voice to the innocent victims whose loved one has been brutally murdered, or providing protection to the innocent elderly couple whose life savings became easy prey for the greedy and the unscrupulous,” Stamos wrote. “It’s striking that the word ‘victim’ is not mentioned once in Ms. Tafti’s announcement.”
But Dehghani-Tafti accused Stamos of creating a “false choice between protecting defendants’ rights and protecting victims” with such a focus.
“It’s a classic fear tactic, that’s, frankly, straight out of Trump’s playbook,” Dehghani-Tafti said. “I think we can have a justice system that honors victims of crime and provides just outcomes for the whole community. They’re not mutually exclusive.”
Notably, Dehghani-Tafti’s post also did not touch on Stamos’ support for County Board member John Vihstadt in all three of his independent bids for office — Stamos is one of just three Democratic officeholders in the county to support his candidacy over the years, ruffling a few feathers among party leaders. Dehghani-Tafti, by contrast, has served as the county Democratic Committee’s lead spokeswoman as its press and public relations chair.
However, she said Stamos’ support for Vihstadt had “zero influence on my decision to run.”
“If she had a record that I believed in, I wouldn’t be running,” Dehghani-Tafti said. “I’d be supporting her wholeheartedly.”
A June 11 primary will decide the Democratic nomination in the race, and quite likely its ultimate winner as well — Stamos has run unopposed in both of her general election contests, thus far.
Photo of Dehghani-Tafti, left, via Facebook
Emergency Water Main Repairs — Work is scheduled from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. today to repair a 20-inch water transmission main along 7th Road S. from S. Florida Street to S. Dinwiddie Street and Columbia Pike. Upwards of 200 customers are expected to lose their water service during the work. [Twitter]
Stamos Picks Up Challenger — Parisa Tafti, a “lifelong public defender and innocence protection attorney with a more than 18-year record of defending the indigent and speaking for the innocent,” has announced that she will be running against Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos in her bid for reelection to the top prosecutor job. [Blue Virginia]
Kanninen Calls for Kaepernick — Arlington School Board member Barbara Kanninen is among those calling on social media for the Redskins to “#BringColintoWashington” amid a rash of season-ending injuries at the quarterback position. [Twitter]
Fisette Launches Consulting Firm — Former Arlington County Board member Jay Fisette has started a consulting firm to “advise business, nonprofits and local governments throughout the Washington region” with former Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner. [Bethesda Beat, Maryland Matters]
Office Rent Expected to Rise in Crystal City — “Crystal City is at risk of losing its status as the low-cost alternative for nonprofits and others on the hunt for office space in Northern Virginia as Amazon.com Inc. rolls out its headquarters plans… Colliers projects rental rates in Crystal City could jump by 17 percent in five years and by 37 percent in a decade.” [Washington Business Journal]
Amazon Effect on Residential Real Estate — “Any immediate impact on the local housing market is expected to be muted… Long & Foster predicts the Amazon effect will add an additional 3 percent to appreciation the Washington area would otherwise experience.” [WTOP]
Harper Leaving Rosslyn? — Possibly outgoing Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper “has chosen not to renew his lease at his penthouse condo in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, VA, according to a source.” [Real House Life of Arlington]
Arlington’s top prosecutor now says she’ll no longer seek cash bail for people accused of most low-level misdemeanors, in a bid to avoid jailing people simply because they can’t afford to pay their bond after they’re charged with a crime.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, a Democrat, announced Thursday (Nov. 1) that her prosecutors will now only seek cash bonds in cases involving drug dealing or drunk driving. She added that her office will simply describe the facts of a defendant’s case and any prior criminal history, and leave it up to a judge to decide the circumstances of any pretrial release.
Stamos previously attracted some criticism on the issue of bail reform, after nine state lawmakers from around the area wrote to her in June to urge a wholesale overhaul of the county’s system. She dismissed that letter at the time as “misguided” and “silly,” arguing that the General Assembly needed to act to change state law before she could make substantial changes.
Stamos told ARLnow that she remains convinced that she “can’t reform bail statutes on my own,” and said this latest change was the result of her own research over the last two years or so, not any outside pressure.
“This is a much more complicated issue than simply saying, ‘Let’s do away with cash bail,'” Stamos said. “This has been a deliberative process, and I wanted to have a lot plans in place before doing anything.”
Stamos expects that the change will mainly apply to people accused of misdemeanors like disorderly conduct, trespassing or obstruction of justice. She says those charges often land on the county’s poorer residents, and that “results in people sitting in jail because they can’t afford $150 for a bond payment.” Instead, Stamos says it will now be solely up to judges to evaluate whether people charged with those sorts of offenses represent a flight risk or a danger to the community before setting a cash bond.
“The court has to make the decision anyway, and we’ll give the court the opportunity to understand what the facts are,” she said.
But the change still doesn’t sit well with Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-2nd District). Though she represents Prince William County in the legislature, she’s spent years as a public defender in Arlington, and has introduced a host of legislation to reform the state’s criminal justice system during her brief time in Richmond.
Foy notes that leaving bond decisions up to judges can leave the question of pretrial release subject to the same “implicit bias” that often lands low-income defendants of color in jail under the status quo. She’d much rather see Stamos move to the same system adopted by other states, which relies entirely on pretrial risk assessments to determine the conditions of a person’s release.
“For most misdemeanors, absent a glaring issue, those reports recommend releasing them,” Foy said. “I appreciate that she’s willing to have the conversation, and it’s a good start in the right direction. But I don’t see a hard and fast commitment being made here.”
Stamos says she’s reluctant to embrace more wholesale cash bail reforms, as she fears doing so would cripple a key funding source for the very staffers who monitor people once they’ve been released from jail. She points to New Jersey, in particular, as a state that’s made major cash bail reforms and run into such problems.
“If you don’t properly fund a robust pretrial service, you’ll have more people held without bond and who won’t get out at all,” Stamos said. “I can’t do away with cash bail by myself, because I can’t fund pretrial services. I have no ability to direct funds, and neither does the sheriff [who manages the county jail].”
Yet Foy believes Stamos is “conflating” the issues of pretrial services and cash bail reform. She argues that communities should indeed invest more money into such services, but she hasn’t seen nearly the same one-to-one relationship between ending cash bail and localities suddenly needing to hold people in jail without bond — after all, incarcerating people requires money as well.
Overall, however, Stamos is urging lawmakers like Foy to find a legislative fix and pass some sort of cash bail reform when the General Assembly reconvenes in a few months. Local Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) said he’d certainly be willing to do so, in a statement released alongside Stamos’ announcement.
“Theo continues to be a leader in the criminal justice reform movement,” Hope wrote. “I fully support her efforts today and look forward to working with her and others on the issue of bail reform when we convene in Richmond.”
Foy says she fully plans to introduce more legislation on the topic this year, and hopes to work with people across the criminal justice system to build a bit more support than it garnered in her first session in Richmond this year. But she also urged prosecutors like Stamos not to be content with waiting on the slow advance of legislative progress when they can act now.
“Virginia is in a position to lead change on this,” Foy said. “But they don’t have to wait for us to change things legislatively. Commonwealth’s attorneys have best practices they can implement in their own offices, and they can reduce the impact on minorities and the indigent right now.”
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A group of state lawmakers is urging Arlington’s top prosecutor to reform the county’s cash bail bond system — but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos thinks they’re barking up the wrong tree.
Each one of the three state senators and four state delegates representing Arlington in Richmond, not to mention two lawmakers from nearby Falls Church, sent a letter on the subject to Stamos last Thursday (June 21).
Echoing efforts by criminal justice reform advocates around the country, the lawmakers argued that requiring people to post a cash bond to earn their freedom contributes to the “disproportionate incarceration of low-income individuals and people of color.” They’d rather see Stamos adopt a system for pretrial release “based more on the severity of the crime and the defendant’s perceived public safety and flight risk, rather than the ability to pay.”
“The current system of cash bail is broken in that it conditions the pretrial release of individuals on the ability to pay, violating the principle of the presumption of innocence that is foundational to our criminal justice system,” the lawmakers wrote.
Stamos says she’s joined some of her colleagues around the state in examining such a policy change, but, fundamentally, she feels this “was a rather silly letter to send me.”
“I think the letter is misguided on a number of levels,” Stamos told ARLnow. “If these members of the General Assembly have a problem with cash bail, they should change the law. It’s perfectly within their power to do so.”
Stamos says prosecutors in her office regularly recommend releasing people on “personal recognizance bonds,” giving them the chance to go free before trial with paying. However, Stamos feels bound by state law, which obligates prosecutors to evaluate if someone charged with a crime “is a flight risk or a threat to the community” when assigning a cash bond.
“I understand the considerations around cash bail, but the countervailing considerations are: who is being held and why are they being held?” Stamos said. “Do they have a prior criminal history? Are they a flight risk? Many of our defendants are from D.C. or Maryland, and we don’t have the resources to be extraditing everyone.”
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) A suspended Taylor Elementary gym teacher, accused of smoking pot in the school, has pleaded guilty to marijuana possession.
Luke Lloyd of Fairfax, Va. entered the plea Tuesday morning before Arlington General District Court Judge Frances O’Brien. He was sentenced to serve 30 days in jail, with 20 days suspended. He was also ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, pay a $500 fine and complete substance abuse treatment, we’re told.
Lloyd began serving the net ten day sentence on Friday. Most first-time marijuana offenders walk free, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said her office pushed for a stiffer sentence.
“It’s typical for a first time possession of marijuana case to result in a deferred disposition,” Stamos said. “My office, however, argued against such an outcome given the particular facts of this case. Those facts include what appears to have been a rather steady course of use, at times at the school, that we learned about from an anonymous tip to ACPD.”
A second Taylor P.E. teacher nabbed by police, Michael Diaddigo, was also facing possession of marijuana charges, which have since been dropped. Stamos, however, said charges against Diaddigo are expected to be filed soon in Arlington County Circuit Court, which typically handles more serious criminal cases. Stamos declined to elaborate on the charges, since the case is pending.
Lloyd and Diaddigo were both suspended without pay by Arlington Public Schools “pending the outcome of the legal case,” a spokesman said. So far, there is no word on Lloyd’s employment status following the plea. A third Taylor P.E. teacher who was accused of smoking marijuana at the school is currently on administrative leave.