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Arlington’s ‘Habitual Drunkards:’ Prosecutors Enforce a Controversial Law Impacting the Homeless

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 former 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.”

File photo

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Morning Notes

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]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo via Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo of Dehghani-Tafti, left, via Facebook

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Morning Notes

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]

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Arlington’s Top Prosecutor Won’t Seek Cash Bail for Most Misdemeanors, But Concerns Remain

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.”

Photo via Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Taylor Elementary Teacher Pleads Guilty to Marijuana Possession

(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.

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Morning Notes

Frost-covered leaf (Flickr pool photo by ksrjghkegkdhgkk)

VDOT to Talk I-66 in Arlington — VDOT officials are expected to provide some specifics about their plan to upgrade I-66 inside the Beltway during a meeting with the Arlington Transportation Commission. That meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m. in the County Board Room at 2100 Clarendon Blvd. VDOT is said to be considering converting a portion of I-66 into HOT lanes. The agency has yet to reveal whether it will push for additional lanes inside the Beltway as well. [InsideNova]

Arlington Prosecutor Takes Morrissey Case — Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos will be the lead prosecutor in the latest criminal case against Del. Joe Morrissey, who is currently serving a work-release jail sentence after pleading guilty to having sex with a 17-year-old. [Washington Post]

Cops: Don’t Drive Drunk After the Big Game — Arlington County Police are reminding residents not to drive drunk after the Super Bowl on Sunday. For those planning on downing a few brewskies, ACPD recommends designating a driver, calling a cab or taking public transit. “Don’t want to attend the Detention Center’s #SuperBowlXLIX viewing party? Plan ahead by designating a #SoberRide home,” the department said via Twitter. [Arlington County, Twitter]

Energy Journey Game This Weekend — Call it the Super Bowl of local government-sponsored, energy-themed, life-sized board games. This weekend, Arlington County is holding the latest installment of its “Energy Journey Game,” an interactive life-size board game that tests your “energy IQ.” It’s taking place at Wakefield High School starting at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. [Arlington County]

A Visit to Pentagon City’s DEA Museum — The Capitol Hill publication Roll Call has a gonzo journalism account of one reporter’s trip to the DEA Museum in Pentagon City. From the article’s prelude: “And suddenly, there was a terrible mall all around us and the sky was full of what looked like squat office buildings — all glass and concrete and blocking out the sunlight — and the sound of the Metro, which ran underneath the Pentagon City Mall and the Pentagon Centre and the Drug Enforcement Agency Museum at 700 Army Navy Drive in Arlington, Va.” [Roll Call]

Flickr pool photo by ksrjghkegkdhgkk

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Morning Notes

Snowy creek in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone)

Civ Fed Considering Retail Plan Opposition — The Arlington County Civic Federation is considering opposing the county’s update of its retail action plan. “What problem are we trying to solve here?” asked the writer of a resolution that calls for the county to scrap the effort. [InsideNova]

WaPo Supports County Outreach Initiative — The Washington Post editorial board has penned an editorial in support of the new community outreach effort that Arlington County Board Chair Mary Hynes announced at the Board’s New Years Day meeting. [Washington Post]

Arthur Announces Reelection Bid — Arlington Sheriff Beth Arthur formally announced her bid for reelection at last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting. Arthur touted her role in making the Arlington County Detention Facility in Courthouse “one of the best jails in the country.” She also noted that her children, ages 3 and 6 when she first became sheriff, will be old enough to vote for her for the first time in November.

Stamos Running For Reelection — Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos also announced her reelection bid at Wednesday’s ACDC meeting. She cited her office’s drug addiction program for offenders and two recent murder convictions as notable successes.

Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone

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Morning Notes

Rosslyn office building being torn down (Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone)

APS Bans E-Cigarettes — The Arlington School Board on Dec. 4 voted to ban students from bringing e-cigarettes onto school grounds. Arlington Public Schools is also stepping up its effort to warn students and residents of the prospective dangers of e-cigarettes. [InsideNova]

‘Polish Night’ at Clarendon Cafe — Oby Lee, the cafe and wine bar at 3000 Washington Blvd in Clarendon, will be josting a “Polish night” on Friday. The cafe will include traditional Polish dishes like pierogi, golabki cabbage, krokiety crepes and jablecznik apple pie. [Clarendon Nights]

Stamos to Return to ACDC Good Graces — Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos is expected to be welcomed back to the Arlington County Democratic Committee within a month. Stamos and the committee parted ways earlier this year after she endorsed independent John Vihstadt for County Board. [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Mrs. Gemstone

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Police to Host ‘Open Dialogue’ With Community

ACPD Chief Doug Scott at the WCA meeting 3/13/14The Arlington County Police Department wants to build its relationship with the community in light of the national unrest surrounding the events in Ferguson, Mo., this summer.

To help strengthen the community’s trust in the ACPD, the department is hosting a forum this Wednesday at the Wakefield High School auditorium (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street) from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.

“With recent national media coverage of law enforcement and community relationships, the Arlington County Police Department feels it is imperative to continue to build relationships through open dialogue,” ACPD said in a press release. “The Arlington County Chief of Police, along with Commonwealth Attorney, County Sheriff and other distinguished panel members, will conduct a community forum focusing on the community’s trust and confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Police Chief Doug Scott, Sheriff Beth Arthur, Commonwealth Attorney Theo Stamos, NAACP Arlington President Elmer Lowe, community activist Andres Tobar, who is the director of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, and ARLnow.com founder and editor Scott Brodbeck.

WJLA’s Jeff Goldberg will moderate the panel, which will hold a discussion with topics including use of force, community policing and the use of police body cameras, according to the police department. After the discussion, the panelists will answer audience questions.

The event is free and open to the public. ACPD will be live-tweeting the event at its Twitter account for those who can’t attend.

File photo

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Morning Notes

Glebe Road storm clouds (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

New Security Measures at Schools — This school year, Arlington Public Schools has three additional police officers assigned as school resource officers at elementary schools. The school system has also added 30 new video cameras in secondary schools, which can be viewed by the county’s 911 call center and by school resource officers. [Washington Post]

Stamos Back in the ACDC Fold — Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has apparently been welcomed back into the good graces of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Stamos voluntarily stepped down from the committee after she endorsed independent candidate John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howze. [InsideNova]

Bracket Room to Celebrate Anniversary — Contrary to the pessimistic predictions of its critics, Clarendon sports bar The Bracket Room is about to celebrate its one year anniversary and seems to be thriving. Former Bachelorette cast member Chris Bukowski opened the bar, at 1210 N. Garfield Street, on Sept. 5, 2013. Bracket Room is planning a birthday party on Saturday, Sept. 6. [Clarendon Nights]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

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Garvey Pre-Empts Removal, Resigns From ACDC

Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey at the John Vihstadt victory party 4/8/14(Updated at 12:35 p.m.) Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey resigned from the Arlington County Democratic Committee last night, pre-empting a planned vote on whether to remove her.

Garvey read a 15-minute statement to the committee before handing in her resignation at the ACDC’s meeting last night, which was closed to the media.

Garvey told ARLnow.com she said the ACDC needs to evaluate why Republican-endorsed independent John Vihstadt won the April 8 special election over Democrat Alan Howze by a 57-41 margin.

“The party’s got some thinking to do about what’s going on,” she said. “The decision they have is make is if they go ahead and continue to support elected officials who it seems pretty clearly are not representing what people want. Are we going to talk about local issues or just go lockstep with what a few elected officials say we should be doing? I hope they take some time to talk and think about it. They need to figure out what the real questions and issues are, why John won, and figure out what that’s going to mean moving forward.”

Garvey supported Vihstadt, gave $1,000 to his campaign and called his election “a victory for good government.” She has also irked rank-and-file Democrats with her outspoken opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey, who stood outside the 45-minute, closed ACDC meeting Monday night, reported that some attendees “seemed dazed by the experience and stunned by the vehemence of Garvey’s comments.”

ACDC Chairman Kip Malinosky, who called for the hearing to remove Garvey after he reportedly received numerous complaints about her conduct, said there’s a general “sense of relief” around the committee after they weren’t forced to vote on Garvey’s future.

“People still got along with each other, people still cracked jokes,” he said. “They just realized it was one of the things we had to do. The thing is, all she had to do was endorse a Democratic primary candidate. The Arlington Democrats are not the County Board. When [streetcar opponent Democrat] Cord Thomas said he was going to run against Alan Howze, I said, ‘Welcome, come on.'”

Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey at the John Vihstadt victory party 4/8/14Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos — who also supported Vihstadt, a longtime friend, and plans to do so again when he runs against Howze in November’s general election — also agreed to no longer attend ACDC meetings or vote in hearings, but said she had made that decision informally in December after Vihstadt decided to run.

“[My decision] wasn’t tied to the committee’s actions against Libby,” Stamos told ARLnow.com. “I had numerous conversations with Kip, all perfectly equitable and we agreed this was the appropriate thing to do.”

Garvey said she didn’t decide to be a committee member, but all Democrat elected officials become committee members by default, once they’re elected, giving them access to ACDC data and resources. Malinosky said he’ll welcome Stamos and Garvey back after the November election if they decide to support only Democrat candidates.

Garvey said she’d be happy to come back, if the ACDC takes her, and said she only requested the meeting for the good of the Democratic Party.

“I want to be helpful to ACDC,” she said. “I understand that I violated the bylaws. I get that… There were some things I think the ACDC needed to hear. I’m not the problem, I’m a symptom. I didn’t want to make them go through [the voting process], I wanted to be helpful.”

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Woman Pleads Guilty to Death of Infant Son

Zoraida Magali Conde Hernandez (photo via ACPD)(Updated at 3:40 p.m.) The Alexandria woman whose infant died after being locked in a hot car for six hours on a sweltering July day pleaded guilty today to felony child neglect.

Zoraida Magal Conde Hernandez, 32, submitted an Alford plea, meaning she accepts the verdict without technically admitting guilt in the case. Hernandez and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos agreed to two years and six months of probation, and, barring a violation, a dismissal of charges after that.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Molly Newton said Hernandez, after dropping two other children off at their summer activities in Alexandria, forgot that her 8-month-old son was strapped in his car seat when she drove to her job at the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and locked her car in the parking lot.

Newton said it was only when she picked up her 3-year-old daughter on July 5 at 3:30 p.m. did she notice the baby was purple and not breathing. Hernandez then drove to Inova Alexandria Hospital, where the baby was pronounced dead from hyperthermia with an internal temperature of 108 degrees.

“It has been a very difficult case for everyone involved,” Newton told the judge. “We’ve always believed the case has been a crime. The reaction from the community has not been such.”

Newton said that sympathy for the mother in similar cases has led to acquittals despite the evidence. Stamos said after the plea hearing that, in some jurisdictions, Hernandez’s crime wouldn’t bring charges. It’s unusual, Stamos said, for a felony case to “be adjudicated without a finding of guilt.”

“Clearly there are strong views on either side of this,” Stamos said. “It was difficult for the arresting officer, the medical examiner and the physicians involved.”

Stamos said an incident of a child dying in a hot car hadn’t happened in Arlington in 28 years. If Hernandez had been found guilty by a jury, she could have been incarcerated for anywhere from one day to five years. Newton said that, because Hernandez was incarcerated for two weeks before and after her bond hearing, the Commonwealth’s Attorney felt further incarceration wasn’t necessary.

“We want her to be accountable,” Newton said. “By entering this plea, she is. She has done everything we have wanted her to do.”

Hernandez’s other four children are still with Child Protective Services in Alexandria, and her case is making its way through that city’s administrative and court system, Newton said. Hernandez didn’t noticeably react during the proceeding, which took a little less than a half hour, even when Newton read the prosecution’s account of July 5’s event.

Photo via ACPD

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