It was quite a debate tonight for Arlington/Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney (see video, below) before Arlington’s “Committee of 100.” The entire debate, which ended a few minutes ago, was intense, right from the beginning, when Theo Stamos immediately asked Parisa Tafti about the heated controversy of the past 24 hours:
“Lawyers are trained to use their words with precision. We are trained to be deliberate and clear when we communicate, more so than perhaps any other profession. The words in your mailer stated, and I quote, ‘refused to prosecute police officers in cases of brutality.’ However, the words that you used in the news yesterday stated your intention was to demand an independent check on the system. Is your criticism that I failed to prosecute the officer, or that I failed to have another agency review this incident. Which one was it? Please explain.”
Parisa Tafti responded:
“Well I am glad that we’re having this conversation, particularly because a lot of people have reached out to me, including former law enforcement about this issue, and they agree with the point that I’m trying to make. So let’s be clear, this is about impartiality, not about any particular case, because impartiality leads to community trust, and community trust leads to public safety for everyone, including officers on the job. We have to be impartial if we want the community to have faith and to feel safe…you don’t want anyone investigating themselves…the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, which is dependent on police to gather evidence…should not be making unchecked decisions about investigations…[In Arlington] we don’t have an independent mechanism to review the use of force…I am happy to continue this conversation…without distorting each other’s words. I am not anti-police, I am pro-community and I am pro-accountability.”
For her part, Parisa Tafti asked Theo Stamos about a quote regarding mental illness (“it never ceases to amaze me that we don’t see mentally ill people that benefit society”). Stamos asked Tafti what the case was, what the context was, etc. Tafti said she didn’t know the name of the case or the defendant, but would be happy to send her the recording. Stamos then stated:
“It is a difficult and persistent problem…I have nothing but respect and I hold every defendant that we ever prosecute with dignity and I recognize the humanity in everyone. But I also have to say that there are individuals with mental health issues who also make a choice to commit the crime, that happens all the time, and the question is how do we deal with that?…”
Other topics covered included school resource officers, victims of domestic violence, cash bail, civil asset forfeiture, marijuana possession cases, the public defender’s office and its relationship to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, traffic laws enforcement, challenges in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, and the greatest strength the candidate brings to the job.
Finally, in her closing, Tafti said, “Prosecutors reflect the conscience of the community in the way they exercise their discretion…Arlington became…the first jurisdiction in northern Virginia to integrate as a result of the prosecutor using his discretion not to enforce a law…We’re now at a moment in the criminal justice system where reform is a civil rights issue; we need a Commonwealth’s Attorney who will reflect the best of our community and help our community stop lagging behind…Fairfax and Alexandria provide electronic discovery, and we don’t…Loudoun and Fairfax have a restorative justice program and we don’t…We can do better than this…”
For her part, Stamos said the job of Commonwealth’s Attorney “is a serious one, and requires among other things honesty…our choice of words have real meaning.” She ripped Tafti for her mailer alleging “police brutality here in Arlington,” then “chose to double down” on the assertion, which Stamos called “a deliberate distortion of the facts.” “Words have meaning.” “This is what accountability looks like.” Stamos declared that she’s been a “real leader” and that “Arlington is a public safety success story,” that “91% of our residents feel safe and we haven’t had a wrongful conviction…in more than 30 years,” that this in large part because of her work, that this election presents a “stark contrast,” and that “we already have a public defender in Arlington County, we don’t need one as the Commonwealth’s Attorney.”
One thing’s for sure; it’s going to be a fascinating final 34 days of this campaign!