Home 2023 Elections In Heated Debate on WAMU’s “The Politics Hour” Friday, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney...

In Heated Debate on WAMU’s “The Politics Hour” Friday, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano and Democratic Primary Challenger Ed Nuttall Rip Each Other as Liars, Incompetent, etc.

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In addition to the crucial elections this November in Virginia for control of the General Assembly (with all 140 seats on the ballot), there are also a bunch of important local races – for city councils, Boards of Supervisors/County Boards, School Boards, and constitutional officers like Sheriffs and Commonwealth’s Attorneys.

First, though, we’ve got primaries on June 20, where many of these races have competitive Democratic or Republican primaries to decide their nominees.  One important Democratic primary is for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, between incumbent Steve Descano (first elected in 2019) and challenger Ed Nuttall. Yesterday, those two candidates faced off on WAMU’s The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi, and…let’s just say, these guys agree on almost nothing and really, really don’t like each other.  To listen to the show, click here. Also, see below for a transcript, courtesy of WAMU.  Finally, here are a few samplings of the barbs that flew during the show.

Nuttall about Descano:

  • “in the last three and a half years under Mr. Descano’s administration we’ve had 10 officer involved shootings. Seven of those shootings he’s cleared my firm’s clients, every single one of those seven officers. He talks about transparency, but there’s never been a written report about what happened in those cases and why he cleared those officers.”
  • “We’re not able to provide basic essential services in the prosecutor’s office. We have a staff that has 100 percent turnover. He’s lost 54 prosecutors in three and a half years. Only him and his chief deputy remain. The remaining officers are undertrained, understaffed and unprepared. They can’t handle the serious felonies that happen in that courthouse every day.”
  • “… it’s been an utter failure. He’s had to return 25 percent of his budget to the county because he didn’t use it. What he’s done is instead of using those resources for prosecuting violent felonies he’s lost to violent felonies on discovery violations. He’s lost important cases. He’s re-traumatized victims by failing to provide the essential services that he needs. He has political staff in his office. He’s got a chief of staff. He’s got social media people. He’s got people that don’t prosecute cases, people who don’t handle discovery. And I believe that about $370,000 worth of that budget goes to non-legal essentially political positions. “
  • “…there’s zero communications between the victims’ services department and the police department and commonwealth attorney’s office. They don’t get along together, they don’t communicate. He doesn’t return their phone calls, he doesn’t return emails.”
  • “While Mr. Descano can’t control what happens in the first two parts of the bail decision, he certainly can recommend no bond on a case like that where a coach (sounds like) is repeatedly traumatizing a young victim of sexual violence.”
  • “I don’t know if he’s soft on crime. I just think he doesn’t know how to handle crime. I think he mismanages the office. I think he’s incompetent. What we have is, he doesn’t communicate with law enforcement. He doesn’t communicate with victims of violent crime…There was a supervisor of a sex crimes unit who told him, we’re not getting the support that we need. His own prosecutors are saying they’re understaffed, they’re undertrained. They need help.”
  • “[Descano’s] abandoned victims of violent crime.”
  • “I am not anti-Semitic, I am not MAGA, I am not a Republican. This was all scare tactics because the man who says he’s a career prosecutor has never prosecuted a case in Fairfax County. He’s a house of cards. He doesn’t have the ability. He likes to talk.”
  • “You’re a liar, Steve Descano.”
  • “We’ve lived in the safest county in America, its size, for the past 30 years. That’s not my opponent’s achievement. This race isn’t about safety. It’s about mismanagement and incompetence in the cases that we do handle. “

Descano about Nuttall:

  • “[Nuttall] has spent 20 years of his career as the on-call police union lawyer. Anytime there’s an officer who shoots or beats one of our neighbors Ed Nuttall is their first call. So I’m not surprised to hear this type of rhetoric that quite frankly we hear from Republican politicians all the time.”
  • ” What Ed Nuttall thought was fair was an oral reprimand, which is what I give a puppy when I’m house training him.”
  • “I think this is Ed Nuttall doing what Ed Nuttall does, which is basically trying to fool people about what’s going on in my office and what’s going on in the justice system.”
  • “Ed I know that you were a prosecutor for less than three years…So either there’s something wrong with you or this is the natural turnover rate for prosecutors.”
  • “…one of the things that I see in this race is that people not understanding the legal system. And, quite frankly, I know that my opponent has traded on that quite a bit.”
  • “Now, let’s talk about competence. We’re talking about running a large organization for a 1.2 million person county. Ed’s experienced running something as a five-person law firm.”
  • “And one thing that really bothers me about this race is that Ed Nuttal’s is doing — well, he’s been a Republican many years (sounds like) and he’s taken Republican toggle (sounds like) points and, quite frankly, disgustingly he’s using victims in a way that is pretty gross.”
  • “I’m not going to sit there and argue with a victim whereas Ed Nuttall is going to sit there and use somebody’s trauma for his own political gain.”
  • ” People need to have confidence that the person in this chair making the decisions has the right values. Quite frankly, that is the big difference between me and my opponent. We’ve talked about some of his Republican ties. I’ll tell you, the one thing I haven’t brought up yet that I’m going to bring up now and I think it’s important, it’s not only the Republican ties, the police ties but, you know, over the last two weeks it’s become very clear and there’s been a lot of talk in the Democratic blogosphere (sounds like) about my opponent and his seeking support from MAGA anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. As a matter of fact there was. There was a Facebook posting on Mr. Nuttall’s Facebook where a person was talking about Blood Libel and the great reset and globalists. And what did my opponent do? He asked them for money. And then when he got money he thanked them for the money and then said, please, send my message to your friends.” [NOTE: For Cindy Cunningham’s post on this issue, see here]
  • “Let’s take a look at your fundraising. Let’s take a look at who supports you. Not only multiple police (word?), we have multiple Republican elected officials.”
  • “But more worrying to me is somebody who says that they’re a reformer. You’re getting money from the cash bail industry from bail bondsmen.”

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NNAMDI12:07:24

And this is happening all over the country including Fairfax County. If by the way, you’re just joining us, shame-shame. But nevertheless our guests are both competitors for the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney. Steve Descano is the incumbent. He’s a democrat as is Ed Nuttall who is the challenger in this race. Ed Nuttall, it’s my understanding that Fairfax County is having a police problem too with losing police officers. What would you do about that?

NUTTALL12:07:49

Excuse me, we’re down an entire–

SHERWOOD12:07:52

And welcome to the program.

NUTTALL12:07:53

Thank you. I appreciate that. Fairfax County is down an entire substation. I think they’re missing about 160 officers. That’s a big problem that we have right now. And we’re missing the middle–the part of the police force that trains the younger officers and that knows how to investigate serious felony cases. We need better support for these officers. We need training in de-escalation. We need critical response training for these officers. We need better pay. These officers are leaving for different agencies in the region that simply compensate their officers better. There’s a morale problem in the police department now due to the conflict between the Commonwealth’s attorney’s office and the police department. There’s a level of trust that’s missing there that we need to reestablish. Once we get those things we can get better trained police officers who are able to handle more serious cases to work constructively with the prosecutor’s office.

NNAMDI12:08:48

And thus we are engaged. Steve Descano.

DESCANO12:08:50

Well, first of all thank you for having me.

NNAMDI12:08:54

You’re welcome.

DESCANO12:08:54

Second of all, I think it’s really interesting we’re talking about policing and police accountability. When right now as we speak, in Fairfax County we have the largest recruiting class that the county has ever had in over a decade starting today, 58 people. I was talking to the chief about this yesterday. The second thing I’d like to bring up, which is probably more important is the working relationship that I have, my office has with the police department. It is what you would want from a professionalized Commonwealth’s attorney’s office and a professionalized police force. I know it’s not what my opponent Ed Nuttall would like because he has spent 20 years of his career as the on-call police union lawyer. Anytime there’s an officer who shoots or beats one of our neighbors Ed Nuttall is their first call. So I’m not surprised to hear this type of rhetoric that quite frankly we hear from republican politicians all the time talking about police accountability and how it influences police staffing because at the end of the day and I think this is going to come out a lot today, Kojo and Tom, is my opponent here in this democratic primary is in fact–

DESCANO12:09:56

You take a look at his background. You take a look at his supporters, he’s somebody who’s really a republican wolf in democrat’s clothing.

SHERWOOD12:10:03

Mr. Nuttall, you have represented the Fraternal Order of Police Chapter 77, I think is the number.

NUTTALL12:10:11

There’s several chapters I’ve represented.

SHERWOOD12:10:12

Several chapters. And you have participated as a lawyer defending officers accused of wrongdoing. What’s your response to Mr. Descano?

NUTTALL12:10:21

So I’ve been trying cases for 26 years in Fairfax County, three as a prosecutor, 23 as a defense attorney. I prosecuted the deputy sheriff when I was a prosecutor for domestic assault. So I’ve seen police work from all sides, 360 degrees. There’s nothing worse than a bad cop and there’s nothing more that a good cop wants than to prosecute a bad cop. And I will do that as prosecutor whether that police officer commits a crime on-duty or off-duty. But we’re talking about police accountability here. And in the last three and a half years under Mr. Descano’s administration we’ve had 10 officer involved shootings. Seven of those shootings he’s cleared my firm’s clients, every single one of those seven officers. He talks about transparency, but there’s never been a written report about what happened in those cases and why he cleared those officers. The public is entitled to know and the folks involved in these cases are entitled to know. He’s charged three public safety members in these three and a half year.

NUTTALL12:11:20

Tyler Timberlake without an investigation he straight indicted on three assault and batteries. That case was dismissed by a jury after five days of evidence in less than an hour. Importantly the foreman in that case an older Black man, got out of his car when we were in the parking lot came up to us and thanked us for protecting his community. A second case was dismissed. He charged a firefighter in an ambulance with assault and battery for defending himself by being spit on in an ambulance. And the third case just happened a couple of days ago. He straight indicted an officer for the Tysons mall shooting and presented it to a grand jury and that grand jury came back and said–five of the nine grand jurors said, “We can’t find a crime even on probably cause.”

NNAMDI12:12:07

Since you’ve gone there, I’d like to continue going there because, Steve Descano, as he just said, a Fairfax County grand jury decided not to indict the police officer accused of shooting and killing Timothy Johnson who was accused of stealing a pair of designed sunglasses and who turned out to be unarmed. What is your reaction to that?

DESCANO12:12:26

Well, Kojo, I will tell you that I really can’t talk about that case much in particular because in my mind it is still an open case. We are continuing figuring out a path forward. But what I will tell you generally is that it is difficult to prosecute police officers. But more important for this conversation we are on the second question. And right here, right off the bat, my opponent is traveling in falsehoods. He talks about how there wasn’t a report on these clearances. Every single one of those cases I wrote a report. I released it to public. And I think what we’re going to see here is him trying to shade his responses. He wants to talk about the work that he’s done in the courtroom defending officers. But let’s talk about some of the work that he’s done outside of the courtroom defending officers where we’ve had officers who have shot and killed people. And in the paper he has talked about how a three week suspension is off the charts extreme. That was in the Colosi case. What Ed Nuttall thought was fair was an oral reprimand, which is what I give a puppy when I’m house training him.

DESCANO12:13:28

The idea is and what everybody knows is that at every step of the way trying to hold officers accountable there are hurdles. People know that I will do what is right. I am independent and I will work to protect my community. And with Ed Nuttall’s history and who his supporters are show everybody that they can’t trust him. He is the type of person that at every one of those hurdles he will use it as an excuse to not move forward in a case. And that’s really I think going to be a big thing in this election.

NUTTALL12:13:56

So I have a comment on the Calosi case that my opponent brought up.

SHERWOOD12:14:02

Just to be clear. We can get lost in the cases. Can you say again what the case is.

NUTTALL12:14:06

So the Calosi case it was the case where this happened about 20 years ago, never was criminally charged. Calosi was a gambling investigation and the officer got out of his car and as he was getting out of his car he stumbled. His arm hit the door. His gun went off and tragically he shot and killed Mr. Calosi. That is the crux of that case. That’s not a case that was intentional. In fact the experts that reviewed that case decided that it was an unintentional discharge of a firearm. So let’s talk about facts. Let’s talk about current cases. We’re going back 20 years. Let’s go back three years and see what my opponent’s record is on police accountability. He’s O and 10 folks.

SHERWOOD12:14:52

Mr. Descano, let me–I don’t want to get too far in each case because we don’t know enough about those cases to engage in the conversation like you guys. But let me ask a larger question. Mr. Descano, four years ago you narrowly won the democratic primary defeating veteran incumbent prosecutor Raymond Morrogh, I think is the pronunciation, 51 to 49 percent. What is your, not a speech, but is your biggest argument to run again and to expand that margin?

DESCANO12:15:26

Well, I think that first of all, we are the safest large community anywhere in the country. And since I’ve taken office we’ve had our safest three year stretch in our recorded history. Not only that our jail population is lower than it’s even been. And we’re diverting more people. But I’m really running to make sure that something like a specific case, the Elon Wilson case, never happens again. And it won’t take long, but let me tell you what I mean by that. Elon Wilson he was a young African American firefighter. He was illegally pulled over. He was illegally searched and then he was arrested for someone else’s drugs, his passengers in the car. Instead of watching the dashcam that would have showed it was an illegal stop the prosecutor and this happened before I took office, just threatened Elon Wilson with 10 years of mandatory minimum time or he said, “You can be a part of son’s life growing up and take a three year deal.” Well, Elon took that deal because– not because he was guilt–because he wanted to see his son grow up. Shortly thereafter evidence came out that that officer had made potentially hundreds of wrongful stops, many that were maybe racially motivated.

DESCANO12:16:27

The prosecutor’s office hid that information from Elon Wilson. That would have gotten him out of prison. I had to come in when I took office get that conviction overturned and get Elon back home. Now I tell you I never what that to happen again. But if my opponent is Commonwealth’s attorney that will happen again because that is yet another officer that my opponent represented. And what happened when that officer was being investigated for making these racially motivated stops, he didn’t get a single ounce of discipline. He was allowed to resign. And he went and immediately got another job in another law enforcement agency and actually got–because he didn’t have discipline. Actually got a recommendation from the county. And at the end of this Fairfax County had to pay Elon Wilson about $1 million.

SHERWOOD12:17:07

Is this the race for Fairfax Commonwealth attorney about who is most–or pro-police or anti-police?

DESCANO12:17:14

I think this race is about who has the values of a community. And I will tell you, look, I’ve told you about my opponent’s background as a police union lawyer. You can take a look at who’s supporting–

SHERWOOD12:17:26

Why is that–you make that sound like it’s a bad thing.

NNAMDI12:17:29

Well, let me interrupt and have a listener have Mr. Nuttall respond to.

SHERWOOD12:17:32

I want to have 100 questions.

NNAMDI12:17:33

I know that. But this is on this specific issue that we’re discussing. And this is for you, Mr. Nuttall, from Molly. “I understand that every person no matter how heinous the crime deserves legal representation, which you have repeatedly provided to police officers accused of improper actions. But I don’t understand how you can hold police accountable if you’ve spent your career defending bad cops in the courtroom.”

NUTTALL12:17:56

So I’ve spent my career defending all sorts of people in the courtroom. And part of my job as a prosecutor is to prosecute bad cops. And I’ll do that with as much professionalism and as much success as I have enjoyed as a criminal defense attorney. As criminal defense attorney, my job is to make sure that my client’s sixth amendment rights are protected. And as a Commonwealth’s attorney I have a much different job. I have a responsibility to ensure that justice is performed. And I will do that as well as I represent police officers on the other side. That’s how our criminal justice system works. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

NNAMDI12:18:29

In case you’re just joining us, that’s the voice of Ed Nuttall. He’s a democratic candidate for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney. He is the challenger. Joining us also is Steve Descano. He is the incumbent Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney. They are both candidates for election. They are both democrats. Here’s Tom Sherwood.

SHERWOOD12:18:48

Again, trying to get a bigger picture of this. It won’t just be all about the police, although I know that’s important. Mr. Descano, you’re the incumbent so you get the most questions at the start here. Of all the reforms–you’d prided yourself on being a reform prosecutor. Of all the reforms you’ve instituted, are there any that you have since modified, either expanding them or narrowing them and what is it that you want to achieve in a second term, what reforms are left undone in your view?

DESCANO12:19:19

Well, I’ll tell you when I ran last time I put out a 22 page document of the reforms I wanted to implement. I’ve either completed or made substantial steps on every single one of them. The two that I’m most proud of, the first one is our diversion programs. What people recognize is, of course, there are individuals who need to be put in jail or prison for the safety of the community. But for so many other people especially young people or people who are touching our system for the first time, helping those people to get at the root causes is going to lead to greater community safety by getting them out of the cycle of crime. We’ve strengthened, expanded and created diversion programs. What I want to do is continue to build out on that so that diversion becomes a much larger part of our portfolio to build better community trust. The second thing that I’ve done–

SHERWOOD12:20:05

Diversion for young people who are accused of crimes or diversions in general?

DESCANO12:20:10

Well, we’ve built multiple programs and each one is unique. We have diversion programs for people with substance abuse issue. But we have special programs for young people and that is where our focus has been. And that’s really what I want to build going forward.

SHERWOOD12:20:24

And you said there are two.

DESCANO12:20:26

Oh, the second one is–look, when I came into the office, it was in the Stone Age. There was no electronic database system. It was paper files floor to ceiling, wall to wall. We’ve modernized our office. And now not only do we have systems in place to professionalize the office, we’re actually using data in a very smart way to come out with better outcomes to be more transparent. I encourage everyone to go onto the Commonwealth’s attorney’s website and check out our public dashboard on our bond decisions. It’s best in class. It shows that we are keeping the community safe and how we’re doing it. And I want to expand that program to every step in the justice system.

SHERWOOD12:21:01

May I just follow-up?

NNAMDI12:21:02

I just wanted to ask, Mr. Nuttall, what do you think of those reforms?

NUTTALL12:21:05

Those are great reforms and we need to get them enacted. Part of the problem is we’re missing half of our reforms. We’re not able to provide basic essential services in the prosecutor’s office. We have a staff that has 100 percent turnover. He’s lost 54 prosecutors in three and a half years. Only him and his chief deputy remain. The remaining officers are undertrained, understaffed and unprepared. They can’t handle the serious felonies that happen in that courthouse every day.

SHERWOOD12:21:32

Can we get an answer from that? That’s a significant charge. I apologize for interrupting, but I think it deserves an answer from Mr. Descano.

DESCANO12:21:39

It does and, again, I think this is Ed Nuttall doing what Ed Nuttall does, which is basically trying to fool people about what’s going on in my office and what’s going on in the justice system. You know, the fact of the matter is is when I came into office, you know what we’ve done, we’ve more than doubled the size of my office. We’ve more than doubled the size of my office. And you know what I’m working with right now? I’m working with a six percent vacancy rate. We are one of the few Commonwealth’s attorney’s offices in the entire Commonwealth that handles both felony and all misdemeanor crimes. And we’ve done that because of the reforms in the growth of the office that I have built.

SHERWOOD12:22:10

What about–he specifically said 54 prosecutors have left the agency since you got there.

DESCANO12:22:16

Let’s talk about some of those prosecutors.

SHERWOOD12:22:20

Is that number right?

DESCANO12:22:21

We had–look, let me tell you this, Tom. First of all, in the prosecuting field the normal stay for a prosecutor is about a year and a half to two years. I’ve been in office three and a half years. As a matter of fact, Ed I know that you were a prosecutor for less than three years.

NUTTALL12:22:36

Two years, 11 months.

DESCANO12:22:36

Right. So less than three years. So either there’s something wrong with you or this is the natural turnover rate for prosecutors. The second thing is the idea–I have attracted top talent from across this country. I have brought on prosecutors with experience from New York, California, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida as well from around the Commonwealth. For the first time ever, we have a professionalized Commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County that meets the needs of Fairfax County. So to go on this sob–to continue on with this farce that we have issue isn’t right. I can tell you the prosecutors that we don’t have in our office anymore are the prosecutors like the one in the Elon Wilson case, the people that were doing the things that weren’t doing justice for our community. We have built a culture of accountability and a culture of justice in our office and I’m proud of the office we’ve built.

NNAMDI12:23:27

Well, speaking of former prosecutors we got an email from one who self-identifies as such, Marcus. He says he’s a former prosecutor under Mr. Descano and under his predecessor Ray Marrogh. “One of the positives,” he says, “of the Descano administration has been greater funding for the Fairfax County Commonwealth attorney’s office. How Mr. Nuttall feel about the expansion of funding for the office? How does he feel about the allocation of that funding? How does he feel that funding could be allocated better or differently?”

NUTTALL12:23:57

So I think the funding–the Board of Supervisors did a great job funding the office. We needed those extra prosecutors. We needed those paralegals for discovery purposes. But it’s been an utter failure. He’s had to return 25 percent of his budget to the county because he didn’t use it. What he’s done is instead of using those resources for prosecuting violent felonies he’s lost to violent felonies on discovery violations. He’s lost important cases. He’s re-traumatized victims by failing to provide the essential services that he needs. He has political staff in his office. He’s got a chief of staff. He’s got social media people. He’s got people that don’t prosecute cases, people who don’t handle discovery. And I believe that about $370,000 worth of that budget goes to non-legal essentially political positions. I would use that money to get a training instructor in the office to train these younger prosecutors so they know how to handle discovery issues, they know how to handle evidentiary issues. They can try serious cases in a circuit court and not lose those important cases.

NNAMDI12:24:57

Got to take a short break. When we come back we’ll continue this conversation with Ed Nuttall. He’s a democratic candidate for Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney. Steve Descano is the incumbent. He is the Fairfax County Commonwealth’s attorney. I’m Kojo Nnamdi.

NNAMDI12:25:18

Welcome back. We’re talking with two candidates to be Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney. Ed Nuttall is the challenger. He is a Democrat. And Steve Descano, also a Democrat, is the incumbent. This time around, I’m going to start with an email or a note we got from Christine who says, my minor daughter was sexually assaulted and the perpetrator charged with five felony counts. The next day he was allowed out on bail on your watch, Steve Descano. He immediately violated the terms of his probation and traumatized our family for over a year. We brought this to your attention but you ignored us and took no action to protect our family. How can you call your campaign victim centric given your track record?

DESCANO12:26:02

Well, first of all, any time that a young child is the victim of sexual assault it is something that is awful and very important to me. You know, I have a young daughter myself and I can only imagine the horror of my daughter being victimized that way. And what I’m not going to do is I’m not going to get into an argument with the victim of a crime here on the radio.

DESCANO12:26:22

But what I can tell you is that one of the things that I see in this race is that people not understanding the legal system. And, quite frankly, I know that my opponent has traded on that quite a bit. I’ll give you a great example. Most people think that when somebody is arrested, the bail decision is the prosecutor’s. It’s not. As a matter of fact, there are two bail decisions before the prosecutor even gets involved with the case. So, with that timeline, that would’ve been a magistrate’s decision.

DESCANO12:26:48

Now, I will tell you that we are victim focused in our office because, for the first time ever, we’ve set up a structure to be victim focused. Instead of passing cases between people, what we’ve done is we’ve created teams with leadership. And one of the teams that we’ve created is a special team for child victims of sexual assault. And not only do we have those teams who get specialized training who become experts in this stuff, we actually work to make sure that we get in contact with our victims earlier than ever before.

DESCANO12:27:18

And when we are taking a look to figure out what the right thing is to do with the case is, we obviously have to think about what’s right for the community, but we always listen to our victims and get their input and do what we can to make sure that we are getting justice for them that they see as reasonable.

NNAMDI12:27:34

You, Mr. Nuttall, would like to set up a victims’ services liaison. How is that different to what Steve Descano’s set up is?

NUTTALL12:27:42

Well, there’s (clears throat) zero communications between the victims’ services department and the police department and commonwealth attorney’s office. They don’t get along together, they don’t communicate. He doesn’t return their phone calls, he doesn’t return emails. I’m very familiar, by the way, with the case and we need someone in that office who’s able to improve communication between the victims of violent crime and the commonwealth’s office.

NUTTALL12:28:03

I got into this race because of victims of violent crime. I’m a trial lawyer, not a politician. I got in this race because of cases like Christine’s. I’m very familiar with that case. While Mr. Descano can’t control what happens in the first two parts of the bail decision, he certainly can recommend no bond on a case like that where a coach (sounds like) is repeatedly traumatizing a young victim of sexual violence.

NUTTALL12:28:28

The tragic part of that case was that he was released on bond. He reoffended while he was on bond with that young girl. And the victim’s family, in that case, begged the prosecutor’s office to violate his probation and nothing happened in that case. And that’s why I got in this race. And that’s why next Thursday, April 27th, we’re going to have a victims’ voices town hall and invite everybody to hear what victims’ experiences are in Fairfax County. And they’re going to give us recommendations as to how we can improve that communication.

SHERWOOD12:28:59

Mr. Descano said a few moments ago that he has a good relationship with the Fairfax County police. You’re saying he doesn’t?

NUTTALL12:29:07

That’s correct.

SHERWOOD12:29:08

Beyond that one case, is there a general — and you said he doesn’t return emails, doesn’t return phone calls. But is it something more than just management complications?

NUTTALL12:29:22

I think it’s…

SHERWOOD12:29:22

(unintelligible) suggesting he has a mindset that’s different from being a prosecutor and that he’s soft on crime. I mean, he’s a (unintelligible) .

NUTTALL12:29:30

So, I don’t know if he’s soft on crime. I just think he doesn’t know how to handle crime. I think he mismanages the office. I think he’s incompetent. What we have is, he doesn’t communicate with law enforcement. He doesn’t communicate with victims of violent crime. You know, ask the people that he works with on a regular basis. They don’t get enough communication, his own prosecutors.

NUTTALL12:29:51

There was a supervisor of a sex crimes unit who told him, we’re not getting the support that we need. His own prosecutors are saying they’re understaffed, they’re undertrained. They need help.

NNAMDI12:30:01

Your turn, Mr. Descano, then I’d like to get to cannabis, but go ahead.

DESCANO12:30:05

Fantastic. Well, look, first of all, let’s face facts. In this race there’s only one career prosecutor here and that’s me. I’ve been a prosecutor for ten years. It’s what I came out of law school doing, I did it at the highest levels. Now, let’s talk about competence. We’re talking about running a large organization for a 1.2 million person county. Ed’s experienced running something as a five-person law firm.

DESCANO12:30:25

I learned leadership at West Point, learned leadership when I was an Army officer. And what we’ve done is we have improved, not only doubled the size of our office but made it run more efficiently. Made it run better. Made it run better for victims. And one thing that really bothers me about this race is that Ed Nuttal’s is doing — well, he’s been a Republican many years (sounds like) and he’s taken Republican toggle (sounds like) points and, quite frankly, disgustingly he’s using victims in a way that is pretty gross.

DESCANO12:30:53

You know…

SHERWOOD12:30:55

How is that? How is his talking about victims gross?

DESCANO12:30:59

Well, there’s talking about victims and then what they’re doing is they’re cherry picking victims and trying to use them as examples and taking things out of context. Because, guess what, I know that case too, the case that we talked about. And I know a whole bunch of other facts that went into every single one of those decisions. But I’m not going to sit there and argue with a victim whereas Ed Nuttall is going to sit there and use somebody’s trauma for his own political gain.

DESCANO12:31:24

We need somebody in that office who calls things down the line and always does the best that they can with the evidence and the law as it is, taking victims into account. My track record on that shows that that’s what we’ve done and that’s what I’ll continue to do.

NUTTALL12:31:38

At the beginning of Mr. Descano’s administration, he pulled prosecutors (unintelligible) court 100 percent. This was during the pandemic. He had plenty of prosecutors. People who were subject to assault and batteries, stalking cases, they went unrepresented in court. We had the forum of victims rights attorneys group to represent these victims in court because the prosecutor’s office abandoned them.

NUTTALL12:32:01

We sent Mr. Descano emails. We sent him — we tried to communicate him over the phone. We contacted his deputies. We offered for him to deputize us so we could handle these cases. We didn’t hear a single word from him. He’s abandoned victims of violent crime.

NNAMDI12:32:16

Wanted to get on to the issue of marijuana. Steve Descano, as commonwealth’s attorney, you decided to make some changes to how you approach cases. Even before cannabis was legal in Virginia, you decided not to prosecute adults for simple possession of marijuana. Your prosecutors don’t recommend cash bail and you recommended fewer detentions for people with minor offenses. But let me start with marijuana. Here is an email we got from Steven. Do you belief people in Fairfax County should be prosecuted for simple possession of marijuana, starting with you, Ed Nuttall?

NUTTALL12:32:53

No, of course not. It’s not against the law, except with minors.

NNAMDI12:32:57

And here’s, now, Amanda in Falls Church, Virginia. Amanda, your turn.

AMANDA12:33:02

Well, I had a question about that but after (unintelligible) the last whatever, 40 minutes, oh my gosh, this is what is wrong . I have felt so, like — I have felt like I’m perfectly being told, like, half a story every time I hear information. Like, I have so many follow-up questions like (unintelligible) …

NNAMDI12:33:19

(overlapping) Well, ask one.

AMANDA12:33:20

What’s, like — why — I want to ask about the diversion program. I’m actually more interested in that because I (unintelligible) …

NNAMDI12:33:29

(overlapping) Well, go ahead.

AMANDA12:33:30

Yeah, like, how can the public be more involved? I know we have (unintelligible) — so I ride my bike — sorry, I ride my bike through my neighborhood and I see teenagers getting pulled over and stopped all the time (unintelligible) . I don’t want this to be the start of something that just goes wrong from now on. And there are actual ways to, like, whatever this diversion is. I want to know more about that because I feel like I’m just listening to you two fight it out in a courtroom on public radio (unintelligible) …

NNAMDI12:33:58

(overlapping) And so you’d like to know what, you’d like to know what each one of them thinks about diversion programs?

AMANDA12:34:05

Like a specific thing. An example of something like that working, you know, in our communities instead of — I don’t know, I just feel like (unintelligible) …

NNAMDI12:34:13

(overlapping) Okay. Allow me to, allow me to, allow me to have both of our guests respond to that. First you, Steve Descano.

SHERWOOD12:34:18

Can I first say…

NNAMDI12:34:19

Sure.

SHERWOOD12:34:20

…I think when we talk about diversion programs, we’re also talking about a broader picture of restorative justice…

NNAMDI12:34:24

Correct.

SHERWOOD12:34:25

…where police don’t arrest everyone for every crime and prosecutors don’t prosecute every one for every crime. So that’s what she’s asking about but if you can give — I think she’s asking for specific examples…

DESCANO12:34:37

Of course.

SHERWOOD12:34:37

…of restorative justice diversion programs.

DESCANO12:34:41

I will give you an example. I’m happy to. And this example comes from three weeks ago at last month’s drug court graduation. Drug court is a program that I expanded and helped make better. It is a program for people with serious drug issues, right, that we want to help them get at the root causes of their issues and be the neighbors that we want.

DESCANO12:35:00

We had a gentleman — and, by the way, it’s a two-year program. It’s extensive. We had a gentleman who graduated from that program. When he was arrested he was homeless. He had nothing but the clothes on his back and the ID in his pocket. He had no job, no place to live. When he came out of the program, he went through two years, he had been clean for two years, he didn’t get a single infraction. Now he has a job, he has a car, he has a place to live. And I’m going to ask you, Tom, because you’re looking at me, how many times do you think that that guy had been in prison before he went through the diversion program?

SHERWOOD12:35:31

Probably numerous.

DESCANO12:35:32

A hundred and seven. A hundred and seven times. The hundred and eighth wasn’t going to do it. Well, 108 times wasn’t going to do it and that is the old way of doing criminal justice, putting people through the ringer and not helping them. We’ve changed this person’s life for the better and these types of programs are what we are talking about when we talk about our diversion portfolio.

SHERWOOD12:35:52

Where does the line draw on punitive for, I don’t want to call it victims’ rights because that’s just used too often, but for families who don’t get a loved one back or for somebody who might’ve been a victim of this drug person’s crimes? Where does that fall in line as to — where’s the consequences for your actions if you’re an adult?

DESCANO12:36:15

Well, you know, it’s really, really interesting because we don’t put everybody through these diversion programs. But a great example is something that you mentioned, is restorative justice, which we have a pilot program that we’re running and we want to expand. The thing with restorative justice is that A, you only have that program available if the victim of the crime agrees to it. And B, the restoration is completely guided by the victim. So the victim tells you, this is what I need to feel whole.

DESCANO12:36:43

And in many times, the person who committed the wrong, it’s actually harder for them because they have to look inside themselves. Not only is it better for recidivism…

SHERWOOD12:36:52

Do they also meet sometimes?

DESCANO12:36:53

Oh, absolutely.

SHERWOOD12:36:54

The victims meet with the person who committed the crime?

DESCANO12:36:56

The victim meets with the person who committed the crime and it is completely victim focused. And it cuts down on recidivism rate. That is — when I say that we are taking our justice system from the stone age to today’s needs, that is exactly what I am talking about.

SHERWOOD12:37:10

Mr. Nuttall, diversion and restorative justice the caller asked about?

NUTTALL12:37:15

So, Tom, you’ve hit on a nuance in prosecution with accountability. Prosecution’s about accountability. We treat victims of violent offenders differently than we treat our underserved communities, those of mental illness, addiction problems, juveniles, the elderly, our black and brown communities. And we need to provide them resources, support and tools so they don’t end up in the criminal justice system. That’s the important part of criminal justice reform.

NUTTALL12:37:41

We have a wonderful mental health docket that was developed under the Moore administration and assistance with Sheriff Kincaid. In that docket I had one of the first participants in that docket. He was a young man with autism and he was charged with several counts of assault. And he went through that program for two years and he made a lot of mistakes. And under the old system he probably would’ve been to jail. He probably would’ve been treated in a way that he probably shouldn’t have been.

NUTTALL12:38:07

But the mental health docket allowed him to learn to make the mistakes that he needed. He got second, third and fourth chances and that’s what we need to do with our underserved communities. We need to do a much better job at distinguishing between the violent offenders who affect public safety and our underserved communities who have been underserved for way too long.

NNAMDI12:38:26

Here now, let’s talk about abortion because, Steve Descano, last year you wrote a New York Times op-ed pushing back on Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin seeking a 15-week abortion ban. You said that if that law passed you would not prosecute people who sought abortions. Now, the Supreme Court is considering whether the use of a commonly available abortion pill, mifepristone, could be limited. If use of this pill is banned or limited, would your office prosecute?

DESCANO12:38:56

We would not. I had been a leader nationally on getting prosecutors around this county at the local level to say we’re not going to prosecute an individual for making their own healthcare decisions. And that’s why when I said earlier, this race really comes down to values, that is what it is. People need to have confidence that the person in this chair making the decisions has the right values. Quite frankly, that is the big difference between me and my opponent.

DESCANO12:39:17

We’ve talked about some of his Republican ties. I’ll tell you, the one thing I haven’t brought up yet that I’m going to bring up now and I think it’s important, it’s not only the Republican ties, the police ties but, you know, over the last two weeks it’s become very clear and there’s been a lot of talk in the Democratic blogosphere (sounds like) about my opponent and his seeking support from MAGA anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists.

SHERWOOD12:39:40

Anyone in particular in mind?

DESCANO12:39:42

As a matter of fact there was. There was a Facebook posting on Mr. Nuttall’s Facebook where a person was talking about Blood Libel and the great reset and globalists. And what did my opponent do? He asked them for money. And then when he got money he thanked them for the money and then said, please, send my message to your friends.

SHERWOOD12:40:02

I think that requires an immediate response from Mr. Nuttall.

NUTTALL12:40:05

Let’s set the record straight. He donated — I asked for a donation, he donated to me, then he went on this anti-Soros rant. Someone on Facebook pointed that out to me, I looked at it. I removed it from my…

DESCANO12:40:17

No, you didn’t. It’s still on your Facebook page, just like the Soros stuff that’s on your website.

NUTTALL12:40:21

I looked at it, I removed it, I hid it on my Facebook page. It went viral on Twitter. I am not anti-Semitic, I am not MAGA, I am not a Republican. This was all scare tactics because the man who says he’s a career prosecutor has never prosecuted a case in Fairfax County. He’s a house of cards. He doesn’t have the ability. He likes to talk.

SHERWOOD12:40:45

Is that true, you’ve never prosecuted a case in court?

DESCANO12:40:48

No, that’s not true at all. That’s absolutely not true.

NUTTALL12:40:51

You’ve never prosecuted a case in the Fairfax County Court. You’ve never prosecuted a case in Fairfax County.

SHERWOOD12:40:54

Is that true? That’s a pretty strong statement. There ought to be some demonstrable evidence whether that’s true or not.

DESCANO12:41:02

Well, actually, but let me tell you, Tom, again, what Ed Nuttall is doing. First of all, let’s be honest. Go on the Facebook page, it’s still there, all right. And if you want to go on your social media counts (sounds like) for the last couple years, you travel in this stuff because that’s who you hang out with because, you know, those are your circle and those are the values you’ll bring to this office.

NUTTALL12:41:21

You’re a liar, Steve Descano.

NNAMDI12:41:22

Well, I’d like to interrupt to get a response to the question on abortion that I asked Steve Descano before we get to the trading of accusations (unintelligible) …

SHERWOOD12:41:30

But we just had them — he called him a liar.

NNAMDI12:41:34

We’ll get to that (unintelligible) …

NUTTALL12:41:33

(overlapping) I agree with Steve on his position on abortion. It’s not very MAGA of me but that’s my position on abortion.

NNAMDI12:41:39

Okay. Well, in response to that he was talking about the people that you’re associating with in MAGA and you were responding to that question.

NUTTALL12:41:47

That’s completely 100 percent utterly false. I’m not Republican, I don’t support Trump, I don’t support anti-Semitics, I don’t support racists, I don’t support misogynists. You want to go look on my Facebook page, go on my personal Facebook page and scroll down to 2009 and show me where I supported Republicans, where I’ve supported the idea of anti criminal justice reform.

NUTTALL12:42:14

I supported them the right away. I’ve been a supporter publicly of what Chris (sounds like) has done in Arlington. I’m been very vocally non-supportive of you and of the Loudoun County prosecutor because you don’t know what you’re doing.

DESCANO12:42:26

Kojo, I have to respond to that because it also touches on something you brought up. You want to take a look? Let’s take a look at your fundraising. Let’s take a look at who supports you. Not only multiple police (word?) , we have multiple Republican elected officials.

DESCANO12:42:40

But more worrying to me is somebody who says that they’re a reformer. You’re getting money from the cash bail industry from bail bondsmen. The cash bail industry creates two-tiered system of justice, one for the rich, one for everybody else. And it makes its money off of our poorest and most vulnerable community members. The only reason that I can see that the cash bail bondsmen would give you money is because they know that, truly, you’re not a reformer.

NNAMDI12:43:07

(all talking at once) Well, prosecutor Steve Descano (sounds like) do not recommend cash bail. What is your feeling about cash bail, Ed Nuttall?

NUTTALL12:43:13

Cash bail is a red herring. We had to apply the legal standard. If you’re a danger to yourself or others or you’re a flight risk, you don’t get bond, you don’t get bail. If you’re not, then you’re released. You may be subject to conditions on that release. If you have a drug problem or mental health problem, you get supervised release. If you have an addiction problem, you may get treatment for that addiction problem, pending trial. But there’s no need for cash bond.

SHERWOOD12:43:37

Mr. Descano, you brought up his supporters. I want to ask about that. This is The Politics Hour, folks. Veteran Fairfax State Senator Chap Petersen has endorsed your opponent, Mr. Nuttall. As I understand it, the sheriff of Fairfax County, Stacey Kincaid has endorsed him. Is there an endorsement that you have received in the county that you’d like to say now or comment on Chap Petersen, the veteran state senator’s endorsement or the sheriff endorsing him?

DESCANO12:44:07

Well, congratulations, Tom, you just named all his endorsers. You want to…

SHERWOOD12:44:10

Well, there are lots of them on the Facebook page but these are two well-known names in the county.

DESCANO12:44:16

Let’s talk about one well-known Democrats. Governor Terry McAuliffe, he’s with me because he knows that I have the right ideas and I’ve implemented correctly. So is Congressman Jerry Connolly, and Congressman Don Beyer, right. Because they know…

SHERWOOD12:44:29

They have endorsed you this time around.

DESCANO12:44:30

They have.

SHERWOOD12:44:31

Okay.

DESCANO12:44:32

Because they know what a real strong Democrat looks like and what reform does right looks like.

NNAMDI12:44:36

Here’s Andrew who sent us a message on Facebook. Mr. Descano says crime is down in Fairfax County but statistics from the Fairfax County police department show crime is up across the board. Who is right? According to the Fairfax County Times, as of February, crime is up so far this year compared to the same time in 2022. What say you?

DESCANO12:44:59

Well, I would say that right now we are the safest county in our country, a large county. And, by the way, not only by the numbers but by people steal it (sounds like) . A couple weeks ago there was a Washington Post poll that showed that 96 percent of people in Fairfax County feel safe. And that’s unfortunate for my opponent who really wants to scare people with crime. It’s just not working.

DESCANO12:45:20

You know, since I’ve taken office we’ve had our lowest three-year crime rate, three-year (unintelligible) in our recorded history. And, of course, our crime is below our historical averages. What I will tell people is, take a look at Virginia, for example, our murder rate. Virginia’s murder rate is four times higher than ours here in Fairfax County. If you lined up every jurisdiction with over a million people in this country, who’s got the lowest murder rate? We do. We live in the safest county anywhere in America that’s over a million people.

NUTTALL12:45:49

We’ve lived in the safest county in America, its size, for the past 30 years. That’s not my opponent’s achievement. This race isn’t about safety. It’s about mismanagement and incompetence in the cases that we do handle. I’m going to quote from Metropolitan Washington Government Council. They keep statistics. Those are verified. There’s important methodologies that they use.

NUTTALL12:46:14

Crimes against persons from 2019 to 2022 is up 12 percent. Property crimes are up 19 percent with motor vehicle theft up 62 percent. Larceny and theft are up 24 percent. Crimes against society, weapons law violations are up 57 percent. Total crime is up 5 percent. Total crime without drugs is up 18 percent.

SHERWOOD12:46:37

Who are you citing, just to be clear?

NUTTALL12:46:38

This is the FCPD IBR reports. And I did a little bit of research…

SHERWOOD12:46:43

That’s Fairfax County Police Department.

NUTTALL12:46:45

Fairfax County Police Department but they keep the stats but the Metro Washington Government Council are the ones who release the statistics.

SHERWOOD12:46:54

Mr. Descano?

DESCANO12:46:55

Well, I would say, look, again, here is another example of my opponent cherry picking stuff and really trading on the idea that people don’t understand our justice system or don’t have the intimate knowledge necessary. What we are talking about is, he named a couple categories of crime. as always happens, some categories, they go influx.

DESCANO12:47:14

The fact of the matter remains, we are the safest county in the country. Of course we are always striving to do better but to somehow sell the idea that we are not a safe community or that things are happening, it is completely false. And that is why the people of this town, 96 percent, say they feel safe because they are safe.

SHERWOOD12:47:34

He said 62 percent of vehicle thefts are up. Is carjacking an issue in Fairfax County? How do you prosecute that?

DESCANO12:47:40

Carjacking, in fact ,is not that big of an issue.

SHERWOOD12:47:43

It’s not a big deal, okay.

DESCANO12:47:43

And you know why? Because we work with our police department on this. While it’s still an issue in D.C. and Maryland, we put together a team with our police department, worked hand-in-hand with them and that worked out our carjacking numbers to drop off a cliff. It’s through the great work of the police department and our collaboration with them.

NNAMDI12:47:58

We only have about a minute left. Ed Nuttall, one reform you’d like to make to the office is getting rid of social media positions. Why is that?

NUTTALL12:48:06

Well, because they don’t serve us very well. What I want to do is, we talked a little bit about community outreach programs. The caller said, hey, how come we don’t know what a (word?) attorney does? I want to have outreach programs. We reach out to every district in Fairfax County every month, tell them what we’re doing and ask them what they need. No one knows what a (word?) attorney is. These races are largely ignored and we need to get the word out so the community knows what we can do and we can respond to community concerns.

NNAMDI12:48:33

And that’s about all the time we have. We are talking to two men who are both candidates for Fairfax County commonwealth attorney. Steve Descano is the incumbent. The election comes up in June, is that correct?

DESCANO12:48:47

That’s correct.

SHERWOOD12:48:47

June 20th.

DESCANO12:48:48

And early voting starts May 5th.

NNAMDI12:48:50

Steve Descano, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you. The opponent is Ed Nuttall. Ed Nuttall, thank you very much for joining us and good luck to you.

NUTTALL12:48:58

Thanks, Kojo and Tom.

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