Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates

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The Dallas Examiner

Monday Night Politics: Meet the Candidates, presented by The Dallas Examiner, hosted its final forum Sept. 17 at the African American Museum. The political forum featured candidates running for the District Attorney’s office: incumbent Faith Johnson and challenger John Creuzot.

The event kicked off with Creuzot introducing himself to the audience and disclosing his main discussion points for the evening.

“Throughout this process, you all are going to be asking us questions, but I have two things that I want to make certain that I communicate to you,” the former judge said. “No. 1 – the most important issue in this election for your next district attorney will be addressing mass incarceration. And the next one I want to talk about is the word ‘trick.’”

Johnson followed shortly after, providing her four-year mission statement for the DA’s office to the crowd.

“As your Dallas County district attorney, my job and my only job is to make certain that justice is equal for everybody [in] this county,” she asserted. “Yes, I am committed, and I believe in protecting the safety of this community. I’m also committed and believe in making certain that we aggressively prosecute violent and dangerous criminals, but I’m also committed to second chances.”

A Q&A session ensued with audience members asking each contender various questions regarding policy, procedure and police brutality.

Question: What action will you be taking to ensure the safety of Black lives?

Creuzot: No. 1 – let’s start with what I started off with [by] starting a program that is designed to keep a criminal record off of you, other youth and other people. Let’s go on to the fact that mostly African American men within my program for the re-entry court where we had those great numbers because the system is designed for them to go back, and the system is designed to keep them from getting a job. But, when you talk about protecting you, it has to meet a standard and make certain that the police follow the proper procedures. … So, what are the rules? We sure don’t know, do we? And, that’s a big problem? So if you want to know my thoughts on it, hit my Facebook page. You’ll find out everything you need to know.

Johnson: I’m committed to protecting you, and everybody that looks like you, and everybody that don’t look like you because one of the things we have seen in this DA’s office is that I have to be able to collaborate. We have to be able to be proactive to make certain that you’re safe. That’s why we have different programs. We have our community advisory board; we have our interfaith board; we have our citizen advisory board. We also have our DA’s office in schools. So, what we’re doing is we are collaborating with our ‘Blue on the Block’ and different community groups because we want to be able to say before something like that happened. We want to put things in place. Now, when something like that happens and forbid it does, you got a DA who’s committed to make certain that vigorous prosecution is going to take place because I am so committed to make certain that everybody in this county is safe, protected [and] there’s justice for them. And, it doesn’t matter what you look like, and I say that everywhere I go. Black, White, Purple, Green, North Dallas, South, East, West – we want to make certain that everybody is protected. No matter who you are.

Q: How will you go about the decision to charge juveniles as adults?

Johnson: Under the family code [section 54] that juvenile provision comes, and that provision says that under certain circumstances – a lot of people call it certifying a juvenile, but what it is is transferring jurisdiction to an adult court. Now, the only person who can transfer that jurisdiction is the juvenile court judge. That person is the only one who can transfer that jurisdiction, meaning that she’s giving up. They’re giving up their venue, and they’re giving it to the adult court. In Dallas county, we had over 3,291 juveniles come through the juvenile system in 2017. Of those 3,291, only in eight of those cases did we ask that the case be transferred to an adult court. We just ask; we just have a hearing. But, as I said, the judges are the ones who make that determination, and the judges decided that seven would be transferred. The basis of that is that the provision in section 54 says if they believe that that particular juvenile is such a danger to the community that the judge decides if it ought to be transferred. So, it’s only under that basis, but remember the juvenile court is designed for rehabilitation. And, that’s what we do. 3,291 cases – we dealt with those juveniles in 2017, and we even have less hearings already in 2018. So, for the most part, 99.9 percent of them are remaining juvenile.

Creuzot: That was a very good answer that didn’t answer your question. Sounded good, didn’t it? The first point of departure in whether a juvenile gets decertified or transferred is the DA – him or herself, has to request it.

So, what you’re talking about, I bet, is these young men who recently were arrested for robbery, and after a meeting with their family and with the district attorney, there was a statement made. The statement didn’t say, ‘I’m going to let the judge decide over there.’ The statement said that ‘I’m [Johnson] going to seek certification.’ Certification has a process. It looks at the person, the youth, the background and the history and the prospects for rehabilitation. So, those are the kinds of things that I promise you that I am going to start making press conferences and having meetings, which the meeting was OK. It was the outcome of it that we’re going to jump ahead of – the work that needs to be done for the judge to decide whether the case should be certified or transferred.

The ACLU sent out a questionnaire to both of us. That question was in it. I answered. She didn’t answer any of it. The Texas Organizing Project, which fights for civil rights and criminal justice reform for poor people and people of color, sent us a questionnaire. I answered it. That was in there. The Worker’s Defense Union that fights for fair wages and living wages and good working conditions sent us out a questionnaire. I answered it. She didn’t.

Q: Greg Abbott proposed a deal that would make it hard for Black and Brown people to afford bail. Do you agree with this bill and how will you go about ending the cash bail system?

Johnson: I am absolutely for bail reform. Before we even start collaborating within the county with the different entities – county commissioners [and] judges, all the different entities that are now being formed to look at bail reform.

I was already approaching judges, misdemeanor and felony judges, about, ‘Let’s make a difference.’ Poor people should not be locked up and stay in jail just because they can’t afford to get out on bail, and I’m against that. I’m absolutely against it, and that is the reason why we have the many – although, keep in mind people, the DA’s office is not the office that actually sets the bond – but we can have influence on whether or not the judge is going to do something in regards to the bond. That’s one of the reasons for marijuana cases, 4 ounces or less.

We recommend PR bonds. We recommend that on all marijuana cases. This particular committee, we’re almost close to coming up with what we believe is an accurate assessment for a bond and that took judges, the DA’s office – we were just weighing on it, the commissioner’s court and some of the other entities in Dallas County. We will not put up, and I do believe the judges support this, too, and every entity in Dallas County supports the fact that we do need bail reform and we don’t have to put people in jail because they can’t afford it.

Creuzot: Let’s talk about whether we even file those cases that are all low level cases that don’t have anything to do with the threat to community safety because that’s what most of those cases are. Don’t believe that people with misdemeanor amounts of marijuana aren’t getting records and aren’t going to jail because that’s not true. Some of them are. Quite a number of them are. … The reality of it is that it is an underlying problem. Why don’t instead of taking them to jail, we shift them over to a place where we can solve the problem? It may be alcohol. It may be mental health. It may be drugs. We shouldn’t even be dealing with these things. That’s why I’m telling you. When I’m elected district attorney, we are going to see some things fundamentally different. And this ‘I got your back’ talk doesn’t change anything. You better change the policies, and you better start looking at what you’re doing. You better start keeping numbers just like I said – 68 percent reduction in rearrest. If we didn’t arrest you, you didn’t commit a what before that?

[‘Crime,’ the audience replied loudly.]

You got it. If you spent a dollar and saved $9.34, you get to do what? Pay some teachers some more. Let’s talk about a DA who understands numbers and got policies and got programs that is going to change something here.

NOTE: Oct. 9 is the last day for Dallas County residents to register to vote in the General and Joint Election on Election Day, Nov. 6. Early voting will begin Oct. 22 and end Nov. 2 at select voting locations in recreation centers, schools and libraries throughout the county.

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