My top priority as a DA, and of anyone in office or even thinking about running, should be your victims. Victims are why we do what we do as prosecutors; serving those in need. Victims were always my top priorty when i worked in the Chatham DA office and, in private practice, i have continued to serve victims of domestic violence. In March of 2023 i recieved the award for most pro bono hours in the County. This was done by handling dozens of temporary protective order hearings for domestic violence victims though the local charity organization Safe Shelter at no cost to Safe Shelter or the victims.
Victims of crimes often have no idea how the legal system works, no idea of any resources available to them, and basically no idea what is going on. It is the DUTY of a DA and his/her assistances to hold these victims’ hands throughout the entire process and to explain everything to them in a way they understand. Not only is this a duty though, but it is a constitutional right. The passage of Marcys Law as a statute, and later added as a constitution amendment to the GA constitution, ensures that all victims have a right to be informed, involved, and heard every step of the way. Ignoring victims concerns, as the current adminsitration does routinely, is not only wrong, but a violation of the law and an elected DA's Oath of Office
If elected as DA I promise you my administration will put victims first again.
Drugs And Case Backlogs:
I was hired by Meg Heap in 2015 and worked under her until January 1st, 2021, when the office changed from her hands to Shalena Cook Jones’ hands. I then stayed on under Shalena until March of the following year. I didn’t know much about Shalena, other than she was a self-proclaimed “progressive prosecutor.” With this in mind I looked at my caseload and thought “how can I make things more efficient with someone like Shalena.” Well I looked over the entire Superior Court case load and learned that about 60% of all felony cases were drug related. This included everything from possession of less than a gram of a scheduled substance to the selling and trafficking of deadly fentanyl. However, 40% of these cases consisted of individuals charged with simple possession of an illegal substance, who never had a charge before, and did not get arrested again for 2 or more years. So I created a diversion program.
In this diversion program, everyone charged with a drug possession crime (and only drug possession, no attached dui or felony) would be automatically enrolled. If that individual were to go 2 years without getting another arrest, they were most likely not an addict, and the case would be dismissed. If the individual wanted to have the case dismissed sooner, they would need to actively enroll in the diversion program, pay a probation related fee, and provided 2 clean drug screens 3 months apart. This would again prove they were not an addict.
The point of all of this was to separate the addicts and the dealers from those that were not. Court resources are not infinite and should be used with that in mind. As DA, I want to have someone charged with trafficking fentanyl tried, sentenced, and in prison quickly. But under the current system there are 10+ simple possession cases standing in that fentanyl cases way. As DA I want the drug addict to be focused on with treatment and resources through probation focused on them, not a probation officer over whelmed with cases of people found with one pill in their car that may not have even been theirs. Conservation of resources and the effective use of those resource is how we make this whole judicial system work better. And not using up resources on those that aren’t addicts and don’t need them is a giant step in that direction.
So, under this program, 40% of 60% of all cases would be worked out without anyone ever needing to enter a courtroom. That’s an automatic, day one, reduction in active and backlog cases of 1/4th. This will massively reduce the number of cases an ADA has to cover, allowing them to work on crafting pleas to help addicts and dedicating time to try and send to prison drug dealers. This will massively reduce the number of cases awaiting a trial and will also speed up the time in which it takes for a drug dealer to face a jury. And this will massively reduce the caseloads of probation offices, allowing them the time to actually help those that do have an addiction.
This plan was presented to DA Cook Jones. The proposal, the numbers, the benefits laid out, and the paperwork to sign people up for the diversion program. I didn’t hear anything back. I asked about it here and there over the next few months, but never got a response and eventually gave up on it. Then, 8 months after giving my proposal I saw it, but it had been changed. Instead of working to focus on drug addicts and dealers, the program had been changed into the “Show Us Your Guns” diversion program, a program dedicated to dismissing the charges of individuals charged with gun related offenses. I had to read it 3 times to actually believe it. My program to help addicts and reduce backlog cases had changed into a program that helped criminals looking to use deadly force.
If you elect me as your new DA, I promise that we will not be cutting breaks for violent criminals with guns. Instead I will be rolling out my drug diversion plan, as intended, to free up valuable court docket space to prosecute those criminals.
No one should be punished purely for having a mental health issue, but we also cannot let people getaway with violent actions just because they have an untreated illness. Unfortunately, often times the court system is one of the only ways we have to go about helping them. That being said, this does not mean that convictions are they only way to go about dealing with mental health defendants.
Through my years of experience ive seen that many crimes are committed by defendants suffering from mental health issues that are either undiagnosed or untreated due to person hardships or misguided beliefs that the person doesn’t have a mental health issue. Treatment can be obtained without convictions though, through the bond process, Under my administration my office will work closely with the judges and opposing counsel to craft bonds with conditions that require treatment for mental health. These bond conditions will required that defendant to seek treatment and to take all medication as prescribed to remain out on bond. We will also work with law enforcement and local non-profits to make sure that these individuals are checked up on often to confirm they are following their bond conditions. This will ensure they are doing what they need to do to get better. Once they have stabilized, there may no longer be an issue of them reoffending. At this point the case will likely be dismissed, with the victims permission should there be one of course.
The goal of my office will not necessarily be to seek convictions. As ive said before the goal is always to “never see a defendant in the courtroom again.” This bond/ mental health program will achieve this.
As DA of Chatham County it is your duty to care for all of Chatham’s citizens, from the individual that owns 2 or 3 homes in the county, to the person sleeping on the streets. Our homeless are some of the most vulnerable of these individuals. However, anyone who has recently gone to downtown Savannah will know, we have a homeless problem.
Homelessness can impact a person for many reasons. Losing a job and falling on hard times is certainly one reason, but also drug addiction and mental health is a significant cause. The current administrations practice of dismissing all cases involving homeless individuals may sound like the caring approach to the uninformed, but in reality it is pure cruelty. Let me give you a personal example:
While in the Chatham DA office we had one individual who was classified as homeless; lets call him John Doe. John would routinely be arrested for screaming and intimidating strangers and walking in the middle of the road. Nothing violent, but a consistent annoyance and concern for the neighborhood and visiting tourists. I could have taken the approach the current administration did and continuously dismiss his cases and send him back out on the streets, but that’s not justice in my eyes. So instead, I worked with the courts and the sheriff to have him held in jail and evaluated for mental illness, which was quickly diagnosed as schizophrenia. This was a treatable form of schizophrenia and it was able to be control with regular shots of medication. Working together with other departments we were able to get him medicated to a degree that he could have a productive conversation with investigators about his issues. What we learned was that he was out on the streets because his family had been stealing his SSI check for months while locking him out of the house. He had nowhere to go and no way to get to his doctors appointments and, as he went longer and longer without his medication, he began to deteriorate mentally until I got involved. Using this information, we were able to bring charges against the family for the negligence, abuse, and theft. By the end of the process the family was prosecuted, the SSI checks were returned directly to John and, to this day, I have never seen him out on the streets again.
It is not caring or kind to leave someone suffering from mental illness in the streets. Likewise, it is not caring or kind to allow a drug addict to die of their addiction alone in a tent under a bridge. No one wants to deal with a criminal court case, but often times that is the only avenue available for saving the life of an addict. I am always open to new ideas for fighting addiction, but taking the court system completely out of the picture is not an option.
Overall, Chatham County, the City of Savannah, and local non-profits and organizations have made great efforts to help our most vulnerable citizens. And that work needs to be continued. But I want to focus on the word “citizens (of Chatham County).” One of the reasons we have seen an uptick in homelessness is that our County does have so many services to assist those in need. And word has gotten around. Cities like Jacksonville, Hinesville, Charleston, and many others have sought to solve their own homeless issues by bussing them hear. This is not fair to Chatham County, nor is it fair to the individual. We as a community need to come together and help our Chatham County brothers and sisters. And we have! But we did not sign up to fix the worlds problems. The bussing of individuals with no home or place to live to Chatham County has to stop. As DA these cities will be warned; do not send your homeless population here. If you do, we will send them back. These cities need to be forced to fix their own perceived issues. And if they continue this course civil litigation will not be off the table.
Discovery and Plea Offers:
One complaint I hear regularly from local defense attorneys is: I cant get discovery, I cant get a plea offer, and there is no one in the DA office to talk to. This slows the entire process down and is unfair to defendants. If you are charged with a crime you are entitled to know what the evidence against you is. And as a prosecutor, if you have a very solid cases, you should want the defendant to know that. That’s the difference between a quick plea and a long drawn out path to trial.
Under my administration it will be required to return emails and phone calls in a timely manner. I’m not going to say same day because, trust me, if you are in trial you have a one track mind. But it will be timely. And if its not done timely, I want to know. My number is not a secret and most defense attorneys already have it. If there is a problem, these attorneys can always call or text me and I will get the issue solved. (and if you dont have my number: 912-692-5777)
Furthermore, I believe discovery and plea offers should be made available at the earliest time possible. There is no reason it cant be handed over at the time of arraignment. Many of the surrounding counties do it already. The faster you can get offers and discovery over to defense, the faster you can handle the case appropriately.
Contacting Your Elected Official:
If elected, I work for you! Though my number and contact information can be found throughout my site, I will provided it all again here. If you need me, I will answer or call you/email you back when I can. Now, given the nature of criminal law and prosecution, my answer to a defendant calling me may have to be “I cant talk to you, you need to talk to your defense attorney.” But I will not be hard to track down. During the campaign and during my time in office, I can be reached at 912-692-5777, or firstname.lastname@example.org. I intend to keep that email running even after the election, but if elected I will also have a new County email address, for which I will provided once it is given to me.
You should always be able to get into contact with your elected officials. We work for you. You are the employers.
Fully Staffing the Office: