Q. If you could pick just one reason you are running for Commonwealth’s attorney what would it be?
A. We are failing to produce a 21st century reform prosecution agenda. We have an office in free fall. We have 9 fully funded open positions so we don’t have adequate resources to address rising crime.
Q. What is your top priority?
A. Rebuilding the office and actually having an office with transparency. Three-and-a-half years ago we said we had a blackbox of data and it is still true. Only the Commonwealth’s Office has the disposition data to know if what we are saying about rising crime is true and be willing to acknowledge rising crime.
Q. You have highlighted Dehghani-Tafti’s staffing issues, and she has charged you with misrepresentation. You have said there has been a 50 percent turnover (14 prosecutors) and she has said there are currently two vacancies that she can actually fill. Can you clarify? Do you know why the staff left? What difference does it make?
A. It starts with the idea that every four years every prosecutor gets fired. In 2020 she picked her own team. But you can’t lead a team if you haven’t done it yourself; she can’t empathize with prosecutors and what they are going through. They get burned out and leave because they didn’t get support. They didn’t believe management knew what they were going through. I submitted a FOIA request to find out how many vacancies are in the office and in April it came back and said 7. The next day she showed a different graph so I made another FOIA request and it came back in May indicating there were 9 vacancies.
Q. You have stated that Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) stats report crimes against people are up 24 percent since 2018. Parissa has reported Arlington is one of the safest cities in America. How do Arlington figures compare with nationwide trends, with other jurisdictions of similar size?
A. Data from the ACPD yesterday indicated crimes against persons are up 16 percent and crimes against property up 23 percent since last year. Arlington can be relatively safe but going in the wrong direction. Crimes against persons and property are going in the wrong direction. I don’t have crime information on similar jurisdictions.
Q. Do you think Arlington residents feel safe? What do you think is their top justice and safety priority?
A. I knocked on 4,000 doors of Democratic voters likely to vote in the primary. People are on edge about their safety and their property. People have different tolerance levels about crime. I think the key issue of concern is who is Arlington going to trust to engage in safety while protecting rights. We need not to go back to one size fits all using incarceration. I believe in reform prosecution. We need greater precision in the way we apply the tools we have, individual and nuanced considering every case. We need more enlightenment; we’re not trying to break people.
Q. Dehghani-Tafti has said that over 25 percent of your individual campaign donors are from Republican donors who have given thousands to Trump. How do you get this kind of information? What difference does it make?
A. Not true. She doesn’t care. Where can she even get numbers like this? A better point is I have raised more dollars from Democratic donors than she has. She is preying on low information voters. We have seen a real backlash. I don’t think she cares at all.
Q. Your brochures indicate you will bring real justice prioritizing the needs of victims. How is this different than her statement that she has empowered victims with a prosecution model that prioritizes compassion and transparency?
A. We don’t have any real philosophical difference. I practice justice for victims and have seen that is not a core priority of hers. I think she would make a fantastic public defender and legislator. That’s what she seems to concentrate on.
Q. You have said Dehghani-Tafti has never tried a case as a Commonwealth’s Attorney comparing her background more to think tank experience. What difference does this make?
A. You can’t lead a team if you haven’t done it yourself. Attorneys will want to work for me. She doesn’t understand their day to day experience and their struggles in the job.
A. Do you agree with legalizing marijuana?
Yes. I have a concern about juveniles getting it.
Q. Do you believe in cash bail? Why or why not?
A. No. I don’t agree with allowing one person to get out because they can afford bail and another doesn’t get out because they can’t afford bail. Philosophically I oppose cash bail.
Q. How do you balance the rights of the accused with the rights of the victim?
A. Easy. I think a prosecutor is not an attorney for the victim but we have to do certain things. We have to treat the victim with dignity and respect, not giving them the outcome they want, but listening. A lot of people who are prosecutors come from a myopic view focused on the experience of defendants but when you come from that context you overly focus on outcomes. You should engage in full prosecution.
Q. How would you have handled the Braylon Meade case?
A. The family of Braylon Meade left the meeting with Dehghani-Tafti feeling like all she was focused on was the outcome for the 17-year-old kid who had killed Braylon in a drunk driving accident in Arlington last November. They didn’t feel like she listened to them. They were revictimized. One of the reasons why experience in this job is so important is that it takes you time to figure out how to work the system. In the beginning I was too legalistic, cold. It took me a while. You have to make the victim feel they have their moment, go to them and just listen. Don’t inflict anything on them, especially in the first meeting. It is a qualitative process for prosecutors who have done a lot of it. You have to start at ground zero and build up a relationship.
Q. You have said your approach is prosecutions against violent crimes, gun crimes, sexual offenses and crimes against children while diverting ones involving the mentally ill, the unhoused, people dealing with addiction and kids doing dumb things out of the criminal justice system. What is Parisa’s approach?
A. It’s the same thing. I draw a line between crimes the community wants prosecuted such as murder, rape, gangs, gun violence and cases that arise in the system due to external policy failures.
Q. Why do you think the police union recently endorsed you?
A. The current Commonwealth Attorney’s office has no relationship with the police. Parisa is not interested in prosecuting certain kinds of crimes. The police put together a tough case and see her offering soft plea deals. I have a good relationship with them.
Q. What question would you like to answer that I haven’t asked?
A. Why do I think it is so important to have raised my money from this community? She is getting outside dollars; you will see on Tuesday. People don’t feel like the justice system is working for them when money is coming from the outside.