Letter: Williams should continue his good work as DA

Graphic by Lori Deaton

We and many of our progressive friends support [Todd] Williams for what he has accomplished since he was elected four years ago. Most importantly, he has the support of those who work in the judicial system.

We’re puzzled by last week’s letter writer, who listed all the progressive changes that Williams’ opponent will make in the DA’s office [“Scales Puts Forth Truly Progressive Agenda,” April 25, Xpress]. Oddly, the writer listed [some of the] changes Williams has already carried out:
• Combined a variety of services under one roof for vulnerable victims of violent crime through the Child Advocacy and Family Justice Centers.
• Implemented new options for rehab, job training and other services in lieu of punishment for effective, compassionate outcomes.
• Helped veterans with minor offenses and drug convictions clear their records so they can get jobs.
• Proposed offering new mothers alternatives to incarceration.
• Put plans in place, in collaboration with judges, to pursue aggressive strategies to reduce the jail population and reform cash bail.
• Appointed the first black assistant DA.

Our district attorney has acted with integrity to date. For instance, while some question the timing of charges against [Asheville Police Officer Chris Hickman in the beating of resident Johnnie Rush], the DA had to have an investigation submitted to his office prior to seeking charges. Others question why body-cam videos weren’t released in the interest of transparency, but only a judge could order their release, and the DA knew that release of the videos could jeopardize the criminal case. …

In a recent judicial district Bar Association’s candidate forum, his opponent, Ben Scales, agreed that “the key is being transparent with the public after justice has been served.” Scales also stated that he, too, would require an investigation prior to seeking charges against the officer.

Todd Williams considers the circumstances of each crime, rather than reflexively pushing for the harshest possible punishment. He supports a new program that will keep nonviolent, first-time offenders out of jail with the offer of a chance to get their life back on track.

Aren’t those all the kind of progressive actions we want our district attorney to implement?

Williams has been endorsed by, among others, Drew Reisinger, Dr. Olson Huff, Steve Cogburn, Van Duncan and Terry Van Duyn. He deserves your vote in this primary election to continue his good work as Buncombe County district attorney.

Your vote is critical in this normally low turnout primary, as the winner will face no opponent in the November election.

Thank you for voting!

— Valerie Hoh, community activist
Beth Jezek
Asheville

Editor’s note: The Urban News reported April 13 that Williams plans to employ African-American attorney Jorge Redmon, who is licensed to practice in Georgia, as an assistant district attorney once he is licensed by the N.C. State Bar.

However, two readers have pointed out that Redmon would not be Buncombe County’s first black assistant district attorney. The late Asheville attorney Howard McGlohon served as an assistant DA years ago prior to entering private practice.

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Williams should continue his good work as DA

  1. Please fact check

    I wonder Valerie, if you became aware that the things you stated in your letter are in fact untrue, if you would reconsider your public promotion of Mr. Williams? In that effort, please allow me to politely correct your statements with cited research, in the order of your list:

    • The creation of both the Mountain Child Advocacy Center and the Buncombe County Family Justice Center was the result of efforts by many people far prior to Mr. William’s tenure in office (which began January 1, 2015). This group of people included multiple community partners, non-profit organizations, and law enforcement agencies, with the effort gaining significant support largely as a response to the high number of domestic homicides which occurred in Buncombe County in 2013. Planning and initial execution for the FJC in particular involved the administration not of Mr. Williams but of the prior DA, along with Helpmate, Our Voice, the YWCA, Pisgah Legal Services, and Mission Hospital, along with the Asheville Police Department and the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office among others. Mr. Williams did not “carry out” this “change” (the “combination of services under one roof for victims of violent crime…” as you state in your letter).
    • The District Attorney does not “implement new options for rehab, job training and other services in lieu of punishment”. This is the role of community providers and nonprofit organizations, the DAinstead simply agrees to dismiss or plea down charges for compliance based on involvement. Unfortunately several of Mr. Williams’ decisions to dismiss and/or plea down charges have directly resulted in the death and serious injury of multiple members of our community. Let us not forget one of the worst examples of his behavior which involved dismissal and reduction of multiple violent felony charges, including Possession of a Firearm by Felon and Assault with a Deadly Weapon with Intent to Kill, to a misdemeanor assault charge with a 75-day punishment. This plea deal was given to a man with a previous history of violent felonies which included the use of a deadly/dangerous weapon on a person. As a result of the plea deal given to that man, who should have been in prison and was a clear threat to our community, he was able to shoot and kill Candace Pickens and her unborn child, as well as shoot and seriously injure her 3-year-old son. See: http://wlos.com/news/local/now-back-in-asheville-accused-murderer-scheduled-to-make-first-court-appearance
    • With regard to veterans, a specific court to help them was and remains necessary, which is why predecessors of Mr. Williams and not Mr. Williams himself, begun planning for Veteran’s Treatment Court back in 2011, 4 years before Mr. Williams was sworn into office. The MOU authorizing this court was signed by/ between Buncombe County and the Asheville VA and this program was and continues to be led by a very caring Superior Court Judge named Marvin Pope. See: https://www.asheville.va.gov/ASHEVILLE/features/Veterans_Treatment_Court.asp
    • Regarding what you state are Mr. William’s “proposals” to offer new mothers alternatives to incarceration and “plans [to] pursue aggressive strategies to reduce the jail population and reform cash bail” these plans have only recently alluded to by Mr. Williams and have not in the past 3+ years been undertaken or significantly promoted by Mr. Williams (who, not incidentally, routinely sends out press releases about himself and his office). Do you find it odd these are now plans he claims to have had which directly mirror items found on the platform of his opponent Mr. Scales?
    • If Mr. Redmon has been hired as a new assistant DA, I wish him the best of luck and many sincere thanks for his commitment to public service, however he will not be the first African-American ADA in Buncombe County. To state the same is not only untrue but offensive to at least one individual who worked in that capacity many years ago and who is not only still living but has gone on to become a fantastic community leader and advocate outside the city of Asheville.

    Additionally, regarding investigation of the APD officer, are you aware that there are many legal mechanisms by which DAs routinely contact the SBI immediately upon receipt of information regarding excessive use of force by an officer? In fact, when an independent investigation is desired by a DA it is typical practice for the DA to call the SBI directly to request one (see this document produced by the NC District Attorneys Association for the North Carolina State Best Practices Committee to describe standard practice for DAs in North Carolina in these types of cases: http://pceinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/20161200-Investigating-and-Prosecuting-Use-of-Force-Incidents-in-North-Carolina-Best-Practices-Committee-North-Carolina-Conference-of-District-Attorneys.pdf). This document cites to multiple North Carolina General Statutes which give a DA full authority to request an SBI investigation independently of any law enforcement investigation. The document also specifically state,s contrary to Mr. William’s statements blaming the SBI for not taking the investigation when Williams finally made a request over 6 months after the incident, “The SBI does not have original jurisdiction in these matters unless a request is made pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 143B‐917. Generally, the head of the law enforcement agency, his or her designee, or the District Attorney (DA) will promptly contact either the Special or Assistant Special Agent in Charge (SAC or ASAC) of his or her SBI district to request an independent investigation.” It continues stating, “The DA should make reasonable efforts to communicate with and coordinate with law enforcement agencies to ensure the integrity of the investigation and that the release of any information is done in compliance with ethical obligations. During the course of the investigation, it is the policy of the SBI to release the name of the officer(s) involved and not to appear at press conferences with the DA. The SBI is not the only agency that conducts these types of investigations. Therefore, the DA should become familiar with the policies and procedures of any agency that is conducting a use of force investigation.” Mr. Williams doesn’t dispute the fact he didn’t request the SBI investigate until many months after he saw the video (because he can’t), but instead he has publicly blamed APD for not initiating an SBI investigation that he himself can independently initiate and which is regularly independently initiated by other DAs across our state.

    Lastly, have you considered that after watching the video and dismissing the charge against Mr. Rush, Mr. Williams took no action to notify at least 28 other offenders or their attorneys, including Anthony Morrow a man charged with resisting arrest by the same officer, that he had seen evidence which would affect the credibility of the charging officer in their cases? Mr. Williams only took action to dismiss these cases after the video was seen on the news and after Morrow’s public defender, who first became aware of the video by seeing it on the news, raised the issue in Superior Court. Perhaps I’m veering outside the fact-checker role here in stating this but I thought our city and our county was about justice for everyone. Leaving people to sit in jail for months and continuing to prosecute cases when you as the DA had knowledge that concerned you enough about the officer in their cases to dismiss Mr. Rush’s charge, doesn’t feel like justice for all to me. (See https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/local/2018/04/04/west-asheville-man-federal-probe-charged-resisting-officer-police-beating/487115002/)

  2. Jane

    Our current District Attorney Todd Williams covered-up the vicious racially motivated beating of black pedestrian Johnny Rush and only brought charges against former Asheville Police Department Sergeant Hickman when the national media shamed him into it 6 months after Mr. Rush was racially profiled, beaten, strangled and electrocuted by Sgt. Hickman. It is simply not believable that Williams did not see the entire body camera footage when it was first shown to him in September (or was it August because the date keeps changing?). He saw enough in his first viewing to drop the charges against Mr. Rush, yet he didn’t see enough to know several felonies had been committed by Hickman against Rush? What did he see in his second viewing months after the incident that so dramatically changed his thinking that he then all of a sudden knew crimes had been committed against Rush? Not credible.

    It is a District Attorney’s job to be curious about crimes in their community and DA Williams categorically failed to show any interest in prosecuting crimes when they were committed by police against those they were sworn to protect. And let’s not forget that there was a local election happening with vulnerable incumbents desperately trying to hold on to power (Gwen Wisler), APD was asking for a controversial 1.7 million dollar increase in their budget and was up for recertification of CALEA, and of course, it was leaf season and let’s not upset the beer drinking tourists (Williams owns a financial interest in the Wedge Brewery). That Williams is too weak to hold law enforcement accountable for their crimes alone makes him unfit for office. But what’s worse is that he covered up his cover-up of his failure to act with even more lies and changing timelines. At the only DA candidate forum he bothered to show up to, he lied repeatedly to the faces of everyone in attendance. He had to know he would be asked about Hickman, yet he stumbled all over himself trying to explain it. He can’t explain it because nothing he has said about it is believable or true. Every single day in Buncombe County civilians go down to the magistrate and take out warrants against other civilians without the benefit of an investigation or police witnesses or videos. Everyday people are arrested on other people’s word and into the system they go. Williams had full authority to charge Hickman the day of the crime and he refused until the NYT got the story and he was forced to act. He lied in the forum and said he didn’t have authority to charge Hickman but a few moments later stated his investigators are the one who investigated him and arrested him. Which is it? And then of course, when Williams finally got around to charging Hickman, he charged him with the lowest levels possible, ensuring Hickman will never see a day in jail. He also gave him an unsecured bond, which would have never happened for any other defendant facing the same charges. Mr. Rush spent the night in jail with an untreated head injury because he didn’t have the money to bail himself out.

    There are many other leadership failures that can be mentioned about Williams but this incident alone makes him unfit to be our district attorney.

  3. Emmet Carney

    There have been black assistant district attorneys in this county before. This point is wrong.

    • Tracy Rose

      Thank you for pointing that out. We will update the editor’s note shortly.

  4. cecil bothwell

    The crap offered against Todd Williams bears no serious scrutiny.
    Williams is the most progressive and racially fair DA Buncombe has ever known. His opponent is full of BS but has virtually no experience dealing with the really serious cases our court system faces. The attorneys who have worked with Williams on both defense and prosecution know that he is deeply aware of the law and the consequences of the law. Scales is a lightweight and not a good choice for DA.

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