DA Candidates Discuss County Issues in NAACP Forum
It was held by the Berkshire NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Central Berkshire County, the League of Women Voters of Williamstown, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell gave the two an A-minus rating for their participation. He said the grade was extremely high in comparison to the sheriff's race forum the organization held last month when moderator Helen Moon had to rein in incumbent Thomas Bowler and his challenger Alf Barbalunga a number of times for addressing one another or going off-topic.
"I want to thank Andrea Harrington and I want to thank attorney Tim Shugrue for your presentation tonight, for the respect that you showed not only to our organization but to each other," Powell said.
"This is difficult work and our job is to really inform or make sure that our community is informed."
Shugrue did directly address Harrington when asked about the use of dangerousness hearings. At the end of the legislative session, Gov. Charlie Baker attempted to attach an expansion of the use of dangerousness hearings -- or 58A, which permits defendants to be held pre-trial without access to bail— to a budget bill related to no-cost calls from county jails.
The candidates had mixed responses to Baker's controversial move. Harrington said that in her experience, there are some instances when she would like to use a 58A where it is not available such as a statutory rape case.
She also pointed out that her office gets one opportunity very early on to request that the court hold a person pre-trial and she would like to have a bit more time.
Shugrue said he opposes the bill because it is "full of racial inequities" and claimed that Harrington supported it.
"My understanding is that the rules were that we were supposed to talk about our own positions and not be talking about each other," she said to moderator Meg Bossong. "That was not adhered to on the dangerousness question I would like to go back and respond to what was said."
Because there were too many questions to answer, Bossong said she would like to move on and Harrington clarified that she "100 percent does not agree with the dangerousness bill being sent to study."
Her opponent then called her out for "not following the rules" and Bossong quickly got the conversation back on track.
Harrington defeated incumbent Paul Caccaviello not once but twice in 2018 on a platform of criminal justice reform to become the county's first woman to run the district attorney's office.
Shugrue is a former assistant district attorney and has 36 years of experience in prosecution and defense. He ran for DA in 2004 but lost to then Assistant District Attorney David Capeless.
When asked if the candidates would notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they had an undocumented person who was to be criminally charged and had an administrative warrant, Harrington made it clear that her office does not cooperate with ICE.
"One of our most critical goals is to build trust with the community and the immigrant community is a community that is particularly distrustful of law enforcement and it limits our ability to be able to investigate cases. That vulnerable population is less likely to report if they've been victims of crime so my message to the immigrant community and to the community at large is very clearly unequivocally my office does not cooperate with ICE," she said.
"We do not notify ICE anything about our cases at all, ever. That is our policy. It is a very firm policy. All of our prosecutors know what the policy is. It's important when we have a criminal prosecution of a serious case that we be permitted to follow that prosecution through to its conclusion. If ICE finds out about it, they could potentially deport that individual prior to our being able to conclude our case and it is not the role nor is it necessary for the district attorney's office to be communicating with ICE."
Shugrue said every case is different and it depends on the seriousness of the crime.
"If someone's charged with a minor drug offense and ICE wants to come and take them, I don't think it's appropriate for us to do that," he elaborated.
"However, if it's a case that it's a very serious, violent felony and a conviction does happen, I think we have an obligation at that point in time to assist, and not assist but notify, that's all, we're not going to assist them but notify them but that's again, you got to take a look at every single case. We should not be doing blanket policies."
When asked if the prosecution of drug-related cases reduce use or addiction over the last 50 years the candidates also had varied takes.
Shugrue has previously called Harrington's progressive leadership an "awful experiment" and spoke against the dismissal of crimes.
During this forum, he spoke in favor of pre-trial diversion, which allows some people charged with crimes to escape criminal prosecution and have their case dismissed as long as they complete a required program.
"I don't know if we'll ever get rid of the greed that exists with people selling drugs. That's why drug dealers come in here because they make a lot of money and they pounce on individual people to give drugs away for free. They get them hooked on drugs. And so we deal with it," he said.
"I also think we've recognized certainly more recently, the need to help people out and get people through the process because an addict won't get help unless we help them get there because if you leave an addict out there the draw to heroin it's so incredibly demanding and controlling of a person's body that they won't get that help."
Harrington doesn't believe that the prosecution of drug crimes has had a positive impact on the actual health and well-being of the community.
"I do think that drug prosecution is beneficial to public safety in terms of addressing people who are committing violence in our community, addressing these quality-of-life issues for people who live in neighborhoods where there are houses where drug dealing is going on. We have to have a certain amount of law in order to address those issues," she said.
"But the way that Berkshire County is really going to address the problem that we have with people who are struggling with drug use is by addressing the demand for drugs. That's through harm reduction. Harm reduction is evidence-based. It works."
To conclude the forum, the two were asked what biases and inequities they are concerned about in the criminal justice system and how they plan to address them in Berkshire County.
Harrington said her office has worked to address this in a number of ways including a revision of the way they read police reports with the knowledge that trauma exists for BIPOC people, looking for coded language, and considering systems of racism when making decisions about cases.
Shugrue said that he has seen a great deal of bias and inequities in his tenure of criminal defense work and made his campaign slogan "justice for all" to emphasize treating people equally.
The forum was titled "What a Difference a DA Makes" and began with a presentation from the ACLUM about the role, impact, and history of DA races in the state and county.
Secretary of state candidate Tanisha Sullivan opened the event. A native of Boston, she said she aims to protect and expand voting rights, create a more transparent and accessible government, and foster greater economic opportunity for everyone in the state.
"I believe that the office of secretary of state is probably one of the least known offices in our state government with the most important responsibility, really helping to protect and advance our democracy," she said.
"I believe that this office has tremendous potential to help us advance economic, racial, and social justice in ways that we just haven't seen before."
Powell closed the evening by saying local-level politics can at times inform national politics and urged residents to vote.
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