DA candidates Aus, Garrell talk about trust in the system
Durham district attorney candidates Brian Aus and Mitchell Garrell made their pitches to the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham at its monthly meeting Thursday at Shepherds House United Methodist Church. Candidate Roger Echols spoke at the last meeting.
Aus, a defense lawyer, and Garrell, a former Durham prosecutor, both touted their decades-long ties to Durham.
Effie Steele of the Religious Coalition said the candidates were invited to share “how they plan to keep Durham a nonviolent Durham.”
Aus, who spoke first, has been in Durham for 35 years, 29 of those practicing law. He said his vision is to make Durham a safer place for everybody. He said he would be a fresh face in the district attorney’s office and said there is a lack of communication between police, the DA and the public.
Aus said he wants to be the face of law enforcement in Durham and be personally involved. If elected, he said he would meet with religious groups, the mayor and law enforcement leaders on a regular basis.
“When you have communication, you need to rebuild trust,” Aus said. He said the DA’s office needs to be more proactive in the community than it has been the past 10 years and “rethink how we operate.”
Durham is strapped financially, he said, and talked about making the court day more efficient, as well as asking for more funding and grants. Durham also needs to have better communication with victims and have a victim coordinator so they know what’s going on with cases. He also wants pre-trial intervention and said that North Carolina is just one of two states in the country “to prosecute children – 16 year-olds – as adults. We give these kids the scarlet letter right away – a big C: criminal.”
Aus talked about the school to prison pipeline. He said that when he got in trouble as a kid, it was with the principal and punishment was detention and chores.
“It seems we’ve gotten away from that,” he said.
Garrell said he and Aus agree that there’s been a loss of trust in the justice system in Durham. Problems started with attacks by former DA Tracey Cline on a judge, he said. Garrell, who is a former assistant DA, said he was fired by Cline for revealing discovery, and would represent the cleanest break from her administration.
He also talked about his faith, growing up Southern Baptist, leaving as a teenager and spending years as an agnostic before coming back through the Unitarian church and then Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh. He’s now a member of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Durham. Garrell said he has had a life-long opposition to the death penalty.
“If elected, there will be no capital prosecution in Durham County,” Garrell said.
He said restoring trust is part of achieving a nonviolent Durham. He said almost every crime involves drugs, alcohol abuse or untreated or undertreated mental health issues. He wants more resources for judge-ordered treatment or counseling.
Garrell talked about connections to the community, and said that 13 of 20 assistant district attorneys do not live in Durham. He pointed out that candidate Echols spent most of his career in Person County. Garrell said that if he is elected, he will consider during hiring that people live in Durham or show connections to the community.
When Garrell and Aus were asked about enforcing drug policy of possession of small amounts of marijuana, both said they will uphold the law but it’s not as much of a priority as violent crime.
The primary election is May 6.