Echols, Garrell to run for district attorney

Jan. 20, 2014 @ 09:37 PM

Roger Echols, chief assistant prosecutor in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office, said Monday he’ll enter the race to become the next DA. And a former prosecutor, Mitchell Garrell, also plans a bid for the office, according to a website posting.

If elected, they would replace Interim District Attorney Leon Stanback, whose term expires at the end of this year. Stanback, a retired Superior Court judge, was named to complete Tracey Cline’s term after Cline was removed from office.

Cline dismissed Garrell from his job in 2010 without publicly saying why. He and two others ran against Cline in 2008 and lost. Garrell could not be reached for comment Monday, but states on his website: "It is past time to begin restoring trust in the criminal justice system in Durham County."

Garrell had prosecuted violent crimes and homicides in Durham for 15 years before he was fired.

Echols said he plans to toss his hat into the ring as a Democrat on Feb. 10, the first day of filing.

In an interview Monday, Stanback, who doesn’t plan to run for the office, said he supports Echols “100 percent.”

“He’s a great guy, and very competent,” Stanback said. “He’s well-liked, and it’s my opinion that the bar [association] likes him and law enforcement likes working with him.”

Echols, 40, was hired by Cline in 2010 as an assistant district attorney. Stanback later named him his chief assistant, helping to supervise the office’s assistant DAs.

“My major goals are ensuring equal protection under the law, fairness and maintaining the integrity of the office,” Echols said.

As district attorney, Echols said, he’d be in a position to ensure that the office runs efficiently and fairly.

“I take pride in things being done a certain way – correctly, I would like to think, but in a way that is fair,” he said.

Echols said it’s important that anyone who comes in contact with the courts knows “that we administer justice in Durham County with integrity. The major way that you can have an effect on those things is from the top. Without someone in that position being committed to those things, it almost certainly won’t happen.”

The office has 20 assistant prosecutors who handle a workload that’s increased over the past 10 years.

“You’re asking people to do more with less,” he said. “So morale is important. The attitude of the leadership in the office is very important.”

Echols would inherit an office that had been plagued with troubles until Stanback took over. In 2012, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood removed Cline from office after she feuded publicly with Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson, calling him dishonest and corrupt, and asking that he be barred from hearing criminal cases in Durham County. Cline appealed her removal, but the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld it.

Before that, Mike Nifong was removed as district attorney and disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct in the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case.

Echols was born in Detroit and moved with his family to Atlanta and Memphis before settling in Hillsborough in 1977. He attended Orange County public schools and graduated from Orange High School in 1991.

He graduated from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1995 with a degree in economics, and earned his law degree in 1998 from the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville.

He moved to Durham last year.

Before joining the Durham County District Attorney’s Office, Echols worked for 12 years in the prosecutor’s office of District 9A, which serves Person and Caswell counties.

A primary will be held May 6 if another Democrat files against Echols. The general election is Nov. 4, and the winner will be sworn in the first week of January.