Kojo examines the longstanding structural issues plaguing D.C.’s central jail, what’s being done to fix them, and what city leaders plan to do about the aging facility.
A shooting unsettles residents of one of the District’s most rapidly changing neighborhoods. Virginia’s lieutenant governor takes a pass on shaking up the commonwealth’s race for governor. And barring any disruptions, a plan to end the death penalty in Maryland barrels toward a final vote. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Angela Alsobrooks Maryland State's Attorney, Prince George's County
- Tommy Wells Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Featured Video Clip
D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) talked about the drive-by shooting this week in Northwest Washington that injured 13 people, and why he initially blamed area nightclubs for the violence. “It was one car after another, almost Chicago gangland style. That’s just not who we are as a city anymore,” Wells said. “This behavior is incompatible with where we are as a city,” he added.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Got a lot to talk about today as soon as that Tom Sherwood shows up. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, hurrying into the studio even as we speak. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI'm happy to be here. I want the record to show that I was here in the studio and sitting down, but I went out to greet someone to be polite, and that's why I was late, and I apologize.
NNAMDISee, that's what happens when you are a minor celebrity in this town. People are always waiting around to greet you and draw you away from the task at hand. But Tom Sherwood is back and in our studio. Tom Sherwood, Bill Bolling, the lieutenant governor of Virginia, has decided that he is not going to launch an independent candidacy for governor this after a vacation in the Caribbean.
NNAMDIBut it seems to have sent governor -- or Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli scrambling to make up the ground in the center lane because he has generally been associated with the far right, and it seems as if he is moving to the center very rapidly because it was generally assumed that there were members of the business community in Virginia who were likely to support Bill Bolling. Now, Ken Cuccinelli feels that that's available to him.
NNAMDIAnd according to the story in the National Journal that he now is calling for middle-class tax cuts and education reform. He only briefly referred at the Conservative Political Action Conference to his crusades against abortion, environmental regulations and Pres. Obama's health care law. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, he's doing what any good mainstream political person would do.
NNAMDIMoving to the center.
SHERWOODYou know, first, Bill Bolling said that he didn't run because he had an issue with how much money he could really get to make a difference...
SHERWOOD...in a third-party-type race, independent race. And he said he also didn't want to give up on the Republican Party, although he doesn't like to the direction in which it's going. And he talked about he needed to be a mainstream governor, which Terry McAuliffe is now trying to, you know, also be in the middle on that. But Cuccinelli, he said he would not sign the Grover-Norquist tax pledge. That's a move to the middle.
SHERWOODHis speech to the CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Committee, had all the right red meat in it for the conservatives. But, you know, this is a general election campaign. The middle is where the votes are. Cuccinelli doesn't have to worry about someone taking votes from him on the right. He's not gonna get any on the left. So he has to appeal to the middle, and that's what we see.
NNAMDIAnd does this matter at all to Terry McAuliffe the fact that Bill Bolling dropped out? I guess it does matter to the extent that in his camp I'm pretty sure the thinking was that Bill Bolling would draw votes away from Ken Cuccinelli. Now that that is not likely to be the case, does Terry McAuliffe have to adjust his strategy in any way shape or form?
SHERWOODYou know, I think Terry McAuliffe's strategy has been pretty clear here on this program, and that's where he's trying to run. I'll be a good steward of the governor's office. He's not promoting a lot of social programs. He's not denouncing conservatives. He says I can take the reins of a state that's been run well by Mark Warner and Bob McDonnell. And that's what he's trying to do.
SHERWOODHe does have a background as being a prolific fundraiser for the Clintons and that and the various wings of the Democratic Party. But I think you'll see -- I mean they may have a head-on clash by rushing to the middle for both of these major candidates. It will be a clear race now for the people of Virginia.
NNAMDIIt's certainly will be and Bill Bolling's decision itself not to enter the race. It was always felt that his chances would be slim given that the attorney general had garnered the nomination of the Republican Party. Bill Bolling felt and some people felt he felt deservedly that this should have been his turn, and so there was probably some bitterness, maybe even some anger on his part. But a Caribbean vacation seems to have gotten rid of that.
SHERWOODWell, I think a Caribbean vacation would help anyone. I do think the bad news for Mr. Cuccinelli, Atty. Gen. Cuccinelli, is that Bill Bolling did not withdraw or stop the speculation about an independent race and endorsed Mr. Cuccinelli. He simply said he would not run an independent campaign. He stopped significantly short of endorsing Mr. Cuccinelli and said he was very concerned about the direction of the Republican Party.
NNAMDIWell, Bill Bolling will not be running, so now, it is essentially a two-person race. Of course, there is another person in the race, but he is not expected to get very -- from the expression on Tom Sherwood's face alone, one can tell that he doesn't think very highly of...
SHERWOODWell, that candidate who shall be -- not be named at this moment...
SHERWOOD...because it's kinda a candidate who isn't quite a candidate but it is a candidate. I would say let's wait until the news is made by that person and then we will cover it.
NNAMDIExactly. Suffice it to say that he once went to the White House uninvited, but that's a whole -- another story about that candidate. The former county executive of Anne Arundel County, John Leopold, was convicted in January of ordering his taxpayer-funded police security detail to take on chores for his 2010 re-election campaign and of directing county employees to perform personal tasks that included draining a urinary catheter bag.
NNAMDIHe resigned three days later. Well, Circuit Judge Dennis Sweeney ordered him to serve 60 days -- 30 days in jail and another 30 under house arrest. He's also been sentenced to several hundred hours of community service. I think given his age and his health condition, Tom Sherwood, there was some surprise that he got actually -- actual jail time.
SHERWOODHe could have gotten two years. I mean he was a two-year sentence with 60 days served just as you described but in -- the rest of it suspended. But, you know, 70 years old is not -- being 70 is not a pass from being in prison or in jail for horrendous misuse of public duties. So, you know, people there in the county, Anne Arundel County, just are not feeling that sympathetic for him. He looks and pathetic when he's led away from the courthouse -- I mean from the courtroom in handcuffs and wasn't even given the decency, the chance to go home and get ready to go to jail.
SHERWOODWell, a lot of people don't get that. You know, they go right to jail, and they should be thinking of that when they're signing their police escorts to go out and do political things like take down the signs of other candidates.
NNAMDIIs jail like this...
SHERWOODI don't -- if you don't hear any sympathy in my voice is because there isn't any.
NNAMDIIs there like in baseball a designated hitter rule? Can he have somebody serve the jail time for him? You know, that's his way of doing things.
SHERWOODWell, he can spend those 30 days in jail and 30 days of house arrest thinking about how he trashed his name and his career by being completely insensitive to the people of Anne Arundel County.
NNAMDIThe number to call if you'd like to join this conversation is 800-433-8850. When it comes to violence...
SHERWOODOh, excuse me, $100,000 fine, did we mention that?
NNAMDIOh, yes, there is -- yes, there is a $100,000 fine for former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold. When it comes to violence, like the recent shooting on North Capitol Street in Washington or recent homicides of students in Prince George's County, what do you think leaders could do at the local level that would be most helpful if anything at all? Give us a call at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIYou can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Why do we bring this up? Because joining us in the studio right now is Tommy Wells. He is a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat from Ward 6 who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, so these matters are of primary importance to him. Council member Wells, thank you so much for joining us.
COUNCIL MEMBER TOMMY WELLSThank you for inviting me on. Good to see you, gentlemen.
SHERWOODWould this be considered grandstanding, accepting an invitation to come, you know, the mayor accuse a council member and the mayor's staff accuse the council member of grandstanding over this terrible incident on North Capitol Street?
NNAMDIWell, I don't think he would consider appearing on this broadcast as grandstanding because he will be invited here himself pretty soon. Thirteen people shot on North Capitol Street early Monday morning in front of an eight-story apartment tower around the corner from a pair of nightclubs around another corner from a neighborhood where developers are trying to attract new residents to upscale condos and trendy restaurants.
NNAMDIIn the immediate wake of the shootings, Council member Wells, you are quick to point your finger at the nightclubs and suggested they be shut down. You walked that back yesterday. What was your initial train of thought, and how did it evolved during the past several days?
WELLSWell, first of all, it's incredibly shocking to have 13 people shot in a drive-by shooting. If you saw it on the YouTube video, it was one car after another, almost Chicago gangland style. And that's just not who we are as a city anymore. And I think -- and I was shocked by it and was very upset about it. And, you know, when I was trying to understand why were there so many young people out at 2:15 in the morning on a Sunday night, someone said, well, you know, they just had an event over at one of the clubs at Fur.
WELLSAnd so they were coming over from the club, and I know that there had been an extraordinary number of police calls and assaults related to the club. And I, you know, out of frustration and anger that I, you know, we have to be able to keep our citizens safe. And we're just -- we've got to be beyond the days of a drive-by shooting like this. Now, what I don't think this -- for me, this is not about, you know, whether it's compatible in the neighborhood or not compatible, this behavior is incompatible with where we are as a city. And again, this is about three -- 13 people getting shot. We could be talking about 13 people dead.
SHERWOODWhat prompted you to say to yourself that you might have overreacted in terms of the clubs because, you know, people in the neighborhoods don't like the rowdiness of those clubs but there are rowdy clubs in Adams Morgan? They're starting to be some rowdiness on U Street and other places in town.
SHERWOODAs you know, the city -- on the one hand, they want to come to the vibrancy of some of these places. On the other hand, you don't want people crowding out on the streets at 2:00 a.m.
WELLSWell, part of it is that I don't know what happened in the club. I mean there's a legitimate question of was I jumping into a conclusion or assumption, and I thought about that. You know, I know that there's a history of violence with the club, and I know that the club had just led out, and that it's circumstantial. And I want to be responsible. And so I don't know for a fact that this stemmed from a dispute in the club.
WELLSAnd, you know, I asked the police chief, and she said we don't have that information. So I wanted to be careful about that. And then also, the focus for me is not the club. The focus is on the 13 people that got shot, standing out on our, you know, street, you know, in eyesight of the Capitol. It doesn't matter whether it's in eyesight of the Capitol or not, but the fact that we had 13 people shot in a drive-by shooting.
NNAMDIWhat connection would you make if you're interested in joining this conversation between violent shootings like the one on North Capitol Street and the way that nightclubs or affordable housing complexes shape neighborhoods? Do you object to people trying to make any connection at all? Give us a call, 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODI meant to ask you first it's Friday now and noon, and this event occurred on Tuesday morning, on Monday morning, 2:00 a.m. What do we know now that we didn't know at the start of the week? There are wanted posters out for the two guys that the police are looking for, persons of interest, a car. Why the police -- they have pictures of the people. They know their names.
SHERWOODThey have a car. Why can't the police fugitives squad or whatever squad it is find these guys?
WELLSWell, that's -- the first thing is that right after the shooting, it was impressed to the degree to which we didn't know -- we didn't have any information, other than the video. And frankly, you know, not to promote too much of new legislation I'm working on, but with new legislation, our police would have been able to watch the video in real-time and watch the cars and track the cars and be able to catch them far more quickly, it's my understanding.
WELLSBut that said, there was not that much information. There wasn't like there had been a fight and people had different witnesses to say it was this guy or that guy. All we had was the video of the cars going by in front of Tyler House. So I think that the fact that we've got more information, they have pictures of suspects, they have pictures of cars, I think is great progress considering where we started from.
SHERWOODAre the police -- given that the mayor's office accused you of grandstanding although I'll point out as a reporter that is your ward, right?
WELLSAnd, you know...
SHERWOODBut it's not -- it is at the convergence of your ward with two and five.
WELLSWell, it's not even -- hardly even at a convergence as Ward 6. And frankly, that's my job. I'm a city council member. And when I have constituents that have been shot, I'm gonna go to their homes and I'm gonna talk to their families and we're gonna talk about what happened and I'm gonna see if they need any help from the government, any help from me. And if there's, you know, something that didn't happen right with the government that I need to know about, I need to know about. That's what I'm hired to do.
SHERWOODAnd you're the chairman of the public safety committee. But has -- have you been able to cooperate with the police department? Are they cooperating with you as they investigate...
SHERWOOD...since the mayor's office has taken a political shot at you?
WELLSWell, we have a very professional, you know, MPD. And the chief is very professional. The commander for that area is very professional. I have had no problem through the -- Public Safety Deputy Mayor Paul Quander has got me fully in the loop. These guys are professionals. They're not gonna politicize their jobs, I don't believe.
SHERWOODAre more police are gonna be on the streets in that neighborhood this weekend, at St. Patrick's Day weekend? It's gonna be another weekend -- the first weekend. There is some fear of retaliation shootings that might occur. Is anything gonna be different this weekend from last weekend?
WELLSWell, our police have gotten a lot better at how to manage these situations. There's a reason why we've had a plummeting of homicides in D.C. There's a reason why crime is coming down. It's, you know, and one of them is is that our police force has gotten smart, they've gotten better, they're better used to technology, they can track things better. And so I trust that our police force will be able to take and will put in extra effort on whatever that is on keeping us safe and keeping that neighborhood safe, going forward.
NNAMDIOur guest is Tommy Wells. He is a member of D.C. Council. He's a Democrat from Ward 6 who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Surveillance video captured footage of two cars moving past the crowd gathered at Tyler House with shots coming from at least one of the cars. You've introduced a bill that would expand police surveillance in the District. How would it work?
WELLSWell, how it would work is that currently if there's cameras in the area that a police officer cannot look at that camera in real time unless there's a lieutenant sitting next to them. And so the idea would be that we use cameras where -- let's say that there's been a ShotSpotter, that gunfire has gone off, ShotSpotter notifies the system and the police. Then cameras will be directed on that area so that the police officers that are rushing to the scene would be able to see what they're coming upon, like are there people fleeing towards them? Do they have guns? Are shots still going off?
WELLSIt's a way to use cameras in real time to be able to respond to, you know, certainly a crime scene, violent crime scene. Then the other thing they'll be able to do is that if you have an area where there's a hotspot of crime, someone's getting their, you know, the houses are being broken into, there's a crime spree and they're coming in through an alley, why couldn't we put a camera in that alley for that short -- for a period of time to be able to just see that if someone's going to the backyard and they're jumping over fences, then the police could respond.
WELLSRight now, what we do is that we have to station every, you know, police all over, we have to put them on bicycles. And we have to be lucky. When we can use cameras, really what the...
NNAMDIWell, would your bill expand the network of cameras?
WELLSYes. It'll be able to use cameras in real time and related to crime. There has to be some relationship to crime to be able to use the cameras that they'll be able to use in real time. In this case, cameras could've been tearing down, looked in -- looked on in real time by the police as these cars were speeding away. Currently, unless you have a lieutenant sitting next to you, you couldn't do that.
NNAMDIWhat I'm saying, would it expand the network of cameras in general, or would it simply allow for cameras that are already there to be used...
NNAMDI...in a different way?
SHERWOODAnd do you have a dollar figure for that? I'm thinking civil libertarians might...
WELLSWe're working with the ACLU, Tom. I wanna introduce a bill...
SHERWOODYou anticipated my question.
WELLSThere's no level of civil libertarian saying you should not try to stop crime when it's occurring. And they just want a good reason, you know, a nexus between the use of the cameras and the crime.
SHERWOODBut if a camera is on an alley and there are private citizens walking in the alley and they're talking and maybe it's somebody cheating on a wife or a husband or something like that and the police are looking at this or some person loses his or her keys and they jump over the fence to go in their house, the police are gonna descend upon them? You've heard this. I mean, it sounds like we're gonna be -- we're all gonna be on camera 24/7, a reality show in the District?
WELLSNo. There's got to be a balance. But the safety and welfare of the citizens of Washington, D.C. is what comes first. But there's a balance.
SHERWOODDon't civil liberties come first?
WELLSWell, that's why there's a balance. That's why we're working with ACLU on getting a bill that works.
NNAMDIBecause it has -- there have to be, I guess, some safeguards on privacy if, on the one hand, you do want to catch criminals. On the other hand, you catch Tom Sherwood jumping over his fence because he forgot the key to the front door, the question will become what happens with that video?
WELLSRight. But if Tom Sherwood is getting broken into on a regular basis and his neighbors are broken into, he's gonna say, Council member -- police chief, what are you doing about catching these folks that are breaking into my home and the neighbor's homes? And this is one tool that will help be able to determine that if you're having a rash of crime in your neighborhood, you can watch a camera in real time so that we can see and catch the bad guys that are doing it. We should not be prevented from using that tool.
SHERWOODSo cameras wouldn't be there 24/7...
SHERWOOD...ever whenever there are hotspots, as police have called them in the past.
NNAMDIHere is Karen in Washington, D.C. Karen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KARENHi. Thank you so much for taking my call. I am the director of the Washington, D.C. office of a non-governmental organization called Cure Violence. And we take a public health approach to stopping the sort of violence. And I'd like to kind of maybe reframe the conversation a little bit to be not so much about what the police can do, but what their community can do and how we can empower the communities to become part of the solution in this. And if have just a moment, I can briefly describe the methodology and how it works.
NNAMDIA moment is what you have.
KARENOK. So in our methodology, we try to detect and interrupt violence before it happens using a class of public health workers that we call violence interrupters. You may have seen the film, "The Interrupter." That's based on our work in Chicago. The second thing that we do is we work with those individuals who are most at-risk for potentially perpetrating violence, and these are what we call outreach workers.
KARENAnd they're hired from the communities that are perpetrating and experiencing the violence. And the third thing is that we try to change behaviors and norms by working with local community organizations. This methodology has been working domestically since the year 2000, and we had three external evaluations that have proven the effectiveness of decreasing shootings and killings by 41 to 75 percent.
KARENAnd so, I just wanna put it on the table as...
NNAMDI...we have had that before in this city, Tommy Wells.
SHERWOODRoving New Leaders.
NNAMDIThere's Peaceholics, all kinds of various organizations. To what extend do you see this? You were a social worker. To what extend do you see this as a part of the solution?
WELLSWell, I can remember when the violence was far more severe in this particular neighborhood when I was in the school board. And we met every Tuesday morning with -- under the guidance of a guy named Rick Solo. We brought -- we even seed -- we brought all these difference programs at that time together, met at the A.M.E. church on R and North Capitol, and we did it to try to stem the violence.
WELLSAnd together, we came up with strategies. We're using roving leaders, using all the tools available, and we had a safer summer that year. So last night, we were convened by some clergy. Pastor West from Mount Erie brought a lot of -- invited a lot of clergy to come together and talk about how as a community we can be safe. And the idea isn't that there's one way to do it or another way, but the police are part of the solution.
WELLSThe police have worked a lot more on showing how to prevent crime, not just catch people who are doing bad things. Our police department has gotten far more sophisticated than just chasing crime. And so with that, with working with the community, working with the clergy, what we're really saying, this is not what we're gonna have in our neighborhood. And I think that the caller's - I'm familiar with the model that she's talking about. It's been used in different ways. But this model in its very pure form, I think, is a very good one, and it's one of the tools we should use.
NNAMDIHere is Robert in Manassas, Va. Robert, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
ROBERTYeah. Hi, Kojo. I'm always just thinking. Before, I was at -- before the -- do the club owners responsible and have them maybe -- like, instead of have the police officers paid by the city, have the club owners pay them and, you know, have them out here at the time they close their club. You know, this creates -- it might help a bit, like, you know, that's why (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWell, you should know that the council member issued a joint statement with one of the club owners in that neighborhood. He might want to tell you about that himself and what he sees as the role of the club owners.
WELLSWell, absolutely. That -- getting the club owners to understand that they are responsible for what happens outside of their club with their patrons, and that we're all together in keeping them safe, that part of their -- they're responsible not just for what happens within the four walls of their club. And so, one of the club owners reached out to me right after they saw my statement and said, you know what, you're right.
WELLSWe do have a responsibility for public safety around our business. And so he has agreed already to reimburse for details and adding, you know, adding more security. And he's doing his best to really try to take ownership for what happens in relationship to his business.
SHERWOODCan you tell us the 13 people who were injured. How many of them were -- do you know how many lived in the immediate neighborhood? I was talking with Joe Madison of Sirius Radio, XM Radio this weekend. He was saying, he'd like to know, are these kids were being forced out of the neighborhood and they're feeling pushed out by the gentrification? Were these people coming in from other neighborhoods or other suburban areas? Do you have -- who are the victims?
WELLSWell, the first thing is is that, you know, I don't think it does anyone a service to say this is about gentrification. This is about some people that got -- 13 people who were shot standing on a street corner of Washington, D.C. There's no, you know, that's what this is about. And so that when I went to Tyler House, there's a number of the people that were shot. They're in Tyler House. They were out front before they went in.
WELLSI spoke to a mom whose three of her daughters were shot, and one had just come out of surgery. And then I spoke another woman who's a young mother herself, and she was shot, and she was running, trying to get into the building. The majority of the folks that I'm aware of are my residents. And we do have people that come back that, you know, used to live in the neighborhood, and they come back -- and I'm sure that's true. The clubs are not neighborhood clubs. They're...
SHERWOODWe had this trouble, like, in Trinidad, where people coming back into a neighborhood with problem.
WELLSYou know, I don't know the reason that two card drove by and sprayed folks. They were standing out in front of their building with gunfire. I don't know the reason for that, but I do know that the people that were hit were my residents.
NNAMDIWe have an email on another matter, if you will, in which you are involved, from Katie, who says, "Please ask Tommy Wells about KIPP in Southwest. I understand he has opposed to KIPP in Southwest and something to do with government money due to KIPP not giving a neighborhood preference. I understand that KIPP is on the record, that it will give preference if other charters are held to the same standards with sounds like the organization and the council member are in alignment.
NNAMDIAlso, KIPP seems to have a really positive record with the inner city youth. The council member has done a lot of positive work for young people in the city. Therefore, I was surprised to learn of his view. Could you please ask him to explain or reconcile this."
WELLSFirst, let me say that KIPP is a very good charter school, that they really have the Holy Grail, being able to replicate their model all around the country of success. It's not based on just one great principal or something, you know, anomaly. But KIPP is a very good school and I like KIPP a lot, and I really do support them expanding in the city. The first thing is, they need a high school and we've got under-enrolled.
WELLSWe've got high schools that we're renovating. And for whatever reason, the city is unable to take a high school and make a high school available to them. So since they can't get a high school that is available to them even though our buildings are either empty or under-enrolled -- we've just closed one -- then, they're being forced to build their own high school. So, primarily, the kids coming through KIPP come from two wards outside of Ward 6, and they want to put the high school on a recreation lot in...
NNAMDIIn Ward 6.
WELLS...in Ward 6. And it's in between kind of two public housing areas where there's some tension already between the teenagers. And what they initially say, you know, they can make a promise, but if they, you know, negotiate in a way, in writing, that says -- I mean, currently, the neighborhood kids will not be able to attend that school. South...
NNAMDISo Tom Sherwood can't go there? (unintelligible)
WELLSThat's right. And as Tom knows...
SHERWOODI need some remedial classes.
WELLSThat area's kind of isolated. You've got South Capitol on one side, you got a freeway on the other, you got the water on the other. And I appreciate and have even said that -- had heard that they were concerned about the safety of the KIPP students of where they currently are, believing they'll be more safe in Ward 6. That's probably true. But it -- for the families to lose a rec center or a rec area and been told your children can't go to school there, I think that can be negotiated. I think the city law has to be changed.
WELLSMy understanding so far is that the Charter School Board does not want to change that law. If they wanna publicly say they wanna change that law, then that could actually be a resource for the young people in that neighborhood. But the other thing is there's a process. If we start just giving property away saying oh, KIPP, you get this property or some other non-profit, you get that property, we're back to the government being saying, you know, being assumed the council members can give people property. There -- that you'd go out to bid, should be a process, should be fair and should be treated carefully.
NNAMDIWe're just about out of time. Tom Sherwood gets the last word or question.
SHERWOODWell, I thought they were also talking about the closed Southeastern University property. Is that no longer possible?
WELLSI think that's a great idea.
NNAMDIThe closed Southeastern University...
SHERWOODI have to be careful of what I ask about this 'cause it is my neighborhood.
SHERWOODSo -- wait, can I just ask a really quick -- one question.
SHERWOODYou said that this was a Chicago gangland-style shooting and that's just not who we are as a city anymore. What does that mean?
WELLSWhat it means is is that we've had -- we were in the lowest homicide rate in a long time. I know in Ward 6, Ward 6 had the greatest decrease in crime the past two years. We've had a small spike but the greatest decrease in crime of any ward. But our city is getting safer. Our city is beginning to be a place where you wanna keep your children, raise your families. Our city really is making great strides to being a great city, a safe city.
WELLSAnd so the idea of having drive-by shootings, again -- I mean, I can remember before I understood what drive-by meant. And now it's in our terminology and I think it's something that I'd love to see out of our terminology again. And I think that D.C.'s gonna get to a place where any time there's a shooting like way down at South Capitol, which shocked all of us...
SHERWOODThe mayor didn't go to the scene.
WELLSI can't speak to any of the elected officials that did not go to the scene. And it wasn't just -- I mean, I'm the only elected official that showed up.
NNAMDITommy Wells, he is a member of the D.C. Council. he's a Democrat from Ward 6 who chairs the council's Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Council member Wells, thank you so much for joining us.
WELLSThank you very much, gentlemen. Have a good weekend.
SHERWOODHappy St. Patrick's Day.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, there's a story that has been making the rounds in a way that has made the news having to do with frequent D.C. Council candidate Sandra Seegars suing another Ward 8 resident for circulating two recordings in which she says she's stole from the advisory neighborhood commission she chaired.
NNAMDII read all of the versions of this story, and I have to say a rare comment before I ask your opinion and that is it seems to that we live increasingly in a society in which people don't understand satire, they don't understand irony, they don't understand sarcasm, they take things literally. When she tells this person who was recording the conversation, yup, I stole ANC money and bought me a new car and repeated it on several occasions, come on, can't you tell when somebody's being sarcastic?
SHERWOODI listened to it because I saw that and I read the transcripts. And to me -- and it's because I know Sandra Seegars, Ms. SS -- is that it sounded like mockery, that she who had some contempt for this guy who...
NNAMDIThat's how she talks sometimes.
SHERWOOD...had been -- opposed her. And she seemed to be playing him along. I mean, I don't recommend to any person, public official or otherwise, and maybe our next guest could re-emphasize this, is that I would not go around admitting to breaking the law so vulgarly and so directly. Yes, I stole money. Yes, I bought a car with it, and if I need another car, I'll get re-elected to the ANC so I can buy another car if this one breaks down. It sounds like mockery.
NNAMDISounds like vintage Sandra Seegars to me.
SHERWOODAnd I just -- it was -- if it's true, she's in trouble.
NNAMDIWell, what the individual did, Mr. Joshua Johnson, is apparently he sent copies of the recording to several ANC commissioners' inboxes and that prompted Sandra Seegars to sue him for $100,000 in damages. And well, the beat goes on.
NNAMDIWell, we could have a little bit better recordkeeping on a number of the ANCs and their budgets.
NNAMDII guess we could have better recordkeeping then we wouldn't be in these kinds of imbroglios that may not be imbroglios at all. We do have to move on because joining us in studio now as Maryland State's attorney for Prince George's County, Angela Alsobrooks. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MS. ANGELA ALSOBROOKSThank you. Good afternoon. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDISo much of the conversation that has come out of mass shootings in Arizona and Colorado and Connecticut the past few years has been about guns. You testified in Annapolis this week in favor of a measure that looks at another side of this kind of violence. You supported a bill that would make it a felony to threaten mass violence acts. It's my understanding that authorities were not able to charge the man who threatened to shoot up his workplace in the weeks after the so-called batman shootings in Colorado last summer. How does this bill change that whole process?
ALSOBROOKSWell, what it does is it makes it illegal now to call in or to make a threat of mass violence. It is a felony that would have a penalty of 10 years. And we are -- Maryland is only one of seven states that does not have legislation to deal with threats of mass violence. We currently, in the case of Neil Prescott, the gentlemen you've referenced, were able to charge telephone misuse which is a misdemeanor.
ALSOBROOKSWe used that same legislature for the kid out of College Park who called -- who was online and communicated to three people that he intended to go on campus and commit acts of mass violence as well. But we were stunned, in both cases, to learn that the only thing we could charge was telephone misuse.
NNAMDIAnd what's the severest penalty for telephone misuse?
NNAMDIOh, you can actually get jail time for telephone misuse?
ALSOBROOKSYou could, yes. You actually could.
NNAMDIBut under the law that you are proposing, violators would face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $10,000.
ALSOBROOKSAbsolutely, and it would be a felony.
NNAMDIWhat ultimately happened with Neil Prescott, and what do you wish would have happened? He's been charged with this telephone misuse. Anything else?
ALSOBROOKSWell, that's all he's been charged with. His case is still ongoing. He has a status this Tuesday. And luckily in his case, we believe that we avoided any violence that could have happened. The police responded well. He's in a mental health court, as well as the young man from the University of Maryland. And you know what, there are occasions where that is the appropriate response. But we wanna make sure that in a case where we need to have laws that allow us to hold a person for longer that we have stiffer penalties available.
NNAMDIOne final question about that: What is your expectation for this bill in the politics of the Maryland General Assembly?
ALSOBROOKSOh, my goodness. Well, let's hope it passes. You know, I know that...
NNAMDINo expectations, not hopes.
ALSOBROOKSYeah. You know -- well, the expectation is that it will pass. We have, I believe, some concern about it being a felony, although arson is a felony, although it's a felony to call in a bomb threat. So we think it's appropriate that this should be, too, but you never know. Let's -- but we are expecting it to be successful.
SHERWOODOne quick question on this. How will you distinguish between someone, in a fit of anger or exasperation, just blurts out something inappropriate? Would it be some -- this be a case where you would have to -- there have to be some kind of campaign or ongoing series of threats? It wouldn't just be someone who loses his or her temper and says something violent, but doesn't do anything else and has no record of.
ALSOBROOKSWell, actually -- I'm sorry. I'm glad you asked me that because the natural and probable response would have to be that it affects five or more people for this particular legislation to be applicable. We looked at Missouri's law. We looked at Pennsylvania's. So five or more people, and it has to be that a -- that they're evacuated, moved into a shelter and place. And so it requires something more than making...
SHERWOODAn imminent threat kind of thing.
ALSOBROOKSAn imminent threat, but it also has to affect at least five people. So we want mass violence where we have this huge response.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Do you think that someone who threatens more than five people to kill them should, in fact, face that kind of sentence and penalty as it's being recommended in this bill? Tell us what you think. 800-433-8850. Prince George's County has dealt with a spate of violence during the past six months or so, half a dozen students in the county's school system killed, College Park still reeling from a murder-suicide involving students at the University of Maryland.
NNAMDIThere are a number of bills moving through Annapolis right now that address gun violence and mental health. Which pieces do you find to be the most important?
ALSOBROOKSI think the piece especially relating to individuals with mental health issues who possess handguns, I think this is probably -- this should be the priority with respect to that legislation that would allow a physician to examine a person who has been admitted to a mental health facility for any number of days for dangerousness. I think that would have been helpful in the case of College Park.
ALSOBROOKSThat young man was admitted to the hospital, was allowed to go out three months later and purchase a 9 millimeter handgun. He purchased an Uzi this past January. But we have to treat more seriously individuals with mental health issues, I think, not only out of concern for the people they harm, but many times they harm themselves. And so, in my mind, there's something immoral about allowing people with mental health conditions to possess firearms.
SHERWOODTrying to help those people as opposed to just punish them or -- but let me ask you -- the other big issue there in the legislature is the death penalty. You're a prosecutor. I don't know that you've ever tried to bring the death penalty.
ALSOBROOKSI have. I have.
SHERWOODYou have. What is your view on the death penalty and the idea that it might be done away with?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think it's a complex issue. I am not opposed to the death penalty. I, in fact, noted one in 2011. I think it should be used very thoughtfully and that it should only be used in the most egregious cases, but I believe that there are instances. For example, I filed a death notice in a case where a man executed two babies -- a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old -- and two women. He came here from Texas to carry out a drug death, a marijuana death, and found himself executing two babies and two ladies.
ALSOBROOKSAnd I think that, you know, we gave it a lot of thought, I think with sufficient evidence. You should make sure that you have sufficient evidence. We have DNA and film and other things, but I think that -- I'm not a person who jumps up and down as happy. Nobody should be happy about the death penalty, but I think there are circumstances under which it is entirely appropriate.
SHERWOODWhat about that gentleman who I think was in Annapolis with -- was 27 years and been exonerated, you know, the case where one innocent person dies? That's a bad mark for the death penalty.
ALSOBROOKSOh, it's a horrible mark. I mean, and that is every -- that's worst-case scenario, and I think that there ought to be concern around that. And that's why I say I'm not a person who is -- I didn't go, for example, to testify about this because I understand and respect that there -- you know, on either side, there are strong feelings about it. And, of course, as a prosecutor, I follow the law. If it's repealed, we use life without parole, but I think that there are instances where the circumstances certainly warrant using it.
NNAMDIAnd you talked about killing babies. You co-wrote a piece in The Washington Post recently with your fellow state's attorney from Montgomery County, John McCarthy. The two of you pushed for a law that would make it a new crime for those who commit violent crimes in the presence of a child. Why is this bill important to you, and what does it call for specifically?
ALSOBROOKSChildren are the invisible victims of domestic violence. We have long overlooked this. We have the adults who suffer many times the physical effects and often the emotional effects, but for children, it is absolutely devastating as well. What this bill does is allows a judge to -- and we actually had several iterations, so now it's not a separate crime, with an additional penalty of up to five years consecutive to the initial sentence.
ALSOBROOKSAnd it also calls for the defendant in the case to pay restitution for counseling for these children. It -- because we find so many children who witness this, who become aggressive, depressed and who don't perform well in school. But -- so the effects are lifelong for children, and we want children to be recognized also as victims of domestic violence.
SHERWOODIn terms of prosecuting these crimes, you expressed concerns that your own office is not fully funded. What is -- how serious is this as a problem for you, and what are you trying to do about it?
ALSOBROOKSOh, it's a huge problem. I've been talking about this since we've gotten news. Absolutely devastating. We have, now, a complement of 80 prosecutors. We handle the same -- close to the same amount of cases as Baltimore, and they have nearly 200 prosecutors. Our prosecutors are overworked. They are underpaid. And we have had this resource problem for a very long time. It is not the fault of this administration.
ALSOBROOKSThis county executive and council have inherited $152 million budget deficit, but something has to be done about it. You know, we cannot go on without increasing prosecutors as we add police stations. We have now added two cadet classes in this budget. If you increase police and do not increase prosecutors, every person they arrest can go free without a prosecutor.
SHERWOODIs this strictly a Prince George's County issue, or is there state monies that might be available or federal monies?
ALSOBROOKSWell, we've gone to the governor. We do hope that he will grant our request. I've actually gone to him. I met with him a couple of weeks ago to ask him for assistance. The county can't do it all. We've asked him for $1.5 million to assist us. We don't think it's unreasonable. Our neighbor was granted over $3 million last year who has deferred that they have -- and they need it. Prince George's County received $800,000, and our neighbors received three million. We would like to be able to protect the people who live in our county as well. We need help.
SHERWOODAnd very quickly, Rushern Baker's budget, $3.5 billion, calls for five days of furloughs for county employees. Will that include your office?
ALSOBROOKSYes. That -- I believe so. I believe that includes all county employees.
SHERWOODIt seems like the county is struggling, Montgomery County. Ike Leggett is giving raises and changing -- doing all kinds of things, like the recession's over in Montgomery County.
ALSOBROOKSYou know what -- actually, I'm sorry. I think the furloughs may not attach to...
NNAMDIFive-day furloughs for county employees. It's attracting a lot of attention. You don't know whether or not it's gonna affect your office?
ALSOBROOKSOh, it does. You know what, it impacts all of us, but I believe he said that public safety would be exempt from that, and I believe he will stick to that.
NNAMDIOur guest is Angela Alsobrooks. She's Maryland state's attorney for Prince George's County. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. When it comes to violence like the recent homicides of students in Prince George's County, what do you think leaders should be doing at the local level that would be most helpful, if anything at all? 800-433-8850. Let's go to Kelly in Bethesda, Md. Kelly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KELLYHi. Thanks for taking my call, Kojo. I'm a little shocked at the 10-year sentence proposed for the people -- person found guilty of calling in the threats. I think it's important to note that all of these mass shooters, think Columbine, those that were under 30, the one thing they all had in common was that everyone had a teacher or counselor that came out after the fact and said that it had been brought to their attention that that boy had some sort of mental issue, every single one. So it could have been nipped in the bud had there had been some sort of mental health evaluation, these mass shootings could have been prevented.
KELLYSo I don't understand why the first action against somebody making these calls wouldn't just be a court-ordered mental health evaluation and maybe some months in a facility as opposed to even suggesting 10 years in prison. We're dealing with this who wants to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana to keep the prison, you know, to empty them out a bit. But then you want to imprison somebody for 10 years for making a phone call and really what they did need is mental help.
NNAMDIInteresting you should mention that in the specific case of Mr. Prescott. While he made the threat by telephone, he had 16 firearms and 40 boxes of ammunition in his apartment at the time of his arrest. Kelly, what would you suggest have been done in that case? Kelly, are you there?
KELLYOh, pardon, pardon, pardon. In that call...
NNAMDII lost you.
KELLY...that case -- in that case, then when you have the ammunition and the firearms, then he should be charged with attempted murder if the evidence...
NNAMDILet me allow the Maryland state's attorney for Prince George's County who knows more about what people can be charged with than I do respond to that.
ALSOBROOKSI think that the caller -- thank you for calling, by the way -- made our point. We need the discretion to charge more where the facts warranted in the case of Mr. Prescott and the case of the student at the University of Maryland. We did just what you suggested. We learned that the person needed a mental health evaluation. Both of them are being treated through our mental health courts. And where that is appropriate, that's what we would charge, and that's what we will pursue.
ALSOBROOKSThere are cases where something harsher is warranted. And in this case, again, we felt very fortunate that Mr. Prescott did not use his 16 guns and 40 boxes of ammunition. And he in fact opened the door to receive law enforcement officials with a T-shirt that said guns don't kill people, I do. So in a circumstance like that, we need to have laws that allow us to give further protections. And if it warrants a mental health evaluation and be treated that way, we will use the good discretion to do it.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Kelly. We move onto Rajad in Alexandria, Va. Rajad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RASHADHow are you doing, Kojo? Actually, it's Rashad.
NNAMDIOK, Rashad, go ahead, please.
RASHADActually, I have two points and two questions. One, I heard your guest mentioned that they were gonna, you know, exceed or extend domestic violence to accommodate, you know, violence in front of children. Do they consider or has mental violence or verbal violence been considered as well? I mean basically, you know, there's been studies that are coming up that are showing that there's a lot of verbal violence and the problem with the courts is that they're not necessarily able to -- be able to catch that piece of the issue.
RASHADAnd I guess the second thing that I wanted to ask about or talk about was the gun control. I'm wondering if anybody ever thought of doing work in auditing system I know that sort of in the model of the census bureau where they, you know, every 10 years, they get a bunch of people together, and those people go out and canvass the areas, and they enumerate, same thing with, you know, with the gun control, maybe we can go and check some of these guys out and train our -- train those folks to, you know, to be able to kind of spot trouble issues. I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIVerbal violence and trouble issue spotters, Angela Alsobrooks?
ALSOBROOKSSo with respect to verbal violence, the legislation covers crimes of violence, so that would be assault, second-degree, first-degree assaults, crimes of violence, murder, rape, robbery. So those are the kinds of crimes that are covered under this legislation. And it requires that the violence occur in the residence, by the way, so it's not just any violence, but violence that occurs in front of children who are 2 to 18 years old. And you're asking whether with respect to gun control, whether there could be spotting, are you asking...
NNAMDIWhether you can train members of a community to spot trouble before it actually arrives and help the police and I guess the criminal justice system to intervene.
ALSOBROOKSWell, we hope that happens. We encourage our citizens every day to be vigilant. The -- I think they are the best -- the best prevention we have is an informed citizen who will call the police...
NNAMDIWell, you said after one of the killings earlier this year that the police will make arrest and the prosecutors will do their jobs, but something greater has to be done. What do you mean by that?
ALSOBROOKSI think that -- what I meant by that is we need parents and families who instill the right values in their children. We found in that particular case that a child was shot in the back over a pair of tennis shoes. If you want tennis shoes, you should work for them. And I don't -- and I'm not ashamed to say that some of what I am seeing is a result of how we are rearing our children. It has to do with the values we impart. You stand in long lines to purchase 2 and $300 tennis shoes with children, we teach them that those things are of value, of greater value, in many cases, in life. And I think it is really hurting us.
NNAMDIA lot of us express that frustration, but how do you change that? How do you impact how parents raise their children? Something that seems to have stymied elected and appointed leaders all over the country.
ALSOBROOKSYes, it is for decades. We are hosting May 4th at Bowie State University, what we're calling a brotherhood summit. And part of...
NNAMDII was about to ask you about that.
ALSOBROOKSYes. May 4th at Bowie State University, it is the brotherhood summit. We are asking parents to bring their sons, and we will have, on that day, not only resources for the young men who come, but for their families. We will have the Department of Social Services, the county executive is one of our -- is our partner -- the government, as well as the United Way. And we're offering training that day for parents. We're offering mentoring. Also, we have many mentoring groups there, who not only assist the young people, but will assist their families. And that is what it is about. It's collaborative, but we have to support families in order to support their children.
SHERWOODAlways worry that the people who need that support aren't inclined to come to a summit. And also, there is increasing violence among young women too.
NNAMDIWell, you have a track record on that because you held a similar summit last year after the murder of a female student at Bowie State. What were your observations there? What did you think you accomplished?
ALSOBROOKSOh, it was phenomenal. We had over -- we had about 500 young women come to that event and their mothers. And we are hearing from some of the mentoring groups that received the young women that they have followed up with them and that they are reporting really great outcomes. We were over with Pastor Maclin at the Sanctuary at Kingdom Square. They have a wonderful program for young women. And they are hearing that the women are doing quite well. But we are -- we must do more. And like I said, we're gonna be there with the young men and with their families hoping to support them on that day.
SHERWOODSo the balance is that you have to have strong law enforcement for people who violate the laws, and you try to do everything on the frontend to keep people -- to steer them away from.
ALSOBROOKSThat's the smartest strategy we have. We are firm, after it occurs, but we feel that at that point, it is too late in many instances. And we are more interested in preventing people from becoming victims. And we also wanna do what we can to prevent as many of them from coming to us in the first place. So we are working on both ends of it. That is true public safety policy, really, is not only fighting it, but preventing it.
NNAMDIAngela Alsobrooks is Maryland State's Attorney for Prince George's County. Thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you for having me. Thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, first, the Mayor Vincent Gray brought beer to The Politics Hour, you're remember that, then he goes to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas to talk about D.C.'s tech sector. Is Vincent Gray like an emerging hipster or something?
SHERWOODTo the mayor's credit, he's -- no is the answer. No is the answer to that question. But the mayor is interested in all manner of things. You can talk to him on housing, social issues, of sports, emerging technology. He does have a goal -- it's one of his goals in the city is to make the city more of a tech center. There are space for tech companies to be in this city, and that’s' what he wants to do. So he's working very hard at that.
NNAMDIEarlier this week, we had a conversation about tech startups in the District of Columbia. You can go into our archives and check out that conversation. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHappy Saint Patrick's Day.
NNAMDIHappy Saint Patrick's Day. Thank you all for listening, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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