It's health plan open enrollment season for many employees, including federal workers.The editors of the Consumer Checkbook's annual Guide to Health Plans for Federal Employees join us to discuss what you need to know to make smart choices for 2016.
Virginia’s former governor takes the stand to defend himself in a high-profile corruption trial. The Internal Revenue Service inserts itself into the brewing controversy of an affordable housing complex in the District. And Maryland officials pledge that its troubled online health exchange will be fixed by November. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Angela Alsobrooks Maryland State's Attorney, Prince George's County
- Adam Ebbin Member, Virginia Senate (D-30th District)
Should Local Police Officers Wear Cameras?
In light of the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Angela Alsobrooks, the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, Maryland, said having police officers wear cameras would help better protect them during investigations.
“Officers’ use of technology has been very helpful,” she said of other tools, like dashboard cameras, departments have put in place. “It really does alleviate questions that may arise later.”
Watch the discussion below.
Watch Full Video
Watch the full interview with Angela Alsobrooks, the State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, Maryland, in our studio.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Several announcements to make so I better get them out of the way early. First and foremost, there is, of course, a live videostream of this broadcast that you can find at our website, kojoshow.org. So you can watch the entire broadcast, even as you listen from there. That's at our website, kojoshow.org. There you will be able to see Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst and a reporter for NBC 4. He's also a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDIDo you know that you will be participating in a mayoral candidates' debate on October 2nd?
SHERWOODI was just hearing that -- well, one, first of all, thank you for the invitation to participate. I was just hearing about it. It sounds terrific and a great thing for -- for you're going to announce the location, I hope.
NNAMDIThe invitation did not come from me. I was trying to get you prohibited from participating in the debate, but my opinion held no sway. It will be taking place on Thursday, October 2nd. It will be airing live in primetime that evening. It'll be taking place at NPR headquarters. Information will be made available in the coming days about how to obtain tickets. So you should stay tuned for more details.
NNAMDIAnd we were expecting today to be interviewing Rushern Baker, the county executive of Prince George's County, Maryland. But he had a personal emergency and was unable to make it. And instead, Angela Alsobrooks has stepped up. She is the state's attorney for Prince George's County. She has agreed to fill in. I am tempted to say, thank you for kindly agreeing to fill in, but if I say that people will think that this is going to be a softball interview, in which we are so grateful for you coming here that we only throw softball questions at you. So…
MS. ANGELA ALSOBROOKSAnd we would never think that. Not ever.
NNAMDIWell, we're glad you showed up anyway. If you have questions or comments for Angela Alsobrooks, you can call 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. We usually begin, Tom and I, with discussing a few other topics. You can feel free to jump in as we discuss those topics. Tom, I'd like to start with the trial that is currently taking place in Virginia. And then move on to a story that you broke this week, the trial of the former governor of Virginia and his wife, which is attracting a lot of attention.1
NNAMDILess for the criminal evidence that is being seen in the case and more because of the -- how can I say that -- weird personal relationship that is beginning to be exposed here.
SHERWOODWell, I don't know how many people want their domestic relationships exposed in a trial. But the governor, I mean, Petula Dvorak, on the Washington Post, wrote…
NNAMDIPetula Dvorak, yes.
SHERWOOD…an interesting -- I never say her name correctly. I apologize. But she wrote a very interesting article about the governor basically throwing his wife under the bus. I was telling somebody out there in the news room, you know, Marion Barry seized the line about somebody setting you up. And I can't quite say it on the radio. But it's certainly unseemly. It's -- I don't know. I just -- I've seen the pictures of the governor with a Rolex and he complained, oh, it was heavy on his wrist.
SHERWOODWell, you know, then why did you wear it? I've seen him say, oh, well, I just happened to be driving a Ferrari back as a favor. Well, you should see the look on his face as he's driving that Ferrari. He looks like he's in hog…
NNAMDII saw it.
SHERWOOD…heaven. So it's just unseemly. And, you know, clearly the marriage is bad, but let's just assume it's all true. And I'd love to hear the prosecutor's view on this. I don't care how bad your marriage is and how bad your communications are, that doesn't mean that you can violate possibly the laws of influence peddling. And that seems what the charge is against him and…
NNAMDIAs a prosecutor, Angela Alsobrooks…
SHERWOOD…he can't say, well, I didn't talk that well with my wife, so therefore I didn't know this was all improper.
NNAMDIAs a prosecutor…
SHERWOODSeems a little flimsy.
NNAMDI…do you find this defense a little kind of unusual, to say the least?
ALSOBROOKSI think it's a little unusual. I do. I think I agree with Tom, that, you know, no matter the state of the marriage, that there is a certain level of honor that you own the people you represent. And, you know, you still have no right to violate laws because of the state of your family affairs. People expect you to act with integrity, no matter what. And I think it's a, you know, strange defense, but we'll see what the jurors say.
NNAMDIThe judge is being cited for his patience in listening to all of this because one assumes what's going through his and a lot of people's mind, is who wants to hear this stuff.
SHERWOODWas he the judge who said early on, "We are going to adjourn this because this is all I can stand for the day?"
NNAMDIYes (unintelligible) I think it was the same judge.
SHERWOODWasn't that the same judge? That was pretty good. You know, but just that, you know, the gifts that McDonnell accepted -- now he's -- yesterday, you know, he basically said that the $15,000 wedding gift for his daughter's wedding was okay, but, you know, he thought the $1,000 golf club trip maybe was too much. And now he also -- looking, I think, for sympathy from the jury -- said, oh, you know, he has moved out of the governor's mansion and is living in a Catholic rectory with Catholic priests. So he doesn't have to…
NNAMDII thought that was a nice touch.
SHERWOODYou know, it only makes me wish I were still in Richmond, so I could be in the courtroom because I would like to see the face of the judge as he's listening to all this.
NNAMDIAnd I would love to see your reporting on it if you were indeed covering it.
SHERWOODAnd let's just, you know, don't forget we are now in the defense phase. He's presenting his defense. And then the prosecutors will be allowed to ask a question or two.
NNAMDIAnd we'll be awaiting that when it happens. Tom, you broke the story about the IRS going to Park Southern Apartments and seizing some of its financial records. What's that all about?
SHERWOODWell, the important thing here, this is the case of the low-income Southern Avenue, Park Southern apartment complex, 700 low-income or no-income tenants, which got mixed up in the mayor's race because allegations from David Catania that -- a candidate for mayor -- that Muriel Bowser, the Democratic nominee, has sided -- as her role in the Council, has sided more with the discredited and displaced managers of that place, rather than the tenants.
SHERWOODBut what we learned this week was that IRS criminal division, not just some IRS agents, but the criminal division of IRS went in and took on August 12th, ten years of records of that complex, trying to sort out where millions of dollars have gone. And what does the mean for the mayor's race? I think it just adds more fuel that this was a badly run operation, maybe for a long time. But we'll see as more information comes out. There are FOI requests out by several news organizations as more investigation.
SHERWOODWas there any politics involved in this? Because the people who mismanaged the apartment, also were strong supporters of Muriel Bowser. Because she's told me as recently as yesterday -- she has done nothing about this. She's the one that called for the inspector general investigation when the Post did all these stories about it. But it's just the taint of bad management, bad politics around this. And so it's -- will be in her interest for it all to be cleared up.
NNAMDIAs the newspaper said, it's the closest thing to a scandal in her campaign at this point. But, of course, the 700 residents of that building are the ones who are really the victims of all of this.
SHERWOODYes. I went out there. And, you know, I talked to one young man. He talked -- he told me about how his grandmother had lived to be 100 and she had lived there for many years. And he had lived there for seven years. And I said, "Well --" and he talked about the pool in the back. That's not a luxury, you know, during the hot summer, low-income people -- there's no rec center near there, so there's a pool there. It's empty. At a time when children and older people can relax -- not some luxury swimming pool, just a little pool.
SHERWOODI mean, the city's doing a lot more to fix it and they're spraying for bugs. It's rat infested. They're fixing locks. But a lot more needs to be done and we just need to know how we got to this point.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, when we're talking about Park Southern, that's as close to Prince George's County as you can get in the District of Columbia. So we make…
SHERWOODIt's right across the street.
NNAMDIWe make the transition now to talking about Prince George's County. In case you're just joining us, our guest is Angela Alsobrooks. She is the state's attorney for Prince George's County. And we'll take your calls, questions for her at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and watch a livestream, a live videostream of this broadcast, where you see Tom Sherwood's wonderfully handsome face there. That would be the other Tom Sherwood, not this one.
NNAMDIAnd Angela Alsobrooks is in studio with us. Everybody hearts -- everybody's hearts go out to the families of Laila Miller and Knijah Bibb, two young people who were both killed in Prince George's County. But it seems that the focus here, both in these killings and in your focus generally, is on domestic violence in Prince George's County. Talk about that.
ALSOBROOKSIt is. And speaking of family, before I begin, if you'd allow me, I want to just offer my thoughts and prayers. The county executive was going to be here today. His wife is an absolutely wonderful lady and he was caring for her today. So I want to just offer my thoughts and prayers there. It is all about family. And about family violence, what we've noticed in our county is all other crimes are declining.
ALSOBROOKSAnd it makes it difficult for us to turn our faces away from the fact that the predominate violence in our county right now is happening it the family. About 40 percent of our homicides this year are domestic. That's alarming.
SHERWOODHow many? What percent?
ALSOBROOKS…of the homicides this year are domestic in nature. And what that tells us is that our law enforcement efforts are effective because strangers are declining, the violence there. But what we're noticing now is this is an issue that has to be resolved in our families and in our communities because we are arresting these folks as soon as the crimes are committed. We are -- we're preparing to sentence today Mr. Kugler, a guy who killed his girlfriend.
ALSOBROOKSWe arrested within 24 hours. The police are excellent. We convicted Mr. Kugler right away. We're convicting. But arresting and convicting, that cycle is not enough if this violence continues to escalate in our families. So we're going to do something about it.1
NNAMDIExactly what can you do about it?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, we focus, I think, in the places where it matters. Family matters. And we have to talk more openly about mental health and what that means, not only in this community, but all across the state. We talk -- we look in other jurisdictions where we are seeing the increase in killing of children, for example. We have so many instances of that. We had the two ladies at the top of the year who killed those one and two-year-olds. A mother who killed a one and two-year-old child.
ALSOBROOKSSo we're seeing mental health as that unaddressed kind of issue that is -- has been shameful to many people, but talk about it more openly. How do we get help for families who are stressed out now, who are not seeking help where it's needed? So we have to really focus on making sure resources are available to the whole family.
SHERWOODWhen you had your press conference at the scene of the shooting, in which Johnny Parker from the First Baptist in Glenarden, was talking about how men, African American men, but all men need to channel violence, channel their aggressive tendencies. He said, you know, they're taught to be strong and muscles and -- but you ought to have a strong mind, too, to fight these things. Well, this sounds like a whole different thing, rather than law enforcement. This sounds like community building as opposed to law enforcement.
ALSOBROOKSIt is. And, you know what? The press conference we hosted Monday was intentionally held in the neighborhood where Laila was abducted and then killed because the point is this issue will not be addressed solely in our courthouses or police stations. This is something the community has to be involved in. And that's the reason that we hosted it there. But, in addition to that, we have to have a different conversation about domestic violence.
ALSOBROOKSWe always talk about the women who are victims of the crime, and I think we have to continue to support them, but we have to include men in these conversations, as well. And say we not only offer resources and help for women who have been victimized, but let's talk about the aggressors. Let's talk about how we offer help to them, in a voice that they can accept and hear.
NNAMDIBecause I've got to tell you, Laila Miller's father, Frederick Miller, the one who eventually killed her and shot her grandparent and great-grandparents, I saw interviews in which a number of his family members said, yes, well, he'd been having problems with custody for a while, yes, he'd been worried for a while. And I sense that behind those comments was an understanding that he was having some mental issues that were not being addressed.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned it earlier -- there is a cultural problem here. In the African American community there is a stigma about admitting to any form of mental illness or any form of need for psychological counseling because the notion is that you're crazy and people will begin to either disassociate themselves with you or disregard you. That's the problem you're going to have to deal with.
SHERWOODAnd you look weak.
ALSOBROOKSYeah, exactly. And you know what? And that's precisely the problem, especially with men. You know, saying to a man that you're weak if you ask for help. We have to really change this whole thought process and now say, there's no weakness in saying, I cannot handle the set of circumstances I'm facing. If it is a loss of job, if it is stress in a relationship, those things are playing themselves out in our family in very catastrophic ways.
ALSOBROOKSSo offering help to the women who are in these relationships, the children -- because we also find that these are cyclical sorts of situations. Many of these men have witnessed this violence in their homes as children. So we have to do a better job of protecting our children from it and providing the help that is needed for men. And saying to men that we have an open line of communication for you to reach out to us before you react violently.
SHERWOODYou mentioned the 40 percent figure, but, you know, we've had family stress, we've had unemployment, we've had racial discrimination, we've had isolation. We've had all these things for decades. Is there anything, any unifying aspect of why we have -- it seems to be having more domestic violence now than we've had in the past? Is it better accounting for it? I don't know. What -- it just seems like a great deal. And I've heard all the reasons for decades.
ALSOBROOKSYou know, and that's what we have to get to the bottom of. I think that that is a good question. It's one that we have to now -- we're forced to explore. I think almost the fact that these other crimes have declined, and now what's left is something that we can no longer kind of put a blinder over, is whatever dysfunction -- and I'm using the word dysfunction. The dysfunction that exists in our families, we can no longer ignore. It's killing us and killing for generations, our future.
SHERWOODDidn't you get -- you got started -- I think read something. You got started, actually, in domestic violence as part of your…
SHERWOOD…initial career. When -- how many years ago?
NNAMDIAnd still a focus.
ALSOBROOKSHey, 1997 was when I started as the first domestic…
SHERWOODAlmost 20 years.
ALSOBROOKSExactly. And you know what? A lot of the patterns are continuing. Although, in this last year many of the cases we saw -- this was interesting to us -- involved men who had no involvement whatsoever in the system. These were not repeat offenders. These were explosive sorts of responses. And so it tells us that something different is happening and we have to get to the bottom of it.
NNAMDIA lot of people have been paying close attention to what's been happening in a county halfway across the country from where you are lately. The county in Missouri where the death of a young black man and an officer-related shooting has sparked protests and very controversial responses from law enforcement.
NNAMDIHow does a prosecutor -- because there are a great deal of calls in this case from people who are protesting for the arrest of the police officer involved in this deadly shooting. How does a prosecutor proceed with investigating and ultimately maybe charging a police officer? Is that any different from how you would proceed from a citizen who is not?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, I think the prosecutor in this job is doing the right thing in terms of opening a grand jury investigation. I understand that they started accepting testimony in that grand jury as early as this past Wednesday. And that they will, therefore, be seeking, I hope, an indictment at some point if that's what the evidence points to. But they're hearing for witnesses in that grand jury who will decided whether to return an indictment.
NNAMDIBut there's also the criticism that the prosecutor controls the grand jury process. That the defense -- that the victim or the defense has no representative in that -- or the defense in this case, has no representative in that hearing. And so the prosecutor really controls everything.
SHERWOODYou know, the cliché is that, you know, a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich because it is the beginning of the process.
ALSOBROOKSIt is. And you know what? And I can only hope -- I know that there have been concerns around the prosecutor's inability to be impartial because his own father was killed…
NNAMDIAs a police officer.
ALSOBROOKS…when he was -- as a police officer when he was 12, but I also read that there are a good number of people who say this is a man of integrity. He has been elected by this very same community, I think, in at least three elections. And so I believe the people there have expressed some confidence in him. He was most recently reelected, I think, August 5th.
ALSOBROOKSSo it is our hope that he will be -- that he will use his integrity and will be -- will return a fair -- he will be fair in that grand jury and that what happens there, I mean, it will go a long way toward healing this community that is expressing through this outrage their mistrust of this leadership.
NNAMDIWhat would it take for you as a prosecutor to recuse yourself from a trial or from a case?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think that you look at the facts and circumstances and if there is any doubt that you can be fair I think you have an affirmative obligation to remove yourself. So the questions that were raised in this case, a person who suffered great injury himself as a 12-year-old watching his father -- the results of his father's murder. If he believed, for example, that that would make him enable to be fair in this case, I think he'd have an obligation to recuse himself.
SHERWOODThere's less respect for the response from the Ferguson Police force, both conservatives and liberals, clearly across the spectrum, being worried about the militarization of police. In the kind of equipment and the overhand -- the heavy-handed reaction to non-violent protests there.
SHERWOODI know that Prince George's County has some of the powerful equipment from the Homeland Security. You can get it pennies on the dollar or you can get it free. Do you have any concerns, seeing that specific instance, about the over-militarization of our police forces?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think it's…
SHERWOODOr is it just a matter of how you use the equipment you have?
ALSOBROOKSYeah, I think it's how you use the equipment you have. And in this case I think that obviously these tensions have existed for so long in this community that the response used by police -- and maybe, you know what, it's hard to gauge when you're not on the ground, you're not the person having bottles thrown at you and, you know, and such.
ALSOBROOKSBut I think that the real problem here is the poor relationship that exists and the tensions that have to have existed over decades in this particular community to see this situation evolve the way it has. And so it's not necessarily the equipment, but there is a real lack of relationship here you can tell. And that really is the crux of the issue there.
SHERWOODChief Kathy Lanier, in talking to NBC 4 this week, to Mark Segraves, said, you know, we have a lot of mean equipment that we have for the worst possible things that may happen. But she said our judgment is when to use it. You don't bring it out on demonstrations. Remember when we had the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and things like that. And you have to manage those things, not try to snuff them out.
ALSOBROOKSYou know, and in our communities, I think Prince George's, the police, for example, I think have done a great job of building community relationships. It makes it difficult to act out in that way against people who you have genuine relationships with.
SHERWOODWhat about having police officers wear cameras?
NNAMDIWhat do you think about that?
SHERWOODYeah, you know there are some police forces that are now -- I'm sorry I can't recall them -- where they will wear GoPro-style cameras on their vests and turn them on whenever they're interacting with anybody.
NNAMDIAnd increasing number of police departments use them.
SHERWOODAnd then some people have discussed…
ALSOBROOKSI think the video cams that we've seen and the other use of technology has been very helpful.
SHERWOODMany officers have those.
ALSOBROOKSThey have been very helpful. I think they -- we have found them to be extremely helpful in gathering information about how these situations started and about -- it really does alleviate questions that may arise later. So I think the cameras have been extremely effective. They have been especially helpful to us as prosecutors, as we build cases and review cases.
SHERWOODI just worry about the number of police officers who do their jobs every day, that you would recognize, and how they would feel that I have to wear a camera because of some bonehead person who has done something stupid. I just don't know what we say to our police forces.
SHERWOODI mean, why don't we let the firefighters do it and see if they respond properly? Why don't we put them on journalists to see how we behave? It just -- I just worry about it as a kind of a mindset in our community, if that's what we think we have to wire our police to be on camera.
ALSOBROOKSAnd not done for that reason, but to protect them. I think these cameras provide for us a lot of protection for defendants in many cases who would have alleged abuse. Well, we have the cameras rolling and we can see exactly what occurred and in many cases it provides protection to police officers who would have otherwise been wrongly accused.
NNAMDIOne more question about prosecuting police officers. You, as a prosecutor, have to work very closely with police. You depend on them to gather evidence. You depend on police to testify when you're prosecuting cases. How difficult does that make it to prosecute a police officer? Because, obviously, you don't want that prosecution to cause broader tensions between your office and the police department.
ALSOBROOKSIt's very difficult. I can tell you that we take no pleasure in having to prosecute police officers. And we have…
NNAMDIAnd you've done it.
ALSOBROOKSWe have done it. We've prosecuted quite a few. And what we've heard from the police, including the leadership there, is that they don't support officers who have broken the law either. And that it makes it more difficult for them to continue the great work they do if they have officers who have committed offenses and are not held accountable.
ALSOBROOKSAnd so they support -- in the case -- and we have to point out always that it is a 1 percent who steps over that line and who does -- and who will break the law, but when they do, we have an obligation to correct it so that we don't lose the very delicate trust that the public has for us. And that trust is extremely important.
NNAMDIOur guest is Angela Alsobrooks. She is the state's attorney for Prince George's County, Maryland. She joins us in studio. Questions or comments for her? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. You know when Tom and I look at you, from our generational perspective, we feel that you grew up listening to go-go music. So Tom has a question for you along that line.
SHERWOODWell, you know, this -- today -- just this afternoon Mayor Gray here in the city did the Chuck Brown Park, dedicated -- spent a million dollars on it. There's a new album out, a posthumous album out by Chuck Brown.
NNAMDITom's showing how hip he is.
SHERWOODI'm just show that I'm up to speed on things. And I have tapped my foot to a go-go tune or so.
NNAMDIThat's all he can do.
SHERWOODBut in your county, the Post had a front page Metro story, I think, today, that a man who was convicted in a crime has discovered he cannot open a go-go club. You guys had terrific troubles with go-go clubs. They're gone now, basically. What is this story about? He says he's a legitimate businessman now. He wants to open this -- he's invested in the go-go club. Now, he's told by the law he can't because of his previous crimes.
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think Kojo…
SHERWOODWhere's go-go (unintelligible) ?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? I think Kojo's right. I attended Banneker Senior High School right here in the city. And so I grew up in that generation. We enjoyed go-go music. I've attended concerts and such. But what we are concerned about now is our quality of life. The issue for us is that we believe that the quality of life with the people we represent is far more important than anything. We protect businesses. We are pro-business in the county.
ALSOBROOKSWe want that to be abundantly clear. But no individual has the right to open any business that interrupts the quality of life of the people who live there. What we found with these clubs is that we were attracting violence. We will -- we have now statistical information that shows us the very dramatic decline in crimes in the neighborhoods where we were able to shut down some of these clubs. And I want to compliment Councilwoman Tole. She's taken a lot of hits over this.
ALSOBROOKSA lot of heat over this.
SHERWOODYes, she has.
ALSOBROOKSBut she has stood tall for the people of our county. She is unapologetic about it. We had our non-fatal shootings decline by about a third in the neighborhoods where we were able to shut down some of these clubs. We had vandalism. We had other crimes that occurred as the clubs would let out. We had a young woman shot in the head in a club, MSG, by owners who had three different owners for the -- three -- they opened the name -- the club under three different names.
ALSOBROOKSThe violence continued. They did nothing. We went in, we shut it down, and that's -- to me, that is the right result. Again, we have to protect the way of life of the people who live there. We don't -- we're not anti-business. As long as your business doesn't interrupt the quality of life, we're supportive.
SHERWOODYou know, the -- there is a go-go event tonight at Howard Theater, a restored place here in Shaw neighborhood.
NNAMDIFeaturing the Chuck Brown Band.
SHERWOODRight. And I just want that -- I want the people who like go-go music should use that as an opportunity to express the love the music and Chuck Brown. I just hope that's what happens tonight.
ALSOBROOKSYeah, and I love the music. I like the music, as well. I've attended Chuck Brown concerts. But I don't want people to live in their homes and be imprisoned by the violence that lets out. And so long as we can do so peacefully, we're good.
SHERWOODCould -- I don't know that you have any role in this, but the Seat Pleasant mayor…
SHERWOOD…Eugene Grant -- is there any legal issue there about him being denied access to his government facilities by -- have you even gotten involved with this at all? You're paying attention to it?
ALSOBROOKSI -- you know what? I haven't. I've had my hands full, but I do know Mayor Grant. And…
NNAMDIEverybody knows Grant.
ALSOBROOKSYou know, and I hope that they're able to…
SHERWOODHas he ever fussed at you?
ALSOBROOKSNo. No, he hasn't. And let me tell you, he's not a quiet man. So if he had…
NNAMDIThis is true.
ALSOBROOKS…you would know all about it.
NNAMDIYou would know.
SHERWOODWell, I like him already. I haven't personally met him. But if he's not a quiet man…
NNAMDII have known him for years. He's not a quiet man.
NNAMDIThere are political questions for you. Someone wants to know who are you supporting for governor in the election, upcoming, in Maryland?
SHERWOODAnd you're unopposed in -- on your race, right? You're just coasting…
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what? I don't know if it's coasting because we still went out to campaign. But I am so proud to support Anthony Brown for governor. I -- we are proud that he's a Prince Georgian. And that we -- we're really happy to have a voice, a native Prince Georgian -- well, not native, but a Prince Georgian to be in that governor's mansion.
ALSOBROOKSAnd we are hopeful that he will continue to not only support the people of our state, but we expect that he will be a wonderful support of Prince George's County. Education dollars, public safety dollars, he's done -- he's been a great partner for us in domestic violence. This is an issue that is near and dear to him.
SHERWOODThat's one of your big issues.
ALSOBROOKSSince Anthony Brown -- he's -- over the last few years he's helped us to secure three million additional dollars to fight violent, repeat offenders in Prince George's County. So he's been a wonderful partner. And we are happy to support him.
NNAMDIRushern Baker, it's my understanding, is also unopposed in his race for state's attorney. But he is term-limited and inquiring minds -- yours truly -- wants to know if at some point, that would be on your agenda, running for county executive in Prince George's County.
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what? They say you get one job at a time. And I have…
NNAMDISee, I knew you would say that.
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? They -- and it's true.
SHERWOODWe should (unintelligible) …
NNAMDI(unintelligible) than I do.
SHERWOOD…have a list of like seven or eight answers that we just -- we're not allowed.
ALSOBROOKSAnd you know…
SHERWOODI'm focused on my job. Well, how about this, then?
NNAMDIThere we go.
SHERWOODWould you -- if it's -- what -- would you support changing the law that would allow him for run for a third term?
ALSOBROOKSI think that, first of all, the county executive, I think, has done a wonderful job. And I think that he's been a wonderful partner. And you know what? I think that if the people decide that they extend the term, I think he's done a wonderful job. He really has been a wonderful…
NNAMDIAll right. Put on your headphones because Ian, in Gaithersburg, Md., has a question. Ian, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IANGreat, thank you. Yeah, earlier there was the question about militarization of police forces. And you didn't seem to think that, you know, that was too big of an issue around here, but one thing that is being reported across the country is the use of SWAT teams, in particular, being more and more common for things that would normally be so routine as serving a search warrant.
IANAnd, you know, these have caused issues. There was a report not too long ago of a two-year-old boy who had a flash-bang hand grenade land in his crib. You know, locally, you know, it was only a few years ago that a SWAT team busted into the home of the mayor of Berwyn Heights.
IANAnd slaughtered his two pet dogs.
NNAMDIThat was from the sheriff's department.
IANSo from that aspect of militarization, what is your perspective on the growing use of SWAT teams?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think that we can never forget that all of our police departments work to serve the people. And I think that anything that becomes intrusive to people in their homes, we have to look at. But most of these issues to me, strike me as training issues, including what happened in Berwyn Heights and in some of these other issues around the country, is that it really does scream training.
ALSOBROOKSAnd that although we have this equipment available to us, the good discretion is to when to use it. And I don't pretend to substitute my judgment for the judgment of the -- any officer who would find themselves in these very dangerous situations. They are very dangerous situations. We're aware of that. But I think that, you know, just really emphasizing training so that the discretion is used as to when to use them or not would be very important.
SHERWOODI think the caller raises something I hear a lot when I go around town, is that people worry about cowboy cops, or I mean, who just get out of control in circumstances, they brandish these major weapons in minor situations. And you can incite something, as much as calm it down, if you're just not careful how you use it. Even if your training says don't do it, you know…
NNAMDIA SWAT team in Florida that descended on a barbershop.
SHERWOODLike when we had an officer -- remember the people throwing the snowballs in Dupont Circle and the officer…
NNAMDIOh, yeah, he pulled a gun.
SHERWOOD…got a clean (unintelligible) just pulled out a gun, not a major militarization, but pulled out a gun and people, well, wondered what is the officer thinking.
ALSOBROOKSYeah, I think it's possible to diffuse many of these situations without all of these tanks and such that we've seen. In fact, we review cases in our office every week. And I remember remarking one day this week about an officer who completely disarmed an individual who was armed. Nobody was hurt. Nobody was shot. That's good police work. It can't happen in every instance.
ALSOBROOKSAnd, again, I can't substitute. I'm not there in those dangerous situations, but I think it's possible, through effective training, to train officers to respond in some of these situations without the use of this very heavy machinery that we see.
SHERWOODIt causes a dangerous work, that's why the training is so important.
NNAMDIAfraid we're just about out of time. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you so much.
SHERWOODDo I have time for one more question?
NNAMDIOh, of course, you always do.
SHERWOODCasino. Baltimore's opening a big casino right downtown. You're going to have a casino in Prince George's County, what, two more years, I think, it takes to construct. It's such a big deal.
SHERWOODWhat about policing for something like that? That's big-time crime opportunities. I mean, we heard those horrible stories out of Maryland Live, of people leave their children in the cars while they go gamble and they leave some elderly mother. Any -- are you planning ahead for that?
ALSOBROOKSWe're going to have to work very closely with Milt Peterson and the others over at National Harbor to make sure that we don't see a repeat of the situations you've noted, parents leaving children in cars, and, you know, some of the other things that can arise that affect families, quite honestly. Once again, as we talk about the stress and pressure of the various failed financial situations in families, what about this -- we're going to have to really make sure we keep eyes open.
SHERWOODSeniors who win money are subject to scams. Just a number of things.
ALSOBROOKSYeah, we're going to have to make…
SHERWOODIt's on your radar.
ALSOBROOKSIt is on our radar for sure.
NNAMDIAngela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIThis is the "Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Tom, the disciplinary action was handed down to the firefighters who were involved or not involved in helping Medric Cecil Mills back in January. He died right across the street from a fire station on Rhode Island Avenue Northeast. Nobody is going to be fired. One firefighter went to his bunk to study for promotion exam. He's going to be given a 60-day suspension.
NNAMDIA second firefighter will be given a reprimand. The officer who was in charge of that station retired and avoided punishment completely. There is outrage being expressed here by everybody from the mayor but especially by the family of Mr. Mills. You wonder, how could somebody die right outside a fire station after asking for help, not get it, and nobody gets fired? What kind of town is this?
SHERWOODWell, what that says is that everyone is guilty. The mayor says "justice was not done." Mayor Gray said that. The acting fire chief has expressed concern. The trial board, the three-member -- the three-person trial board, you know, looked at this, said the evidence -- closed some of the hearings. You know, initially, we were going to have reporters in the room for those hearings. And they weren't there.
SHERWOODAnd so, if there's any -- we don't want another victim to be the citizens who find out that we don't have a fair and open disciplinary system. People are entitled to be represented by lawyers and to have their say. But in this case, people feel that justice wasn't done. And if the system needs to be changed to make sure that justice is done, then maybe that's where we ought to go.
NNAMDISpecial election has given Republicans control of the Virginia Senate. Republican Benton Chafin Jr. won the state senate seat on Tuesday. It secures GOP control of the general assembly, making life probably a little more different for -- difficult for Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the defeated Democrat Mike Hymes, the seat, of course, to replace that of Sen. Phillip Puckett, who was a Democrat, who abruptly resigned in June and changed everything.
SHERWOODWell, you know, this is bad for the Democrats in Virginia. They now control either House of the general assembly. The House is firmly Republican. It's bad news for Gov. McAuliffe. He's had difficulty -- I give him great credit for trying very hard to work with the Republicans. But now, working with the Republicans may mean more compromising with Republicans as he gets into his next general assembly session.
SHERWOODWe still don't know -- Phillip Puckett, the state senator from the Roanoke area who kind of set this in motion when he quit with expectation of getting a great appointment, a well-paid job -- I think Tobacco Commission, wasn't it? I didn't write it down. I think it's Tobacco Commission. And his daughter was en route to be a judge. You know, that's still being investigated by criminal and prosecutorial folks about whether there are any quid pro quos there. But this election shows that the Republicans are in strong control in the state of Virginia on State House matters.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone now is Adam Ebbin. He's a member of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat who represents the Commonwealth's 30th District, which includes parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax County. Sen. Ebbin, thank you for joining us.
SEN. ADAM EBBINThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWe have often talked about the genteel nature of politics in Virginia. And in other jurisdictions, what happened with Sen. Puckett would have led to throwing of chairs and screaming and maybe even some fisticuffs. What was your own response to this development?
EBBINWell, we haven't thrown any chairs.
EBBINBut we haven't been in session since the special election took place on Tuesday. We haven't met. The Senate won't be back till Sept. 18 or 19. But I really was disappointed in what a lot of us consider a betrayal. Sen. Puckett had assured us privately, our Democratic caucus, that he intended to fill out his term when there were rumors earlier in the session. It doesn't pass the smell test. But it's something we're going to have to live with, having a Republican control of the Senate. We take some consolation, the fact that the governor's vetoes are unlikely to be overridden by the Senate anytime soon.
NNAMDIWell, betrayal is the strongest word we've heard so far.
SHERWOODWhat does it mean in terms of the -- what does it mean for, like, committee chairs in the 40-member Senate? If the Republicans control, does that mean the Democrats are now all relegated to secondary positions on those committees?
EBBINThat's correct. When we met for -- in March, I believe it was, we had Republicans seize control kind of prematurely. It was a 20-19 majority they had then. Now they'll have 21-19. But they did reassign the committees and committee chairs...
SHERWOODWhat did that mean for you personally? Were you a committee chair that...
EBBINI'm not a committee -- was not a committee chair. But it means that, instead of being on four committees, I'll be on three and that -- when we took control, I was moved over to the Commerce and Labor Committee, which is important to me for clean energy and working people. And then also I was on the (unintelligible) Elections Committee. But I'll still serve on three committees, being local government, conservation, and natural resources.
SHERWOODAnd I know that we want to get to the same-sex decision making in Virginia, but I...
EBBINYeah. Sure. Sure. But, anyway, I won't be a committee chair...
SHERWOODOkay. Not anytime soon. But I want to ask you about the Commonwealth of Virginia and the image of the state and your concerns, both -- or feelings, both personal and political, about what's happening to Gov. McDonnell there in Richmond and the court.
EBBINWell, personally, it's sad to see -- and it's sad for the Commonwealth. He had an image as a real law and order guy, good government. And to see what he -- what has apparently happened with his relationship with one person seeking special favors, the jury, you know, has yet to rule, but it doesn't look good for him, particularly not for his wife as well. But we -- when you have a scandal that affects one elected official, people tend to associate all of us with that kind of bad behavior. And I intend to introduce additional ethics legislation this coming session that wouldn't have bearing on the federal charges. But we need to tighten things up.
SHERWOODDo you want to comment at all on how the governor has laid a great blame of all this on his wife?
EBBINYeah. I've known her for a number of years as well. And this is not something she signed up for. But when someone hands you a $5,000 Rolex, you need to ask questions. And he was involved in seeking loans from someone who he was doing product launches for in the executive mansion and so forth. So I don't -- I fault them both. But I don't really want to comment on the state of their marriage, but I don't think that that's what needs to be aired in court. And that seems to be his strongest defense, is to blame his wife.
SHERWOODOkay. Let's go on then to marriage in the state.
NNAMDISupreme Court, this week, put the brakes on Virginia issuing licenses for same-sex marriages, which a lower court ruling had cleared the way for the Commonwealth to do by declaring Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. What do you expect is going to happen next? You are among those who is supportive of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Virginia.
EBBINThat's right. Well, I think the Supreme Court will clearly take up the issue of marriage equality in the next term and -- but with federal courts consistently ruling that there's a constitutional right to marriage for adults, I'm hopeful that we'll see marriage everywhere in the country.
SHERWOODWhen do -- the next term, is that October? When did we...
EBBINThat's October the -- I believe it's the first Wednesday in October or first Monday in October.
SHERWOODIs that when the court announces which cases it's going to take in the coming term? Or when will we know whether or not it takes it?
EBBINI'm not certain. I think it would -- they can still announce even during session that they're taking up additional cases. But I would expect to hear that if not on the first in the beginning of October, then shortly thereafter.
SHERWOODSome people were surprised at the Atty. Gen. Mark Herring, who would not defend the law, saying it was unconstitutional, did agree that the court should put a delay on the 4th Circuit's ruling so the Supreme Court will take up the case. Why didn't he just let it go forward like it happened in California or, I think, California and/or Utah, can't remember which, where the marriages could go forward...
NNAMDIAnd did you have any...
EBBINWell, that would have...
NNAMDIDid you have any conversations with him about that strategy that he's pursuing?
EBBINNot directly with his staff, but I think that his concern was that if marriages took place and things happened, like joint parent adoptions and others, and then the court were to rule that marriage was not guaranteed by the Constitution, that there could be some people left in legal limbo and that he thought the court would decide eventually anyway. But I would have preferred to see equality granted to the people for the entire 4th Circuit. But I recognize his caution, cautionary nature.
NNAMDIAdam -- we're talking with Adam Ebbin. He's a member of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat representing the Commonwealth's 30th District. If you have questions or comments for Sen. Ebbin, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sen. Ebbin, it was only in 2006, eight years ago, that this constitutional ban was approved by voters in Virginia.
NNAMDIDo you feel that the public in the Commonwealth is somehow in a different place now? And if so, how do you explain that?
EBBINWell, I think that public opinion has shifted rapidly, as seen by opinion polls. And the people see -- six years ago, I don't think we had anyone, but perhaps Massachusetts, with marriage equality. And the people see that the sky has not fallen on people for having legal rights coming with marriage. I think that 2006 was a snapshot in time and that the Republicans really rushed and pushed hard to get that on the ballot quickly, knowing that it wouldn't last forever, that the willingness of the people of Virginia to be steered into voting for that amendment.
EBBINIt was the first time the Virginia Bill of Rights had been amended to take away rights, in fact, our entire Constitution in 400 years. And it's difficult to repeal it on the ballot, particularly with the nature of the gerrymandered conservative House of Delegates.
SHERWOODAnd now we have 19 states, and the District of Columbia, I believe, now have same-sex marriage as part of the law. And there have been, what, 25 court cases or 26, all of which have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. I mean, if you were batting -- if you were in the National League, you'd be winning the World Series on the issue. But how certain, how confident, how worried are you about this matter finally going to the U.S. Supreme Court?
EBBINWell, I'd like to have lunch with Justice Kennedy, but I don't know him.
EBBINI think that he's the key. I mean, I think we know that, based on the other two decisions, that four of the justices would favor full marriage equality and that Justice Kennedy was not ready then to grant it to everyone. And I think with the tide of public opinion that the court may well -- it should will for marriage equality. But it's hard to read his mind.
NNAMDISen. Ebbin -- go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI was just going to say your comment earlier that the sky has not fallen, at least not yet, might be a persuasive thought for the justice.
EBBINI think that'll be influencing. And I think also his concern when -- in the last two cases about the children of same-gender, same-sex couples, that their rights were directly impacted by not having legal marriage for their parents in the states that were discussed in the previous cases.
SHERWOODWhat do you say to people who firmly -- the owners of Hobby Lobby, for example, but people who so firmly in their cultural or religious beliefs just think that this is the wrong thing to do, what is your response to them?
EBBINWell, regarding marriage, what I often say is that your religion has the freedom not to marry anyone and that no one has ever sued the Catholic Church or successfully sued the Catholic Church in court to require people who were previously divorced be married or otherwise and that my religion or other -- all faith traditions should have the freedom to marry gay people if they want to and that it's denying their freedom and that no one's going to make their church recognize those unions.
SHERWOODDo you know the clerk of Prince William County, Michele McQuigg, who took on this burden for the side that's losing?
SHERWOODAnd she's the one that's fighting, along with the conservative organization.
EBBINYes. I served with her in the House of Delegates a number of years ago before she ran for clerk of the court in Prince William. And I know her ideology, but it's still disappointing that she wants to stand in the path of freedom. And, you know, it was Jefferson who said that laws and institutions have to evolve with the progress of the human mind. And I can think of nothing better to -- no better argument for marriage equality.
NNAMDIEarlier this summer, Gov. McAuliffe directed the Commonwealth's secretary of health to present him a list of options he could consider to expand Medicaid in Virginia without the approval of the general assembly. Republicans who now control both chambers have drawn a line in the sand on this issue. What are you hoping the governor's going to do in the weeks ahead?
EBBINI'm waiting to see. I think that the Republicans in the Senate have not drawn a line in the sand. We had Republican votes for a Republican proposal for a marketplace Virginia plan that would provide healthcare expansion. It's the House that's been the problem. I don't know if the governor is going to be able to do what we'd like, which is to cover the 400,000 Virginians who would be covered with federal funds, who are largely working poor people. And some of them are even veterans.
NNAMDIWhat are your expectations for the special sessions slated for next month?
EBBINWell, I am not terribly optimistic. I think that we could just be going through the motions. The speaker told me yesterday that he would anticipate that there would be some sort of a House bill that's sent directly to the floor for debate, which is interesting because it means that it would come through a committee that wouldn't really work on the bill and that there'd be amendments to the bill on the floor, perhaps offered.
EBBINBut the House has voted against Medicaid expansion before. And their main argument that the conservatives use is that their -- it's hard to overcome the fear of the federal government -- their misguided fear -- that they won't live up to their commitments. And we know that in the cases of Medicare and Medicaid that they have kept their commitments to the public and to the states for their share of the funding.
SHERWOODDo you think this is just a matter of time that Virginia will see other states reaping billions of dollars in Medicaid funding that Virginia is turning its back to, just is a matter of time when other states do it and the federal government doesn't come in and swoop in and take over the program?
EBBINI hope so. But with the nature of the current House of Delegates, it's hard for me to see this. But, you know, elections change over time. I mean, the legislatures change over time with people expressing their will. The problem is that we have a very gerrymandered House of Delegates where people are -- feel more beholden to the Tea Party than the public at large because of fear of losing a primary.
SHERWOODSo it's -- speaking of your gerrymandered district, I was looking at your district. And the -- are you worried at all about the development across the river at National Harbor, from Alexandria's point of view, with the casino moving in?
EBBINI'm not -- I...
SHERWOODI know Virginia's a right state.
NNAMDIYou only have about 20 seconds.
EBBINI'm not terribly worried, no. I think we have a bridge that will withstand the traffic.
NNAMDIAdam Ebbin, thank you so much for joining us.
EBBINThanks for having me.
NNAMDISen. Ebbin is a Democrat who represents the Commonwealth's 30th District, which includes parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax, Va. Tom, we did not get the opportunity to talk about Mayor Gray adopting the school boundaries plan. But we're going to have a segment on that on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" next week.
SHERWOODIt's just out. It's a big deal about the tens of thousands of parent worried.
NNAMDIAnd no political risk for him. But of course today is the day when they open Chuck Brown Park in Northeast Washington. So we go out today with music of the legendary Chuck Brown.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst and reporter for Channel 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a good weekend.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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