Chairman, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors

Chairman, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors

The latest on D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, who signed a consent settlement and will pay a $20,000 fine after an investigation by the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. We talk Metro–including the latest on expansion of the Silver Line— from new WMATA Board Chair Paul Smedberg. And Prince George’s State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy talks about a new diversion program for juveniles. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Produced by Mark Gunnery

Guests

  • Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
  • Paul Smedberg Chairman, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors
  • Aisha Braveboy State's Attorney, Prince George's County

Transcript

  • 12:00:09

    KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.

  • 12:00:29

    TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.

  • 12:00:30

    NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Aisha Braveboy, who is the State's Attorney for Prince George's County. Joining us in studio now is Paul Smedberg. He is the Chairman of WMATA, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors. Paul Smedberg, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:47

    SHERWOODYou're welcome, Kojo.

  • 12:00:48

    NNAMDIAnd two weeks from today we'll have Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld on the show. That's Friday August 23. Tom Sherwood, seems as if the electoral landscape in Virginia is changing in a way that favors Democrats, not only because the number of Democrats who are living in Virginia, because of how districts are shifting in population as a result of court rulings.

  • 12:01:12

    SHERWOODWell, you know, this has been an ongoing shift ever since 2017. Particularly, you know, when 25 women were elected. And I think they were all Democrats elected to Virginia State House. There's been a huge shift. President Trump is not popular in the state. The Republicans are increasingly white male oriented. There are a few women, who are Republicans. They have a huge election coming up in November, I think the 5th. All 140 seats in the State Legislature are up, 100 in the House, 40 in the Senate. Even Kurt Cox, who is the speaker of the House -- The Washington Post did a nice story about him -- he's in a district right outside of Richmond in Chesterfield. His district, because of the court suit about racial gerrymandering, he has gone from a district that was 76 percent white to one that is 58 percent white now. And he's in difficult -- he's working very hard in all the communities.

  • 12:02:11

    SHERWOODBut he's in trouble as are some other Republican leaders. Nick Freitas in Culpeper, who was seen -- is seen as one of the rising stars in the Republican Party has had trouble and can't get on the ballot in Culpeper now. He's going to have to run a write in because he messed up the application that he was supposed to send into state elections. So the Republicans are in somewhat disarray and the Democrats are sensing they could have a very big victory in November.

  • 12:02:37

    NNAMDICome November all the seats in the General Assembly will be up for grabs. Paul Smedberg, you identify as a Democrat.

  • 12:02:45

    PAUL SMEDBERGCorrect.

  • 12:02:46

    SHERWOODOh, yeah, an Alexandria Democrat.

  • 12:02:49

    SMEDBERGAlexandria Democrat.

  • 12:02:51

    SHERWOODThe people republic of Alexandria.

  • 12:02:52

    NNAMDIThat's right. He is from Alexandria Democrat. Jack Evans fined by the city's Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, a fine of $20,000. Apparently that is as much settlement as it is fine, isn't it?

  • 12:03:08

    SHERWOODYeah, it's a settlement. It's not clear. It was not clear. I looked on the report on exactly how the $20,000 are arranged, because previous violations of ethics -- there have been, you know, 3 and 5,000 and $4,000 settlements. So I'm not sure where this is. But this resulted from the Council's reprimand of Jack Evans earlier this year about using his office to promote his private business. And so the Board of Ethics and Accountability wanted to reach an agreement with Evans. Had they not reached an agreement by, I think the end of this week, then they would have filed some complaints against him, and he would have had to go through a whole hearing process.

  • 12:03:47

    SHERWOODHe doesn't admit any wrongdoing to the Board, but he agreed to pay the 20,000 to kind of end that matter. Of course, the big thing for Jack Evans is that there's still a federal investigation of his activities as a councilmember and as a member of the Metro Board. And then there's a law firm at the behest of the D.C. Council, which also is investigating him administratively. And it's due to have its report in mid-September or shortly thereafter. So it's not over for Jack Evans.

  • 12:04:15

    NNAMDIAnd the Board says Evans and his staff have to undergo -- his legislative staff has to undergo remedial ethics training by October. What's that all about?

  • 12:04:24

    SHERWOODWell, the BEGA, the Board of Ethics and Accountability has ethics training and you're supposed to take these classes as a Council staff member, and because of these ethics violations --

  • 12:04:39

    NNAMDIHow does the remedial part of it work?

  • 12:04:41

    SHERWOODWell, you have to come in for a refresher course. You know, you may not remember this from your last meeting here. But as part of the efforts to make sure that government employees from the lowest level of employee to the elected officials know what the ethics laws are and that they abide by them.

  • 12:04:57

    NNAMDIAs we said, our guest is Paul Smedberg. He is Chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors and if you have questions for him 800-433-8850. You can also send an email to us at kojo@wamu.org. We'd like to get straight since we have been discussing the former Board Chair, Jack Evans. You became chair after the longtime chair, his term ended. And Jack Evans left the Board after a Metro ethics investigation. How has that affected the start of your tenure? How have you managed your new role in the shadow of the scandal?

  • 12:05:37

    SMEDBERGWell, I think our or my focus and our Board's focus is to, you know, move beyond that incident and to focus on the issues that are really going to matter for Metro and more importantly for its customers. So we fully intend to do that. And in September one of my priorities is going to be bringing back some recommendations that we had as an ethics committee to the full Board asking them to look at some changes to our ethics reviews.

  • 12:06:13

    NNAMDIAllow me to follow up for a second, because The Washington Post editorial board called the Evans investigation incompetent and unacceptable. And Zack in Petworth has a question about that. Zack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:06:25

    ZACHYes. Hi, hi. Thank you, Kojo. So my question is what is the new chair willing to do to reform how the WMATA ethics committee handles these types of things? I know that Mr. Smedberg actually was one of the four men that served on the ethics committee. So I'd like to know directly what the changes will be. And then more broadly speaking what steps should the WMATA Board make to make the board more transparent to residents that live in the D.C. region?

  • 12:06:56

    NNAMDIPaul Smedberg.

  • 12:06:57

    SMEDBERGSo at the end of our review, three of us, three of the board members or three of the ethics committee members signed a letter to the Board recommending six specific items. First, that we recommended that we compose the committee of odd members upping the membership to five. That the ethics committee would be required to provide a non-privileged written report of its findings to full board in public session. That the Board would have a resolution that would be required to close an ethics matter. That the Board would consider including a standard of evidence in the code for a finding of a violation of the code. That the WMATA office of inspector general would automatically conduct an independent review of all Board ethics investigations. And that we have a look at our disclosure forms and look to see if there's any part of that that should be revised.

  • 12:07:56

    SMEDBERGSo those were the six things that we brought forward. The General Council, she and her office are looking at that now. And it's our plan to bring something forward in September to the full Board.

  • 12:08:05

    SHERWOODThe ethics panel investigated Jack Evans and found that you closed the matter without further action when he agreed to disclose or his consulting agreement with, I think, Colonial Parking. And that was the end of the matter until the raw papers of the law firm that helped you investigate were made public. Is there any concern that raw investigative reports were made public or leaked to the press, which, of course, made the whole Evans thing blow up? Is that a concern at all or was it good that that information was brought out?

  • 12:08:39

    SMEDBERGWell, you know, we want a process that's fair and transparent and that is, you know, focuses on accountability. We reviewed the information and like Kojo said we had the one finding. And, you know, we brought the matter to a, you know, to a close. You know, so the information out there was, you know, supposed to be privileged, but it was leaked and, you know, you have to deal with that.

  • 12:09:09

    SHERWOODI want to go to you. A lot of people don't know you. They know that you're the new chair. Evans finished his term and he handed you the gavel when you became the new chairman and as he was leaving the Board. But you are a longtime -- I think five terms on the Alexandria City Council elect, right?

  • 12:09:25

    SMEDBERGCorrect. Correct.

  • 12:09:26

    SHERWOODAnd your personality I was told cannot be more different than Jack Evans, who was quite outspoken on matters. He bullied Virginia and Maryland over refusal to have dedicated funding for Metro. Did a great deal things like that. But you're understated, and someone told me, on a conversation yesterday, don't mistake being understated for being weak. And I went back and looked at your Alexandria record and I found that I think it's in your last campaign a business group from West Alexandria asked you some business questions and one of the written questions was, will you take your campaign signs down? And apparently that irritated you because in your written response you said you always take your campaign signs down. And then you added a parenthetical remark that said, what a stupid question from a business related survey. Do you remember doing that?

  • 12:10:23

    SMEDBERGI do.

  • 12:10:24

    SHERWOODThat seemed to be out of character. Everyone doesn't complain, but everyone says you're so understated that you're misunderstood sometimes. Are you working on that for your time as Chair at the Metro Board?

  • 12:10:35

    SMEDBERGWell, they definitely should not take my approach to things as being a sign of weakness. That's for sure. I like to be collaborative and work with folks and try to build consensus.

  • 12:10:49

    NNAMDII'd like to get the record state. Some media were reporting that the Silver Line extension has a timeline currently to open next July, but a Metro spokesperson says that is not accurate. What's the story?

  • 12:11:01

    SMEDBERGSo when you have any large scale project like the Silver Line there are obviously issues there and we've read about them in the paper. But I want to clear that the Metro Board needs to be absolutely comfortable that when we accept this project from the Airports Authority that we won't have any ongoing maintenance or reliable issues that could disrupt customers and would create any undo financial burden.

  • 12:11:30

    SHERWOODJust so people will understand, Metro is not building the Silver Line.

  • 12:11:33

    SMEDBERGThat's correct.

  • 12:11:34

    SHERWOODThe Airports Authority is building the line and they want to turn it over to you. But there have been questions about the concrete and various other things. And just like it was in the transit center in Silver Spring that it cost Metro I think millions of dollars, because you took that over without knowing that it was in good shape. So you're insisting that you get, what kind of clean bill of health will you have to get on that before you take Silver Line? And then, of course, you have to test the line and run the cars before you can open.

  • 12:12:05

    SMEDBERGYeah, so I think what people -- you know, we hear this term substantial completion and that's between the contractor and the Airport Authority. But then when they turn it over to Metro there's going to be what's akin to a, you know, home inspection. We have high standards and everything that we're going to look at that Paul Wiedefeld and his team are going to be focusing in on. And, you know, that we are not going to accept anything that isn't ready to be, you know, to be certified. And then once we do have it, I think the date was July 20th, Kojo, 2020. But once we do accept something then there's weeks of certification, testing, training. So the actual opening date, you know, will be after that, if that's the date that they're shooting for. And that will be determined, of course, by the Board of Directors.

  • 12:13:01

    SHERWOODMore immediately is the reopening of the station south of Reagan National Airport. I think six stations. People have had to take buses. People have taken their cars. Mr. Wiedefeld told reporters I think yesterday in a tour that you hope to have those stations reopened in early September if there's no weather event that stops you from doing it. Are you in agreement with that? That's the plan.

  • 12:13:29

    SMEDBERGThat's the plan. And everything we have seen and has been reported back to us shows that the contractor is on schedule. So the plan is September 9th that the stations will be open. They won't be entirely complete. There will be probably some finishing work being done, but the stations will be open and they will be safe. And, you know, people will be able to ride.

  • 12:13:52

    SHERWOODOne fear is that some of the customers, who have now found other ways to getting to work will not come back. Is there any concern? Do you have any empirical information about whether the people will come back or not?

  • 12:14:03

    SMEDBERGWell, I think, you know, if you look at overall ridership is up in Metro for the last four or five months. If you look at the bus ridership, the shuttles that we've had during the summer months close to 65 percent of the riders have stayed with those shuttles. But anecdotally I will say several people have told me that they understand that Metro has to do these projects.

  • 12:14:28

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, when we come back we'll continue this conversation with Paul Smedberg. He's the Chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors. If you have questions or comments for him or if you have already called, stay on the line. The number is 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:15:13

    NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Aisha Braveboy. She's the State's Attorney for Prince George's County. Joining us in studio now is Paul Smedberg. He is the Chairman of the WMATA Board of Directors. Tom Sherwood.

  • 12:15:26

    SHERWOODMr. Chairman, let's talk about something that all your customers are interested in. I think we're in the third year of no fare increase. And while Metro is going -- getting back to good or whatever that slogan was, I don't know that you can have four years of no fare increases. I understand that Mr. Wiedefeld, the General Manager has to make a proposal to the Board in November. And then the Board will discuss it up until the next spring. What is your feeling now going forward? Are we going to see fare increases, Metrorail and buses going into the next fiscal year for Metro?

  • 12:16:00

    SMEDBERGYeah, I think it's still too early to say. We are going to wait to hear from the General Manager and see what he has in his proposed budget. There is actually a policy on record that states every two years that there will be a serious review if not a fair increase. And you are correct. We are in our third year now without a fare increase. And to that, you know, it was a decision not to do that obviously. But we'll have to wait and see what the General Manager brings back to us in the fall.

  • 12:16:31

    SHERWOODIt would be unusual if he were to say, No fare increase, after all the work Metro has been doing to fix the system.

  • 12:16:37

    SMEDBERGYeah.

  • 12:16:38

    NNAMDIState of Maryland is withholding $56 million in funding for Metro. I'll let Tom Sherwood take it from there.

  • 12:16:44

    SHERWOODWell, you know, this is -- I was actually speaking to Jack Evans the former chairman, who said that if he were still chairman just as he railed against Maryland and Virginia for dedicated funding he said he would be raising holy hell about Hogan deciding for the first time ever for any jurisdiction to simply withhold money. This is money for buses and trains, capital money, because they want -- they say they want better accountability for the money. But this would be a terrible thing if Virginia and D.C. decided they would withhold money because they don't like things. Have you spoken directly to the governor and said, give us the money?

  • 12:17:19

    SMEDBERGI have not. The discussions between WMATA and the State of Maryland have been between staff. And they are working toward an agreement right now that hopefully will be resolved to Maryland's satisfaction. It would be pretty devastating to the organization if they continue to withhold that money. And Maryland and the District --

  • 12:17:41

    SHERWOODThis is a Hogan Holdup. I'm calling it the Hogan Holdup. And there's another payment due on September the first.

  • 12:17:46

    SMEDBERGFirst, that's correct.

  • 12:17:47

    NNAMDIWhat do you think is at the core of this dispute? Tom Sherwood likes to say this is The Politics Hour. And there's a political difference going on in Maryland in terms of road versus rail. The governor tends to favor road and a lot of the legislators in places like Montgomery and Prince George's County tend to favor rail. Do you think this dispute is in part related to that?

  • 12:18:09

    SMEDBERGIt could be. I don't want our Board to get involved in the internal politics of Maryland. We have seen letters that we have received copies of going back and forth between legislative members and the governor's office and the secretary. Those are issues that they should resolve on their own. But for me, and I know other board members, it's important that we focus on, you know, addressing these issues regionally. This is a big issue and we need to focus on real process matters and ones that simply aren't going to impact Metro's ability to advance capital projects, and won't put the agency's credit rating at risk.

  • 12:18:50

    SHERWOODTo be fair with Maryland and very quickly -- Maryland has complained that there's a lack of accurate audit information.

  • 12:18:55

    NNAMDIAnd transparency.

  • 12:18:56

    SHERWOODAnd that Maryland may be paying, it says too much. But, again, withholding money seems like an extreme thing for a partner to do.

  • 12:19:04

    NNAMDIHere's Andrew in Fairfax. Andrew, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:08

    ANDREWHi, Kojo, thanks for having me on. Mr. Smedberg, I'm the Vice Chair of the WMATA Riders Advisory Council. I think my colleague Colin Reusch, has congratulated you on your election, but allow me to do the same. So there have been two main things that have been coming up recently in a lot of our discussions. First of all the quality of WMATA's ability and consistency and clarity when communicating. And second of all the ongoing need to address the ridership concerns, which, of course, WMATA staff proposed in May of '18 with the stabilizing and growing ridership report.

  • 12:19:50

    ANDREWBut just looking at the last week on the communications front I've heard from a lot of folks actually down in Alexandria, who have been experiencing issues with buses like the 11Y where the supplemental service was pulled. And there was really no announcement about it. So the schedules were never updated. And so they would be looking at the different apps that you can use to view bus schedules.

  • 12:20:19

    NNAMDIOkay. We got to get to a question here.

  • 12:20:21

    ANDREWAnd so, yeah. I'm sorry, Kojo. So what is WMATA doing to improve communications on these issues? What's the plan for restoring ridership? And we'd also like to know when we can welcome you to the next RAC meeting.

  • 12:20:34

    SMEDBERGThank you, Andrew. I think I'll be meeting with the RAC in October actually. The September date didn't work out, but I think I'll be meeting with you in October. You know, this is going to be a commitment of ours to, you know, focus, and one of my immediate priorities will be, you know, consumer focused issues specifically on ridership. And I know we have a team now that is looking at communications and how we communicate out to folks. And how we can do that and obviously will engage the RAC on helping with some of that. And, you know, I'm sorry to hear about the 11Y and some of the changes there. I did hear about that myself. I think those have been resolved now, but, you know, it's something that we're going to continually improve on. And, you know, it's incumbent upon us to that.

  • 12:21:28

    SHERWOODDo you support keeping -- that there was a move to get rid of the Riders Advisory Council a year or so ago. I can't remember exactly when, but you decided to keep it. But they keep saying they can help Metro if they can get information from Metro. They can give you a rider level view, but they get the feeling that RAC is not respected within Metro.

  • 12:21:48

    SMEDBERGYeah, I think we need to look at RAC in a different way. And how we engage with them is going to be important. And how they can help the Board or the agency itself with some of its strategic initiatives.

  • 12:21:59

    NNAMDIGot an email from Antonia, my question for your Metro guest is about fare jumpers. Nearly every time my husband and I take the Metro we watch as individuals just walk right through the middle of the fare gates. What's more infuriating is that Metro employees stand there and watch them. My husband and I feel like total chumps for actually paying to use the Metro. What would you say to Antonia? Not stop paying, I hope.

  • 12:22:21

    SMEDBERGYeah, do not stop paying. We encourage everyone to pay obviously and it is important for the system. Fare evasion is an issue and it has been discussed and talked about recently. We did receive a presentation not too long ago. There will be a much broader discussion in the fall about this. This is an issue that not only WMATA, but every agency around the country is dealing with right now. You know, we hear the social justice issues, which members of the D.C. Council and others have raised. But it's also -- as Antonia states about fairness and it does take a lot of money out of the system. And, you know, we want to make sure that, you know, we have policies and fares in place that are going to --

  • 12:23:10

    SHERWOODCan I? Let me ask you about terrorism. We've had horrific shootings in Dayton and El Paso. We had one in Virginia Beach not long ago. There have been any number of dozens just this year of various shootings. Where does terrorism fit now on the Metro Board's concerns, with the Metro Police Department, is it large enough? We live in a free society. You have all these stations with multiple entrances. You have zillions of buses going, you know, a million miles. What is the safety level of Metro that you can tell us about now given that people are somewhat concerned about it? They have to live their lives, but they are somewhat concerned about terrorism attacks more so now than previously.

  • 12:23:49

    SMEDBERGYeah, there are a lot of protocols in place within Metro, that the Chief of the Metro Transit Police is very engaged on a regional level, not only with the localities and state authorities, but also the federal authorities. And there is constant review, extensive exercises that take place.

  • 12:24:11

    SHERWOODAnd they're communicating...

  • 12:24:13

    SMEDBERGAbsolutely. Absolutely.

  • 12:24:13

    SHERWOOD...so if something were to happen on Metro, it wouldn't just be Metro police immediately. It would also be D.C. police or federal police, Secret Service...

  • 12:24:20

    SMEDBERGAbsolutely.

  • 12:24:20

    SHERWOOD...whoever it might be.

  • 12:24:21

    SMEDBERGCorrect.

  • 12:24:23

    NNAMDIGot a Tweet from Mystic Warrior: what is the timeline for the Potomac Yard Metro station? Will this require another Blue/Yellow line shutdown? Is it true that imminent domain is being used to acquire more land?

  • 12:24:33

    SHERWOODThis is not a very good subject for you. (laugh) Let me say, I don't think it's a very good subject for Mr. Smedberg. Just the background of that is, that was a big issue in your last campaign, that you didn't let people know about the southern entrance. But we won't get into rehashing that now, but where does that stand?

  • 12:24:53

    SMEDBERGYeah, so they're -- we're moving ahead obviously with the Potomac Yard project. Right now there's an important hearing coming up about the environmental permits on September 6th. The early construction mobilization activities are underway. The WMATA and the city of Alexandria are reviewing suggested options for the southern entrance. Money for that has come from the Commonwealth as part of the Amazon Virginia Tech package.

  • 12:25:22

    SHERWOODYeah, Amazon should just write the check, I think.

  • 12:25:24

    SMEDBERG(laugh) A lot of people have suggested that but, you know, the state has stepped forward, and we definitely appreciate that, the leadership from the secretary and the director of the DRPT in Richmond. So, we're hoping that we'll have final plans and a design by the end of the year. And there is a local group, the Potomac Yard Implementation Group that is, you know, monitoring this and working on this project.

  • 12:25:47

    NNAMDIDilicast Tweets: are there any plans for Metro to consider a monthly pass for students and commuters?

  • 12:25:54

    SMEDBERGI think there's going to be a lot of fare innovations, you know, moving forward and into the future. I know there are certain localities in Maryland, the District, and I know the city of Alexandria. I think Arlington is now looking at it. Fairfax is potentially looking at it, where high school students can ride, you know, buses and, you know, Metro, you know, through special passes. So, I think we're going to be seeing more of that in the future.

  • 12:26:20

    NNAMDIPaul Smedberg, he is the chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority WMATA Board of Directors. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:26:27

    SMEDBERGWoo, wow, that was quick. Thank you.

  • 12:26:29

    SHERWOODI was going to ask you about advertising in the Philips collection, but I'll wait until Mr. Wiedefeld gets here.

  • 12:26:34

    NNAMDIWe do have to move on. Mr. Wiedefeld, the Metro General Manager is scheduled to be our guest on Friday, August 23rd. You don't want to miss that. Up next, Aisha Braveboy, State's Attorney for Prince Georges County.

  • 12:26:46

    NNAMDIBut, Tom Sherwood, apparently, the D.C. school's chancellor has revealed that some three in 10 public school employees have expired background checks. They're supposed to get background checks when they get the job, and the background checks are supposed to be renewed every two years. But, apparently, some of the people who have been employing people who work in D.C. Public Schools have not been renewing those background checks. And this all came to light in the wake of a report on WAMU about a school employee inappropriately touching a 13-year-old.

  • 12:27:20

    SHERWOODOnce again, the news media interfering with things. (laugh) You know, this should be as routine as taking attendance records at schools, but obviously that was a problem in the city school system. You know, every employee -- there are 4,000 something teachers. There are about 3,500 support staff. All of them every two years are supposed to have a background check just to make certain that they're on the right side of the law. There are no concerns about their activities.

  • 12:27:48

    SHERWOODAnd then the report showed that 30 percent of them don't have them. So, Mr. Ferebee, Lewis Ferebee the new chancellor to the system is promising that administration will get itself together, and all these investigations will be completed in October. And that, I guess, going forward, they'll follow the rules, and they'll all get these investigations done every two years.

  • 12:28:10

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with the States's Attorney for Prince Georges County, Aisha Braveboy If you have questions or comments for Aisha Braveboy, start calling now, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:28:52

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Like it or not, Tom Sherwood is still here. (laugh) He's our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Joining us in studio now is Aisha Braveboy. She's the State's Attorney in Prince Georges County. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:29:04

    AISHA BRAVEBOYThank you so much for having me today.

  • 12:29:07

    NNAMDIThis week, a police officer was convicted of assault and misconduct in office, apparently using excessive force in arresting a homeless person. I saw in The Post report today, the Washington Post report, a photo of you standing next to the individual to whom this happened. Tell us what your feelings are about this. What were you hearing from constituents and from police leadership about police community relations in this regard?

  • 12:29:33

    BRAVEBOYWell, let me just say, it was a pleasure to be able to bring justice to Mr. Verdier. Mr. Verdier, as was mentioned, was homeless. And at the time of his arrest, he was simply trying to, you know...

  • 12:29:52

    NNAMDI...find a warm place to sleep.

  • 12:29:53

    BRAVEBOY...find a warm place to sleep, maybe some food. Yes, he broke the law. He broke into a facility. It was an unoccupied facility, so it was a 4th degree burglary, for which he was originally charged, although those charges were dropped. But there was no right of Officer Downey to brutally attack him in the way that he did. I was very pleased that the other officers who were on the scene spoke truthfully, testified truthfully. The victim in the case also testified truthfully. And we were able to achieve justice for Mr. Verdier and for the community.

  • 12:30:36

    SHERWOODAnd, to be clear, this suspect who had been arrested was in the car, handcuffed...

  • 12:30:41

    BRAVEBOY...handcuffed and seat belted. Yes.

  • 12:30:42

    SHERWOOD...and buckled into the squad car when the officer came up, according to the testimony, struck him in the face several times. I mean...

  • 12:30:49

    BRAVEBOYThat is correct.

  • 12:30:49

    SHERWOOD...was there any defense of that? Did the officer have any defense, even if it wasn't believable?

  • 12:30:55

    BRAVEBOYYeah, so they did pone defense. They claimed that the defendant -- or the -- not the -- the victim attempted to head butt him twice. However, his own reenactment of the scenario of just -- that defense was just not credible, even if you were to believe all of his testimony, which, of course, we took issue with.

  • 12:31:17

    NNAMDIIn addition to which before it occurred, the officer apparently asked the officer whose vehicle was being used, whether or not his camera was turned on in the vehicle.

  • 12:31:29

    BRAVEBOYThat's right. He had a response for that, too. He claimed that he wanted to know, just because he thought he might have to go hands-on. And so if he -- and that means he might have to actually touch or interact with the suspect. And he claimed that he just wanted to make sure if the camera was available, that that camera was turned on to record everything that happened. But we don't believe that's credible, either. He also put on his gloves before he administered the closed-fist blows to the head of this unarmed, again, seat-belted, handcuffed suspect, or suspect in that case.

  • 12:32:09

    SHERWOODOne more about that. Both you and Chief Hank Stawinski spoke at this and expressed regrets. But, of course, you know this affects the image of the entire Prince Georges police force, which has worked for decades to try to get out from under some very horrific reputations that it's had. Where are we now, do you think, with the chief getting the police force, you know, to deemphasize events rather than make them more (unintelligible)...

  • 12:32:39

    NNAMDI(overlapping) In addition to which, you created a Public Integrity Unit to handle police misconduct and excessive force cases.

  • 12:32:45

    BRAVEBOYAbsolutely. I have a great attorney who is the chief of that unit, Renee Joy. She's amazing. She was the lead attorney on this case. I did create the Public Integrity Unit as a standalone unit that really uses their independent judgment when they decide to move forward on cases. Of course, they discuss it with me, but I encourage us to be courageous. And so she was in this instance. And both her and Mr. Eubanks, who also prosecuted the case with her, did an excellent job.

  • 12:33:16

    BRAVEBOYBut to answer your question, Tom, I mean, you know, police community relations, I believe, should not be undermined by this case. It should be informed. Yes, we do have some bad apples, but guess what? We were able to get a conviction in this case because of the testimony of officers. And so I believe there has been a culture created there for many of our officers to tell when there is something that is wrong that occurred, even if it is -- even if it was a superior officer. And, at that time, the highest-ranking officer on the scene was Officer Downey. So, you had two relatively young officers who were willing to be courageous. And I believe that that also needs to be part of the story.

  • 12:33:56

    SHERWOODI know we want to get to the groundbreaking Diversion Program for juveniles, but I wanted to just ask you a couple of quick things. The chief also shut down a couple of rogue incidents where the police officers in some districts were getting more time off if they stepped up their enforcement. Are you comfortable that that's ended now?

  • 12:34:14

    BRAVEBOYI believe that the chief has taken responsibility to ensure that the appropriate disciplinary actions were taken against those individuals that violated departmental policies.

  • 12:34:25

    SHERWOODAnd, very quickly, the Maryland State Police have just suddenly announced that business owners can carry their guns 24/7, rather than just previously with a permit that would go to and from work or at work. But now the Baltimore Sun editorial just ripped this program and said this is outrageous. Your own thoughts about it?

  • 12:34:44

    BRAVEBOYYou know, I'm not sure why they made that decision. Again, you know, I think, obviously, people have a right to carry guns for certain circumstances and for limited reasons and purposes in public. But I don't know why they made this decision. I don't know what they were trying to correct with the current policy. So, unfortunately, we don't get to opine on those issues, but...

  • 12:35:13

    SHERWOODThe state legislature has moved to maybe take the powers away from this board, and the governor vetoed that plan this year. And they're going to bring it back and maybe override the veto.

  • 12:35:21

    BRAVEBOYYeah, and I hope that the legislature intervenes.

  • 12:35:24

    SHERWOODAnd one more quick question, given the massacres that we've been reeling with, assault weapons, there's been -- there was a push to get Congress to come back and immediately re-impose an assault weapons ban. There was one from 1994 to 2004. Are assault weapons in Prince Georges County a significant part of the crime issue that you're dealing with?

  • 12:35:46

    BRAVEBOYWe do see assault weapons, but most of the crimes that we see committed by firearms are handguns. But we do, on occasion, have assault weapons also involved. And so we just believe that reducing the number of assault weapons on our streets, period, is the right way to go. And I'm hopeful that congress will move in that direction.

  • 12:36:10

    NNAMDIYour office recently announced a new plan on juvenile justice reform in Prince Georges County. What's the idea, and why now?

  • 12:36:17

    BRAVEBOYWell, I believe that it's very important not only to ensure that my community is safe now, but also we need to make sure that we create conditions for our communities to be safe in the future. And what I observed in my time so far as state's attorney is that so many of our defendants have juvenile records, which means whatever happened to them in the juvenile system didn't work.

  • 12:36:46

    BRAVEBOYAnd so our goal is to ensure that we provide our young people with the best chance for success, which absolutely means that they will face consequences. It absolutely means that victims will be made as whole as possible, and that they will feel that the justice system is also working for them. But, in many cases, we have young people who are suffering from mental health issues, who have addictions, who are homeless, who are dealing with so many difficult, very complex issues, that simply prosecuting them and confining them for a period of time is not the answer.

  • 12:37:27

    NNAMDIAs a result of which, you are sending more of these young offenders to diversion programs, as opposed to jail. What do these or what will these diversion programs look like?

  • 12:37:37

    SMEDBERGAnd, excuse me, who are we talking about? When we're saying young people, is there an age group that we're talking about, so we'll be clear who we're talking about?

  • 12:37:43

    BRAVEBOYSo, we're talking about youthful offenders, like folks under the age of 18.

  • 12:37:49

    SHERWOODUnder the age of 18, okay.

  • 12:37:49

    BRAVEBOYUnder the age of 18, yes.

  • 12:37:51

    SHERWOODOkay. I'm sorry, (unintelligible)...

  • 12:37:52

    NNAMDI(overlapping) What do the diversion programs look like?

  • 12:37:55

    BRAVEBOYWell, we'll have several different models, depending on the needs of the child. So, our goal is to review all of the charging documents, look at the history of that young person, and put them in the best setting for success. So, what we know is that some young people need mental health intervention, and so we will provide mental health counseling for them and their families. We have partners that will do that. I mean, we won't provide it directly, but we have partners who will do that.

  • 12:38:24

    BRAVEBOYWe also know that a lot of our young people don't have intact families. And so providing them with an opportunity for mentorship is important. So, as you probably remember, we've had several conversations about this, I'm worked with a juvenile diversion program for over 15 years. And that program provides mentors, mentorship, tutoring and also just, you know, group counseling. And those are the type of interventions we believe will work for our young people.

  • 12:38:59

    BRAVEBOYWe also follow them through the school system making sure that they attend classes, that they're performing in their classes. Because a lot of times young people get into trouble because they fall behind in their classes, their self-esteem goes down. Or they're not going to school because they're so far behind. And so our goal, again, is to provide them with the best possible chance for success which is why I'm so grateful that our new CEO Monica Golson is also at the table understanding that we have to work hand in hand with our school system. Because they have the students at least eight hours during the day.

  • 12:39:37

    SHERWOODRight. They should be doing that before they get in trouble.

  • 12:39:39

    BRAVEBOYAbsolutely. And one of the things that Ms. Golson -- or Dr. Golson mentioned at the press conference is that the school resource officers who provide for security in our schools should first be mentors. And so that the first time a child interacts with a school resource officer or a police officer should not be a negative experience, but a positive one.

  • 12:39:58

    NNAMDIYou also implemented a program called Back on Track. What's that?

  • 12:40:02

    BRAVEBOYWell, actually, Back on Track was implemented by my predecessor Ms. Alsobrooks...

  • 12:40:07

    NNAMDINever heard of her. (laugh)

  • 12:40:09

    SHERWOODShe went off to some obscure position somewhere, but...

  • 12:40:10

    BRAVEBOY(laugh) Well, she is fabulous, let me tell you. (laugh) Well, she's wonderful, but...

  • 12:40:16

    SHERWOODDo you support her running for governor?

  • 12:40:18

    BRAVEBOYWell, yeah. Ms. Alsobrooks is a wonderful county executive and I know she's focused on that job for now.

  • 12:40:25

    SHERWOODThere you go, perfect answer. Back to -- I'm sorry, what is the name of the new program?

  • 12:40:29

    NNAMDIBack on Track.

  • 12:40:30

    BRAVEBOYBack on Track. Back on Track was a program...

  • 12:40:31

    SHERWOODLet's get back on track. (laugh)

  • 12:40:33

    BRAVEBOYRight, absolutely. Back on Track was a program actually first initiated by Kamala Harris, or Senator Harris, which gave first-time drug offenders -- drug dealers, really -- an opportunity to -- they would plead guilty, but once they completed a program, they would be able to get their guilty verdict struck. And they would be able to essentially not have a record, and get them back on track for success.

  • 12:41:02

    BRAVEBOYWhat we've done since we've been in the office is we've expanded the number of people who participate in that program. When we first got there, there were just a little less than a handful of people in that program. And so we've more than doubled it. And, in fact, what we're looking at now is expanding that to provide more people with that opportunity. Because the criteria for that program is very narrow, and we just couldn't get to some of the defendants that we thought could benefit from it, just didn't qualify for it. So, we're looking at expanding the criteria.

  • 12:41:37

    SHERWOODYou know there are some people who are listening to this program who are going to say...

  • 12:41:42

    NNAMDIThat's some liberal namby-pamby stuff you're involved in.

  • 12:41:44

    SHERWOODWell, I was going to say it that way. I was going to say there are some people under age 18 who commit heinous crimes.

  • 12:41:51

    BRAVEBOYYes. Oh, yeah.

  • 12:41:52

    SHERWOODSo, and you promise that you're not going to lessen any enforcement in the county for crimes committed. But is there some level of crimes below which or above which this program won't be available for diversion?

  • 12:42:05

    BRAVEBOYOh, so, the Back on Track program is very narrowly focused on drug dealers, first-time drug dealers.

  • 12:42:13

    SHERWOODI'm sorry, I'm talking about your Diversion Program.

  • 12:42:15

    BRAVEBOYOh, diversion, generally.

  • 12:42:16

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) On your diversion -- are there some crimes that simply wouldn't be diversion...

  • 12:42:20

    BRAVEBOYOh, absolutely. Absolutely.

  • 12:42:21

    SHERWOOD...like murder, or whatever?

  • 12:42:22

    BRAVEBOYAbsolutely. Murder, rape. You know, depending on the juvenile, if they've offended multiple times, they would likely not be eligible for diversion. So, yes, I mean, safety is our first priority. And let me make that clear. But most of the crimes committed by young people are not considered quote-unquote "serious in nature," but they are crimes nonetheless. And if we don't intervene, they may graduate into more serious crimes.

  • 12:42:52

    NNAMDIWhat I meant by my liberal namby-pamby comment was that...

  • 12:42:55

    SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yes, explain yourself.

  • 12:42:55

    NNAMDI...there are people who will think that this will encourage young people to engage in risky and illegal behavior, because now, they're less likely to be arrested for certain crimes than they were before.

  • 12:43:05

    BRAVEBOYWell, they would still be arrested for crimes. Let's be clear. So, the police would still arrest. The question is, what happens after the arrest. And so that's where we're intervening. And let me just say, for young people who participate in juvenile diversion programs, their recidivism rate is like 12 to 17 percent. For those who don't participate in diversion programs, the recidivism rate is between 52 and 57 percent.

  • 12:43:33

    BRAVEBOYSo, diversion works, and what our office is doing is offering diversion to more young people who wouldn't necessarily qualify under the current diversion process.

  • 12:43:43

    NNAMDIOne element of this plan is an attempt to decrease arrests within the school system, something -- and we mentioned public school CEO Monica Golson, she's onboard with that.

  • 12:43:52

    BRAVEBOYYes.

  • 12:43:52

    NNAMDIBut a lot of people probably don't know about this issue. What's the scale, what's the scope of young people being arrested at school?

  • 12:43:58

    BRAVEBOYWell, I can tell you there was a study that was released back in 2018, and it looked at all school-based arrests across the state of Maryland, from 2015 to 2016. So, out of the 24 jurisdictions, 21 percent of those arrests were out of Prince Georges County, which is very significant. Sixty-six percent statewide were African American children who were arrested. And so arrests in school disproportionately impacts Prince Georges County.

  • 12:44:27

    BRAVEBOYAnd students get arrested for things like school fights. They...

  • 12:44:32

    SHERWOODThese are arrested actually in the school, not just...

  • 12:44:35

    BRAVEBOYYes, they're arrested in the school. These are school-based arrests, only, that we're talking about.

  • 12:44:39

    SHERWOODSchool-based, okay.

  • 12:44:39

    BRAVEBOYYes, and for other crimes. And some because they have assaulted, let's say, the school resource officer. And so what Monica Golson and I understand is that the first interaction and how we interact with our young people matters, in terms of the outcomes. And so one of the things that we talked about was ending the school-to-prison pipeline. Part of what that means is understanding how to best interface with young people so that their behavior doesn't escalate to a point where they have committed a criminal act. And that's really important for us, because we don't want the school to be a breeding ground for people going into the system.

  • 12:45:23

    SHERWOODThis is not something you've called off the top of your head...

  • 12:45:26

    BRAVEBOYNo.

  • 12:45:26

    SHERWOOD...because for 15 years, you were the counselor at the Community Public Awareness Council, which actually did diversionary programs.

  • 12:45:32

    BRAVEBOYYes. And now they've diverted close to 5,000 young people out of the system, and, again, a very high success rate. Because once young people get a foundation, once we start addressing some of their needs, they turn their lives around.

  • 12:45:48

    SHERWOODThis is stop the schools-to-prison pipeline, period.

  • 12:45:51

    BRAVEBOYWe're ending the school-to-prison pipeline, absolutely.

  • 12:45:53

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Very quickly, we got a Tweet from Barry: in addition to counseling to juvenile offenders, does Prince Georges have any counseling in mind for the parents or guardians of those juveniles and their teachers?

  • 12:46:01

    BRAVEBOYYes, absolutely. See, young people live in the context of a family. And I learned that, because, you know, I worked, before I became States Attorney, at Children's National Health System. And so we dealt with...

  • 12:46:10

    SHERWOODChildren's Hospital, for everyone who doesn't know.

  • 12:46:12

    BRAVEBOYYes. (laugh)

  • 12:46:14

    NNAMDIYou've only got about 20 seconds.

  • 12:46:14

    BRAVEBOYOh, okay. Yeah, and so we do offer, and the diversion programs offer counseling for parents, as well.

  • 12:46:23

    NNAMDIAisha Braveboy is State's Attorney for Prince Georges County. Thank you so much for joining us.

  • 12:46:27

    BRAVEBOYThank you so much for having me.

  • 12:46:29

    NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Ingalisa Schrobsdorff and Mark Gunnery. Coming up on Monday, the federal government is pushing forward with plans to move major agencies out of D.C. So, what does that mean for federal workers and their families? And you'll soon be sharing the road with mopeds that will be available for rent in D.C., just like bikes and scooters. But many people, including experienced moped riders, are raising red flags. That all starts on Monday, at noon. Until then, hope you have a great weekend. Any big plans, Sherwood?

  • 12:46:57

    SHERWOODNothing. It's a beautiful weather weekend. I'm going to enjoy every moment of it.

  • 12:47:02

    NNAMDIHe's going to do absolutely nothing this weekend. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows