• April 22nd, 2024
  • Monday, 09:17:28 AM

The Untouchables: The Overarching Influence of District Attorneys


Alexander Landau

 

The criminal justice system contains numerous intricacies that, quite frankly, the general public often fails to comprehend fully until they or their loved ones are directly affected. Ever wondered what transpires after an arrest? Who are the crucial individuals involved in the criminal justice system? Do you have awareness of your elected district attorney in your locality? Are you really presumed innocent until proven guilty? Lastly, the most significant question if you are a person of color: Do racial disparities persist in the charging practices of a District Attorney’s Office?

 

District attorneys act as the chief executive law enforcement authority within the criminal justice system. DA practices and the methods they employ — including charging decisions, dismissal rates and plea-bargain structure — warrant careful evaluation by the citizens that elected them in order to assess if cultural or racial bias exists in their application of the law.

 

Two recent cases, both depicted as road rage incidents by local media, have received contrasting treatment from district attorneys (DAs), prompting one to question whether race might be a contributing factor in their handling of these cases. Adam Frésquez, a Latino man, was murdered in Edgewater on May 3rd, 2023 at a Tesla charging station. Witnesses say they heard two gunshots, and saw Adam falling to the ground while another male jumped back in his vehicle and drove off. Adam had been maced in his face and shot twice in the back. Edgewater Police Dept. arrested and then released the man who murdered Adam. After 3 months the Frésquez family is still awaiting details from the investigation and for DA Alexis King to file charges against the shooter. The shooter in this case has claimed self-defense and his name, image and personal details have not been disclosed to the media.

 

In contrast, Stephan Long, a Black man, was assaulted by two white men in stopped traffic on I-25 in June. The first man jumped into Stephan’s car wearing a face mask and Stephan fired his licensed firearm in self-defense. Stephan too is claiming self-defense, and even though the incident was witnessed by many people, he was immediately arrested, charged with two counts of murder and held without bond by Denver DA Beth McCann. The media was quick to demonize this young Black college graduate and father, by repeatedly broadcasting his mugshot on TV and online.

 

These cases highlight the profound and detrimental impact racial biases, seemingly held by District Attorneys, have on communities of color.

 

These cases highlight the profound and detrimental impact racial biases, seemingly held by District Attorneys, have on communities of color. When District Attorneys hold inherent biases, it often results in harsher treatment for people of color, leading to over-policing, unequal access to bail, and more severe sentences. Such biases can also influence decision-making at various stages of the legal process — from charging individuals to negotiating plea deals, ultimately skewing the application of the law.

 

With the overwhelming majority of cases settling for plea-bargain, regardless of innocence or guilt one must ask, is justice being skewed by prejudice reinforced through systems? According to an article published in the Gazette written by former Arapahoe county DA George Brauchler In Sizing up our DAs, numbers don’t lie, “Over the past two years, the gap between the percentage of felony cases declined against white defendants versus Black in the 1st (Jeffco and Gilpin) and 18th districts is widening in favor of whites.”

 

After reviewing the data, one cannot help but ask if the same practices exist within the Denver DAs office. Biases erode the principle of equal justice under the law and undermine community trust. In order to create an equitable and just legal system for all, regardless of racial background, it is crucial for biases to be addressed and rectified.

 

The Frésquez and Long cases are just two examples that accentuate the existing inequalities within the criminal justice system’s treatment of people from Black and Brown communities and the unfortunate devaluation of their lives.

 

We believe that accountability is a key component to progress and earning trust and credibility in our communities. By demanding that individuals in positions of power and institutions are held accountable, we can move towards radical transformation and away from violent patterns that perpetuate systemic inequities that further damage marginalized communities.

 

We are asking the community to show up and support Calls to Action:

 

Thursday, August 24th at 3:00 pm we will gather at 201 W Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80202 as we demand District Attorney Beth McCann dismiss all charges against Stephan Long and release him from custody.

 

(Denver Justice Project gathered last Friday, August 11 and demanded District Attorney Alexis King charge the man who murdered Adam Frésquez.)

 

 

Alexander Landau is a Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Denver Justice Project.