Emancipate NC hosted a panel discussion on The Future of Wake County Criminal Justice Reform with Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman, Wake County District Attorney Candidate Damon Chetson, Emancipate NC’s Kerwin Pittman, and Save Our Sons’ Dr. Kimberly Muktarian on September 23, 2021.
The News & Observer described the event as “emotional,” as multiple directly-impacted community members turned out to ask D.A. Freeman tough questions about her decisions on cases ranging from police shootings to the reliance on lying confidential informants to her office’s alleged refusal to provide her email address to the public.
Dawn Blagrove moderated the panel in a “speed dating” style, asking each participant to answer “yes” or “no,” addressing subjects that Emancipate NC believes can have a monumental impact on the disparate outcomes in our criminal justice system, if they are addressed.
Speed Dating Questions:
- Will reviewing old convictions for errors and excessive sentencing improve the Wake County criminal justice system?
Lorrin Freeman: No, because it would be “setting aside the will of the jury and the judge and the system”
Damon Chetson: Yes, we should go back and look at cases with exceptionally long sentences to make sure they comport with justice; the 8th Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment in the USA. People are serving outrageous sentences that were done by the Wake County DA Office in the last six years.
Kerwin Pittman: Yes, we should definitely have a mechanism to go back and review these cases; the question is why we don’t have it? It needs to be implemented as soon as possible.
Kimberly Muktarian: Yes, Too many resources are placed in the penal system; We have a duty to not lock our men away, but to let them thrive.
- Will dismissing charges originating from a pretextual traffic stop improve the Wake County criminal justice system?
Lorrin Freeman: No, we need to be careful about continuing to bring charges that really disadvantage people because they are poor.
Damon Chetson: Yes, pretextual traffic stops are offensive. We must demand that police have a real reason to stop a car, not a fake reason.
Kerwin Pittman: Yes, the charges should be dismissed, period. I was pulled over for having my windows tinted, even though they were legal; the police were hoping to be able to search my vehicle and this happens to a lot of Black and brown men.
Kimberly Muktarian: Yes, it will stop the degradation of our men; you may call them “pretextual,” I call them “consent to lynch.”
- Will dismissing low level marijuana charges improve the Wake County criminal justice system?
Lorrin Freeman: No, here in Wake County we have diverted marijuana charges to send people to education and treatment.
Damon Chetson: Yes, low-level misdemeanor charges are dismissed in other counties, such as Mecklenburg and Durham, and the diversion programs in Wake are too restrictive and expensive.
Kerwin Pittman: Yes, when the DA stops prosecuting low-level marijuana, the police will stop charging people, and we can reimagine public safety
Kimberly Muktarian: Yes, I’m in favor of ending the bombardment of racism when it comes to low-level offenses; once NC makes marijuana legal, will they fix everyone’s record?
- Will a set of ADAs, walled off from the primary office, that solely considers prosecuting police misconduct improve the Wake County criminal justice system?
Lorrin Freeman: No, because such resources to look at police misconduct “is not where we are in reality, so I do not believe it would help.”
Damon Chetson: Yes, there should be a walled-off group of prosecutors to investigate and prosecute police officers who commit abuses or who are corrupt. I represented Kyron Hinton; the prosecution of individuals who were responsible for his beating and mauling was insufficient.
Kerwin Pittman: Yes, The district attorney’s office is always upholding what the RPD do, misconduct or not. No RPD officer charged in Kyron Hinton’s case; no shade, but I’m calling a spade a spade.
Kimberly Muktarian: Yes, absolutely, I think we have to have a group of people who pay direct attention to corruption in the criminal system, and that includes police, and I think we should have community liaisons
- Will ending cash bail improve the Wake County criminal justice system?
Lorrin Freeman: No, we are working to totally revise our pretrial practices and we are trying to get down to making sure that only those people who need to be held for public safety reasons or otherwise or held
Damon Chetson: Maybe, you can end up with a worse system [than cash bond], however, money should not be the reason someone is kept in jail. In Wake County, we have people with $1,000 bonds who cannot bond out who are clearly nonviolent. Wake was least effective at lowering jail populations during COVID, unlike Durham, Orange, and Chatham counties.
Kerwin Pittman: Yes, Let’s take the alternative because people are being criminalized for being poor; we have loan-sharks who are bail bondsmen; you have people sitting in jail on a $500 bond, a $300 bond. This system is disgusting.
Kimberly Muktarian: Yes, I support the end of cash bail. What you have is poverty criminalized and we have to stop having people broken by this system pay twice with their lives. We have more people in jail on drugs than in rehab.
- Will eliminating sentencing enhancers improve the Wake County criminal justice system?
Lorrin Freeman: No, sentencing enhancements are important for public safety in appropriate cases.
Damon Chetson: Yes, I will keep this one short.
Kerwin Pittman: Yes, sentencing enhancements are extremely problematic, and they hurt Black and brown populations.
Kimberly Muktarian: [did not have opportunity to answer]
Here are the final highlight reels of the event:
- Damon Chetson: “We need to end the death penalty in Wake County.”
- Kimberly Muktarian: “We don’t have mental illness; we have a mental anguish that comes from a longevity of injustice.”
- Lorrin Freeman: “For anybody to be wrongly charged, is a nightmare for any prosecutor.”
- Audience: “I almost lost my son to a minimum of 7 and a half years for nothing”
- Kerwin Pittman: “This is shameful, this is disgusting, this is disheartening.”
- Damon Chetson: “I hear the pain. I understand.”
- Kimberly Muktarian: “Why is it when we see a Black man with a gun, he is not worthy to have it?”
- Lorrin Freeman: “Even if we cannot criminally prosecute, it is not the same thing as me saying that everything was done the way it should have been.”
- Audience: “You have brushed my family to the side.”
- Dawn Blagrove: “Take a minute and sit with that trauma.”