In Texas, Democrats did not win big in the midterms when it came to statewide offices, but they did score wins in some other areas. Among them was Dallas County, where incumbent Republican District Attorney Faith Johnson was easily defeated by Democrat John Creuzot.
Creuzot has not been sworn in yet, but he is already making headlines for his take on the case of Botham Jean — a black man shot and killed in his apartment by a white off-duty police officer in September — as well as for the changes he hopes to make to the Texas criminal justice system.
“When you talk about criminal justice reform, that means different things to different people," Creuzot (@CreuzotForDA) tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson.
When asked about a new, bipartisan criminal justice overhaul that President Trump has voiced support for, Creuzot said, "Those are very limited proposals coming from the Trump administration.
"I'm talking about doing something different and more far-reaching than what he's talking about."
On a possible murder charge for the police officer who shot and killed Botham Jean
“One of the problems with this case is: What do the facts support as far as a charge? And in the state of Texas, manslaughter is when you've acted recklessly, and murder is when you've either acted intentionally or knowingly to cause the death of an individual, or you committed an act that was clearly dangerous to human life that caused the death of the other person. And there's nothing from what has been reported about the facts of this case in my mind that support a manslaughter charge, and all of the facts support a murder charge."
On Faith Johnson’s answer to why prosecutors are charging the officer with manslaughter instead of murder
“I think probably someone should have followed up and said, 'What's your personal opinion?' No one ever did that. And I think what she was saying to everyone in addition to that was that she had a spirited — I think was the word she used — discussion with them about the propriety of the charge, and then said that that was a confidential discussion. But once again, nobody asked her what was her personal opinion about it. And so, what I wrote about was my personal opinion based on the facts as I understood them to be, and that it should be murder."
On what Jean’s case says about the relationship between the police and African-Americans in Texas
“Let's just take that particular case out, because that case actually has some problems from the prosecutor's side. Obviously, the use of force and deadly force in encounters with African-Americans — mostly men — and poor people people of color in this country is beyond what is necessary, and sometimes it's just straight murder or some other criminal act by a police officer. I don't think that most of our police officers do that, but obviously some. It says something about our culture and where we are today in race relations and in treatment of different communities by the police.
“But I think that this particular case does have some very strong defensive issues, and I've written about that. When I wrote about the difference between murder and manslaughter, I included the potential problems that the prosecution will have with the case. ... No. 1 mistake of fact: If [the officer] was truly mistaken as to which apartment she was in and if she gets the benefit of that, then she may get the benefit of self-defense and defense of property at night in Texas. There are certain circumstances where you can defend property with deadly force but only at night. So those are kind of unique things to the state of Texas.”
On the changes to the criminal justice system he hopes to make
“Criminal justice reform means to me dealing with structural mass incarceration. ... It's not just about misdemeanor offenses. I have promised that we're not going to file — certainly on first time offenders — under 4 ounces of marijuana cases, and even if we do deal with a subsequent case, it will be as a public health problem as opposed to a criminal justice issue. ...
“We have a program right now that I started, for example, that deals with the two lowest level of felony offenses, where if you finish the program, the case is dismissed and it's expunged. But if there's no capacity for you to get into the program — for example, it's full — or if you don't need clinical intervention and you're not appropriate for the program, then you're prosecuted and you wind up with a criminal record. And I don't think that's fair, that's not balanced, and if we're going to let the folks who have the worst problems come out and get a case dismissed and expunged, then we ought to make that same process available.”
On how he would react if Trump were to look at his proposals and say they are too weak on crime
“If it came from his mouth, I wouldn't pay much attention to it at all to be quite honest. But, on the other hand ... Republicans, when polled on this issue and this approach, the approval of it is over 70 percent. And of course, people who identify themselves as Democrats, the approval rating is much higher. So it's really a bipartisan issue. Our legislature has increasingly put in laws that fund treatment and fund diversion, and we've put in more money to train judges and to incentivize communities, our counties, to have these programs, and that started under Rick Perry. ...
“In adopting these types of policies, we have closed eight prisons when we were projected to need 17,000 additional prison beds. So we've gone from 150,000 prisoners to [141,000], instead of going from 150,000 to 167,000, so it's been quite a savings to the state, and crime hasn't gone up. We've actually reduced crime by dealing with and addressing the underlying issues for criminal behavior.”
On what excites him most about his new role as district attorney
“I think the opportunity to realign the office where things are more effective, and that we focus on crime reduction and cost reduction and addressing structural mass incarceration — I think that's a big challenge. And in adopting new policies and new procedures and then looking at the outcomes to make certain that we're achieving our goals — I'm excited about that.”
Ashley Bailey produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Jackson Cote adapted it for the web.
This segment aired on November 20, 2018.