Here's a revealing glimpse of Bill Barr's vision for the future of law enforcement
by Rory Fleming
President Trump threw US Attorney General William Barr a big bone in the form of a January 22 executive order to establish a Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. As Filter reported, the framing of this venture promises to undermine criminal justice reform.
AG Barr has been all over the news lately, complaining about the handful of reform-minded elected prosecutors working to incrementally decarcerate their jurisdictions.
Now, through the composition of his Commission, we are getting a clear look at the kind of law enforcement official Barr deems laudable.
Most of the 18 commissioners are rural white southern sheriffs or police chiefs, while a handful are heads of federal law enforcement agencies, like the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). There’s David Bowdich, the FBI’s deputy director, whose bio notes that he “served as a SWAT Team operator and sniper.” The lawyers on the list include Commission Vice Chair Katharyn Sullivan, a senior official in Barr’s own office, whose resume includes presiding over a drug court.
The dominance of cops over prosecutors in the commission is inappropriate because cops are not decision-makers in terms of the bigger criminal justice picture. However, it’s informative to look at the prosecutors who are present, because Barr knows them personally, so it shines light on who he really likes.
Here are three of the commissioners whose records I find particularly telling.
Chesapeake City, Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney Nancy Parr
Nancy Parr, the elected prosecutor of Chesapeake, Virginia, is the president-elect of the hopelessly out-of-touch National District Attorney Association, which champs fake forensic science in court and continues to argue that marijuana legalization will cause its underage use and use while driving to skyrocket. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know Washington, as she was an honored speaker at a 2015 hearing on “America’s growing heroin epidemic,” held by the House Subcommittee On Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.
There, Parr told the Congressional body that, “For the past 30 years as a prosecutor, I have learned a lot about distributing drugs, and I have learned about simply possessing drugs. There is a big difference.” Specifically, in her view, that difference is “Dealers should be incarcerated”—demonstrating her ignorance of the reality that people who sell and use drugs are commonly the same people. She also furthered the false and harmful stereotype that people who use drugs tend to be thieves.
Parr did say, “I also know that we all want to save lives,” but harm reductionists who help people stay safe while using drugs would immediately call her bluff.
In one of her cases, Parr obtained a felony drug possession conviction for a woman whose boyfriend called 911 after he found her unconscious on a motel room floor from what turned out to be a fentanyl overdose. Prosecutions like these cause people who use drugs together not to call for help, which leads to death.
When not working to persecute people who use drugs, Commonwealth’s Attorney Parr is doing things like waiting until members of Congress demand accountability to charge security guards for slaying unarmed, elderly Chinese immigrants for playing Pokémon Go. Or illegally registering homeless people as “habitual drunkards” to enable their incessant harassment by police.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody
Just in case anyone still thought Trump was serious about rolling back the drug war after signing the First Step Act, consider the appointment of Commissioner Moody. As a former federal prosecutor who was individually praised by the Drug Enforcement Agency for her “excellence” (she’s also married to a DEA agent), Moody shares many of that agency’s regressive views.
After becoming Florida’s youngest criminal court judge, Westlaw Edge search results show that Moody convicted and sentenced a man for a burglary he pleaded guilty to in 2012, but without first checking if his plea was voluntary and competent. While the burglary was a part of a robbery spree and this count would not have likely affected his overall sentence, it raises professionalism issues and caused the Court of Appeal to reverse the decision.
Fitting with the trend that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” defense really only works if the shooter is white and the victim is a person of color, Judge Moody also gave incorrect jury instructions that led to a conviction for manslaughter for Trevor Dooley—a Black man who shot a white man when the latter tried to grab his gun during a physical scuffle on a basketball court in 2010 (Dooley later won the right to a retrial, which has yet to happen). That decision is particularly notable when Moody has extremely close ties with the NRA.
Currently, as Florida’s Attorney General, Moody is using taxpayer dollars to protest letting recreational marijuana legalization go to a popular vote. She also recently opposed letting people with nonviolent felony convictions regain their right to vote, which almost 65 percent of Florida voters approved. And as if taking a cue from Breitbart, her office runs an official website dedicated to “Black-on-Black” crime.
Pinellas County, Florida Sheriff Bob Gualtieri
Another resident of the Sunshine State, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri is a far-right conservative who apparently moved to the South to self-actualize as another Joe Arpaio. The sheriff demonizes immigrants by cherry-picking rare stories of undocumented people committing sexual assault.
In 2018, Gualtieri refused to arrest a white man—described by a prominent civil rights lawyer as a “self-appointed cop wannabe”—after he shot and killed a Black man, in another example of the curiously differing applications of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. When Reverend Al Sharpton came to town to talk to locals about that situation, Gualtieri told him to “go back to New York.” Gualtieri himself is from New York.
Ultimately, Gualtieri seems to want to treat America like a war zone, rather than a country that, like any other place on Earth, experiences some violent crime. Should we arm teachers? To the sheriff, the answer is a resounding yes.