Democrat John Allen Brooks has launched his campaign for Hamilton County district attorney general to replace Neal Pinkston, who lost his bid for the Republican nomination to Coty Wamp. Brooks recently sat down with the Chattanooga Times Free Press to speak about his long-term and short-term plans for the office and why people should vote for him in the Aug. 4 general election.
Q: What does your 60- to 90-day plan look like?
A: Well, the first thing I would do is sit down and meet with the staff at the district attorney’s office, including the investigators. I would ask them what they thought should be done. I think that they’re the ones that are working there right now, and I don’t know when or if they’ve been asked. Now, the thing that I would be looking to do in 60 to 90 days would be setting priorities. The priorities are going to be prosecuting violent crimes and crimes against children. I have been a guardian ad litem, for children. I do that a whole lot, and the reason is, it’s one of those times I can try to make things better.
Q: What else is lacking in the current district attorney’s office that you would want to address?
A: I think serious crimes that involve violence should be moved quicker to trial. If you let a case sit around, and it’s four or five years old, who [rely on] the witnesses. And I don’t think that that’s good for anybody. It’s not good for the person charged. It’s not good for the people here.
(READ MORE: Brooks launches campaign for Hamilton County district attorney)
Q: Coming back to involving the staff. Should you get elected in August, do you see complete restructuring or rehiring of staff?
Q: Will you continue with the programs already in place and the investigations already set in place like the cold case unit, and the request from the current DA to the Department of Justice to investigate Silverdale Detention Center?
A: Let me deal with the cold case (unit): I don’t want to do away with it because I think it adds some value. But I would like to have cold cases much rarer. Let’s prosecute the cases. Quickly. I don’t want a homicide to sit around for five years, and I think it has been set for five years under the current standard. I think a cold case if you were going to do it, if it’s a year old, it should go to court. So if we’re gonna push, let’s push right now. Why wait five? Primarily homicide cases, you know, old robbery, or you want to solve them. But it’s families, the cold case is there to give an answer to families that have lost. So I’d keep it, but I’d do it differently.
As to the DOJ investigation into Silverdale, I’ve been an attorney for a long time. I have a lot of experience, and I have never seen it as bad as it is today. It is terrible out there. They don’t know. It is terrible. I think that the people that are incarcerated are at risk. I mean, a lot of them are there just for small things. And they end up getting brutalized. The guards aren’t there. They’re not taking care of them [the inmates]. They’re [the guards] not doing the job that they need to do. They just keep them [inmates] locked up all the time, they don’t let them out, not an hour week. Is it surprising when bad things happen? No. I’ve been around a long time. And I have never seen it so poorly run as it is today. There’s no cleanliness. There’s nothing. The answer would be a resounding yes.
Q: Talking about a safe place, there have been quite a few moments where law enforcement officers have crossed the line. How do you feel about prosecuting those who have shown abuse of power?
A: The fact is that police officers, we give a lot of authority. We give them the power and they have a duty to perform, and if they misbehave, if they take advantage of their position to hurt people, then, of course, they have to prosecute. I think that police officers and let’s say [assistant district attorneys], if they do something wrong, they should be prosecuted. If you have a policeman who beats up on somebody they’ve arrested, OK, we shouldn’t allow that. So the answer is yes. I’d like to make it very rare, and I think that most of the police that I know try very hard to be fair to people. I think that Chattanooga city police do a pretty good job of dealing with that. I don’t know if some of the smaller police departments are good at that, but I wouldn’t want one of my kids or nieces or nephews beaten up because they’re young and stupid. Yeah, so the answer is yes.
Q: Can we expand on some of the programs that you would like to put in, you said that you would like to make priorities of violent crimes and crimes against children. Are there any other programs or restructuring that you think would better serve the community?
A: I think that crimes involving marijuana, you know, my personal belief is it should be legalized. It’s legal in half the country already. Let’s legalize it and tax it. I think that what you see today we have a marijuana case, and the courts have to spend the time and all it’s a waste, we don’t need to have those people locked up, they don’t need to be clogging our jails, and as far as marijuana is concerned, it should be legalized. If the state of Tennessee had a referendum, I can almost guarantee that 65% of the people in this state would vote to legalize, if not more. So, why hasn’t it been legalized? I don’t know. We’re too busy making it a felony to have somebody camp out on park grounds.
(READ MORE: Hamilton County DA Pinkston still working cases as he prepares to relinquish control by Sept. 1)
Q: Anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t ask about?
A: I think that this position needs experience. I have been to the U.S. Supreme Court, I’ve been to the state Supreme [Court]. I’ve represented close to 200 people in federal court. I’ve tried hundreds of cases. I don’t know how many murder cases that I’ve represented, 40 or 50. I’ve been a guardian for many children. So I have a lot of experience there. I can go to the judge and find out what the problem is. I’ve been a county commissioner. When we built only two high schools, we built a couple of generations. I was there. I was twice elected as Hamilton County’s head of the Democratic Party. Herding cats is easier. But I have the experience. To deal with these issues, I am an advocate of mental health. Representing children as guardian is probably the best thing I’ve ever done. It gives me the chance to represent people that don’t necessarily get good representation, and I plan to represent children in the same way if I’m district attorney. They’re the weakest. We need to do the most to protect them. I am passionate. You know, we’re not here to be namby pamby to live. We’re here to try to make it a better place. That’s a reason I ran for district attorney this time, I thought, and I do believe, that I can do a better job, certainly than my opponent, in this race.
Contact La Shawn Pagán at email@example.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.