|District Attorney Candidates Meet in Final Debate|
|By Sabrina Damms, iBerkshires Staff|
05:50PM / Tuesday, August 30, 2022
|Andrea Harrington, left, and Timothy Shugrue meet at The Mount in Lenox on Tuesday for a final debate.|
LENOX, Mass. — With one week to go until the Democratic primary, incumbent Andrea Harrington and challenger Timothy Shugrue participated in the final debate for Berkshire County district attorney at The Mount on Tuesday.
Berkshire Democratic Brigades sponsored the debate and BDB Chair Michael Wise moderated.
Shugrue began by arguing that he has more experience as a former assistant district attorney and 36 years of experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney. He described himself as a "smart progressive ... who advocates for and actually achieves progress."
He said he wants to hold people accountable for breaking the law and argued that it is irresponsible to not charge individuals who commit "relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting."
He said that one of the first things he would do if elected is bring back the community and youth prevention outreach program in schools that was eliminated four years ago.
"One of my first tasks as district attorney will be to re-institute the program to help our youth. It's important after all, this is the next generation that we need to protect," Shugrue said.
"I hope to be the next district attorney. I believe that I possess the experience, the vision and the judgment to succeed in this job. My goal was to make Berkshire County safer for innocent citizens who obey the law and do not deserve to be victims of crime. I want to focus on rebuilding the quality of life in this community."
Throughout the debate, Harrington praised the work her team has done and argued that Shugrue has exaggerated what is happening on the streets. She said it is a tactic he also used in the DA race back in 2004 when he lost to then-Assistant District Attorney David Capeless.
"Like other communities, we see an increase in shootings which is very concerning," Harrington said. "But this community deserves a fair discussion based on facts and evidence of these important issues.
"We all need to work together to solve; fear-mongering is not going to help us make our community safer, and finger-pointing is not going to help us better protect people who need to be protected. The work of my office is all about protecting the most vulnerable. That's what we do, and how do we protect the most vulnerable, you build trust with vulnerable communities."
Shugrue argued that absent prosecution of smaller crimes, they will continue.
"Local merchants are outraged by such a pause as they should be, because they're losing thousands of dollars of merchandise to shoplifters who then, emboldened to victimize the same merchants over and over again, sometimes several times a day, without the fear of any consequences or penalty," he said.
Throughout the debate, Shugrue said Harrington's office has been ineffective.
He listed various cases provided to him by the Pittsfield Police Department and North Adams Police Department that he considered failures. In each of the cases, he listed the perpetrators who either received reduced sentences, dismissals, or time served and then went on to commit repeat offenses.
"I represent all sorts of people with different backgrounds, people of color, people of different gender issues, people with all different sexuality, and the bias and the prejudices I've seen on a day-to-day basis," Shugrue said. "It's real. I've seen it. We need criminal justice reform. We do. But we need progress with it. So just kicking the can down the road isn't the answer. We need to help people that are in that system, and help them out at the same time we need tough prosecution."
Harrington said the community is not safe for everyone, and the priority in her office is to address the "small number" of people in the community who are committing dangerous offenses. And the office has been effective in doing so, she said.
"And we have been incredibly effective at protecting public safety and the problem is that whenever you start to make progress on addressing racism, gender-based violence, gender disparities, the discrimination that LGBTQ people face, there's this pushback from the right, and they want to roll back these reforms," Harrington said.
"And my opponent has been a proponent of these kinds of racist practices. For a long time, in 2004, pushing 'broken windows' policing, he was pushing for reinstating the death penalty. … This is not how we're going to address the over-representation of Black and brown people in our criminal legal system."
Following the mention of Shugrue's support for reinstating the death penalty some members in the audience laughed.
Shugrue refuted the assertion he supports the "broken window" approach to policing and said he has been clear that he intends to address low-level offenders through diversion programs.
Harrington said her team has made a number of strides in improving trust, providing high-quality training, and convicting fairly since the courts reopened after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harrington argued that not only was her team successful but it was able to make progress during COVID.
The Berkshire County District Attorney's Office was one of the first in the state to request that defense attorneys make motions to get people who were not dangerous out of jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the Department of Corrections, Harrington said.
"During COVID, we lost the ability to do justice, because we couldn't have trials," she said. "Trials shut down for 18 months. But once they got going, we got to work and we got results. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that we've had an unprecedented level of success in our trials since they resumed after COVID."
Harrington listed numerous cases where her office has been successful in getting dangerous criminals off the street, including a Pittsfield daytime shooting case, a bus driver who sexually assaulted a woman with intellectual disabilities, a domestic abuser, and the October Mountain shooter and two of his accomplices, among others.
"The challenge is that there were 13 shootings in three months in Pittsfield," Harrington said. "We have arrests in six of those shootings, because people in the community don't want to share information with the police, because they don't trust the police, because of over-policing, over-prosecution for generations has led to mass incarceration
"It's broken down the trust in our communities. It's led to inter-generational poverty."
Harrington argued that we should not rely solely on the police and the courts but focus on bigger systematic issues with community-based programs.
"People belong in the criminal legal system, when they pose threats, and when they present risks to the community. And that is exactly how we have focused our resources in the district attorney's office. And that's exactly how we have protected public safety," Harrington said.
"We have to deal with public safety issues based on what's happening now. But we also have to look at the bigger systemic issues, and how do we make sure that we keep young people out of getting involved in criminal activity."
Harrington said they were successful in prosecuting because of the trust her diverse team built.
"When I took office, the trust between the district attorney's office and vulnerable communities was at an all-time low. And we've worked to change that, we hired talented people with lived experience that people in the community could feel safe with," she said.
The primary on Tuesday, Sept. 6, will determine the presumptive winner of the DA race as there are no other candidates in the general election.