January 5th will mark Harold Pryor’s first year anniversary as State Attorney for Broward County.
As 2021 heads to a close, the office is still helmed at the highest levels by dyed in the wool, long time Satz true believers. Change from the years 1976 through 2021 is hardly apparent, except in scattershot instances where “discretion” is seemingly awarded to long-suffering line ASA’s, and then greatly curtailed after being exercised through disapproving actions from the Felony Trial Unit’s head, Mike Horowitz.
As Broward stands today, diversion programs have yet to be brought into line with other major jurisdictions in Florida. Acquittal rates after trial remain egregious, and the Case Filing Unit is still humming along bringing poorly investigated, nickel and dime over-prosecutions into the system at an alarming rate. And let’s not even talk about the Juvenile Division.
Weakness on Public Corruption, another pillar of Satz’s infamy, is remarkably status quo as well. Unfortunately, those with connections to Pryor seem to be getting the traditional breaks enjoyed under the old administration, as alleged by Bob Norman in today’s Florida Bulldog article “After promising reform, top Broward prosecutor Pryor gives big break to charity-cheating cop.” Even worse, poor minority offenders like Destiny Williams, also featured in the article, are being given the same old multi-fisted gut punches that were the defining characteristic of the Satz mass incarceration decades.
From Bob’s article:
Pryor specifically said he would hold police officers fully accountable should they commit crimes and reform a justice system that was “stacked against people of color and poor people.”
Officer (Jeffrey) Stewart raised $32,000 for the grieving mother and widow, but Cruz received only about $23,000. According to Gallinal’s October arrest warrant, Stewart warned Cruz that if she went to the authorities about the missing money she would likely be deported …
But on the morning of Nov. 2, Pryor’s office quietly dropped the felony charges against Stewart and replaced them with two petty theft charges, both misdemeanors. It was part of a plea deal approved by Pryor …
In contrast, (Defense Counsel) Gelin points to the case of Destiny Williams, a 23-year-old financially disadvantaged black woman he represents on a violation of probation case. While in custody on the charge, Williams gave birth to her first child, a premature daughter, born Oct. 7. The mother was then separated from her baby and returned to jail.
Prosecutors want to imprison Williams for 45 months on the violation of probation charge … Williams has a court hearing scheduled for Friday.
(JAABLOG note – the VOP allegations arose before Destiny’s pregnancy. The hearing is tomorrow with Liz Scherer)
Gelin says a reformed justice system would give Williams a chance to be a new mother to her daughter. He personally asked Pryor to spare Williams jail time, but Pryor declined to intervene …
“After everything he campaigned on to make things better for poor minority offenders, it appears he’s on board with destroying this young family,” says Gelin.
So there you have it. One year in, and things appear to be exactly the same, except much more disorganized. The obvious question to ask therefore remains: are old guard Satz employees like Mike Horowitz capable of changing? Can they accept and acknowledge that they were wrong in their approach in the previous decades, the necessary first steps that need to occur if meaningful reforms are to be achieved? Or do they need to be replaced by qualified outside professionals willing and able to implement Pryor’s promised changes?
Let’s hope the problems at the SAO are simply a personnel issue, and not something that rest solely on Pryor’s shoulders by his own design. Make no mistake about it; Pryor bears personal responsibility for everything done in his name, and most certainly in those instances where he chooses to personally become involved, as in the cases of Jeffrey Stewart and Destiny Williams. But if he isn’t in control of the situation because he’s still finding his footing, he needs to take decisive action now. The honeymoon’s over, and too many people are still being hurt.
In closing, we’ll echo the hopes of Gordon Weekes, quoted in Bob’s article, and keep our fingers crossed.
“There’s great hope in him,” says Weekes of the 34-year-old Pryor. “I have that hope. The frustration comes when you ask, ‘Are we moving fast enough?’ And that is the problem. Folks want tangible things, tangible changes. Are we seeing it? No.”
* (this is the first in a series of articles on Pryor’s performance to date)