Two elected district attorneys who are black, rarities in law enforcement, are facing significant challenges on their jobs, one for alleged corruption and the other for taking a principled stand.
There are more than 2,400 elected prosecutors in the United States, 4 percent are black men and 1 percent are black women, according to a 2015 study released by the Women’s Donors Network titled “Justice for All.”
Rufus Seth Williams, district attorney for the city and county of Philadelphia, the largest prosecutor’s office in Pennsylvania, was recently charged in a 23-count indictment involving bribery and fraud. His office serves 1.5 million residents.
Williams was elected to office twice and had planned to run for re-election a third time before his indictment on Tuesday. He pled not guilty to the charges.
He said he will remain on the job to complete his term, although Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney has called for his resignation.
The 50-page indictment charged Williams, who was first elected to office in Nov. 3, 2009, and re-elected on Nov. 6, 2013, accepted bribes including a $7,000 check and gifts including a $502 dinner, a $300 iPad, a $205 Louis Vuitton tie and a vacation to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
Williams is also charged with diverting for his own personal use $10,319 intended to pay for a relative’s care in a nursing home, according to the indictment. Williams earned $170,000 a year.
In the other case, Color of Change, the online civil rights organization, has launched an online petition drive blasting Florida Gov. Rick Scott for removing Aramis Ayala, the state’s first elected black prosecutor, from a high-profile case because she has refused to seek the death penalty. Ayala was elected the Orange-Osceola prosecutor in November after defeating the incumbent.
Scott removed her from a case involving Markeith Loyd, 41, who is charged in the shooting deaths of Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton and his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
“Earlier today, I called on State’s Attorney Ayala to immediately recuse herself from this case,” Gov. Scott said in a statement. “She informed me this afternoon that she refuses to do that. She has made it clear that she will not fight for justice, and that is why I am using my executive authority to immediately reassign the case.”
Ayala said she will abide by the governor’s order.
Cops hailed Scott’s decision, but death penalty opponents supported Ayala’s stance.
Color of Change called on the governor to reverse his decision and put Ayala back on the case. Some 40,000 Color of Change members have signed a petition calling on Scott to reverse his decision.
“Now, she’s facing a careless and disrespectful move from a governor who continues to trample on any real progress towards criminal justice reform—we must have her back to make sure other prosecutors follow in her footsteps,” said Color of Change. Florida’s black elected officials charged that Scott made a hasty decision by replacing Ayala. They also charged Scott usurped the will of voters who elected her.
In the last year, Color of Change has been campaigning to replace what it considers the nation’s worst prosecutors.