Also signing on were four people who previously oversaw the office: former U.S. attorneys Ken Wainstein and Ronald C. Machen Jr, and former acting U.S. attorneys Channing Phillips and Vincent Cohen.
The two-page letter was sent to Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District. Sherwin declined Monday to comment on it. In a brief September interview, he said his office was reviewing the suggestions of the Black prosecutors, who had come together as a working group and presented a memo to Sherwin over the summer.
“As a proud group of former USAO-DC prosecutors, many of whom served in various roles in the Department of Justice over many years, we are bound by our dedication to the office and to the cause of justice,” the former prosecutors wrote in Monday’s letter. “We are heartened by reports that the office is reviewing the working group’s concerns. Internal discussion of these issues and the working group’s recommendations will make the office stronger and ensure it is evolving to meet the needs of a changing city.”
“At the same time, we firmly believe that concrete action is imperative now. It is time to institute measures — along the lines of those recommended by the working group — that make the criminal justice system more just and fair. Our office, working with the defense bar and the bench, should be leading the way on these reforms,” the group wrote.
In their 10-page memo to Sherwin, 32 Black federal prosecutors outlined changes they said would help ensure that prosecutors make the fairest decisions, void of nonlegal influences and biases.
They called for implicit-bias training for prosecutors and for a new focus on alternatives to incarceration.
They said the job of a prosecutor should not be confined to an office or courtroom. Prosecutors, they said, should develop relationships in the communities they serve, attending meetings and events. And prosecutors should be required to visit the city’s jail to better understand the impact on those who are locked up.
The proposals, the prosecutors wrote, would lead to better decisions in prosecuting cases and help secure trust and bring more just outcomes in a city where they said the majority of victims, suspects and witnesses are Black.
The ideas came amid outrage over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police and the nationwide demonstrations that followed.
Matthew Olsen, a former assistant U.S. attorney who worked in the office for 12 years, including one during which he led the office’s national security section, helped organize the office’s alumni to write and sign the letter.
“I was inspired by the work of the Black AUSAs working group and their efforts and the context of everything we have seen this past summer, and I know the power of the alums of the U.S. attorney’s office because of their diverse backgrounds and length of experience in that office,” Olsen said in an interview.
The D.C. office is the nation’s largest U.S. attorney’s office and the only such office that handles both local crimes, including homicides, drug cases and sexual assaults, and federal crimes, including national security and public corruption cases.