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Opinion Fairfax County’s miscarriage of justice must end

A pedestrian walks past a memorial in New York on March 14 near the place where a homeless person was killed days earlier. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Associated Press)
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Jason Johnson was a deputy police commissioner for Baltimore from 2016 to 2018 and is president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund.

Fairfax County’s most dangerous man is its chief prosecutor: Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano.

Descano’s misplaced priorities and ideologically biased prosecutions are making Fairfax County — and the entire region — less safe.

Last month, Fairfax County prosecutors put police officer Tyler Timberlake, who is White, on trial for tasing a Black man, La Monta Gladney, in June 2020. Gladney, who was high on PCP and cocaine at the time, was not cooperating with medical personnel at the scene to assist him.

Descano’s office held a news conference announcing assault charges against Timberlake only a day after the incident. But for more than a year, the commonwealth’s attorney failed to turn over key evidence to the defense — a police report, a 911 call, third-party recordings and an interview with Gladney. A Fairfax County judge slammed Descano’s action as violating the officer’s rights and damaging public confidence in the justice system.

Descano’s excuse was that he only had to do 60 days before the trial, but prosecutors repeatedly delayed Timberlake’s trial date — attempting to push it to September 2022, more than two years after filing charges.

On March 25, it took a racially diverse jury of Fairfax County residents just a few hours to acquit Timberlake on all charges. Descano insinuated that the verdict by the jurors, two of whom were Black, was clouded by considerations of race.

As usual, Descano made unsupported and incendiary claims about policing in Fairfax County, saying he was “disappointed in the verdict,” not for himself but “for my Black and brown neighbors in this community,” and later issuing a statement declaring that “true justice will be achieved when my Black and brown neighbors don’t have to fear for their well-being when they leave their homes.”

His neighbors might have to fear for their safety — but not because of the cops.

Justice and safety are simply not Descano’s top priorities.

Last year, two child sex predators benefited from Descano’s leniency. One Fairfax County judge described Descano’s plea deal as “woefully inadequate” for the years of sustained sexual abuse an offender inflicted on a young girl. The judge told the victim, “Make no mistake, your government has failed you.” The victim’s family unsuccessfully sued to have the deal overturned.

In a separate case, Descano gave a child sex offender a three-year sentence, of which he’d serve less than half under Virginia law. Another Fairfax judge rejected the deal, saying that it did not “remotely reflect the magnitude of the defendant’s misconduct.”

In December 2020, less than a year after taking office, Descano issued a memorandum to his prosecutors directing them to make deals to avoid “mandatory minimum” sentences, ignore the state’s sentencing guidelines and down-charge felonies to misdemeanors.

He boasts his “criminal justice reform” agenda is “elevating a holistic, values-based approach to prosecution over a reflexively punitive one.”

There’s now a long litany of cases showcasing Descano’s aversion to consequences and incarceration. Another case was recently added.

In late 2020, Gerald Brevard III was accused of attacking a hotel maid and attempting to force her into a room. Weeks later, he was accused of trailing a worker at another hotel. Brevard was caught the day after Descano issued his leniency memo. Police charged Brevard with “abduction with attempt to defile,” burglary and possession of burglary tools — all felonies that, in total, made him eligible for 26 years to life in prison.

At the time of that offense in Fairfax, Brevard was wanted on 33 charges in Maryland and was on probation for two recent cases in D.C. — assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer. Descano dropped the serious felony counts to two misdemeanors. Another beneficiary of Fairfax’s chief prosecutor’s misplaced largesse, Brevard served six months and was freed last June.

Upon Brevard’s release in Fairfax, U.S. marshals arrested him for violating his probation terms on the D.C. charges, which had been pleaded down to misdemeanors. A judge there ordered Brevard, with only misdemeanor convictions and pending charges, released on time served, in a compounding justice system failure. Surely, if the judge knew the severity of Brevard’s crimes in Virginia and his risk to public safety, he would have been held.

Last month, Brevard allegedly shot five homeless men in New York and D.C. in cold blood, killing two.

If not for Descano’s policies, there’s little doubt those men would be alive today.

The Descano rule is clear: give violent criminals and sexual predators sweetheart deals, but throw the book at cops.

Fortunately, the brave jurors and judges of Fairfax County know that Descano’s “true justice” is no justice at all.