Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Roger Echols
Full Legal Name: Roger Allen Echols, Jr.
Date of Birth: February 7, 1973
Campaign Web Site: www.electrogerecholsda.com
Occupation & Employer: State of North Carolina
Years lived in Durham: 1
Home Phone: (919) 452- 4255 Work Phone: (919) 808- 3010
1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Attorney’s Office? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?
The most important issues facing the District Attorney’s Office include connecting with the public and law enforcement and effectively and efficiently prosecuting a significant caseload with increasing demands with the current budget. My three top priorities in addressing these issues include meeting with local law enforcement agencies on a regular basis to discuss policy and to share information that will help each agency in the performance of their office’s responsibilities and goals. I would use regularly scheduled meetings to establish new discovery policies between the agencies and give input on law enforcement policies regarding investigations, evidence, searches and related matters.
I would also make it a priority to appoint a member of my staff to be a community liaison and I would work to establish a community advisory board. The purpose of the community advisory board would be to get feedback from leaders of community organizations on the effect of crime in their communities. This board would also establish programs and events aimed at reaching at risk populations and youth for the purpose of educating our youth and providing positive alternatives to crime and gangs. My third priority would be to continue to seek grant funding to sustain all the grant positions that the Office of the District Attorney currently has and to acquire funding for additional grant positions. As chief assistant district attorney, I have played a role in applying for grants to sustain the current amount of grant positions. The grant positions that we currently have are essential to the Office of the District Attorney running effectively and efficiently.
2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district attorney? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.
As a career prosecutor, I have prosecuted at every level and I have prosecuted all types of crimes including drug offenses, property offenses, violent offenses, sex offenses, and homicides. This experience is relevant to the office because as its leader I can relate to all the experiences that all my assistant district attorney’s will have regardless of their experience level or what type of case or caseload they may have.
I also have been the chief assistant district attorney in two different prosecutorial districts. As a chief assistant district attorney, I have supervised assistant district attorneys and support staff. I have also played a role in managing the budget of a district attorney’s office and I have assisted in grant applications. I have been responsible for managing multiple courtrooms and trial calendars. At times during my career, I have been responsible for screening and assigning cases. As an administrator, I have been responsible for communicating and working with other agency heads and administrators. I have also been responsible for managing the day to day operations in the District Attorney’s Office as the chief assistant in two different districts. All of these experiences relate to being District Attorney because they all involve supervision, administration, or managing a district attorney’s office.
3. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.
I am willing to advocate for increasing the age that individuals could be prosecuted as an adult to 18. While North Carolina is the only state that automatically prosecutes 16 year olds as adults, district attorneys around the state have adamantly resisted changes in our law. Although I believe other changes need to be made in our juvenile code to accompany raising the age, I believe raising the age is the right thing for this state to do.
4. The INDY’s mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?
My goal is to protect the rights of victims while keeping the public safe. However, this goal must be accomplished by being fair to all and providing equal protection under the law. In order to accomplish this goal I would be, as I am now as an assistant district attorney, determined to do the right thing with all the decisions that I make. I am also committed to working with other governmental agencies like the mayor’s office to eliminate poverty. Keeping our community safe, delivering on the promise of equal protection under the law, and collaborating to help raise the standard of living will help build a just community in the triangle.
5. Prior to Leon Stanback’s taking office in an interim role, the District Attorney’s Office went through tumult during the tenures of his two immediate predecessors. What went wrong, and how will you avoid similar setbacks?
Prior district attorneys made errors in judgment related to cases which in some cases those errors in judgment may have been based on emotion and in other cases, those errors in judgment may have been made as a result of putting personal agendas ahead of what is best for the office. I will avoid similar setbacks by making administrative decisions with the office’s best interests in mind, and making individual case decisions with the best interest of the case, the State and the victims in mind. The district attorney represents the State and the interests of victims.
6. The Durham Police Department had a difficult year in 2013, which included controversies over officer-involved shootings, struggles with community relations and undisclosed bonus agreements for drug informants. Some people believe the DA’s office and DPD don’t see eye-to-eye. If you assume office, what will be your advice for police officials?
As district attorney, I will make sure the office takes a greater role in educating our law enforcement agencies on the discovery laws. I will also require that officers certify all discoverable information is turned in to the district attorney’s office. I will advise police officials that the lack of understanding or following the discovery law undermines cases, agencies, and the system as a whole. I will also offer input as it relates to policies such as policies on confidential informants. I will let officials know that the Durham County District Attorney’s office wants to partner with the community and law enforcement to strengthen relationships that foster confidence in law enforcement, prosecutors and the court system.
7. The overwhelming majority of defendants in Durham take plea deals rather than push through to trial. Is this healthy?
Over 95% of defendants in the State as well as in Durham take plea deals. Plea deals are necessary because we don’t have the resources to try every single case or even most of them. An effective prosecutor must be a great steward of trial time. Therefore, prosecutors must try the right cases, knowing that they cannot try them all. Plea deals also make it possible to use discretion when it is appropriate to give second chances and enter into deferred prosecution agreements in some cases. Therefore, it is healthy, but only when we consistently use sound judgments in choosing the cases that we try.
8. On any given day Durham courtrooms are filled with African-American faces. Is there anything wrong with that? If so, what’s the solution?
Yes, it is wrong that so many courtrooms are filled with African Americans. While we all should expect for individuals who commit crimes to be arrested as long as their rights are not violated, there are things that can be done. Everyone in law enforcement and prosecution must make sure that we are enforcing laws equally. However, it is incumbent on all of us to offer our time and talents to the youth in our communities. Whether its tutoring, coaching or mentoring many of us can offer ourselves to our youth in ways that could change the trajectory of their futures in a positive way.
9. What is your experience in juvenile court? What can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?
For five years, I regularly prosecuted in juvenile court. We need to educate the youth, parents and schools on gangs. Volunteering in the manner that I described in the question above could have an impact that could prevent delinquency. These are the types of issues that I would hope to impact by the creation of a community advisory board included in the answer to question 1.
10. There has been a recent effort to divert juveniles charged with nonviolent misdemeanors into programs that could potentially wipe their slates clean. What are your thoughts on this?
I support efforts to divert juveniles from having a record when they commit nonviolent misdemeanors due to errors in judgment, drug addiction and mental health problems. We should work to do everything that we can to preserve the futures of our youth.
11. If you’re assumed into office, will you retain the current stable of ADAs, or will hire new prosecutors?
We currently have many qualified and talented prosecutors that work hard. I am committed to building a staff that will best serve the people of Durham County and the people of this state. I will review the qualifications of every current prosecutor with that goal in mind to determine what each prosecutor brings to the office. If improvements can be made after this review, I will make the necessary changes.
12. What are your thoughts on the death penalty?
Personally I am not a proponent of the death penalty. As long as the death penalty is the law, I will consider it in the appropriate cases, after consultation with the family of the victim.