There is a new district attorney in Dallas County. Election Day 2018 meant an overwhelming victory for District-Attorney Elect John Creuzot who will be sworn in on January 1, 2019.
"It’s not wanting to be the district attorney,” said Creuzot. “It’s about wanting to implement change."
Creuzot, who retired from the bench in 2012, said his first order of business will be to train many of the current staff members in the District Attorney’s office.
"There are a lot of good prosecutors in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office who want to do the right thing. They just haven’t been shown what the right thing is," he said.
He said those initial moves are part of his campaign promise of “real justice reform.”
Creuzot, the Democrat, beat Republican Faith Johnson. Johnson had been in office since December 2016, when she was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott.
While Johnson has been praised for the conviction and sentencing of former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver in the murder of unarmed teen Jordan Edwards, she had been at the center of scrutiny when it comes to the high profile shooting of Botham Jean in September. Jean was killed in his Dallas apartment by then-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger. Guyger says she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and thought he was an intruder. Guyger was eventually fired by the department and has been charged with manslaughter, many saying it should be murder.
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“I don’t know any police reports. I don’t know any forensic reports, but based on what I have seen, manslaughter is an inappropriate charge, based on the circumstances as I understand them,” said Creuzot. “Once I get in there and I get everything in front of me and it appears the most appropriate charge is murder, then that’s the charge we will go forward with.”
He said anything less than murder deviates from Dallas County precedent.
“I think I’m going to join everybody else in praying that we don’t have any more police shootings. That’s the first step. That’s not on us. That’s on the police.”
Creuzot says if the case hasn’t gone through the system before he takes the reigns of the office, he will be taking a close look and that his office will have the authority to upgrade the charge to murder.
There has also been conversation regarding the alleged preferential treatment of not just Guyger, but other police officers accused of misconduct.
"They need to be held accountable like anyone else. 99.9 percent of our police officers are great people and doing it for the right reason, but there are going to be those individuals out there who are going to shoot and hurt and kill someone and they need to be held accountable just like you and I would be held accountable,” he said.
He also mentioned the need for alternative force considerations in police departments across Dallas County.
"I think that every police agency in this community needs to re-engage in that issue and talk about something other than shooting a person... that’s number one,” said Creuzot.
Creuzot has also been vocal about his stance on the death penalty.
"I would very narrowly tailor that to people who I felt or the evidence showed would be a danger in the penal community to either other inmates or to the personnel."
Before his retirement from the bench in 2012, Creuzot gained national attention for his diversion drug court. Instead of always jailing first time offenders, their danger to the community was evaluated. Their past was screened to see if rehabilitation was a better fit. He’s hoping to implement some of those practices when he takes office.
Creuzot said he will also be evaluating bail practices in the county. He said under the Texas Constitution, most people have the right to have a bond set. He said there will still be a bond industry, but his plan is to work to reduce the number of people being incarcerated while increasing fairness in the system.
“It means that the poor won’t sit in jail because they don’t have a few dollars. It also means that they won't have pressure on them to plead guilty, when they know they are not. It means a lower jail population... and a more humane criminal justice system." said Creuzot. “"I really think that if we do this in a smart way that we can reduce crime. I think Dallas County alone can close 2 or 3 more prisons ion the next 4 years... that’s my goal. I want to get those numbers down, but I also want to address racial disparity and sentencing and mass incarceration."
Outgoing District Attorney Faith Johnson released a statement to NBC 5 Thursday night.
"I am proud of the work that my team and I have done to prepare the Amber Guyger case for presentation to the grand jury. In vigorous pursuit of justice for Botham Shem Jean and his family, we have worked tirelessly gathering evidence, conducting forensic testing, and interviewing more than 200 witnesses for our own independent investigation. As I have stated from the beginning, my team will present to the grand jury all of the evidence gathered during both our independent investigation and the Texas Rangers’ investigation. Further, we will explain all of the applicable laws so that the grand jury will have all the evidence they need to make the right decision. It is my sincere hope that if the grand jury true bills the Amber Guyger case, Judge Cruezot will continue my work to vigorously seek justice for Botham Shem Jean, his family, and the residents of Dallas County."