Months after rallies and protests, a question at a candidates’ forum seemed to rekindle simmering sentiment about the length of time it took to file charges against a suspect in connection with a shooting at a local theater earlier this year.
“If one of my clients had shot someone in that theater, he would have been in handcuffs that day,” said Assistant Public Defender Jake Mihalov, Democratic nominee for Washington County district attorney.
“I would consider him dangerous. That is someone we need in that jail. ... at least get him off the street. Protect the community.”
The victim, who was shot in the leg, is a black, teenaged male and the defendant is an adult white man.
The shooting took place in the early morning of March 24, and state police made an arrest April 30.
Mihalov faced off with incumbent Republican District Attorney Gene Vittone at a candidates’ forum Monday night sponsored by the Washington branch of the NAACP.
Vittone responded, “Under the rules of professional conduct, I’m not permitted to talk about active cases.”
The Republican said that, should Mihalov be elected, “He’s just made sure that case goes to the attorney general.”
But Vittone also said, “I stand by the way we proceeded in that case. You don’t rush to judgment as a district attorney in filing charges. You base it on evidence.”
The organization also heard from county row office and commissioner candidates.
The only no-show was Frank Scandale, incumbent Democratic Clerk of Courts who is seeking a second, four-year term.
In July, the results of an audit by county Controller Michael Namie showed that $96,000 is missing from the clerk of courts office. State police are conducting a criminal investigation.
Scandale’s opponent, former Washington Mayor Brenda Davis, now a Republican, sat alone on the dais at the forum.
“Is my opponent coming?” she asked. When told Scandale had declined, Davis advocated for meticulous record-keeping, modernization and streamlining of the office’s accounting methods, making timely deposits of receipts and restoration of public trust.
“Most importantly, I would make government honest,” she said.
Asked if she favored revamping the county’s charter to do away with elected row officers and replace them with people appointed by and answerable to a county executive, Davis said, “Right now, the way the county is set up, a Home Rule charter would’ve caught this issue. This county would run a lot smoother than it currently does.”
Scandale, at his office Tuesday morning, was asked about his absence the previous night.
“I had other responsibilities,” he said. “I was going to try to make it, but I was very ill yesterday.”
Washington County candidates in the Nov. 5 general election and their party affiliations are: commissioner, Larry Maggi and Harlan Shober, Democrats, and Diana Irey Vaughan and Nick Sherman, Republicans; register of wills, Suzanne Archer, Democrat, and James Roman, Republican; treasurer, Lisa Carpenter, Democrat, and Tom Flickinger, Republican; and prothonotary, Joy Schury Ranko, Democrat, and Laura Hough, Republican. Incumbent Democratic Coroner Timothy Warco won both nominations in the primary.
Common Pleas Court Judge Traci McDonald-Kemp, who also won both nominations in the May primary and was appointed to a vacancy by Gov. Tom Wolf over the summer, spoke briefly. She noted she is a lifetime member of the NAACP. Her name will appear on the ballot for a 10-year term.
The NAACP also hosted candidates for city of Washington mayor and council and Washington School Board, which includes East Washington Borough.