Without truth, there can be no justice.
As district attorney, there is nothing more important to me than to do all that I can to make our community a safer place for all of us
As the community considers important questions around the recent events at Wal-Mart, I want to share my thoughts on how I make decisions about charges under the Street Gang and Terrorism Act.
Getting to the truth in any case means doing all we can to make sure those who choose to commit crimes are held accountable and that each prosecution is based solely on the truth as revealed through a thorough investigation, not personal bias or inclination.
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While we work closely with law enforcement, it is ultimately my responsibility to carefully review each case and make sure that all charges are based solely on the facts and the law.
I take this responsibility very seriously, and in every case, we take as much time as necessary to get to the truth.
Once my office completes our review of a case, sometimes charges are increased. For example, in the case of the Lake Tobesofkee shooter, after I reviewed all of the evidence, charges were increased from one misdemeanor of simple assault to three counts of aggravated assault, to which the defendant pled guilty.
In other cases, like the June 28 event at the Wal-Mart on Zebulon Road, based on the evidence, charges are decreased. I dismissed the warrants for violation of the Street Gang and Terrorism Prevention Act against all but one adult and one juvenile. We made additional arrests and are still in the process of identifying more of the 88 suspects. Charges for felony criminal damage to property in the second degree and for misdemeanor riot are still pending. Considering the evidence at this point, these charges are expected to proceed. It is important to understand that, at this point, these charges are mere allegations, and each defendant in this, or any other case, is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
This is an ongoing investigation, and in the coming weeks, as law enforcement works to identify the suspects in this case, I will conduct a careful review of all evidence as it becomes available. As district attorney, I will make all charging decisions based solely upon that evidence, and nothing else.
There’s no question that when criminal organizations, like gangs, are intentionally investigated and prosecuted, communities are stabilized and families are safer.
That’s the purpose of our gang initiative.
And it’s working. For example, in 2013 and 2014, there was a significant drop in our homicide rate. Neighborhoods and families are safer.
Charges brought under the Street Gang and Terrorism Act carry appropriately enhanced penalties. That’s why I take any decision to indict under the gang statute very seriously and spend as much time as necessary to identify suspects, carefully review all of the evidence and determine what charges are appropriate in each and every case. Charges under this act won’t be pursued in any case without thoughtful consideration and substantial evidence.
Justice requires no less.
David Cooke is the district attorney of the Macon Judicial District.