The war of words between York officials and the office of 16th Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett over an allegedly "botched" murder investigation has succeeded only in casting doubt on the competency of both. This dispute is not likely to improve the quality of law enforcement in York County.
The first shot was fired by York Mayor Eddie Lee, who went to Brackett with a list of cases against repeat offenders in which charges had either been dropped or reduced. Lee demanded an explanation as to why so many repeat offenders were ending up back on the street.
In a blunt letter hand-delivered to Brackett's office Oct. 1, Lee, at the request of the City Council, called for "improved cooperation and communication" between the solicitor's office and the York Police Department.
Lee's letter evidently was prompted in part by a Sept. 11 fight on California Street that police say was gang related. One person, Dawud Chester, was fatally shot during the fight.
Lee accused the solicitor's office of ignoring evidence collected by York police officers and declining to prosecute cases.
Brackett's initial response to the mayor's chest beating was measured. He said that he had not been aware of any problems before receiving the letter, and that the accusations made in the letter were vague. He scheduled a meeting with Lee to discuss the letter.
Brackett added that his office has had issues with the evidence produced by York police on some cases. York Police Chief Bill Mobley countered that lack of communication may have contributed to the problems.
This would have been the ideal opportunity for Lee, Brackett and Mobley to sit down, discuss their differences quietly and reasonably, and iron out whatever problems existed. Instead, the public circus continued.
Brackett responded two weeks later, accusing the York Police Department of botching the investigation of the Sept. 11 murder and presenting insufficent evidence for charging Antonio Mobley with that murder. Calling the investigation a "nightmare," Brackett noted that two signed warrants named two different gunmen in the case and that conflicting statements suggest that another man might have shot Chester. Brackett has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to take over the investigation.
Judge Michael Nettles of the 12th Circuit in Florence originally had denied bond for Mobley. But he agreed last week to release him on a $15,000 personal recognizance bond after Mobley's attorney asked the judge to reconsider based on the conflicting evidence.
Then it was Chief Mobley's turn. He accused Brackett of acting more like a defense attorney than a prosecutor and said that Brackett was trying to get back at the city for its complaint about reduced charges and dropped cases.
These are serious issues and serious accusations on the part of all involved in this spat. The question is whether the interests of York County residents and quality law enforcement are best served by this public sparring match.
The solicitor's office and local law enforcement agencies are obligated to work together, not at cross purposes. Their duty is to serve the public for whom they work.
The public needs to have confidence that police are competent, well led and well trained. The public also needs to have confidence that the solicitor's office is adequately staffed to review cases carefully and to vigorously prosecute dangerous criminals. And the public needs to know that police and prosecutors are working hand in hand to achieve that common goal.
Behind the public feud are two serious questions: Does the solicitor's office drop or reduce too many charges and is the York Police Department capable of investigating crimes?
For the sake of law-abiding citizens, the city of York and the solicitor's office need to work together to determine the answers.
Public accusations and counter-accusations are not conducive to goal of better law enforcement.
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