Pa. Legislative Black Caucus condemns Zappala actions

HARRISBURG, June 4 – State Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila., chair of the PA Legislative Black Caucus, along with members of the PLBC today condemned the actions of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala to ban plea deals for clients of attorney Milton Raiford because Raiford said publicly he felt the DA’s office was systemically racist in dealing with defendants of color.

In an email made public, Zappala ceased plea deals for anyone Raiford is or would be defending moving forward, pending a decision by him.

“For the district attorney of any county to say the office will cease plea deals across the board for an attorney’s clients because that attorney has disagreed with the DA publicly is abuse of power, period,” Bullock said. “But in this particular case, a Black lawyer and his clients, many of them people of color, are being treated differently because the DA refuses to face the criticism of systemic racism in our criminal justice system. This is disgraceful, appalling, disturbing and unacceptable, and needs to be remedied immediately. A full investigation needs to be launched as well with the findings made public.”

“Over the past several years, we have seen the systemic inequality and bias of the criminal justice system laid bare,” said state Rep. Austin Davis, chair of the House Allegheny County Delegation and a PLBC member. “This past week, we have seen just how local this issue truly is in the Allegheny County Court system.

“The district attorney’s decision to refuse all plea deals presented by an attorney solely due to his willingness to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism is an affront to both the court and the community the district attorney is elected to serve, and we cannot let it be ignored.

“Criminal justice reform cannot progress if those in power refuse to see the reality of structural racism. I’m therefore calling for the district attorney to reverse his policy, offer an apology to the attorneys, defendants and community impacted by this decision, and open himself up to a full investigation from the appropriate party.

“Allegheny County residents deserve better.”

“To be frank—the comments made by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala are truly disgusting,” said state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny, who is vice chair of the PLBC. “He met criticism of operating a systemically racist office by a well-known Black attorney with more racism. He admitted to dispensing justice differently based on whether a defendant’s lawyer was outspoken against his office. It’s unethical, it’s unacceptable and it’s unfathomable. DA Zappala needs to resign or be removed immediately.”