Scott Reilly was sworn in as the new District Attorney for the 36th Prosecutorial District on January 1, 2019, and hit the ground running with his staff.
There has been little, if any, down time for Reilly and his staff since taking office. Whether it has been meetings with law enforcement officers in all three counties of the 36th District – Burke, Caldwell, Catawba – prosecuting older cases to unclog logjammed dockets or developing and enhancing initiatives, there has been no end to the work of being the chief prosecutor.
Now, 100 days into his tenure, the DA looks at what has happened since taking office.
“The first thing that I wanted to address when I took over as the elected District Attorney was the backlog of murder and sex cases in the district,” Reilly said. “I’m proud that our office has already taken guilty pleas of nine murder defendants and 15 defendants charged with sex-related crimes.
“One of the oldest murder cases in the district was the June 2013 death of Raoul Dula. Our office was able to obtain guilty pleas from Earl Moore Jr. (23 to 28 years) and Jenny Childress (18 to 22 years) in early February.”
Learning the ropes as the District Attorney was a challenge right away for Reilly and many of his staff members. The DA’s Office is comprised of 18 Assistant District Attorneys and 20 support staff members. He brought on six new ADAs and nine new support staff personnel, though some of the newcomers had previous experience in the DA’s Office.
So far, that transition has been a successful one, as new staff members have become acclimated to their roles in a new environment while receiving assistance from veterans of the office. Additional training for support and administrative staff was provided by the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys.
While handling their interoffice responsibilities, staff members also have been encouraged to go outside the office walls and give back to the community through volunteer service. DA’s Office staff members are volunteering time each month with various organizations to give back to the community, allowing people to see them in a different light as they provide assistance.
One of the initiatives Reilly has been touting early in his tenure is the continued development of the LEAD program. The Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program is a partnership between law enforcement agencies and the DA’s Office that offers low-level drug offenders an opportunity to be directed out of the criminal justice system and into drug treatment programs.
They are given 14 days to complete a clinical assessment to receive necessary treatment services. If they fail to complete the requirements, their original offense becomes part of the criminal justice system for prosecution.
Reilly likes the concept of the LEAD program and is in support of it, though he was adamant that his office would prosecute to the fullest those people charged with more serious drug offenses such as trafficking, in an attempt to rid the district of the poisons plaguing our community.
“Unfortunately, I have seen, both as a defense attorney and as a prosecutor, the devastating effects that drugs have had on our district,” Reilly said. “Nearly four people die every day of an opioid overdose in North Carolina. There were 95 opioid overdose emergency department visits last year in Catawba County alone.
“It is our goal to put drug addicts and users in treatment programs, while aggressively prosecuting those who distributeor sell drugs, so that we can protect the community from the collateral effects of drug crimes.”
During the first three-plus months of his tenure, Reilly also has worked hard to forge positive working relationships with all law enforcement agencies in the three counties. He, Chief Assistant District Attorney Mitch Walker and Investigator Tom Adkins have made a “tour” of the district to meet with top brass in all agencies to create positive working environments, noting the importance of all parties being on the same page to aggressively and effectively investigate and prosecute criminal activity.
“Police officers have dangerous and difficult jobs. They are the true heroes of our community and deserve our deepest respect,” Reilly noted.
A focal point in the first 100 days for Reilly’s administration has been reducing caseloads by aggressively targeting cases that have quite a bit of age to them. In doing so, defendants who have spent substantial incarceration periods are having their cases heard and handled. That has lowered jail populations in all three counties as a substantial number of older cases are being targeted, and the number of convictions has increased.
Just during the month of March in Catawba County, 14 incarcerated defendants entered guilty pleas, moving them out of the Catawba County Detention Center. Combined, these 14 defendants had spent a cumulative total of 4,603 days of pre-trial confinement in the local jail, costing Catawba County taxpayers $345,225, based on a cost of $75 per day to house one inmate.
Overall, the transition has been a smooth one with Reilly taking the reins of the District Attorney’s Office. And while a lot has been accomplished in a little more than three months, he knows there is much more to come as he and his staff seek to make a difference in and out of the courtroom.
“I understand that I have been given a vast amount of responsibility, and much is expected in return,” Reilly said. “I will continue to seek innovative approaches to reducing mass incarceration while also being tough on dangerous criminals and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law.
“I will always seek fair and equal justice for the residents of Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties while maintaining the highest standards of ethical behavior and transparency.”
CONTACT: Nathan Key