A disturbing new report by the New York Times documents widespread abuse in the Houston County criminal justice system resulting from the practices of long-term District Attorney Doug Valeska. The report details corrupt use of a diversion program which features some of the highest fees in the country.
According to the study, people with connections and status are routinely allowed to have criminal charges dropped through inclusion in a pricey pre-trial diversion program while poor and minority residents end up with life-altering felony convictions. Poor people are denied access to programs because of their inability to pay the exorbitant fees or because they are excluded from the program based on Mr. Valeska’s whim.
A friend of Mr. Valeska’s son, who was arrested as a passenger in Mr. Valeska’s son’s car, was permitted to get his record cleared despite evidence that he engaged in violent behavior with a weapon which has excluded every other criminally accused person in the county. Allegations that Mr. Valeska has used the proceeds from the diversion program to buy equipment and other benefits for his employees are detailed in the report.
Last year ethics charges were filed against Mr. Valeska after he was accused of using his office, power and influence to force staff and others to provide personal services for him and his family. The Ethics commission found minor violations but the Times report published today documents much more serious problems.
Racial bias in hiring at the police department, discriminatory jury selection which has been documented by the Equal Justice Initiative, and vindictive prosecution of some defendants is featured in the new report.