By Tina Alvey
The lawyers were on the receiving end of the questions during Tuesday evening’s forum for candidates running for the office of Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney.
Republican incumbent Patrick Via and his Democratic challenger, Ryan Keesee, fielded questions voters had submitted to moderator Mike Kidd of Radio Greenbrier. Most of those questions centered on the issue of drug crimes.
Via had a ready response to all drug-related questions, maintaining that re-constituting the multi-agency drug and violent crimes task force is the best strategy to stem the tide of drugs flooding the area.
“The solution has many facets,” Via stated, while emphasizing re-starting the task force is an important first step.
In addition, he said, “The dealers need to go to prison, period. That’s where they need to be.”
At the same, however, he objected to Keesee’s criticism that petty property crimes connected to drug users are being ignored by the Prosecutor’s office.
“We can’t put every person in prison that’s involved in a drug crime,” Via said.
Keesee also acknowledged, “There is no one solution.”
He suggested that community corrections programs and drug courts that are already in place now have been proven to work, and with additional funding could be expanded.
Keesee pointed to establishing a unified record-keeping system as one of his main goals, saying it would allow data from all area law enforcement agencies to be entered and accessed by officers and prosecutors. The system would allow various agencies to share information as it is collected, thereby avoiding duplication of effort and maximizing cross-referencing of data, he said.
“The government knows everything,” Keesee said. “Shouldn’t they know where the criminals are going to strike?”
Via protested, “It’s just not done that way. Crimes are solved by good, old-fashioned investigation.”
Keesee said another of his goals, if elected, would be to establish an open-door policy for county officials and employees to discuss issues before disagreements escalate to the point of litigation.
“There’s been some in-fighting,” he stated, noting the prosecuting attorney also serves as the county’s legal counsel.
“The prosecutor is more than the hand of retribution,” he continued the theme, saying he not only wants to “send the bad guys to prison,” but also would like to offer a second chance to the “guy who made a mistake.”
In fact, Keesee said, in his experience as an assistant prosecutor in Nicholas County, he found that the best case is “when the defendant thanks you for being fair.” That type of response demonstrates the defendant “can move on from a life of crime,” he said.
Via said he’s not interested in being thanked by a defendant, that his satisfaction comes from sending a pedophile to prison long enough that the victim feels safe.
“Sound, experienced judgment is what this office is all about,” Via said.
Held at the State Fair Event Center, the candidate forum was hosted by the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce, with the event’s radio and TV broadcast sponsored by Frontier Communications.
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