Another focus of the new D.A. will be on mental health and making sure non-violent offenders get help, without taking up space in the Cobb County Jail.
Reynolds’ challenge in making these changes will be to “do more with less,” as he likely won’t be able to add to his team of prosecutors.
Prior to his taking office, there was not a unit dedicated to handling elder abuse crime. Reynolds changed that by assigning the cases to the Crimes against Women and Children Unit. That department is reviewing every crime in the county in which the victim is 65 or older, whether the crime is physical or financial. The crimes are assigned to that unit because cases against women and children are prosecuted in a similar manner as elder abuse, he said.
Another activity Reynolds is targeting is white-collar crime.
“This county having this image, and it’s a correct image, of being a business-friendly county, always being a successful county, being on the front end of economic growth, we’re going to see scams perpetrated on businesses, we’re going to see embezzlement, we’re going to see crimes of that nature,” he said. “Those are the types of crimes that we’re going to be aggressive on.”
Beginning March 1, he also plans to target cold cases that have gone unsolved for years. He will initially focus on homicides and rapes. The statute of limitations on cases of rape is generally 15 years, but if DNA evidence is involved, it does away with the statute.
Mental Health Court
Next month Reynolds plans to roll out Cobb’s first mental health court, which will be overseen by Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley. Reynolds said he’s launching the court slowly to ensure excellence, with an anticipated five to seven people admitted in March and 20 to 25 admitted over the summer.
Eligible people would not meet the criteria of legally insane, but still suffer from some form of mental illness and, therefore, can be prosecuted for whatever crimes they commit. Those are typically what Reynolds calls “nuisance crimes” and include everything from disorderly conduct to trespassing. By placing such people under the supervision of a mental health court, they will be required to attend court and counseling a certain number of times a week. Mental health professionals will also monitor their medication requirements.
“Our goal eventually if we can is twofold: one to keep people who are mentally ill out of the jail,” Reynolds said. “I think the sheriff will probably tell you if you go look at his dockets now of people in custody, there’s anywhere from a fourth to a fifth of the population there who have some form of mental health illness.”
When he was a defense attorney, Reynolds said many of his clients with mental illness were like a hamster on a wheel in that once they were in the system they couldn’t escape it.
“A judge might say, ‘I want you to do A, B, and C to stay out of jail’ and they’re not capable of doing it without some form of stricter supervision,” he said.
The point is to make sure the people who need treatment are being treated, while keeping the truly dangerous criminals behind bars.
The mental health court will be set up in a similar way that the county’s two existing accountability courts are — the felony drug court and misdemeanor DUI court. In the drug court, for example, there are a certain number of phases a felon must pass through to graduate to independence. The first phase may be daily counseling and drug testing three to five times a week.
“I’ve had a number of clients go through that program successfully,” Reynolds said. “Judge Kreeger is tough. If you violate anything in drug court, if you have a dirty urine screen, if you miss a meeting, you’re sanctioned, you’re put in custody, and so they run a very tough ship, a tight ship, a good program, and it’s been a very successful program.”
Depending on the success of the mental health court, Reynolds said he is considering a veteran’s court, perhaps in 2014, designed to deal with veterans who have survived battle and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder or other problems.
Reynolds said another topic he intends to keep a close eye on is gang activity, which police tell him is primarily in the corridor running from South Cobb up to parts of Smyrna. The problem may require him to assign a community-based prosecutor to the area, he said.
“If you have a prosecutor that’s literally there, who goes to work there, who is in that area day in and day out, who meets the elected officials, who meets the business owners, who goes to the community events, goes to the churches and the schools, that person can be in tune with what’s going on there, so I envision that happening sometime in the future, depending on budget issues and numbers,” he said.
From speaking with Cobb Police Chief John Houser and county chairman Tim Lee, Reynolds said gangs in Cobb are not exclusive to one particular ethnicity. Reynolds said while gang related activity is not an easy offense to prove, his office will prosecute when it can.
“The strongest message you can send to anybody doing criminal activity is No. 1, we’re going to put you in jail. We’re going to do everything humanly possible to keep you in jail, and when we prosecute you, if a jury of this county convicts you, we’re going to ask these judges to max you out,” he said. “If you send that message consistently, then that’s the strongest thing you can do to stop gang activities from growing in our county.”
The DA’s office is in a holding pattern when it comes to the case of Dwight Brown, the former CEO of the Marietta-based Cobb Electric Membership Cooperative, which serves about 170,000 members in several counties.
There are two indictments, both currently on appeal, in the Brown matter.
The first 31-count indictment, in which Brown was charged with violating the state’s RICO Act, theft by taking, false swearing, and conspiracy, was dismissed in Cobb Superior Court, and that dismissal was upheld by the state Court of Appeals. But the Georgia Supreme Court recently said it will review that decision.
In addition, Brown was indicted a second time on 35 counts, including violating the state’s RICO Act, theft by taking, false swearing, conspiracy, influencing witnesses and threatening witnesses.
Brown has appealed that indictment to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Both appellate courts should issue their ruling by late summer. Reynolds has told his prosecutors to be ready for trial when those decisions are delivered.
Another high-profile case is that of John Steven Kristofak, who was charged with murder and aggravated assault in the Dec. 22 stabbing death of his ex-wife, Donna Kristofak, in the garage of her east Cobb home. Reynolds said his goal is to have that matter in front of a grand jury in March.
“We’re going to move the case and present it to a grand jury if they present a bill of indictment, which we anticipate them returning, then we’ll set the case down and we’ll move it as efficiently and swiftly as the law allows,” he said.
Reynolds named Don Geary as his chief assistant district attorney, a position that was not filled under his predecessor, Pat Head. Geary, who came from the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office, serves as the number-two person in charge of the office.
Below Geary are three deputy chief assistant district attorneys: Jesse Evans, Van Pearlberg, and John Melvin. Evans and Pearlberg were Head’s two deputy chief assistant district attorneys. Reynolds hired Melvin from the DeKalb DA’s Office and made him the third deputy chief ADA.
Reynolds, who has a department budget of $6.2 million, an amount set by the Board of Commissioners before he took office, has a staff of 109. That includes 38 full-time lawyers and two part-time attorneys.