PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Monroeville native wants the Allegheny County District Attorney’s job.
Among protesters’ demands in the wake of the acquittal of Michael Rosfeld is one aimed at the man who signed off on charges against Rosfeld – Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala.
“Hey hey, ho ho, Steve Zappala has got to go,” is one of the chants hurt on Grant Street lately.
But all the protests in the world won’t remove Zappala.
That comes at the ballot box, where Turahn Jenkins hopes to defeat Zappala in the May 21 Democratic primary on a message of change.
“I feel like that right now Allegheny County is ripe for change, and I’m stepping up to be that change,” Jenkins told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.
A family man with a wife and two children raised in Monroeville, Jenkins graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania in criminology with a law degree from Duquesne University where he externed with federal and superior court judges and then worked both as a prosecutor and a public defender.
“I spent the past 15 years working in the criminal justice system, as a former prosecutor, a law professor, public defender, social worker, so I have a unique set of skills, a unique background,” Jenkins said.
When he was first getting started, Jenkins did serve as an assistant district attorney under District Attorney Zappala, but more recently he’s been the Deputy Public Defender for Allegheny County, defending those charged with a crime.
Jenkins says that doesn’t mean he’ll be soft on criminals, but he does support a more compassionate approach.
“We have to get back to treating people like people. What I mean by that — for so long we’ve been so tough on crime, it’s time to be smart on crime,” he said. “We have to be more compassionate to the people that are coming through our criminal justice system, and we need to focus our attention on people who are dangerous and who are violent, who are actually plaguing our communities.”
Defeating Zappala is uphill, but Jenkins says it’s a movement.
“It’s about a movement because I believe that people are ready for a change. They’re ready to see something different,” Jenkins said. “It’s been 21 years since we had a change. I want to be more engaged with the community. I want to effectuate real actual change that people can see, people can feel.”
Jenkins criticizes Zappala’s handling of the Michael Rosfeld case —
One big issue: the prosecution of Michael Rosfeld.
Jenkins is blunt.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of enthusiasm on behalf of the prosecution from what I saw. I just felt there should have been more compassion and more energy when trying that case, a case of that magnitude,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins says the case was mishandled.
Delano: “Would you have conducted that case differently?”
Jenkins: “I would have done a lot of things differently, first of which, I would have tried that case.”
Most district attorneys are like managing partners of large law firms. They assign their best attorneys to prosecute a case.
But Jenkins says, if he were DA, he would have prosecuted Rosfeld himself.
“That’s what I bring to the table — actual trial experience, actual courtroom experience, actual experience engaging the community,” he said.
Jenkins also criticized Zappala for the characterization of Antwon Rose II.
“I don’t believe they did a good job of humanizing Antwon Rose. He was a 17-year old kid that made a mistake,” Jenkins said, “and if I can share an experience with you — I’ve been 17. I’ve made mistakes. I can tell you an instance where I was in a car and I ran from a car from the police and I’m still here. It’s not that I was a bad kid. I made a mistake.”
Delano: “Were you ever involved in a felony drive-by shooting?”
Jenkins: “I was not. I was not, but again, I’ve run from the police before. Thankfully, it did not cost me my life.”
The prosecution, says Jenkins, failed to show empathy to Rose.
Another failure — not putting on an expert witness to criticize Rosfeld’s actions in shooting.
“I just don’t buy the fact that they couldn’t find an expert. I don’t,” Jenkins said.
KDKA has reached out to the District Attorney for his response to these criticisms and will bring Zappala’s reaction when available.