DA candidates spar over 20-year cannabis trafficking sentence

Brian Patterson
Brian Patterson, candidate for District Attorney

LaKeisha Gantt, President of the ACC School Board, recently criticized interim District Attorney Brian Patterson on social media for a 20-year sentence for cannabis trafficking given to her brother, Ken Campbell. Although Patterson did not personally prosecute this case, he defended Campbell’s jury conviction on appeal and even expressed pleasure when his appeal was denied.

“We are pleased that the sentence and conviction have been affirmed, and we intend to fight to keep Mr. Campbell in state prison for the entire 20 years,” Patterson said.

Gantt called the sentencing “harsh,” arguing that it would do little to address the underlying causes of crime in our community. Instead, she felt that it would cause further problems as it left Campbell’s children to grow up without a father. “So we address one problem, to create a few more,” Gantt said.

Although Gantt didn’t explicitly endorse Deborah Gonzalez, Patterson’s reform-minded opponent, she indicated that she would not be voting for Patterson. James Chafin is also running in this election, although his platform and “tough on crime” approach seem similar to Patterson’s.

Patterson maintained his position and defended his comments about Campbell’s sentence in a Facebook post of his own on September 29

This post is in response to a discussion started by LaKeisha S. Gantt on her personal Facebook page in regards to the criminal conviction of her brother:

At the time of his conviction, Kenyatta Latroy Campbell, a multiple convicted felon, was Athens’ largest marijuana importer, and he was involved in the drug distribution business with Jamie Hood. Mr. Campbell was the motivating force behind Jamie Hood’s rampage that ended with the murder of police officer Buddy Christian, the murder of Omari Wray, the attempted murder of another police officer and the kidnapping of one of Campbell’s associates.

As the facts of this case show, there is a clear difference between recreational marijuana use and leading an extremely violent drug distribution business that trafficked in hundreds of pounds of marijuana as Mr. Campbell did. Mr. Campbell was lawfully convicted by a judge and jury in Athens-Clarke County. The judge gave Mr. Campbell a non-parolable sentence, and Mr. Campbell refused a plea deal that would have reduced his time in prison.

The people of Athens-Clarke and Oconee Counties deserve to know whether Deborah Gonzalez, who has no experience as a prosecutor, believes leniency for a hardened, career criminal like Mr. Campbell is appropriate. I do not. While I had no role in Mr. Campbell’s prosecution, I defended his jury conviction on appeal and know that our community is safer because I did. As District Attorney, you can always count on me to take my job of keeping our community safe seriously.

— Acting District Attorney, Brian Patterson

Ken Campbell's Court Cases
A record of Ken Campbell’s court cases

Patterson reminded readers that Campbell was working with Jamie Hood, one of Athens’ most infamous criminals in recent memory. Hood murdered both Elmer “Buddy” Christian III, an ACC police officer, and Athens resident Kenneth Omari Wray. Hood’s rampage was apparently sparked when Campbell cut Hood out of his cannabis distribution network.

Campbell’s network was the largest in Athens at the time, being responsible for importing 2,500 pounds of cannabis and laundering $1.5 million in drug profits, according to police. Patterson says Campbell is a “hardened, career criminal” who has a long arrest record from running an “extremely violent” illegal business. 

Patterson then implied Gonzalez may have been more lenient on Campbell, saying that in contrast he would always take his “job of keeping our community safe seriously.”

Deborah Gonzalez
Deborah Gonzalez, candidate for District Attorney

In a comment to APN, Gonzalez rejected Patterson’s implication that she would not take the job of prosecution seriously as DA. She called this idea “fearmongering,” saying that criminals “will be held accountable for the acts they commit” when she is DA.

Nevertheless, Gonzalez stressed the need for change. She promised that her approach to prosecution would not be “punitive and cruel” and that it would be based “on the principles of restorative justice.” Furthermore, she implied that those casting doubts on her resolve to fight crime were in fact “gatekeeping” in order to “perpetuate systemic racism and the status quo.”

Still, Gonzalez admitted that she is not a “traditional” candidate for this position (in fact, she would be the first Latina DA in Georgia history). Instead, she seeks to reorganize the office because “what we’ve had here doesn’t work for the majority of our community, even if it works fine for people like my opponent and others like them.”

Leniency – it is a word my opponent likes to use.  During an interview with Tim Bryant (WUGA) he spoke about “needing to be lenient sometimes” in some cases and hard on others.  I have never used that word and it should be a concern that my opponent has stated that he would use his prosecutorial discretion to benefit one defendant over another.  This is why we have the failing criminal legal system that we do.  Because career prosecutors like my opponent decide who to be lenient on and who to be hard on.  We’ve seen the results of his 18 years of experience making these kinds of decisions – our jails are a testimony to the disparate treatment black, brown, and poor people in our town have endured due to my opponent’s decisions on who should get leniency. How many African Americans in Athens? A little less than 28%. How many African Americans in Athens jail?  50-65% on any given day. 

I have always said since day one that people need to be and will be held accountable for the acts they commit.  I have also always said from day one that we can do so without being punitive and cruel – in a way that is efficient, effective, and relies on the principles of restorative justice (where victims are also part of the process) and fair and just prosecution. 

When people throw out a word like “leniency” they are fearmongering. They want you to believe that a District Attorney office under my leadership would open all the gates to the jails and let criminals loose to pillage and plunder and kill you in your beds. 

The real question is “if it comes time to stand up in front of a jury and secure a conviction for a person who needs to be convicted and held accountable will my office be able to do that?” – and the answer is a resounding Yes.

When people throw out phrases like “no prosecutorial experience” you should be suspicious that they are using it in a gatekeeping function so they can continue to perpetuate systemic racism and the status quo.

There are 18 prosecuting attorneys in that office – an office with a staff of 34 plus the DA.  The DA is the leader – she sets policy and is accountable to the community – the people.  My opponents fail to see that the part of “community” has been lacking for all those years.  Most DA offices function in the way I am proposing – a DA who leads and attorneys who do the trials.  So, my approach is not uncommon – just different from what we’ve had here so far.  And what we’ve had here doesn’t work for the majority of our community, even if it works fine for people like my opponent and others like them.

My experience is not the traditional – I’ve never been traditional.  And right now, during these times, traditional is not what we need.  Status Quo is not what we need.  We need transformative change – we need a criminal legal system that is truly based on justice and is restorative – not punitive and based on the color of your skin.

If prosecutorial experience is the only thing that matters to you – go ahead and vote for one of my opponents. Remember experience is different from results.  We all know people who have spent decades in a job they were horrible at and caused more harm than good. 

But if you want something better for our community, for the children who are left behind – for the George Floyds, Breonna Taylors, Ahmaud Arberys (all career prosecuting DA’s who made those decisions) – then the only choice – for a fairer and more just future – is a vote for Me.  

 ~ Deborah Gonzalez, Candidate for Western Judicial Circuit DA

(Disclosure: APN’s editor has worked for Gonzalez’s campaigns in the past, and she donates to APN. APN’s editor is currently volunteering for her to assist with field strategy. He was also paid to produce a video recently for Gonzalez v Kemp’s fundraising arm, Justice Warriors PAC.)

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