Clark County district attorney candidates speak at forum

Clark County district attorney candidates Timothy Treffinger, left, and Ozzie Fumo, right, take ...

Two candidates vying for Clark County district attorney spoke on criminal justice reform during a forum livestreamed on social media Thursday night, but they also made a point to criticize incumbent Steve Wolfson for not participating.

“What kind of man do you want representing you in Clark County?” said Ozzie Fumo, a defense attorney and former Nevada assemblyman. “Do you want someone who’s going to stand up and fight for you, and treat everybody with dignity and respect, and go after those who need to be punished? Or do you want somebody that’s going to shrivel up and slither away?”

The groups organizing the forum — the Clark County Black Caucus and the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP — announced Wednesday that District Attorney Steve Wolfson had dropped out of participating. According to the organizers, Wolfson withdrew after stating that allowing questions from a virtual audience was ”out of the question.”

In a statement released Wednesday night, Wolfson said he dropped out of the event due to safety concerns, citing protesters at previous fundraising events who he said “created an uncomfortable and dangerous environment.”

“I have tremendous respect for the ACLU, the NAACP, and the Black Caucus,” Wolfson said in the statement. “However, I do not have the same respect for my opponent who has continued to profess lies and falsities about myself, my family, and my office.”

On Wednesday, Fumo questioned why Wolfson would withdraw his participation, and referenced prosecutors dropping a felony battery charge against former UFC fighter Chael Sonnen. Fumo apologized on Thursday for bringing up the case, saying that he spoke with Sonnen’s defense attorneys, who have said the felony charge was not appropriate.

“I will listen, I will be accountable, and I will admit when I was wrong,” he said. “And in that situation I was wrong.”

‘Conservative voice’

Defense attorney Timothy Treffinger, who is running as a Republican, also participated in Thursday’s forum. Fumo and Wolfson, both running as Democrats, will face off in June’s primary election.

Treffinger said he’s running to bring a “conservative voice to the office.”

“I think it’s important to have balance and consistency in prosecuting cases and dealing with the other issues that the district attorney’s office deals with,” he said. “And there’s been a lack of that for the past eight years.”

Treffinger also addressed Wolfson’s absence in his closing remarks.

“I’m proud to have the courage to be here as the Republican candidate,” he said. “It’s not always easy walking into these forums, but I showed up, and I think that says something about me that it may not say about someone else in this race.”

An audience question during the forum prompted Treffinger to address his 2015 arrest in Nye County on a drug charge. Treffinger said he was working for the attorney general’s office when a SWAT team found heroin in his home. He said the drugs came from an ex-girlfriend who had “developed a drug issue.”

Treffinger said the case was dismissed after he successfully completed a three-year diversion program. He spoke about the importance of “second chances” and diversion programs throughout the forum, and said his experience as a defendant would affect how he approached the job of district attorney.

“I would take that experience and try to mold my cases so that there aren’t people being made examples of, and people are treated fairly, because I certainly feel that I wasn’t,” he said.

Both Fumo and Treffinger said they would increase transparency from the district attorney’s office. They also agreed on prosecuting police officers when needed, especially in cases of fatal shootings or in-custody deaths.

“Everyone is going to be treated equal. No one is going to be protected,” Treffinger said. “If you’re a police officer and you’re doing bad things, I think if either one of the people at this table get elected, you may want to find other employment.”

Death penalty discussion

Fumo accused the current district attorney’s office of being “in bed with the police officers.”

“One thing we agree on is if a police officer in this county commits a murder on an individual, I will not hesitate to prosecute them,” he said.

The candidates varied in their views on the death penalty. Fumo, who has said he will not pursue capital punishment, said Thursday that if elected, the first thing he would do is “end the death penalty in this state.”

A bill that would have abolished the death penalty did not advance through the Legislature last year, the third straight session that such a bill had died. Wolfson has voiced support for the death penalty, saying that it should be reserved for the “worst of the worst” cases.

Treffinger said that similar to other controversial criminal justice tactics like no-knock arrest warrants and charging juveniles as adults, the death penalty should be used sparingly.

“I do believe it is a tool that we can continue to use, and I will make sure that it is not disproportionately used on minorities,” he said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.