Mayor Peduto calls for investigation after DA says he won’t offer plea deals for Black attorney’s clients

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is calling for an investigation after District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s alleged comments regarding a Black attorney.

“It is abuse of office. It is a personal attack against one individual,” Peduto said.

According to our partners at TribLive.com, Zappala emailed all of his deputy prosecutors forbidding them from offering any plea deals for the clients of Milton Raiford. Raiford allegedly said there was what he called systemic racism in the local criminal justice system, including the DA’s office.

The Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance released a statement in response, saying in part “these instructions violate the DA’s oath as the District Attorney and render him unfit to serve as an elected official – or as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar.”

The organization is also calling for an investigation and that Zappala step down if the allegations are true.

Zappala issued a statement Thursday:

Statement of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. on Defense Council Raiford

“I am honored to serve as District Attorney of Allegheny County. As the District Attorney I am responsible for seeking justice for victims of crime and protecting the rights of the citizens. My office strives to carry out its mission with the integrity and respect that the residents of Allegheny County deserve.

“In a recent court proceeding, an attorney, after accepting a plea agreement for a client accused this office of being “systematically racist,” making different plea offers based on skin color, and “doubling down” on plea agreement. He thereafter misrepresented to the court a plea offered by another Assistant District Attorney to one of his client’s in another case. He then, falsely indicated that the plea offer the Assistant District Attorney made in the other case was 4-8 years for a marijuana charge, which taken alone would appear excessive. However, that case also involved weapons charges, which the attorney did not disclose to the Court. Further, the attorney stated that “the system needs to be undermined,” and that he is “not going for these crazy plea agreements.” Despite the judge’s indication that pleas in other cases did not seem relevant to the plea in a particular case, the attorney announced his intention to make these claims in every case in which he is counsel, whether in state or federal court.

In order to ensure that this office makes consistent, evidence based decisions, and avoid false claims of racism against this Office and its Assistant District Attorneys, I took seriously that attorney’s stated desire no to accept plea offers, and directed my Deputy District Attorneys to memorialize any plea discussions with this attorney and not to offer pleas to that attorney without approval from the front office.”