WASHINGTON COUNTY, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Early voting for the primaries is in full swing and one race that’ll be decided this month is the prosecuting attorney.
The current prosecuting attorney, Matt Durrett, is running for re-election for the 4th Judicial District prosecuting attorney is responsible for criminal prosecution of state crimes in the district.
“This is a job I love. I’ve been doing it for 23 years, the last seven and a half as the elected prosecutor,” said Durrett.
His opponent, Coger, started a non-profit law firm focusing on survivors of violence, such as human and sex trafficking. Coger said his experience paired with disagreeing with some of Durrett’s decisions pushed him to run.
“I decided I could either continue to complain or start to campaign and so I’m doing both,” said Coger.
Coger’s biggest complaint revolves around Durrett not filing charges against the Huntsville School employees who didn’t call in an alleged hazing incident to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline.
Durrett said the ‘baptizing’ incident where junior high basketball students put genitals on teammates’ faces, didn’t meet the statutes of abuse because of the age requirement, and sexual abuse because there wasn’t evidence of sexual gratification. So he didn’t have the means to file charges.
Coger said he should have filed the charges and appealed the case, so the appellate judge could make the decision. Although, Durrett said prosecutors do not have the opportunity to appeal except in pretrial motions.
“There are very few things that that prosecutors can appeal, so what he means that we can take it to an appellate court, I’ve no idea,” said Durrett.
There are many items the two agree on though, like focusing on rehabilitation efforts as a way to lower the caseload and free up space in the Washington County jail.
For example, Durrett and Coger would like to add pretrial services.
“This helps us determine who is in jail because they cannot afford the cash bail, and who is in jail because they’re actually a danger to folks,” said Coger.
Another thing both candidates would like to add is a mental health court.
“You can’t lock everybody up and not everybody needs to be locked up. So there are a lot of people out there who just need treatment need help,” said Durrett.
A mental health court would accompany the drug court and veteran court already created during Durrett’s time as prosecuting attorney. The drug court helps addicts find solutions to their addictions and issues like unemployment, instead of sending them to jail.
Coger said he would like to decriminalize marijuana to free up space in the jail as well.
In order to start things like pretrial services and a mental health court, Durrett said it takes strong relationships with community partners, which he said he’s made over the years. Coger said if elected, he’s ready to hit the ground running on these projects.