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Pointed barbs, questionable accusations mark final D.A. forum

Prosecutor Fani Willis turns to talk with Fulton County DA Paul Howard during witness statements. Sentencing of 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court, Monday April 13 2015. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)
Prosecutor Fani Willis turns to talk with Fulton County DA Paul Howard during witness statements. Sentencing of 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court, Monday April 13 2015. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

Credit: KENT D. JOHNSON / AJC

Six-term Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard came under fire from several fronts Friday in a final candidate’s forum before Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

The veteran prosecutor, first elected in 1997, fought back with a series of broadsides aimed mostly at one of his challengers, Fani Willis.

RELATED: Howard, former deputies spar in Fulton DA debate

“I don’t see how you can serve as the gatekeeper to criminal justice in our community when you have made a deal with the union not to prosecute police officers,” said Howard, who offered no evidence of this alleged quid pro quo.

Willis, Howard’s onetime chief deputy, said her endorsement from the Atlanta police union came with no strings attached.

“As I said on camera while accepting the endorsement, as district attorney, I will hold police officers who violate the law accountable, just like I will in every case that comes to my office,” Willis said. “Paul Howard should be ashamed of himself for telling a bald-faced lie, and it’s just another example of his lack of credibility to continue in his job.”

Howard is facing a pair of former subordinates for the Democratic nomination in Willis and Christian Wise-Smith, who also worked as a Fulton prosecutor.

During the forum, Howard came under fire repeatedly from the audience, composed of mostly young social justice activists.

Rapper Clifford “T.I.” Harris grilled the incumbent on a case involving a close friend who died in prison, accusing Howard of pursuing an unfair prosecution.

“You forgot about Dre Dre,” asked one questioner, referring to DeAundre Phillips, killed by APD officer Yasin Abdulahad outside a police annex in Jan. 2017.

Howard had yet to make a public announcement on whether he was going to pursue charges against Abdulahad, though he claimed Friday, “Had it not been for the virus, we had three trials we planned to put up before a grand jury.”

He said the other two cases involved Jamarion Robinson and Jimmy Atchison, killed by police task forces.

Chris Stewart, who represents Phillips’ family, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Friday he had not been told that a decision had been made on prosecuting Abdulahad.

Monteria Robinson, whose son, Jamarion, was shot at 76 times inside his girlfriend’s East Point apartment in 2016, said earlier this week that Howard has not been true to his word.

“Paul Howard has failed my family and has not tried to indict the officers who murdered my son even though he’s been promising me he’s going to take action for nearly four years,” Robinson said. “Now he wants to make people think he’s going to indict the officers who dragged two students out of their car. I do not believe him at all!”

Robinson referred to Howard's decision to charge six APD officers with excessive force after their violent arrest last weekend of two college students.

Wise-Smith said his former boss had the election in mind when he moved so quickly.

“Yes, those officers should be held accountable for what they did,” Wise-Smith said. “My question is, don’t do it for the cameras. Do it every time it happens.”

Willis said the rush to charge the officers could damage any future criminal case against them.

“Things get reversed when you do it improperly,” she said.

Asked about the GBI's investigation of his use of a nonprofit to funnel at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta funds to supplement his salary, Howard vowed he would be exonerated. He also dismissed allegations of sexual and gender harassment made in three separate civil lawsuits filed in the last six months.

“I have never harassed anyone,” he said.