DA: Spending on softball, movie screening ‘innovative’

Tens of thousands of dollars that Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard spent on charity events, sports and food may seem to have little to do with law enforcement, but that’s only if you have a shortsighted view of what it means to fight crime, the DA told the AJC.

True crime-fighting means engaging with the community and building relationships. And to do that, Howard said, you have to spend money in ways that typical DAs don’t.

“What we’re trying to do is something innovative,” he said.

Here is how Howard explained some of his expenses:

Office softball team: $2,475

Howard and other staffers said the team helped employees build relationships with lawyers outside the DA’s office.

Jurisdictions in other states have used state forfeiture funds on sports and social events, Howard said. A district attorney in Springfield, Mass. gave $8,600 for a YMCA youth boxing program, according to a news account Howard gave to the AJC. A police department in Longwood, Fla. sponsored a drug-free party for youth that was chaperoned by officers.

Dikembe Mutombo Foundation’s “Caring for Congo” gala: $200

This star-studded gala funds health care in the retired NBA player’s native country. Howard said his office bought a ticket because Mutombo is a community-minded Atlanta resident. He also noted the DA’s office spent only a small amount of money.

Private movie screening of “Law Abiding Citizen”: $800

The 2009 thriller features Gerard Butler as a man who thinks he was betrayed by the criminal justice system and Jamie Foxx as the DA he is trying to kill. The price included 100 tickets for a 10 a.m. showing at Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station Stadium 16.

The screening was a “golden opportunity” to train assistant district attorneys about prosecutorial ethics and plea bargaining, Howard said. He said they discussed it for three hours back at the office.

Gate City Bar Association: $6,000

This is the total amount of state forfeiture funds given by the DA’s office since 2008, the year the historically black bar association inducted Howard into its Hall of Fame. Records that at least half of the money bought tickets to an event that Howard said funds scholarships.

Education does far more to fight crime than buying guns or other law enforcement equipment, Howard said. “I think it’s really strange that if you buy another gun, it’s ok. But if you help a child, it’s political,” he said.

Home security equipment: $8,430

Howard started buying this equipment in 2010, two years after his security director wrote to the county manager that, in light of ongoing gang prosecutions and recent burglaries at the homes of the current and former Fulton sheriff, the DA needed to buy a $7,000 home security system with state forfeiture funds.

The county did not reply, Howard said.

Howard gave the AJC documentation of death threats he said prompted the purchases. One from May 2010 was from a Florida inmate who told investigators that he was organizing an attack with fellow gang members.

However, investigators found that the inmate made no phone calls in four years and received no visitors in 21 months.

The author of a separate handwritten September 2010 note claimed to know where Howard lived and threatened his wife. The letter disclosed how an attack would take place.