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Johnson County District Attorney

District 29

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  • Candidate picture

    Steve Howe
    (Rep)

  • Candidate picture

    Zach V. Thomas
    (Dem)

Biographical Information

What experiences/training in your background have prepared you to serve the different constituencies of your community?

Do you consider part of your role as District Attorney to participate in criminal justice reform in Kansas or nationally? Why or why not? What, if any, areas do you see as needing change or strengthening?

What, if any, steps would you take to reduce the number of juveniles brought into the criminal justice system? Do you see the need to address the disproportionate level of African American and Latino youth incarceration? Why or why not?

As District Attorney, what policies would you follow to handle a fatal use of force incident involving local police?

Do you support creating an option to charge low-level drug possession as a misdemeanor rather than a felony? Why or why not?

Studies show racial disparities in law enforcement. What do you see as the causes of this difference? What, if any, steps would you take to address this issue?

Personal Biography A native Kansan I attended Washburn University for both my undergraduate degrees and law school. Worked as an assistant district attorney in Shawnee County and Johnson County for over 18 years. Elected as District Attorney in 2009 and serving my 3rd term in office. A Johnson County resident since 1991, I am committed to providing an effective and efficient office focused on protecting the people of Johnson County.  I reside in Shawnee with my wife, Cyndi, where we raised our four children
Campaign Phone (913) 271-7060
Campaign Web Site http://stevehoweforda.com
Education Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Criminal Justice from Washburn University Juris Doctorate Degree from Washburn University
Community/Public Service In 2012, I led a successful capital campaign for Safehome, Johnson County’s domestic violence shelter. This campaign allowed Safehome to expand and provide greater resources to victims of domestic violence. In 2015 I became a member of the board of directors for Sunflower House, our child advocacy center who provides essential services to abused and neglected children. I have been a member of MOCSA’s advisory board since 2009. This organization provides support to victims of sexual assault. In 2015 I was asked to be on a state wide committee to tackle the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in Kansas (SAKI). This group was to formulate a plan to help eliminate the backlog of untested sexual assault kits. It also established best practices for the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. It also included statewide training for a variety of disciplines who assist victims of sexual assaults. I was on the board of directors for the Kansas Counties and District Attorneys Association) KCDAA. Since 2009 I have been involved in the Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC), that helps create evidence based policies. In both 2011 and 2015, I was elected to be on the 10th Judicial District Nominating Committee by the 3,500 licensed lawyer in Johnson County. This committee is charged with interviewing and recommending lawyers to the Governor for appointment as District Court Judge. In 2019 I was asked to be on the board of directors for formulating a family justice center, which is an evidence based model that provides a center to aid survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, elder abuse and human trafficking. Participated in the “Zero Reasons Why Initiative”, which was a private – public partnership with Johnson County Schools and their students to help reduce teen suicide and provide support to kids in need. Member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Shawnee 2014 Community Ally of the Year Award by the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Award from the Olathe Branch of the NAACP 2017 Kansas Advocates for Better Care gave Steve the KABC Caring Award, for Outstanding leadership to improve safety and justice for older Kansans 2019 My office received the (ESRG) Above and Beyond Patriot Award, by the Kansas National Guard and Reserves for supporting service men and women in his office.
I served as an Assistant District Attorney in Shawnee County for 2 and 1/2 years. I then served as an Assistant District Attorney in the Johnson County District Attorney's office for 15 years. During that time I served as a supervisor in two different departments. I have served as Johnson County District Attorney since 2009. I have tried almost 100 jury trials and conducted thousands of hearing as both an Assistant District Attorney and as your District Attorney. I have argued cases before the Kansas Court of Appeals and Kansas Supreme Court. I have worked with the Kansas Legislature on numerous bills to help better protect Kansans. I have worked to create positive relationship with our key partner agencies like Safehome, Sunflower House and MOCSA.
The District Attorney plays an important role as part of the criminal justice system. As the District Attorney and with the help of my staff we make numerous important decisions that impacts victims, individuals charged with crimes and the community, That is why I played a role in numerous reforms during my time as District Attorney. We are lucky to live in very progressive community that has led the nation in criminal justice reform. I played a role in bring about policies such as co-responder programs, pre-trial assessments for those in custody, lethality assessments for domestic violence victims, veterans treatment court, mental health diversion. i have also participated in work at the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association to standardize policies for prosecutors.
Johnson County has continued to lead the way in reducing incarceration of juvenile offenders. Low level offenders are offered a myriad of diversion/immediate intervention programs. Over 50% of our cases receive this type of intervention. They include long list of specialized programs, including those with mental health issues, substance abuse assistance including drug court and the MIP program.

Johnson County currently has been examining disproportionate incarceration. An existing committee of criminal justice members and individuals in the community are charged with reviewing the data and come up with solutions and recommendations.
My duty is to conduct the same type of review as I would in cases involving all citizens. My ethical duty is to review all of the facts/evidence and then apply Kansas law. Since 2005 Johnson County uses the Officer Involved Shooting Incident Team (OISIT) to investigate use of force situations. Many jurisdictions across the country have begun to follow this method of investigation. This team is made up of experience law enforcement officers from outside agencies. This independent group then submits their investigation to my office for review. Once I complete my review of all of the evidence and applicable Kansas law, I issue a written report to the public of my findings and whether charges are warranted. When necessary additional information is released to the general public. This may include a press conference to answer questions the public may have about the investigation.
Many drugs are already misdemeanor offenses. The most dangerous illegal drugs like, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and fentanyl are still listed as felonies. To change the law would require a restructure of Kansas criminal drug laws. Misdemeanor offense are also not eligible for State authorized drug treatment. Making all drug possessions misdemeanors would require the State to reinvest money at the local levels.

I would be willing to entertain this concept if there was also graduated penalties for repeat offenders. Those drugs that are classified as felonies are still eligible for diversion. Both misdemeanor and felony drug possession charges are also eligible for all expungement.
This is a very difficult issue that needs help from the community. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but I can tell you that our local law enforcement agencies work really hard on this issue. It starts by working with various members of community to break down barriers. The keys to success is communication and training. I know the District Attorneys Office and local law enforcement agencies have and will continue to build relationships with the minority communities in Johnson County. Just last week we met with members of the NAACP and participated in a public forum to answer questions. Local law enforcement implements training to their officers to help reduce these issues. Another positive step has been the ability of law enforcement to develop greater diversity within their departments. All of these strategies are needed to address this issue.
Personal Biography Johnson County has always been my home. Raised the child of Indian immigrants in Overland Park, my parents fought hard to build a life full of education and opportunities for my brother and me. Their perseverance taught me that progress and working smarter is the way forward to achieve my goals. After earning my degree at Vanderbilt, I returned to the area for law school. I have practiced criminal law in Johnson County almost exclusively since earning my law degree.
Campaign Phone (913) 390-3355
Campaign Email Zach@ThomasforDA.com
Campaign Web Site http://www.thomasforda.com
Education Rockhurst High School. Vanderbilt University, B.A. University of Kansas School of Law, J.D.
Community/Public Service Past President of the Asian American Bar Foundation. Johnson County Bar Foundation, Board of Trustees.
In my practice I have had a front row seat to observe how the criminal justice system affects all facets of the community. Although defendants and victims are impacted directly, society as a whole bears the burdens of a criminal prosecution and its results. As I practiced in jurisdictions outside of Johnson County, I observed how different prosecution policies could ease or exacerbate that burden for all involved. This is what motivated me to run for Johnson County District Attorney. The people of Johnson County deserve to utilize progressive, evidence-based practices to implement smarter prosecution policies. Through observing and experiencing the shortcomings of the current District Attorney, I have developed a plan of action to make Johnson County safer that includes aggressively prosecuting violent crime, implementing programs that rehabilitate non-violent, low-risk offenders, and being transparent and accountable to the community.
Absolutely. Johnson County is the largest county in Kansas and other counties look to us for guidance, direction, and best practices. The Johnson County DA carries a special responsibility to be a leader in criminal justice reform in Kansas and beyond.

However, this responsibility starts at home. Currently, the DA's Office is spending valuable time and resources prosecuting non-violent offenders who struggle with drug addiction and mental illness. These offenders are prosecuted but often quickly reoffend due to their addiction or mental illness. When we do not address the underlying cause of the criminal behavior, we simply perpetuate a system that wastes time and resources prosecuting the same people at the expense of prosecuting violent offenders. We must lead by example.

Rehabilitative courts are evidence-based programs that have bipartisan support that we need in Johnson County. They have been proven to reduce crime and save taxpayer money. Visit my website to learn more.
I have represented juveniles charged with crimes and am often shocked to see very minor offenses arising at schools that end up in a criminal courtroom. The reality is that schools no longer have the discretion to independently handle the behavioral issues of students. All too often school officials are forced to involve law enforcement and prosecution in matters that can be resolved through school disciplinary practices. This criminalization of behavioral issues has lasting effects on the child and their family. Unfortunately, this burden is predominantly suffered by children and families of color.

African American and Latino youth are more likely to be incarcerated. This must be addressed, and it starts with tracking data and transparency. As your District Attorney, I will begin tracking the number of cases charged, the type of case charged, and their outcomes by race to better understand and address racial disparities that occur throughout the criminal justice system.
Transparency. There can be no public trust without transparency on this issue.

In 2005, then District Attorney Paul Morrison started the Officer Involved Shooting Incident Team that Johnson County utilizes to investigate use of force situations. That independent team investigates an event and then submits their reports and findings to the District Attorney.

Issues have arisen when the District Attorney makes a charging decision but then fails to give an accurate public accounting of the evidence that was used to come to the decision. I will make decisions based on the available evidence AND release relevant investigative reports from the Officer Involved Shooting Incident Team consistent with existing law. Decisions without transparency inherently lack public trust. Steve Howe has refused to be transparent in use of force situations and this needs to change.
Many drugs such as marijuana are already misdemeanor offenses while methamphetamine, opiates, cocaine, and others are felonies. The legislature determines the classification of drug crimes. While the District Attorney can advocate for changes in the law, the issue that needs immediate attention is implementing a drug court. 34% of all felony charges in Johnson County are drug felonies. That figure does not include other crimes that are often related to drug addiction such as thefts and auto burglaries. I addressed this in an answer above, and the fact that it comes up in several different areas of inquiry about prosecution just shows how necessary drug and mental health courts are for effective, holistic prosecution.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, rehabilitative drug courts reduce crime and save an average of $5,680 to $6,208 per offender.
Our law enforcement community in Johnson County consists of professionals that do great work, and we are lucky to have them. At the same time, systemic racism permeates society and creates racial disparities despite well-intentioned officers. These disparities in law enforcement exist for many reasons which makes the issue so hard to address. I want to partner with law enforcement agencies to be part of the solution, but I am also cognizant that racial disparities exist in case outcomes that the District Attorney has direct control over. At a minimum, we need to acknowledge that these racial disparities exist, track case outcomes to ensure we identify areas that need to be improved, and have every prosecutor go through implicit bias training. This is not currently happening under the current District Attorney and it needs to change.