A new state attorney could be decided in Miami-Dade County Tuesday night, as former prosecutor Melba Pearson looks to unseat someone who was her boss for 16 years - Miami-Dade State Attorney Kathy Fernandez-Rundle.
Rundle has been state attorney for nearly three decades. She says with all that’s happened this spring and summer, now is the time for what she has - experience. But, her opponent says change is exactly what’s needed here.
Rundle’s office has received calls for police reform after the murder of George Floyd, which she says she put in place long ago many of the reforms protesters want.
"A lot of the things they are talking about doing we have been doing,” Rundle said.
Programs like courts for veterans, alternative paths for those with drug, alcohol, or mental health problems. She says these programs she installed have aided in cutting crime to its lowest levels in 30 years.
“What we’ve done is rely less on incarceration and more on these therapeutic pathways. We can address those underlying issues and fix them so they don’t return back into the system, back into crime and into our whole process, and that has proven to be very successful,” Rundle said.
Pearson says she supports additional funding for social and mental health programs that would allow police to focus more on what they are really hired to do.
“It’s so important to have people that are true mental health experts," Pearson said. “I truly believe we need to be funding our social services so that don’t have to ask as much of our police officers to put themselves in harms way when its not even necessary.“
Both candidates say they support calls for a Civilian Investigative Panel in Miami-Dade, similar to the one in the City of Miami. The Miami-Dade Commission is expected vote on the CIP panel at the end of this month.
When Pearson launched her campaign for Miami-Dade State Attorney she knew she faced an uphill battle. Rundle was appointed when Janet Reno left to be Bill Clinton’s Attorney General, and she’s won every race since.
Pearson, the former ACLU Deputy Director, questions why Rundle hasn’t prosecuted a police officer who has killed someone in the line of duty.
“I am referring to cases where there was clear evidence of wrongdoing yet charges were not filed,” she said. “We need to address the failings that are going on in our criminal justice system. The fact that no police officer has ever been charged during they 27 years my opponent has been in office in an on duty killing. Not one in 27 years. That says my opponent has not had the political will to move forward with these cases."
Pearson says between 2016-19 there were 73 police involved shootings.
“Arguably many of them are justified, but there are many that are not,” Pearson told us.
Fernandez-Rundle responded that she has prosecuted a large number of police officers in her time running the State Attorney’s office.
“There is a notion out there that’s a false narrative that our office - that myself and our team - do not prosecute police officers that violate the law," Rundle said. "During my tenure we have prosecuted over 500 police and correctional officers."
She says each police shooting goes through the microscope.
“Prosecutors must base their decisions on the evidence and prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt," Rundle said. "There is a complete review committee that analyzes each case. They look at the evidence. They look at the law and they make the best decision they can."