In his first week on the job, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he's taking a slow and cautious approach to changing any of the office's policies, but already is taking a strong stand of prosecuting crimes stemming from illegal immigration and holding criminals accountable.
During the 20th anniversary of the federal Victim's Bill of Rights law in November, Montgomery said $560,000 in restitution was returned to 1,700 victims identified from various crimes.
Montgomery, 43, who defeated Michael Kielsky for the county attorney's office in the November general election, held his first press conference on Wednesday to get better acquainted with the media. He reiterated his election platform of holding criminals accountable and prosecuting co-conspirators of human smuggling.
Montgomery also said he had no plans to open an investigation into the county's jail system after two detention officers, Kevin Gerster, 31, and Alan Keesee, 32, were viewed on video surveillance video roughing up a 24-year-old inmate in the Lower Buckeye Jail during a Nov. 11 incident.
Charges against the detention officers are pending.
The county attorney's office has had a tumultuous year with three people holding down the post during that time - Andrew Thomas, interim county attorney Rick Romley and now Montgomery.
"This office has been through a lot," Montgomery said. "There have been three county attorneys within a year, and that's as many as the office has had in the last 20 years."
Montgomery said he plans to strengthen the office's relationship with Maricopa County Supervisors, some of whom were targeted for what numerous county officials say was selective prosecution by Thomas for politically opposing him and Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Montgomery also was quick to recognize Maricopa County as a "destination county" for drug and human smuggling, and said he will prosecute co-conspirators in human smuggling cases and prosecute business owners violating the Employee Sanctions Act by employing illegal immigrants.
"Illegal immigration has had an impact on this county, and it will be dealt with accordingly," Montgomery said. "We need to deter human smuggling at its onset."
On Tuesday, Montgomery announced the creation of a Self-Defense Review Committee to evaluate specific cases involving the unlawful discharge of firearms, the defensive display of a weapon, and incidents of physical and deadly force where the right of self-defense has been asserted. Comprised of the same group of senior attorneys in the County Attorney's Office who currently review officer involved incidents, the committee will carefully and expeditiously review the facts presented in such cases prior to making final decisions, Montgomery said.
"The Self-Defense Review Committee is designed to ensure that citizens legitimately exercising their Second Amendment rights do not incur significant financial and emotional costs as a result of having to defend themselves in the criminal justice system," Montgomery said. "Reviewing these cases prior to charging whenever possible will also help ensure that the resources of the county attorney's office are utilized to prosecute cases where a crime has actually been committed rather than on cases that ultimately get dismissed or result in an acquittal," he added.
The objectives of the Self-Defense Review Committee are consistent with statutory laws (sometimes referred to as "Castle Doctrine" or "Stand-Your-Ground" laws) which recognize a citizen's right to defend his or her family and property without fear of prosecution. Arizona law also justifies the use of both physical and deadly physical force if an individual believes such use is necessary to prevent criminal acts including aggravated assault, sexual assault, armed robbery, child molestation and kidnapping.
"Our recognition of an individual's right to self-defense will not in any way change the standards we currently follow in determining whether to charge an individual with committing a crime," Montgomery emphasized. "This office will continue to aggressively pursue cases we believe have a reasonable likelihood of resulting in conviction."
The creation of the Self-Defense Review Committee is not anticipated to result in any additional cost to the operations of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, according to Montgomery.