UPPER MARLBORO – When Aisha Braveboy gladly accepted the role Prince George’s County’s top prosecutor during her investiture ceremony on Jan. 7, 2019, she had major plans of bringing progressive reform that would profoundly impact the way Prince Georgians live, work and thrive.
The Largo native has just eclipsed the one-year mark as the county’s state’s attorney and pledged to make youth justice reform an utmost priority, something that Braveboy said has been a success.
“My first year in office – it went by very, very fast,” Braveboy said with a slight chuckle. “We also initiated a number of important initiatives, dealt with some weighty and needy issues.”
Braveboy said she and her colleagues have been able to implement her youth justice reform model, which is an initiative based on diversion and providing community-based resources to address juveniles who have encountered the criminal justice system.
Moreover, the State’s Attorney’s Office (SAO) was able to gain the support of the Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) system, which has led to fewer in-school arrests this year, according to Braveboy, who brings nearly two decades of legislative and legal experience.
Creating a safer Prince George’s County has been another cornerstone of Braveboy’s platform, as she has held the inaugural Youth Justice Reform Symposium at Bowie State University in November 2019, hosted the “Not One Campaign Against Domestic Violence” at Prince George’s Community College (PGCC), organized the first “State of Justice Address” in October and partnered with a number of community leaders and political figures in many community conversations surrounding policies around youth justice reform, ways to end the school-to-prison pipeline and public safety improvement.
The Largo High School and University of Maryland-College Park graduate has faced a good deal of tough criminal cases over her first year, with one of the most prominent being the case involving former UMD student Sean Urbanski and former Bowie State student 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III.
Urbanski, 24, stabbed Collins to death in May 2017 and was recently found guilty of first-degree murder. While Braveboy described the crime as a hateful act, County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Hill announced on Dec. 17 that prosecutors did not provide enough evidence to show that Urbanski, who is White, killed Collins because he was Black, removing the hate crime charge.
“This was a very tough case, a very emotionally impactful case,” Braveboy said. “We believe we were able to obtain justice for the family. Nothing will ever bring their loved one back.”
Hence, as part of Braveboy’s outlook for 2020, she is pushing for extensive changes to existing hate crime legislation.
“We are working with C.T. Wilson out of Charles County and Sen. Joanne Benson out of Prince George’s County to introduce legislation that would expand and clarify the hate crime statute,” Braveboy said.
“Right now, our hate crime statute is pretty narrow and the judge that presided over the (Urbanski-Collins) case, I believe that the state has to prove that hate was the only factor involved in the commission of the crime.”
Based on the way the hate crime statutes are written, it is difficult to prosecute those types of crimes, Braveboy said.
“We disagree with the interpretation, but we also believe that the hate crime statute could be clearer in terms of how it applies,” she said. “So we are not only working with not just the legislators, but also the family of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III.”
Braveboy said she feels optimistic that hate crime legislation can be modified and enforced differently as the Maryland General Assembly is now underway.
This first major case that fell into Braveboy’s hands was the incident involving Thomas Hawks, a drunk driver charged in a fatal Oxon Hill car crash that killed three young children and critically injured their parents on Indian Head Highway (Route 210) at the turn of the new year in 2019.
Hawks, 28, of White Plains, Md., was charged with three counts of vehicular manslaughter as a result of gross negligence and two counts of causing life-threatening injuries by motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, Braveboy announced on Jan. 24, 201,9 at a press conference. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison after pleading guilty.
Braveboy celebrated the fact that she and her team responsibly indicted Hawks in less than a month.
The SAO has also partnered with various community-based nonprofits to provide more alternatives for young people with behavioral health needs.
In 2020, Braveboy hopes to expand diversion efforts for adults also in addition to introducing legislation that would make strangulation a first-degree felony assault, she said.
She also added that the SAO is partnering with Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD), nonprofit organization, and faith-based communities to roll out educational campaigns about the dangers of illegal weapons in light of some violent crimes involving the use of guns.
She listed a few accomplishments reached in her first year in office, some of which include: implemented cash bail reform; quicker resolve of drunk driving cases; expanded adult diversion programs; establishing the Conviction and Sentencing Integrity Unit; focusing on violent offenders and crimes against the elderly; and the creation of the Public Integrity Unit.
“It’s been one year since I was sworn in as State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County. I am proud of what we have accomplished in such a short period of time,” Braveboy expressed in a Jan. 8 Facebook post.
“However there is still more to do. As I embark on my second year in office, I will continue to make smart changes to the criminal justice system. And, I will continue to make your safety my highest priority.”