A hotly contested race between two candidates vying for the county’s top prosecutor seat has hardened existing divisions in local law enforcement and illuminated the stark contrast in approaches to some of the toughest problems facing society today.
Whether incumbent Diana Becton survives a challenge by former prosecutor and colleague Mary Knox will have to wait until June to be decided, but for now the pair is pushing hard to get their messages across to prospective voters – speaking at public venues and debates and fencing via social media.
Becton incurred the anger of County Sheriff David Livingston after her office charged and convicted one of his deputies following two fatal, officer-involved shootings in Danville, a town patrolled under contract by the sheriff’s deputies.
“For our district attorney to charge a deputy sheriff, or any peace officer, for a crime based on a split-second tactical decision is abhorrent,” Livingston wrote in a controversial email to his deputies. “It is even more abhorrent for that same district attorney to later repost photos on her reelection campaign social media that show her smiling and proclaiming that she “charged the officer.” Despite these odd times, please remember I appreciate the work all of you do; I respect your sacrifice and commitment to the community we serve, and most importantly, I have your back.”
Derided as polarizing by some, the email dramatically illustrates the current divide in thought and theory among law enforcement circles – as well as the usually unstated opposition to Becton and her progressive positions. That division was further dramatized when every police union in the county came out for Knox, contributors giving her a substantial fundraising advantage of more than $100,000.
Becton, for her part, enjoys the endorsement of the state Democratic Party, other progressive-minded DAs across the state and a myriad of elected officials who have supported her efforts to make the criminal justice system fair for all.
Her policies include prioritized diversion for lower-level offenses such as drug possession, moving to close juvenile hall, analysis of her office’s charging protocols with an eye toward reducing racial bias, and a fledgling program designed to reduce excessive sentencing.
Knox, an aggressive courtroom tactician with 37 years experience prosecuting the county’s gang members, has characterized Becton as soft on crime – words that carry extra weight among residents and potential voters weary of takeover retail thefts, prolific catalytic converter mining, and recent murders.
Appointed district attorney in 2017 when her predecessor resigned in disgrace after pleading no contest to felony perjury, Becton had served as a presiding judge for 22 years.
In 2020, Knox and three other women in the office sued Becton, claiming she’d promoted less experienced male colleagues over them. Knox also appealed Becton’s decision to demote her and filed complaints with the county’s merit board, which sided with Knox last year.