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KDKA Investigates: Examining Connections Between Plea Deals And Race In Allegheny County DA's Office

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - When attorney Milton Raiford accused the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office of systemic racism in court, other Black attorneys said it laid bare the truth about unequal justice in Allegheny County.

"These problems didn't just start with this interaction with Milton Raiford. These problems have been permeating for years," said Turahn Jenkins.

Zappala, who initially sought to punish Raiford, relented and promised an internal investigation of the claim, but we did our own, crunching years of plea deals his office negotiated with Black defendants, comparing those to deals with white defendants.

Our findings? Black defendants fared far better than white.

Consider: From 2017 through 2020, 17,000 white defendants went through the Allegheny County criminal justice system. Of them, the district attorney negotiated 2,800 mitigated - or favorable - plea deals, about 16 percent. Another 3,200 got even better deals, 18 percent.

But Black defendants fared far better. Of 13,000 defendants, 3,300 got mitigated deals and 5,300 got even better deals. That's 25 percent and 41 percent respectively.

In sum, 34 percent of white defendants got favorable deals while 66 percent of Black defendants got lenient plea bargains.

The District Attorney's Office says it's withholding comment until its internal probe is complete. But criminal defense attorney William Difenderfer says the county judicial system has historically shown leniency to all defendants and Black defendants in particular. He says this is borne out in these numbers.

"This evidence clearly shows that in Allegheny County, that the last thing our bench or our District Attorney's Office is guilty of is racism," he said.

But Frank Walker, head of the Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance, says the plea bargain data is but one data point. He says racism pervades the system, noting while Blacks account for only 18 percent of the county population, they make up 42 percent of the defendants.

"We're leaving out the fact that it starts at the very beginning. The decisions to charge. The decisions to do drug suppression details in high crime areas. Those high crime areas never include Bethel Park, Fox Chapel, it's always the Hill District," Walker said.


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