The Justice Digest, Issue IV

only seals

Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney

for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church

1425 North Courthouse Road, Suite 5200

Arlington, VA 22201

The Justice Digest

Issue IV, February 2021

parisa tafti photo

A Message from

Commonwealth's Attorney

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti


It’s now been a little over a year since I assumed my duties as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. While the past year has presented several challenges, I’m proud to say that our team at the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney has worked diligently to meet these challenges and ensure our local criminal legal system is one that continues to provide safety and justice for our community.


I’m confident that moving forward, we’re able to build upon the groundwork we laid in the past year.


  • Our office has launched the Conviction Review Unit, which will investigate claims of innocence and wrongful convictions. The Conviction Review Unit is one more safeguard to protect the integrity of our criminal legal system.
  • Our office will expand upon its promise of engaging the community by welcoming the newly formed Community Advisory Board, a group whose goal is to create a lasting dialogue between our office and the public, and considers our community’s diverse experiences with public safety and the criminal legal system.
  • Liane Rozzell has paved the way to make Restorative Arlington a reality, and restorative programs will now move into the implementation stage – in the legal system, in schools, and in the community. Her successor, Kimiko Lighty, has taken over the task of coordinating Restorative Arlington.
  • Our office will continue to work with legislators during the ongoing General Assembly Session to support criminal justice reform legislation.


I look forward to our continued partnership as we work together to reform our criminal legal system and pursue safety and justice for all in our community.


Kind regards,

Parisa Dehghani-Tafti


Announcing the Conviction Review Unit


As we enter 2021, we’re excited to announce the official launch of our newly created Conviction Review Unit (CRU). The CRU seeks to ensure our local criminal legal system achieves justice by investigating claims of innocence, correcting wrongful convictions, and providing policy recommendations to prevent future wrongful convictions; and will be the first unit of its kind in Northern Virginia.


The CRU, led by Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney (CDCA) Cari Steele and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney (ACA) Paul Wiley and reporting directly to me, will assess all available materials in the case, re-interview witnesses, and use the most up-to-date science and technology to reevaluate all evidence that led to the conviction.


The CRU anticipates it will work with the ACPD and other stakeholders to conduct thorough investigations and evaluations of wrongful conviction claims. If the CRU determines there is substantial evidence that the claimant was wrongfully convicted, the CRU will work with the stakeholders to make recommendations on cases based upon the facts of the investigation.  


Convictions and the consequences that follow are permanent. A Conviction Review Unit is one more safeguard to protect the integrity of our legal system, serving as a testament to our pursuit of a criminal legal system that is just, reflects the best of our values, and treats everyone fairly.


The Inaugural Community Advisory Board


When we announced that we would be forming the Community Advisory Board to keep the community involved and informed of our office’s efforts, we received nearly 100 applications and were so encouraged by the community’s response. We are grateful for the outpouring of support and interest in the Community Advisory Board!


This is a testament to our community’s dedication and that Arlingtonians want to be part of making our County’s criminal legal system the best it can be! We are proud to have had the opportunity to select from such a diverse group and from every zip code in Arlington.


Our goals in selecting members for the CAB were to ensure the Board reflects a cross section of the community and to provide an opportunity for community members to lend fresh voices and new ideas to our local government. We’re confident that the members selected to join this board will do just that!


We’re so excited to announce the inaugural members of the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s inaugural Community Advisory Board:


  • Corey Barton
  • Carol Burnett
  • Kent Carter
  • DeLishia Davis
  • Suzanne Dunn
  • Gregory John
  • Eric Lotke
  • Sandra McNeill
  • Rishi Nangia
  • Clark Neily
  • Bridget Obikoya
  • Donna Owens
  • Ankita Patnaik
  • Peter Rousselot
  • Ellen Shultz
  • Symone Walker


Congratulations to our board! We’re looking forward to the work we’ll accomplish together!


The Future of Restorative Justice

in Arlington County


Throughout 2020, Arlington County worked with Liane Rozzell of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, stakeholders, and the community to draft the strategic plan for restorative justice. During this time, Liane and Restorative Arlington have worked to educate the public about the importance of restorative practices; engage the community through working groups and committees to determine the best restorative practices suited for Arlington County; develop key partnerships both in and out of Arlington County; and, most importantly, to forge the path to make Restorative Arlington a reality through a comprehensive and strategic planning process.


“Restorative justice practices are a continuum of tools that can be used to build community and respond to conflict and harm. By responding to harm, we can build a path to accountability,” remarked Liane Rozzell. “These are powerful tools and they have been proven to be effective.”


Restorative Arlington, Liane explained, is a big umbrella that seeks to respond to harm in three different areas – the legal system, schools, and in the community.


Throughout the past year, Restorative Arlington has engaged with the public through three working groups – dedicated to the legal system, schools, and community – to inform the strategic plan for Restorative Arlington and ensure it meets the unique needs of our community.  Through these working groups, Restorative Arlington has directly engaged over 45 community members and representatives from various county offices and agencies such as the Sheriff’s Department, the Police Department, the Public Defender’s Office, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Health & Human Services, Arlington Public Schools, and non-profit organizations. The work and discussions of these working groups will pave the path forward for the implementation of restorative practices in Arlington County. To support this community work, all the learning and foundational work is available here



Implementation of Restorative Justice in the Legal System


Restorative Arlington has received grant and county funding to develop a pilot restorative justice program for youth and young adults (aged 16-24) who might otherwise end up in the court system. 


The program will identify which cases that are eligible for restorative justice. Once eligible cases are identified by our office, the police, and the Court Services Unit, both the person who committed harm and the victim of harm must consent to a restorative resolution. Restorative Arlington will then choose which cases will go through the process depending on their current capacity.


“The implementation of restorative practices in the legal system is very much a work in progress,” Liane explained. “As we’re starting out, this restorative justice program may only be able to handle a handful of cases. We’re still working on building our capacity for the program, especially facilitator capacity, and we’re still working and building to have the right people to start the program.”


Once a case has been selected to go through the restorative process, expert facilitators will be identified. The facilitator will then speak to the person who committed harm and the victim of harm individually (which can involve dozens of conversations), and in most cases, followed, eventually , by a mediated conversation between the parties. By the end of the process, the parties will come to an agreement on what the person who inflicted harm must do to be held accountable.  



If the parties are not able to reach an agreement, the case would return to its usual process through the court system.


Parties who have been harmed have overwhelmingly reported that this process aids healing, allows them to feel heard, and is less traumatic than the traditional legal process. Studies also demonstrate that recidivism rates are reduced for defendants who engage in the restorative justice process.


Implementation of Restorative Justice in the School System


Restorative Arlington is also working on building a restorative justice group within Arlington Public Schools (APS). The schools working group has agreed on an approach that will teach a restorative mindset and build community within the school system. While this restorative approach can be used to address disciplinary issues, its primary goal is to enhance the school climate and prevent conflict from happening in the first place.


“Restorative justice in the school system is really meant to be a whole school process,” explained Liane. “Our goal is to create an environment where students feel they belong, where students feel they are heard, and to ultimately change the culture within these schools so students are better able to learn and achieve academically.”


The implementation team for the schools will likely include a mix of students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and APS employees. Due to budget constraints and the program being in its early stages of development, it will likely start with a handful of schools as the capacity to expand is built.


“As a result of implementing a restorative program in the schools, we expect to see a decrease in the use of suspension or expulsion as disciplinary measures,” said Liane. “We also expect to see a decrease in dropout rates.”


Implementation of Restorative Justice in the Community


Moving forward the restorative practices community implementation group will find out where there is community interest in learning about restorative practices and determine where restorative practices are most needed in the community.


“Through COVID-19, we developed virtual circles to build community. This served as a steppingstone to experience the bare bones of what restorative justice is,” remarked Liane. “This is something we want to continue as we develop our community implementation.”


“Arlingtonians have embraced restorative justice practices and it’s been gratifying to see how many people are enthusiastic about this,” said Liane. “There’s an organic piece to building our work, so the more the community engages the more we’re able to build and expand.”


We are lucky that Arlington’s commitment to restorative justice is so strong that moving forward, organizations are eager to collaborate and take up the mantle to do this work and that the Police Practices Group recommended that the County support such programs. We remain encouraged by the community’s response to restorative practices and look forward to working with various groups who aim to implement them in their own work.



Employee Spotlight:

Lindsay Brooker

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney


Lindsay Brooker joined the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney (OCA) in August 2013, shortly after her law school graduation. She currently handles SVU & sex offense cases and serves as the OCA’s SVU liaison. 

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up working at the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.


I’m originally from Ohio, born and raised! From a young age though, I knew I wanted to live in the DC area. I set my mind on that idea after an 8th grade school trip to Washington, DC. I had such a great time on that trip and when the time came to apply to college, I applied to mainly DC schools.


I ended up going to George Washington University where I majored in political science and criminal justice. After graduation, I went to straight to law school at the University of Virginia. I knew I wanted to become a prosecutor, but at the time I was applying for post-grad jobs during the fall of my 3L year, there weren’t openings in the Northern Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Offices for the timeframe I needed.  I  decided to apply for trial court clerkships instead, and had the opportunity to clerk for the judges of the Arlington County Circuit Court – at that time all three judges shared three law clerks instead of assigning a single clerk to a single judge, so it was a unique opportunity. At the end of my clerkship, there were several open positions at the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, so I applied right away and was eventually hired, beginning in August 2013.


  1. You currently serve as the office’s SVU liaison and mainly handle SVU & sex offense cases – how did you end up specializing in this area of prosecution?


Since my arrival to the office I knew I wanted to specialize in SVU cases, and I was pretty open about that desire. The office was supportive of the idea and I became part of the SVU team early on, mostly handling misdemeanor cases and assisting more experienced attorneys with felony jury trials. Current Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Cari Steele was the SVU liaison at that time and really mentored me through my early years in the office. She was one of the pivotal people who guided me through some of my first trials and taught me the ropes.


Since Cari became Chief Deputy, I became the office’s SVU liaison. The SVU team currently consists of Cari and me, with some assistance from members of the other court teams, and we’re hoping to add another attorney or two to the team.


  1. What does your role as the SVU liaison entail?


A lot of the work I do as the SVU liaison is behind-the-scenes. SVU cases typically require more investigation than others at the front end before we’re able to bring charges. My role during these investigations is to work directly with the police department’s SVU detectives, review case files, and determine if a case should be charged, and if so, which charges are appropriate.


Once we’ve decided which charge(s) we’re able to bring forth, our victim/witness advocates and I meet with the victim and their families to explain the court process and discuss their desired outcome. Receiving victim feedback is especially important in SVU cases because of the additional trauma the court process can inflict. Sometimes victims would prefer we resolve a case with a plea agreement if it means they don’t have to testify at trial, while others are ready to testify and would prefer to see the case move forward to a full trial.


One of the hardest parts of my job is the very difficult conversations I often have with victims when a decision has been made where we aren’t able to bring forth charges in their case. There are a lot of cases where we recognize the situation is wrong and traumatic, but we don’t have the evidence to prove each of the legal elements required by the Virginia Code. 


  1. How would you personally define success in handling an SVU case?


A successful case is one that is fully and thoroughly investigated, even if it results in no charge or conviction. Sex offenses are serious charges and can really change the trajectory of the lives of those involved so it’s extremely important that our investigation is fair and thorough.


And I’d add that we can only be successful if we ensure we connect victims to the right resources and provide them with the support they need whether the case goes to trial or not. We are so fortunate to have an amazing victim/witness team that ensures victims are aware of the different services and supports available to them so that their healing can begin.


  1. In addition to your responsibilities as the SVU liaison, what are your other collateral duties?


I’m also the coordinator for our Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), serve as a member of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) Multidisciplinary Team, and train the police department on the annual (or in years where there are Special Sessions, semi-annual) legislative updates. I also spent most of 2020 serving on Project Peace, but that responsibility is now going to one of my colleagues, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Willie Wilson-Herring.


SART, led by the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, is a community group that ensures we have a coordinated response to sexual assault. SART includes the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, the Arlington County Victim/Witness Program, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE nurses) from the INOVA FACT Unit, Doorways, the Arlington County Police Department, the Falls Church Police Department, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Department, Marymount University, George Mason University, the US military, and County Board Member Katie Cristol. We meet every few months to determine a coordinated protocol in cases of sexual assault. Survivors of sexual assault often have different responses and needs after a sexual assault occurs, as some may report an assault by calling 911 immediately after it happens, while others choose to anonymously call Doorways and would prefer not to make a police report. In any scenario, it’s important to have a coordinated response – agencies should be prepared to inform the victim where they may go to receive an exam, where they are able to find shelter if needed, and what therapeutic services are available.


Project PEACE is another community group that works to develop a coordinated response, though it primarily focuses on domestic violence and not always sexual violence. Project PEACE, for example, recently drafted a blueprint setting out what responsibilities different county entities and agencies have in enforcing the recent changes in firearms laws in situations where a protective order has issued.  


The CAC coordinates a multidisciplinary team comprised of organizations that handle different aspects of child physical and sexual abuse and domestic violence. They have forensic interviewers that specialize in interviewing children who have experienced or witnessed abuse. Every month, we have a case review call where we talk through the status of open cases and what type of support the child or family may need. It is a great opportunity to make sure all the participants in a particular case, whether it be civil, criminal, or uncharged, are aware of developments in the case and connect with one another.  


I’m also in charge of training police on new legislation passed in the most recent General Assembly session. This is a new collateral duty of mine, so the first time I did it was after the 2020 regular session. Usually we’d do a single annual update but because of this year’s Special Session, we did it twice. A lot of the legislation passed in the Special Session implemented new procedural rules for the police and what they can or can’t do, so we looped the County Attorney’s office into this specific training so that we could comprehensively address the implications for the substantive criminal law and procedure but also civil liability and police disciplinary procedure.


  1. What motto or personal mantra guides your work?


I would say that I’m guided by the principle of empathy. I always try to be empathetic whether it’s when I’m approaching a victim, or the person being charged. Each person we encounter is an individual with dignity, and it is important to treat everyone with that recognition. It sounds really basic, but in the hustle of keeping up with caseloads and fast-paced dockets, it can be easy to view files as cases to close, not always people to serve. In the types of cases I deal with we rarely ever have the full story at the very beginning, so I try to put myself in other people’s shoes.


The cases I work on can be very dark. These aren’t cases where someone stole wine from a grocery store. Rather, they’re incredibly traumatic for victims and can completely alter their life and the life of the person who committed the crime. So, for me, it’s important to empathize and recognize what we can do on our end to ensure we can put everyone involved on a better track moving forward. I always ask myself – “What can we do to bring safety and accountability?”


  1. If you weren’t an attorney or working at the OCA, what career would you choose?


I would’ve liked to be a teacher – I like teaching and working with kids. I’m one of the Sunday school teachers for the kids at my church and I really enjoy it. It’s all virtual now, but I really can’t wait to be doing it in person again.


Or maybe I’d like to work at a vineyard in the tasting room, because it seems like that wouldn’t carry the kind of stress that can come with law or teaching.


The Power of Community


It’s been said of the COVID-19 pandemic that “we’re all in the same storm but we’re in not in the same boat.” As we’re asked to stay home to slow the virus’ spread, many families in our community are facing unparalleled economic hardship. And now that it’s Winter, it’s more important than ever to show solidarity by helping those in our own community.  That’s why we’ve compiled a list of resources allowing you to make a difference during the COVID-19 crisis, and most don’t require that you leave home!


Make a Monetary Contribution to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC)


Donate Non-Perishable Items to an AFAC Drop-off Location Near You


Donate to Doorways’ Amazon Wish List


Other In-Kind Giving Opportunities at Doorways


Donate to Bridges to Independence’s Amazon Wish List


Other Donation Opportunities at Bridges to Independence


Are you in need of emergency financial or food assistance?


If you are an Arlington resident, call 703-228-1300 for food and financial assistance, including rent and eviction prevention.


Click Here for More Information


The City of Falls Church is offering emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities for those who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For additional information, call 703-248-5005.


Click Here for More Information