Public Defender Launches Challenge to Allegheny DA
Allegheny County’s District Attorney race will be one to watch.
Following weeks of protest over the shooting of an unarmed black teen, and amid a national focus by progressive activists on prosecutor elections, Churchill attorney Turahn Jenkins confirmed Monday he will challenge incumbent DA Stephen Zappala.
Jenkins formerly worked as an assistant DA and currently serves as chief deputy director in the Allegheny County Public Defender’s office – a position he will resign Monday afternoon, a few hours before his formal campaign kickoff.
He will be Zappala’s first opponent – primary or general – since the DA won a full term in 1999.
He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the killing of Antwon Rose by East Pittsburgh Officer Michael Rosfeld – and the subsequent protests – confirmed his intention to run.
“People are screaming for help. I saw years of frustration. And disappointment. And anger. And helplessness,” he said. “It was confirmation I was stepping up and doing the right thing at the right time.”
The PG broke the news of Jenkins’ candidacy in a lengthy interview. Zappala’s spokesman said the DA is focusing on the office and that talking politics was premature.
Zappala was appointed DA in 1998, won election to a full term in 1999 and has served in the role – and been unopposed for re-election – ever since. He has overseen many cases, among which was the successful prosecution of Pa. Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and state Sen. Jane Orie on charges related to corruption. The Zappala family is prominent in western Pa. politics; his father served as a justice of the Pa. Supreme Court.
Zappala ran for Pa. Attorney General in 2016 where he pulled 73 percent of the primary vote in Allegheny County, but lost statewide to Josh Shapiro. Shapiro aired television ads accusing Zappala of going soft on perpetrators a race-related assault – a subject for which Zappala faced criticism.
In the days following Rose’s death, protesters variously urged Zappala to charge Rosfeld with homicide, called for Zappala to resign, and encouraged voters to oust him. Zappala charged Rosfeld with homicide on Wednesday.
Prosecutor elections have emerged as a major focus of criminal justice reform advocates nationwide. On the other side of the state, progressives celebrated a major win in 2017 with the election of Larry Krasner – a former public defender – as Philadelphia’s DA.