In Philly DA’s race early, Khan promises progressive agenda

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     Attorney Joe Khan is running for the Philadelphia Office of District Attorney. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Attorney Joe Khan is running for the Philadelphia Office of District Attorney. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Of the six Democrats filing nominating petitions to run for Philadelphia District Attorney on Tuesday, Joe Khan was the first in the race. Khan, 41, announced his candidacy in September, attacking then-incumbent Seth Williams and saying the city needs a progressive prosecutor.

    Nearly six months later, Williams is out of the race, and Khan has plenty of company in the May 16 primary. But he says he’s the only career prosecutor in the field, and he’s ready to change the priorities of the DA’s office.

    He said in an interview the office under Williams has been “taking on easy fights so the DA can point to a 99 percent success rate, and I don’t think that’s how you measure success.”

    Asked for an example of the wrong fights, Khan cited prosecution of low-level drug possession cases.

    “Those cases, in which we have to spend countless dollars testing drug evidence to prosecute drug users, diverts resources from testing of rape kits,” he said, leaving sexual assault victims without anyone to champion them.

    Khan said the DA’s office has reduced the number of prosecutors assigned to the unit which prosecutes domestic violence and sexual assault. (A spokesman for the office declined comment on the charge.)

    Khan cited a program in Seattle as an example of a smarter approach to drug-possession cases: diverting users into treatment programs before they enter the criminal justice system, so they aren’t burdened with the stigma of a criminal record.

    Another Democratic candidate, Michael Untermeyer, has also cited the Seattle program as a model to consider in Philadelphia.

    Khan also calls for ending the city’s system of cash bail, saying it’s fairer and more effective to do as the federal courts do and hold defendants regarded as dangerous or flight risks, and release others on some condition of monitoring.

    And Khan said the DA’s office should take a strong stand in favor of the city’s “sanctuary city” policy of not routinely honoring detainer requests from immigration authorities.

    “As a prosecutor, I’m not going to cooperate with Donald Trump’s immigration agenda,” Khan said, arguing that too many vulnerable people fail to report crimes or cooperate as witnesses if they fear contact with the police will lead to deportation.

    Khan noted that his father emigrated from Pakistan when immigration was viewed differently from today.

    “My father came here in the 1960s,” Khan said. “He was a dark-skinned Muslim immigrant, and no one interrogated him, or suspected him of blowing up buildings and bridges.”

    Khan had raised $212,941 for his campaign as of Jan. 1, the most recent public filing.

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