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New Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney takes over as homicides surge in the city

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Posted at 2:39 PM, Dec 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 17:22:21-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Beginning January 1, 2022, the City of Norfolk will have a new Commonwealth's Attorney overseeing prosecutions in the city.

Ramin Fatehi won the Democratic Party's nomination to the post in June and then won in an uncontested election in November. Outgoing Commonwealth's Attorney Greg Underwood did not run for re-election.

Fatehi will oversee 40 prosecutors in the office and plans to change how the office is organized.

Instead of prosecutors being assigned cases based on a specialty, like drug cases, they will now be assigned cases based on a geographic part of the city.

"That will allow them to know the people in those neighborhoods, know the blocks, know the streets, know the houses," he said.

He also says he wants to work more closely with the police department and federal prosecutors.

He takes over as Norfolk sees a spike in homicides, reporting 61 in 2021 compared to 49 in 2020.

"Here in Norfolk we will prosecute every homicide case that comes to us. We will hold accountable the people who are killing in our neighborhoods, but that in itself is not going to solve the problem," he said.

Fatehi believes long term causes of crime, like poverty, will take time and a lot of effort to address.

He says homicides are up nationwide and in Norfolk due to fallout from the pandemic.

"The way to deal, in the long term, with homicides is to deal with the root causes - is to reopen the country, get people back to work, get kids back in school. We've started to do some of those things, but solutions don't work overnight," he said.

Fatehi cited a recent case where the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office worked with federal prosecutors to convict a man who was buying guns and then illegally selling them, a practice known as straw purchasing.

"That is the kind of case that will prevent future homicides, so using the resources we have more effectively to ensure that we can deal with the small number of people who are disproportionately killing, robbing, burglarizing, and committing crimes that are making the city less safe," he said.

Fatehi believes some people have lost trust in the criminal justice system. Part of how he thinks trust can be rebuilt is for Virginia to fund its Witness Protection Program. He plans to advocate for that to the General Assembly.

"When they don't want to use the courts, they take matters into their own hands and murders beget murders," he said.

He's also an advocate for criminal justice reform and doesn't think things like Virginia's use of mandatory minimums are effective. "We do not need mandatory minimums to hold people accountable. What we need are laws that allow us to prosecute people appropriately," he said.