For This NY District Attorney, Fear-Based Approaches to Drugs Are a Family Affair

    When one Facebook user wrote “Putting away bad guys since 2013” under a photo of Orange County, New York District Attorney David M. Hoovler and his wife, he probably did not realize the irony of what he was saying.

    Hoovler is the chief prosecutor of this county about an hour north of New York City. A former police officer and US Department of Justice attorney, he was elected in 2013 after calling “narcotics-related offenses” the most serious crime issue in the area. Hoovler explained to voters that crime is driven by “social disorganization” and that “one shot at rehabilitation” is all anyone gets with him.

    David Hoovler photo via OrangeCounty.gov

    Unsurprisingly, his tenure has been characterized by a constant and ruthless campaign against people who use drugs. He endorsed open-air drug sweeps that ensnared people for marijuana possession, claiming without evidence that this made Orange County “a little bit safer.” When former New York State Senator William J. Larkin, Jr. obtained an extra $50,000 in federal funds for Hoovler to supposedly “fight opioid addiction,” the DA said he would use it for more “chemical testing equipment,” not treatment or harm reduction services.

    What is more surprising is that David Hoovler has managed to make fighting the failed War on Drugs a family affair. His wife, Christa Hoovler, works as a “Prevention Educator” at Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Council (ADAC) of Orange County, which describes itself as a nonprofit. In 2014, Hoovler created a new department in his office called the Special Projects and Community Affairs Bureau. One of the first projects of that bureau was to collaborate with his wife’s employer to create a fear-based presentation called From Medicine Cabinet to Heroin Addict to put on for area high school and college students.

    ADAC of Orange County also happens to operate the county’s sole post-plea, pre-sentencing program for drug felonies, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities (TASC). That means the more drug felonies that Hoovler’s office charges, the more work his wife’s organization gets. (As if that were not concerning enough, the ADAC of Orange County does not pop up in the IRS nor New York Secretary of State search databases for not-for-profit organizations.)

    Whatever the ethics of that relationship, none of this has translated to good outcomes. According to the New York State Department of Health, Orange County had 58 fatal opioid overdoses in 2014, but that number jumped to 78 deaths by 2017. While hospitalizations for opioid overdoses went slightly down in the three-year periodfrom 89 to 71outpatient emergency department visits related to opioid overdoses escalated from 111 to 196, a shocking 77 percent increase.

    Albany County, whose DA David Soares has taken a more reasoned approach to drug policy, has a similar number of residents to Orange County. It also has half of its fatal overdoses. Soares is the current president of the District Attorneys Association of New York (DAASNY), while Hoovler is 1st Vice President. (Monroe County DA Sandra Doorley, previously covered by Filter, is DAASNY’s president-elect.)

    Instead of allying under the DAASNY flag to kill incremental procedural improvements like bail and pre-trial discovery reform, public safety would be better served if DA Soares could help teach DA Hoovler how to stop letting so many people die on his watch. In this context, it is not shocking that prosecutorial lobbying organizations such as DAASNY are falling out of favor.

    Main photo by Tony Webster via Flickr/Creative Commons

    • Rory Fleming

      Rory is the founder of Foglight Strategies, a campaign research services firm for forward-thinking prosecutors nationwide. He previously worked for the Fair Punishment Project, which was founded as a joint project of Harvard Law School’s Charles Hamilton Houston Institute and its Criminal Justice Institute. Rory is a licensed Minnesota attorney.

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