Former Assembly Speaker outlines his vision for his new role as Nevada’s U.S. attorney – The Nevada Independent


After more than a decade in state politics and an even longer career in the courtroom, Jason Frierson has a new boss: the federal government.

“I’ve always been in a sort of advocacy position,” said Frierson, the District of Nevada’s newest U.S. attorney. “This is the first position in my legal practice where I am – and I am honored to be – an extension of the United States… This is new to me. But you know, public service has obviously been part of my whole adult life.

The U.S. Attorney for a given district functions similarly to a state Attorney General, only at the federal level – prosecuting federal criminal cases and representing the U.S. government in court in the event of a prosecution.

And notably for Frierson, who has spent a decade running for and re-electing to the state Assembly, the position is nominated, not elected, for a four-year term.

A former public defender, Clark County prosecutor and most recently Speaker of the Assembly, Frierson was confirmed by the US Senate in April. He replaced acting U.S. Attorney Christopher Chiou, who stepped in after the departure of Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney Nick Trutanich.

Although originally from Los Angeles, Frierson has lived in Nevada since 1998, earning an undergraduate degree from UNR and later a law degree from UNLV. That experience, he said, combined with his legal experience on both sides of a courtroom, was “a huge help.”

“These are things that have made me sensitive to issues that affect the whole state, the whole district,” he said.

But Frierson, also the first black man to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada, said his personal experience — in addition to working as both a prosecutor and defense attorney — gave him “a perspective balance of what justice looks like”. As.”

“When I was sworn in, frankly, I got a little emotional,” Frierson said. “Because this kid from Compton, who didn’t always know if the police would show up when we called him, is now the face of justice for the entire District of Nevada.”

Frierson added that his appointment came with an “incredible responsibility to get it right”.

“I may be the first African-American American attorney in the history of the state of Nevada, but I don’t want to be the last,” he said.

Frierson spoke to The Nevada Independent for an extended interview last week, detailing his priorities in his new role, including tackling violent crime, the opioid crisis, human trafficking and more.

Fighting Violent Crime, Guns and Drugs

In the wake of the pandemic and in the midst of an election year, public perceptions of crime have sharpened to focus on murder rates which have increased as coronavirus-induced shutdowns have ended. This concentration comes despite mixed crime trends elsewhere, and as the number of property crimes in Nevada has increased while the violent crime rate has declined.

Frierson said that, “as the economy returns [from COVID]it had an impact on crime rates,” and that his role as a U.S. attorney was largely about associating with investigative agencies — the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), among others. .

But, he said, his office also partners with “non-law enforcement” groups that he called “often our most valuable asset” to ensure public safety and solve problems. crimes.

“We have to have those relationships,” Frierson said. “That means we have to be present in the community. We can only show ourselves in a crisis. We need to have existing relationships and ongoing communication so that there is trust in the community and the community knows that we are going to follow up and do that justice.

Frierson also raised concerns about an increase in the prevalence of privately made or 3D-printed firearms — sometimes called ghost guns — or gun parts, including parts that can convert semi-guns. automatic weapons into fully automatic weapons.

“At the end of the day, we want to nip it in the bud and make sure that we intercept these components or firearms as they come into the state or as they are manufactured or as they are manufactured. try to leave the state and be sold,” he said. . “It is a priority that we engage at every stage of this investigation to try to get these weapons off the streets.”

And amid concerns about a rise in the powerful opioid fentanyl in the illegal drug trade, Frierson said his office has begun collaborating with the DEA on public education campaigns.

“The DEA’s model is ‘one pill can kill,'” he said. “And this is going to be an important public education campaign, which we’re going to have to be consistent and ongoing to make sure we protect our community and, in particular, our children from this outbreak.”

Frierson also pointed out that the current opioid crisis is a far cry from the War on Drugs of the 1980s and beyond, pointing to a new level of sophistication in the drug trade, such as the production of “arc” opioid pills. -en-ciel” or the smuggling of separate drug components that are later combined.

The bottom line, he said, is “we’re not talking about marijuana plants.”

“It doesn’t just impact low-income communities. It impacts all communities,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a minority or not.”

Human trafficking

Although recent changes in the past decade have opened the door to more state-level prosecutions, human trafficking — and sex trafficking, in particular — has long remained the domain of federal prosecutors.

Between 2010 and 2020, nearly three dozen people were charged with federal trafficking offenses, though the annual number varies widely, ranging from eight to none, according to figures compiled by the Human Trafficking Institute.

When asked if the U.S. Attorney’s Office had done enough on the issue, Frierson replied “you can always do more, no doubt.”

Pointing to parts of the hospitality industry — including professional sports teams, conventions and the Las Vegas tourist corridor — Frierson said “we have a lot of dynamics that I think invite people who have unlawful intentions.” .

“I come from a child protection perspective where I am aware that there are 14-year-old runaways, both locally and from out of state. They are trafficked here, they are groomed, they are recruited and eventually kidnapped,” he said. “It’s absolutely a priority of mine to make sure we send a message that he’s not welcome here in Nevada.”

Among child victims of trafficking, cooperation with the police often remains relatively weak. A nine-year study by Arizona State University and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department found that only 28% of victims cooperated with police – a rate attributed by authorities to the traumatic aftermath of trafficking.

Frierson said that, like other priorities for his office, he has been in touch with “community partners” on the issue, in part to increase communication and ensure the public is comfortable coming forward. and report trafficking crimes.

“All of these things are going to be essential in our ability to make human trafficking a priority and to bring it to fruition with proven results.”

Civil rights

Amid ongoing national discussions about civil rights and the interaction between law enforcement and the public — especially people of color — Frierson said civil rights enforcement is both a Department of Justice and “that has always been one of my priorities”.

“Respect for the law is the number one goal,” he said. “I think delivering justice for everyone, including civil rights, is also part of what we do. But we also have an obligation to do it in a human way.

Frierson, who sits on a subcommittee of U.S. attorneys on civil rights, said he has an “obligation” to stay involved in crime prevention programs, including diversion or other pre-trial services. at trial aimed at reducing recidivism rates, so that “we have an appropriate outcome depending on the individual case.

Asked about the broader political divisions emerging as Democrats and criminal justice advocates pushed for police reforms — and were pushed back by police departments in the process — Frierson said “we are at unprecedented times” and that “the government is under more control than I think it has ever been”, both in the area of ​​criminal justice and in politics more broadly.

Frierson also described the civil rights issue as a “constant effort” to develop and maintain relationships between law enforcement and community groups, relationships that would “go a long way” to resolving civil rights issues as they emerge. .

“I think if we can continue to have relationships with our partners, but also with our community partners, and break down some barriers – have more collaboration and communication than antagonism – I think we’ll go a lot further in ensuring that the rights of individuals are protected.”

Building Tribal Relationships

When asked how he would approach his office’s relationship with Native American communities in the state, Frierson — who sits on a subcommittee of American lawyers focused on Native American issues — said that “it is important that we make sure that these tribes know that we are here to bring justice to them as well.

Frierson said his office began a tour of Nevada’s tribal leaders, hoping to avoid meeting them for the first time because “there’s a crime that’s happened or there’s a grievance.”

In recent years, Indigenous leaders and activists have pushed for political action on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, in particular. In these investigations, the US Attorney’s office has played a key role, especially since these cases often involve multiple tribal and state entities.

Referring to the investigation of certain crimes on Indian reservations, Frierson admitted that “it’s difficult”, in part because “in tribal communities, there is not always that trust, and therefore there is no there is not always this flow of information and communication that helps solve crimes”.

“So I believe it’s part of my job to build those relationships and build those bridges,” he said.


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