Defense attorney announces state's attorney candidacy

Defense attorney Russell A. Neverdon Sr. announced his candidacy for Baltimore state's attorney Wednesday, promising as the city's top prosecutor to renew efforts to lock up violent criminals.

Kicking off his challenge to incumbent Gregg L. Bernstein, Neverdon said he would balance his crime-fighting efforts by improving treatment options for drug addicts and the mentally ill.

"We can no longer afford to have a revolving door," Neverdon said. "Most crime in Baltimore City is not violent crime. That means most persons who go in are not going to serve lengthy sentences. But the question becomes what do we do when they come out?"

With the announcement at the Battle Monument outside the Baltimore Circuit Court, Neverdon became the third candidate in the running. Marilyn Mosby, a former prosecutor, has also said she intends to run.

The two challengers announced their campaigns against the backdrop of a violent summer, arguing that they would do more to prosecute hard-core criminals.

"Every other day we're seeing a news flash that things are gone awry," Neverdon said. "I don't know about you, I'm tired of being in my home and being in a state of fear."

Neverdon said in an interview after his prepared remarks that he does not want defendants with mental health or drug addiction problems to get meaningless sentences that see them walk out of court without receiving treatment.

At the same time, he said he wants to disrupt a "culture and mentality" that breeds violence "at any cost."

Derrick Greene, a spokesman for Mosby's campaign, echoed that goal.

"If elected, Marilyn Mosby will put the focus of the state's attorney's office back where it should be — successfully prosecuting violent repeat offenders," he wrote in an email.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for Bernstein, said that the state's attorney is "focused on investigating and prosecuting violent offenders."

Neverdon, who is 46, appeared with the Rev. A.C.D. Vaughn, a pastor at Sharon Baptist Church, and a number of fellow defense attorneys. Chris Brown, a client of Neverdon's whose son died in an altercation with an off-duty Baltimore County police officer, was also by his side.

A practicing defense attorney since 1999, Neverdon was raised by his grandparents in the city's Ashburton neighborhood. He served in the Army before heading to law school.

He was involved in the defense of Michael Maurice Johnson, who is accused of murdering North Carolina teenager Phylicia Barnes. A guilty verdict was overturned, and Neverdon said he is not sure whether he will represent Johnson in a retrial.

Neverdon is also representing Shavella Miles, the former head of security at the Baltimore City Detention Center, who was dismissed in the wake of a gang indictment. She is fighting to get her job back.

In his remarks, Neverdon frequently cited his personal connections to Baltimore and his own experiences living in the city as reasons for wanting the state's attorney's job.

"This is my house, and I'm going to protect my house," he said.

Having pointed to his own ties to the community, Neverdon questioned whether Bernstein has done enough to communicate with city residents and explain to the public what his office is doing — a criticism similar to one made by Mosby.

"Do you feel any safer today than you did three years ago? Do you feel like you've been made aware of the initiatives and the policies that are purportedly made on your behalf? And do you feel like you've been included in the process?" Neverdon asked.

"If your answer is no, then it's time to move in a new direction."

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