Clayton Harris III

Candidate for Cook County State's Attorney

Candidate Q&A

Why do you want to be Cook County State's Attorney?

I’m running for Cook County State’s Attorney because we face an urgent moment when it comes to public safety in our communities. All over the County, I hear that people do not feel safe. They’re scared to come downtown, go shopping, or do many things that used to be normal daily activities. They’re worried about carjackings, armed robberies, and violent crime. There has never been a more important time to make sure that people are safe, and there has also never been a more important time to make sure that we continue to push forward on the road to criminal justice reform.

I live on the South Side of Chicago, and as parents of two boys, 9 and 11, my wife and I are concerned about them walking from our front door to the park, and we worry about gang violence and bullets flying, the same way that walking back from that park, we have to worry about them being profiled by the police. I know that we aren’t the only ones who feel this way.

As a former assistant State’s Attorney who came through the Criminal Appeals, Traffic, Narcotics, and Special Prosecutions divisions, I know we can take action in the prosecutor’s office to keep people safe. And, as a Howard University School of Law graduate and a professor at the University of Chicago for over 14 years, now teaching a course called “Policing Race in America,” I know we can do this in a just fashion. Everyone across Cook County deserves to feel safe.

Why do you believe you are the most qualified candidate?

Cook County residents deserve to know that their prosecutor has the judgment to lead in a just fashion, while also ensuring public safety. I am the only candidate in this race with the leadership experience and judgment to ensure this office keeps moving forward–not back. My opponent, Eileen O’Neill Burke, has a troubling track record of poor judgment that has put people in danger. Recent investigative reporting from WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune exposed that she was the lead prosecutor in the wrongful conviction of an 11 year-old Black boy for murder. The child was arrested illegally, and, according to the reporting, “his confession should have been thrown out because it resulted from coercion.” My opponent even “blasted a state law that limited the judge’s ability to lock up young offenders” during sentencing. Meanwhile, the true killer was never caught. The family of the victim never received justice, and that young man’s life was destroyed by the wrongful conviction. Even today, with the benefit of hindsight, my opponent has expressed no regret over her handling of that case. Voters should find this irresponsible and reckless lack of judgment gravely concerning.

I am uniquely qualified to lead this large and important office. Having experience leading large teams at the state and city government levels, and other organizations, I know the value of a culture of accountability and respect. I’ve led staffs of thousands of people, and I know that I can manage the intense schedule that comes with managing hundreds of attorneys and support staff.

My background as a professor of Public Policy at the University of Chicago also provides me with the necessary lens to begin solving the root problems that are causing the increase in certain types of crime, rather than simply addressing issues that will repeat themselves for years to come.

As a father, I believe strongly in the importance of just accountability for young people, especially those engaged in violent behavior, that is appropriate and ethical and that prevents them from picking up a gun or committing other such crimes in the future. With children as young as 12 committing carjackings across Cook County, it’s clear that our young people need more early intervention to keep them away from a path of crime. I will work to strengthen partnerships with Chicago Public Schools and other Cook County school districts to make sure we’re engaging with young people, connecting high-risk youth with social services and other resources, and steering them away from dangerous behavior, rather than simply throwing them in jail and ruining their lives before they have even had a chance to start.

Do you think the Cook County State's Attorney’s Office is currently working well, or will you make major changes to the office? Why?

The current State’s Attorney has pursued some important reforms that should be continued, especially with respect to wrongful convictions. One area where I believe the State’s Attorney’s Office can improve is in communicating to the public a clear sense of what the office is doing. When I’m State’s Attorney, you’ll know every time we get a major conviction. The office is full of brilliant, talented lawyers who are doing the work every day. But this administration hasn’t told a clear enough story about the job it has to do. Every day, those assistant state’s attorneys go out and seek justice. They could have made more money somewhere else. They could have gone down another path. They stayed on to do this work. I will be a champion of their work and lift up their stories, and in so doing, I’ll aim to inspire confidence in the office among the public.

How do you plan to recruit and retain high-quality prosecutors in light of recent high rates of turnover within the office?

As a former Assistant State’s Attorney myself, I know that the talented and dedicated prosecutors who choose to stand up and fight for justice for victims by working in the State’s Attorney’s Office are second to none. But they need resources and more capacity. I will commit additional resources to the recruitment and retention of well-trained and highly skilled prosecutors to the State’s Attorney’s Office to ensure the staff is operating at full strength.

As State’s Attorney, I will bring my extensive managerial experience to the office, making sure it’s a healthy and appealing work environment that keeps talented attorneys on board throughout their careers.

One of the most important steps we can take is increasing the number of paralegals in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to ensure that attorneys have the resources they need to effectively and efficiently prosecute cases. By doing so, we also open up more entry-level opportunities to people across Cook County and can effectively hire more attorneys since they know they will have the requisite support staff. I also believe as a manager of large organizations, the personal touch as a leader is essential to building a team and ensuring everyone shares a common vision and goal for the office.

Robberies and thefts are on the rise including carjackings, and car thefts which are up 233% compared with 2019, according to CPD statistics. Does the CCSAO do a good job prosecuting those crimes? Why or why not?

Increases in robberies, thefts and carjackings are gravely concerning–we all know someone who has been impacted, if we haven’t been ourselves. As State’s Attorney, I will prioritize the aggressive prosecution of these crimes. I strongly believe that having a collaborative working relationship with mayors and police chiefs of every community in Cook County is vital toward enhancing the efficacy of prosecutorial efforts. I will also activate permanent liaisons with each local police department to ensure smooth and regular communication. This way, when police officers are making proper arrests and investigations to identify syndicates committing carjackings, retail theft, and robberies, they know they have a partner in the State’s Attorney’s office that will move forward with prosecution.

As State’s Attorney, I will also ramp up Special Prosecutions by adding a division focused on organized crime. This division, the Special Prosecutions Organized Crime unit, will focus on syndicates that perpetuate carjackings and retail theft, and again work more directly with law enforcement to ensure proper prosecution.

Do you support the elimination of cash bail included in the state’s new SAFE-T Act?

Yes, Eliminating cash bail was an important reform that allows our justice system to stop criminalizing poverty. It also allows law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to focus resources on dangerous and violent offenders, instead of those who, in the past, would remain detained simply because they were unable to afford bond.

Does the elimination of cash bail send a signal that Illinois is soft on crime?

No, Ending cash bail sends an important signal that Illinois will no longer criminalize poverty, and allows our justice system to focus on pursuing violent and dangerous offenders, instead of those who simply may have been too poor to post bond. Prosecutors are given significant power to make good decisions about when to charge a crime, what the proper charge is for a given crime, and in sentencing recommendations. My office is committed to petitioning for pretrial detention for violent offenders, or when the offender has a high likelihood of committing additional crimes when on pretrial release based on their previous record.

What, if any, part of the state’s SAFE-T Act criminal justice reform needs reworking?

As we continue to evaluate the implementation phase of the law, it may become clear that additional legislative changes are needed. I am ready and willing to stand with law enforcement, reform advocates and gender-based violence policy experts, or any other stakeholders to pursue improvements as needed in Springfield.

Will you continue Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s current felony prosecution policy for shoplifting cases (stolen goods must be worth at least $1,000 or a defendant must have 10 prior convictions)?

Yes, Retail theft is a serious concern, and it often happens in concern with other crimes. We need the State’s Attorney to take retail theft seriously and aggressively bring charges related to it that are appropriate to meet the crime–just like in every other case. We need accountability, and we need to send a clear message that retail theft won’t be tolerated in Cook County. We also are going to not limit our approach to retail theft charges–it’s important that we use every tool in the toolbox of state statute. That means bringing whatever charges are relevant and appropriate–whether that be retail theft, burglary, or other charges if any related violence takes place.

If a police officer is a member of a known hate-or-extremist group such as the Proud Boys, should they be barred from testifying in court?

Yes, Any law enforcement officer being a member of a known hate or extremist group should at minimum be barred from testifying in court, and should not be policing our communities in Cook County. Being a police officer, just like being the Cook County State’s Attorney, is a job of public service. Membership with a hate or extremist group is antithetical to public service.

If a police officer has been brought up on charges of misconduct numerous times, should they be barred from testifying in court after a certain number of complaints?

Yes, Prosecutors and law enforcement must work closely together. For that relationship to be effective at keeping people safe, it must be built on trust and accountability. As State’s Attorney, it is my role to ensure everyone is held accountable–including police officers who have broken the law or otherwise violated public trust. I also support the existence of the Do Not Call List (for police officers who have a record of misconduct and/or criminal wrongdoing) and will maintain it as the State’s Attorney, among other measures.

Will you prosecute people who do not register their assault weapons which is required after the Protect Illinois Communities Act passed and was signed into law?

Yes, The Protect Illinois Communities Act was a critical step forward in removing weapons of war from our streets and preventing future mass shootings. I will do everything in my power to assist in its enforcement.

What is your biggest goal if you are elected to lead the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office?

With robberies and other violent crimes at the forefront of many Cook County residents' minds, I will make preventing gun violence and other violent crimes a top priority. I’ll team up with state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, the Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms Bureau, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and others, to bring charges and hold the most dangerous offenders accountable. As a former prosecutor in the Special Prosecutions unit myself, I know that enhancing Special Prosecutions will help ensure there are additional resources to prosecute sexual assault, domestic violence, gun crimes, carjackings, and more. I will work with federal partners to get to the source of gun crimes–the traffickers moving weapons from states like Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky, across Illinois’ borders, and as State’s Attorney, I want to ramp up Special Prosecutions by adding a division focused on organized crime. This division, the Special Prosecutions Organized Crime unit, will focus on syndicates that perpetuate carjackings and retail theft.