Name as it appears on the ballot: Damon John Chetson

Campaign website:

Years lived in Wake County: 15 years 

1. What do you believe are the most important issues facing the District Attorney’s Office? What are your top three priorities in addressing these issues?

The Wake County District Attorney’s Office has a total of 43 assistant district attorneys who do the hard work of prosecuting the day-to-day cases in our court system.  Since 2018 – prior to COVID – more than 20 ADAs have left the office.  While pay is an issue, the loss of talented prosecutors from the Wake County District Attorney’s office is a result of leadership problems that have been documented in The Assembly and Indy Week.  This loss of prosecutors has left the office less diverse, less experienced, and less effective.  As a result, in 2021, the office failed to convict 7 of 12 defendants in first degree murder trials in Wake County.  Either the office attempted to convict people who were in fact innocent or failed to convict people who were guilty of first-degree murder.

Related to this issue is the failure of the current leadership to reflect the diversity of Wake County.  There are no Black prosecutors in the leadership of the office, and few people of color in top positions.

Furthermore, the office’s size has not kept pace with the population growth of the county.  While Wake County is now the largest county in the state, it has roughly half (43) the number of prosecutors as Charlotte-Mecklenburg (80+).  Criminal justice reform sometimes requires offices to expand, and Wake County is one such example.  Similarly sized counties around the country (Mecklenburg, 80+ prosecutors) and Travis County (Austin, TX, approximately 100 prosecutors) have prosecutors to handle the volume of cases.

I am running as a Democrat for to be your Wake County District Attorney to:

  1. The Wake County District Attorney’s Office is understaffed (and underpaid), and I will use the considerable bully pulpit to push the General Assembly and the County to provide the resources to expand the size of the office.
  2. Recruit and retain talented prosecutors, including prosecutors of color and create a culture and leadership where their voices are heard.
  3. Create a workplace culture that treats all employees with respect and dignity to avoid the kind of workplace misconduct and problems at the Wake County District Attorney’s that have been reported in recent weeks in our local media.

2. What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be an effective district attorney? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

A 2009 graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill Law School, I have been a criminal defense lawyer in representing both defendants and victims in criminal courtrooms primarily in Wake County, but also throughout North Carolina.  I am a North Carolina Bar Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law.  I have conducted more than 25 jury trials in state and federal criminal courts, including murder cases in Wake County Superior Court and other courts throughout our state.

  • Beginning in 2013, I have defended as a volunteer lawyer dozens of Moral Monday/Poor People’s Campaign/NAACP protesters arrested and prosecuted by the Wake County District Attorney
  • I have represented defendants charged with protest-related violations as part of Black Lives Matter, anti-Confederate Statute actions, and protests in response to the murder of George Floyd.
  • In 2020, I was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention to nominate President Biden.
  • I have been endorsed by the North Carolina AFL-CIO and the Color of Change PAC, as well as attorneys throughout Wake County.

3. If you are challenging an incumbent, what decisions has the incumbent made that you most disagree with? If you are an incumbent, what in your record and experience do you believe entitles you to another term?

The Wake County District Attorney’s failure to hold police accountable contributed to the need for thousands of people to march in 2020 as part of the George Floyd protests calling for current District Attorney Lorrin Freeman to step down.

They were marching for Kyron Hinton, who was beaten by police in Raleigh near Yonkers Rd, and other victims of abuse by abuse by bad police officers.

Even after those protests, the current District Attorney continued to fail Wake County. Raleigh Police Department Detective Omar Abdullah arrested 15 people on fake drug charges. The Wake County DA prosecuted these folks who were facing massive potential sentences even after it became aware in February 2020 of problems in the cases.  Two years later, even after Raleigh has paid the victims $2 million, there has yet to be a report or explanation from the DA’s office about how these prosecutions could carry on while the 15 accused spent a combined total of 2.5 years in jail.

I will rebuild trust in the community in our criminal justice system by lifting good police up but holding bad police accountable. The failure of the current Wake County District Attorney to hold bad police accountable and provide transparency to the community when she believes prosecution is not warranted erodes trust with our community.

4.  Recently, Wake County lowered the minimum bond for some offenses to reduce the number of people in county jails awaiting trial, but some say bonds remain too expensive for many people sitting in county jails. Do you believe the bail reforms go far enough?

The News & Observer reported in December 2019 about how high bonds in Wake County for low level crime has historically harmed the community.

The N&O reported in November 2020 amid COVID that Wake County was the least successful county in the Triangle at lowering its jail population.

This April, Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway signed a new pretrial release program into effect that lowers some bonds.  But these policies only go so far when the practice of the Wake County District Attorney’s office is to ask for high bonds.  I have practiced in Wake County primarily, but when I go to surrounding counties, including Johnston County, the bonds are often set much more reasonably, with no noticeable harm to the community or the court system.

I will establish a culture in the District Attorney’s office that asks for bonds that are no higher than is necessary to ensure the safety of the community or the defendant’s requirement to come to court for trial.  I will reject approaches that turn crimes related to homelessness and poverty into means of detaining people in our jails on unaffordable bonds.  While bond is always set by a District or Superior Court Judge, the prosecutor’s request has weight in the decision that is made.

5. Recently, gun violence has proliferated in communities across the nation, including in Wake County. How should the DA’s office focus resources to addressing violent gun crime and prosecuting offenders?

In 2020 during COVID, armed extremists marched in Raleigh streets with military-grade weaponry, menacing residents.

At the very least, these armed extremists violated a long-standing law – Going Armed to the Terror of the People – and possibly other laws and yet no prosecutions followed.

The current Wake County District Attorney failed to prosecute these menacing acts.

Rather than prosecuting adult-use quantities of marijuana, I have committed to focusing the District Attorney’s resources on prosecuting violent crimes, including gun crimes, that cause damage to our neighborhoods, and by focusing on expanding access to mental health and addiction deferral programs that, studies show, reduce the cycle of violence, and resolve many of the underlying factors that contribute to violence in domestic contexts and in our communities.

While Wake County recently created a Mental Health Deferral program with Alliance, a partner group, Lorrin Freeman recently acknowledged that only 30 people are admitted to the program at any one time.  We must dramatically expand access to these programs which reduce gun-related and other kinds of violence.

All communities deserve to be safe, and I will use the resources of the office to prosecute gun violence and hold people who commit acts of gun violence accountable.

6. Do you support the expanded use of citations as an alternative to arrests? Under what circumstances do you believe citations should be issued?

Wake County has expanded the use of citations as an alternative to arrest. I support this, and will continue to push for citations or summonses to be used in lieu of arrest warrants, and work to quickly remedy situations in which people are arrested for minor or non-violent crime

7. What do you think is the most effective way to deal with low-level drug offenders? What are or what would be your policies regarding plea bargaining in drug offense cases?

I will stop prosecuting adult-use quantities of marijuana.  This is not just an issue of resources, but one of equity. While studies show that marijuana use is the same across racial and ethnic groups, people of color are prosecuted at higher rates for marijuana, especially low-level quantities.

The Wake County District Attorney also uses the mandatory minimum sentences of North Carolina’s trafficking laws to extract pleas (see the RPD Detective Omar Abdullah cases for an example of how this can be abusive) even in cases where the defendant is really a user.  I will not abuse the drug trafficking laws to extract unfavorable plea deals or abuse the drug trafficking laws that result in high bonds, to extract pleas.  I will use the drug trafficking laws as they were originally intended, to address very high quantities of drugs – kilos of cocaine, for instance – by drug trafficking organizations. In advancing drug policy reform, while I believe drugs are often best treated with mental health and addiction treatment, I also want to ensure our neighborhoods remain safe from true drug traffickers who also bring violence.

8. In terms of juvenile justice, what do you believe can be done to prevent delinquency and gang involvement?

In most situations, a District Attorney’s office is reactive: it gets involved after a crime has happened and attempts to address underlying issues at that point. But in Juvenile Court, we can work with children who may be at risk for future criminal behavior or gang involvement.

First, school-based offenses, for the most part, do not need to be in juvenile court. A large number of resources are spent on issues that are best addressed in school: crimes like “disorderly conduct at school.”

Shifting resources to the children who show high risk for later criminal or gang involvement is critical, as is ensuring those children are treated as children. We will endeavor to keep children in juvenile court, where they can benefit from the programs and resources dedicated to these children, rather than transferring them to adult court is an important step to improving outcomes.

9. As DA, how have you dealt with fatal use of force by local law enforcement officers? If you are a challenger, how well do you think the incumbent DA has dealt with use of force by local law enforcement officers? When do you think law enforcement officers should be prosecuted for use of lethal force?

The Wake County District Attorney has failed to prosecute multiple cases of either fatal use or serious use of force.  The individual decisions not to charge often depend on evidence that is not made publicly available or reported to the public in a transparent manner.  Furthermore, these decisions are made by a Wake County District Attorney and Office which a natural and appropriate close working relationship with the officers under investigation. That’s because the DA’s Office relies upon our local police agencies to investigate and prosecute day-to-day crimes, and the prosecutors and police officers naturally develop a close working relationship.  There’s nothing inappropriate about this. However, the same prosecutors who have developed relationships with police cannot be expected to always render objective decisions about whether police officers have exceeded their authority in the use of force.  That’s why when Derek Chauvin was prosecuted for murdering George Floyd: the case was not handled by the Hennepin County District Attorney’s office in Minneapolis but was handled by an independent set of prosecutors in the Attorney General’s office.

In 2022, the Wake County District Attorney prosecuted a Granville County Sheriff’s Deputy for misconduct and secured a conviction as an independent prosecutor who was asked by the Granville County DA to perform an independent prosecution.  That was appropriate.

But the Wake County District Attorney has repeatedly made the sole charging decision in not charging officer after officer who many people in Wake County believe have used excessive or deadly force.  The result is that there is a lack of trust in the community that the DA’s office is biased and will simply not hold bad police officers accountable.

I will create a walled-off group of independent prosecutors to handle police abuse and misconduct cases, or send those cases to independent prosecutors, such as Attorney General Josh Stein, for prosecution.

10. It has been more than a decade since North Carolina executed anyone, and there is no one who was sentenced in Durham County on death row. Do you support capital punishment? Under what circumstances would you think it proper to seek the death penalty?

I will not seek the death penalty.  While Ms. Freeman has sought the death penalty frequently, Wake County juries often decline to impose the death penalty because it is not consistent with the progressive values of our county.  The death penalty is costly, racially discriminatory, and prone to error.

In Wake County, Seaga Gillard, a Black man, was sentenced to death in 2019; two months later, Jon Sander, a white man, who I was appointed by the court system to defend with two other lawyers at trial, was sentenced to life.  The disparate treatment of these two defendants, both of whom committed horrific crimes, both of whom will serve the remainder of their lives in prison, but only one of whom, Seaga Gillard who is Black, will be killed by the State.

As Gretchen Engel of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation wrote in 2019 (, current Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman has sought the death penalty more frequently than any other District Attorney, Democratic or Republican between 2014 and 2019.  This fall, the Wake County District Attorney is seeking the death penalty in Brandon Hill’s case.

11. Identify and explain one principled stand you would be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some points with voters.

I would agree to new trials in cases where there is clear evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection by past Wake County prosecutors.  As Justice Anita Earls noted in her opinion in State v. Clegg, in 2016 a Wake County prosecutor prevented a Black potential juror from serving because of race in violation of the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.  The U.S. Supreme Court case, Batson v. Kentucky decided in 1986, prohibits prosecutors from preventing jurors from serving solely because of race.

In 36 years, the North Carolina Supreme Court had never overturned a jury trial because of a Batson violation.  But in 2016, Wake County prosecutors went too far in their violation of the Constitution.  The North Carolina Supreme Court ordered that Christopher Clegg receive a new trial.

While Ms. Freeman, as an analyst for the North Carolina’s Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission in 2002, co-authored a report that found “no differences in the way whites and non-whites were processed in the courts,” I believe that racial inequalities do exist in the way people of color are treated in the criminal justice system.

And I believe the next Wake County District Attorney needs to help resolve that issue by ensuring that even convicted people receive new, fair trials where there is clear evidence of racial discrimination in jury selection.