Brett Rogers, left, and Jason Cummings.

Brett Rogers, left, and Jason Cummings.

Career prosecutor v. Seattle ex-cop in race for county’s top attorney

Voters will decide between Democrat Jason Cummings and Republican Brett Rogers in the race for Snohomish County prosecutor.

EVERETT — The open race for Snohomish County’s next prosecuting attorney pits a local longtime deputy prosecutor against a former cop billing himself as a tough-on-crime alternative.

Prosecutor Adam Cornell’s decision not to run for re-election after one term opened the door for Jason Cummings and Brett Rogers.

Cummings, the chief civil deputy in the prosecutor’s office, emphasizes his experience as a sign he’s ready to lead. Rogers, a Republican from Lake Stevens who for years was a police officer in Seattle, highlights growing public safety concerns he believes could be helped by higher bail for suspects in jail and longer prison sentences.

Many in the legal field see prosecutors as more powerful than judges. It’s the prosecutor who decides which cases merit criminal charges, oversees the county’s civil attorneys and helps craft local justice policies.

And here in Snohomish County, the prosecutor’s job is increasingly important as COVID-19 wreaked havoc on the justice system, creating backlogs thousands of cases long that can leave defendants and victims waiting years for resolution. Cornell is asking the County Council to fund four more deputy prosecutors to help relieve that burden.

Cummings, a 51-year-old Democrat from Edmonds, likes to note his only job has ever been as a deputy prosecutor, first in King County, then Kitsap County and here for the last 24 years. He has been the chief civil deputy for the past 15 years. He said he has deep knowledge of the office’s budget, which could make his transition into the new job a bit smoother.

Experience, not politics, would shape how he serves in the top job, Cummings told The Daily Herald.

“The approach I will take as the elected prosecutor is not one based on a political playbook, or a spectrum, but is based on actual experience having worked in the county all this time,” he said. “I really think politics should never play a role in the prosecutor’s office.”

Cummings, who calls himself a “numbers geek,” is helping lead the office’s data initiative to analyze potential disparities in the local criminal justice system. He hopes the project, expected to be released next month, will lead to more equitable solutions to public safety issues.

He wants to deal with the “root causes” of crime. Part of that is expanding the office’s Therapeutic Alternatives to Prosecution program and pushing the state to increase resources to help people with mental illness or substance use disorder.

“We need to be able to meet people where they’re at and offer them those services and get them on a path toward recovery,” Cummings said.

Rogers, who got his law degree from Seattle University while working at the Seattle Police Department, lost a race for state attorney general in 2020, taking 12 percent of the vote in the primary. He lost a tighter race for Lake Stevens School Board last year. He has never prosecuted a criminal case. But he argues his policing experience, as a patrol officer, sergeant and internal investigator, gives him a “fresh perspective.”

“I’ve got experience holding people accountable,” he said in an interview last week. “… I think it’s time for a fresh approach.”

While on duty, Rogers, along with another officer, shot and killed Shawn Maxwell after a traffic stop in Seattle. The officers said Maxwell was wielding a sword. The shooting pushed Rogers to go to law school. He said he went on to sit on the police department’s use of force review board.

Now 52, Rogers wants to increase transparency in the prosecutor’s office. In the campaign, he has frequently used social media to argue for a stricter approach to criminal allegations, often citing Herald articles while doing so.

He wants the prosecutor’s office to more quickly charge suspects with crimes, argue for heftier sentences and push judges for higher bail.

“Things are trending in the wrong direction,” Rogers said. “I think the people of the county really want the justice system to take a stand and say, ‘No, you committed a crime, you deserve to pay the penalty for it.’”

He added: “And I know that there are people out there that like to say, ‘Well, we can’t arrest our way out of this problem and prison doesn’t solve anything.’ I understand where they’re coming from to a point, but if a person is incarcerated, if nothing else for that period of time, that person is not out victimizing additional folks and creating additional drain on community resources.”

Rogers said he supports existing alternatives to prosecution, but they should have their limits to ensure accountability.

In the August primary, when turnout was less than 40% of the county’s registered voters, Cummings took more than 57% of the vote over Rogers. They were the only two candidates running, so the primary acted more as a straw poll for the general election.

Cummings has more than tripled his opponent’s campaign war chest, raising over $140,000, compared to more than $45,500 for Rogers, according to state Public Disclosure Commission data.

Cummings boasts endorsements from Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers, Cornell, Everett Police Chief Dan Templeman, Snohomish County Council members Megan Dunn, Nate Nehring and Sam Low, and other elected officials from both sides of the aisle. Rogers lists endorsements from state Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine and Lynnwood City Council member Jim Smith.

Snohomish County voters can expect to get their ballots this week. Ballots can be placed in the county’s designated drop boxes or mailed without a stamp, with a postmark no later than Election Day, Nov. 8.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439;; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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