York DA candidates clash over drug task force

David Weissman
  • Jonelle Eshbach and Dave Sunday, Republican candidates for York County District Attorney, debated.
  • Eshbach and Sunday clashed over split between York County Drug Task Force and York City PD.
  • With no Democratic challengers, winner of race will be decided during the primary election on May 16.

A four-year-old dispute between the York City Police Department and York County District Attorney's Office was the main point of contention during Wednesday's debate between district attorney candidates Jonelle Eshbach and Dave Sunday.

York County District Attorney candidate Jonelle Eshbach, center, speaks during a debate with fellow Republican candidate Dave Sunday, front, while moderator and York Rotary Club Chair Mike Summers looks on during the York Rotary Club meeting at Country Club of York in Spring Garden Township, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The department and the York County Drug Task Force parted ways in 2013 over policy changes made by current District Attorney Tom Kearney, and Eshbach said it's time to repair that relationship.

Eshbach, an attorney at a firm in Red Lion, previously worked in the York County District Attorney's Office from 1988 to 2000. She said the task force and city police department work best together, and she will compel those entities to work together if she's elected.

Sunday, the county's chief deputy prosecutor, said he helped implement the policy changes that led to the split, but his relationship remains strong with 95 percent of the city's police officers.

He pointed to an increase in felony drug arrests throughout the county since the restructuring of the task force and said he wouldn't lower his standards "to please 5 percent of one department."

Sunday added after the debate that he was "deathly concerned" with the direction Eshbach would take the drug task task force if she's elected.

The early afternoon debate was hosted at the Country Club of York by the Rotary Club of York, with former club president Mike Summers serving as the moderator.

Summers noted that the club usually waits to hold debates until the fall, before final elections, but since Eshbach and Sunday are both running as Republicans with no Democrats seeking the position, the May 16 primary election likely will determine who is elected.

Agreements: Aside from disagreements on coordination between the city police department and the drug task force, Eshbach and Sunday often expressed similar sentiments when responding to questions submitted by club members.

Both oppose West York's proposal for decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and neither said limits should exist on how many times an emergency responder can use the heroin antidote naloxone (brand name Narcan) on people.

Following the debate, Eshbach and Sunday both also said they supported legislation currently moving through the state Legislature to reinstitute mandatory minimum sentences, which were ruled unconstitutional in 2015.

The state law sets mandatory minimum jail time and/or fines for various crimes, including high-level drug trafficking, child abuse and crimes committed using a gun.

Sunday said bringing back mandatory minimum sentences for drug-trafficking crimes involving guns is particularly vital because it allows prosecutors to "get bad guys offs the streets before they kill people."

Opponents of the legislation, which has already passed through the House, argue mandatory minimums unfairly take discretion away from judges in sentencing.

Eshbach said she understands why judges feel they need leeway, but prosecutors already use discretion when deciding whether to seek a mandatory minimum sentence, and that decision should be entrusted to them.

Past work: During the debate, Sunday touted leadership skills he's gained from serving in the Navy and managing a $200 million annual budget working for UPS.

He also pointed to his work in co-founding the York County Heroin Task Force — now called the York Regional Opiate Collaborative — and said the heroin epidemic is one of the biggest issues the county has ever faced.

Eshbach touted her many years of experience, including 12 years in the state Attorney General's Office, and said she's passionate about helping victims.

Eshbach was asked during the debate about a potential conflict of interest prosecuting cases in front of her husband, Dover-area District Judge David Eshbach.

She said she would not appear before her husband but she wouldn't have any problem sending assistant district attorneys to appear before him.

Eshbach and Sunday are scheduled to appear together again 7 p.m. Thursday during a forum held by the York 912 Patriots at Shiloh Fire Hall, 2190 Carlisle Road. The two will be joined by York County Court of Common Pleas candidates — Kathleen Prendergast, James Mann, Amber Anstine Kraft, Clyde Vedder, Matt Menges, Chuck Hobbs, Tim Barker, Pete Vaughn and Sandra Thompson — and Craig Stedman, a candidate for the state Supreme Court.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.