To help us kickoff the ShoutOut series, where we interview LGBTQ folks and allies making an impact here in Maine, we’d like to help introduce you to Frayla Tarpinian, currently the Head of the Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse Unit for the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office. She’s also a candidate running for Cumberland County District Attorney.
Our questions to Frayla include questions about #BlackLivesMatter, immigrants, and Trans rights.
MARPHEEN: Hello, Frayla! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy campaign and work schedule to help us do our first EVER ShoutOut! We really saw a need to lift up Maine’s queer voices and present an intersectional perspective on issues both in Maine and abroad. So thank you for being one of the first people to help us do that!
FRAYLA: Hi Marpheen! I’m honored to speak with you and participate in ShoutOut. I am thrilled you are creating a space to discuss important topics from a variety of perspectives. I look forward to reading all of your upcoming issues.
MARPHEEN: Before we start, though, could you give us a brief introduction and tell us a little bit about who you are, what part of Cumberland County you live in, and what you currently do?
FRAYLA: Sure- My name is Frayla Tarpinian and I live in Windham, Maine with my wife, two daughters and Mr. Frank, our dachshund. My passion for working to advocate for survivors of domestic violence inspired me to go to law school. In law school, I continued working on domestic violence issues, but was also introduced to the wrongful conviction movement and ultimately began working on wrongful conviction advocacy and helping to start an innocence project which eventually led to the successful exoneration of two individuals and counting.
After law school, I began working as a criminal defense attorney and spent most of my time talking to prosecutors about the problems that my clients had and the tools they needed to function well in our community. I realized that I would have a broader impact by being a prosecutor, so I joined the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office. As an ADA I worked on alternative sentencing, including the Co-Occurring Disorders Court, Veterans Court and prosecuted domestic violence cases. Ultimately, I became the Head of the Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Elder Abuse Unit, which is my current position.
In addition to prosecuting cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, I now supervise a team of attorneys, advocates and investigators, participate in policy making, and managing personnel and other administrative functions within the office.
MARPHEEN: So when most people think of the 2018 election, they’re thinking about the Governor’s race. Which is packed. And it looks like yours is pretty packed as well. What made you want to decide to run for Cumberland County District Attorney? What sets you apart from the other candidates?
FRAYLA: I decided to run for Cumberland County District Attorney because I saw an opportunity to bring important criminal justice reform to Cumberland County. The incumbent DA is retiring after 28 years in the position and now is the right time to implement diversion programs, restorative justice, and to start a Veteran’s Court. What sets me apart from other candidates is that I have both the vision of what criminal justice reforms need to be made and the experience and knowledge to implement those changes. I am the only candidate that has worked in a modern district attorney’s office both as a prosecutor and as an administrator.
MARPHEEN: What do you think is the most important issue in the Cumberland County District Attorney’s race? And what’s your plan to deal with it?
FRAYLA: The most important issue in the Cumberland County District Attorney’s race is how we can better address the opioid epidemic. We need to use our resources more effectively by diverting possession cases, favoring treatment over incarceration and supporting people and communities in recovery. It is unacceptable that 418 people died as a result of substances last year in Maine; 57 of those deaths were in Cumberland County. My plan to deal with this epidemic is to connect people with treatment by support diversion programs starting before cases enter the system, expanding access to the drug court in the county, and bringing a Veteran’s Court to the county.
MARPHEEN: Cumberland County is by far the most diverse county in Maine, which brings up some issues you might not have to face in more rural counties. What are your thoughts on the #BlackLivesMatter movement? How can the CCDA help combat racism?
FRAYLA: #BlackLivesMatter has changed the dialogue on the systemic oppression of people of color by those in authority. I hope the movement creates positive, wide-spread, long-term changes that makes our justice system more just. The Cumberland County District Attorney can combat racism by ensuring that people are treated fairly. This would include: mandating implicit bias training, reducing the system’s disproportionate impact on people of color, recruiting a diverse staff that is reflective of the entire county, and listening to the community about the problems they experience and working together to address those problems.
MARPHEEN: What about immigrants and refugees? There’s been a rise of xenophobia and several reports of ICE agents disrupting and splitting up immigrant families. What’s the role of the CCDA with Trump’s clear anti-immigrant agenda?
FRAYLA: This question is not tough at all. New Mainers, those immigrating to our state and coming as refugees, must be welcomed. Immigrants contribute to our community in many important ways, enhancing our cultural diversity, improving our economy, and providing a solution to our demographic challenges. The Cumberland County District Attorney answers to the voters in Cumberland County and is a state agency, I see no role for the office in Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda or perpetrating xenophobic and discriminatory practices. The District Attorney must ensure that everyone in our community is safe and treated with dignity and respect.
MARPHEEN: The rights of Trans people have also become part of the national debate and while Maine has been progressive on that issue, at least when it comes to the landmark Maine Supreme Court case involving Nicole Maines, there’s still plenty to do is there not?
FRAYLA: We must ensure that people who are incarcerated are safe and not subject to abuse while in custody. Trans people face prejudice and stigmatization in our society and in our justice system. I see the Cumberland County District Attorney as being tasked with ensuring community safety and that includes ALL members of our community. There is a great deal of work to be done to ensure our trans community members are treated with respect and feel supported and included.
MARPHEEN: Now I have a selfish question… I saw that you have two girls of color. What are some of the worries you have raising them in a very white state? I’ve met quite a few parents who have adopted kids of color, so what would your advice be to them?
FRAYLA: I worry a lot about raising my daughters, like all parents do. I think about what I can do to raise resilient, brave girls who can conquer the world. I want to make sure that they grow up in a vibrant community that respects their rights and dignity. I do not want them to feel isolated or marginalized. I want them to have connection to their African-American heritage. I also want to make sure they are safe in a world that is hostile and threatening towards women of color. I’m not an expert in parenting or adoption, I take it day by day and just try to make the best decisions I can as they come. My advice to adoptive parents is to appreciate the sacrifice that was made to allow you to parent, recognize that your child will have his or her own processing to do around the adoption and support your child through that process.
MARPHEEN: Would you be comfortable telling us about an embarrassing moment you had growing up?
FRAYLA: Not at all, but I will do it anyway. I joined the cast of The Fiddler on the Roof in middle school and was cast as Golde, the Fiddlers wife. On opening night, things were going well until I completely forgot the words to “Do You Love Me” mid-song. It was awkward and I haven’t sung on a stage since.
MARPHEEN: So it’s just about time to wrap up and we can’t close without asking you…. what do you hope to accomplish as CCDA?
FRAYLA: I want to focus on community safety by aggressively prosecuting cases of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. I would like to emphasize treatment and diversion by expanding access to the Drug Court and bringing a Veteran’s Court to the county. I would also like to implement a restorative justice model in juvenile and adult prosecutions. I see a need for important criminal justice reforms that connect citizens to treatment for substance use disorder and mental illness instead of warehousing people in jails. At the same time, I can work within the system to hold people accountable for their actions and protect the public from truly dangerous, high-risk individuals. I am aware of the strengths of our system and the places where improvements are needed and have the experience and knowledge to implement change. I will fight for justice for all.