Immediately before joining the office of DeKalb’s Solicitor General Sherry Boston as a community prosecutor, Sonja Brown found working with victims of abuse to be extremely satisfying work.
“When you give a victim of abuse an opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to face their abuser, that empowers them,” said Brown, who worked in the unit of the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office that worked with crimes against women and children.
“They have an opportunity to face their abuser,” Brown said. “They have an opportunity to see justice done and they have an opportunity to tell the world, ‘Look, this is what this person did to me.’
“You can imagine the shame and the guilt that’s attached with abuse,” Brown said. “You can’t get them back whole but you can give them, hopefully, an opportunity to get their lives back as whole as possible.”
Brown, who is DeKalb’s first full-time community prosecutor, said her current role provides a different kind of satisfaction.
A community prosecutor serves as a liaison between the prosecutor’s office, law enforcement and the community “to ensure that justice, whatever that may be, is done,” Brown said.
“You’re helping the community,” said Brown, who has been on the job in DeKalb for a month. “You’re empowering them. They’re not sitting back waiting for law enforcement [or] the prosecutors to do something.”
Brown is a past president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and a member of the Georgia Bar’s committee to promote inclusion in the profession. She is also a minister at Central United Methodist Church in Atlanta.
Before working in criminal law, Brown served as a staff counsel for 11 years for Convergent Media Systems, now a part of Sony Electronics, in Alpharetta, where she worked on contract negotiations and employment issues.
“I thought I went to law school in order to do business, but I realized that I wasn’t as fulfilled,” Brown said. “I wanted to try to do something new. I found that criminal law, and in particular the prosecution side, was where I enjoyed being.”
After leaving business law, Brown worked for five years in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, first as the director of offender re-entry and then as a community prosecutor for south Fulton County.
Traditionally, a prosecutor takes cases from law enforcement.
“You review the case, you work the case, you try the case or you come to some sort of plea agreement,” Brown said. Community prosecution is a more grassroots approach to law enforcement.
“As a community prosecutor you are out in the community working with law enforcement and the community to identify issues that are particular to a community,” Brown said.
Focusing on a specific community, Brown said, she will work with the stakeholders, identify their public safety and quality of life issues, and “see what’s causing a problem in a particular area.”
“Rather than just prosecute those defendants, you look at what needs to be done,” Brown said. “We need to address core issues.”
Brown said, unlike part-time community prosecutors the county has had, she intends to carry a caseload.
Her goal is to identify the “frequent flyers”—repeat offenders known in the community to go through the courts like going through a revolving door.
Brown said she will work to “ensure that our frequent flyers are getting the appropriate sentences where need be and the treatment if need be.”
“When cases come up that involve these repeat offenders, I [will] personally handle those cases,” Brown said.
The native of the Bahamas said a primary goal will be convincing residents to trust that law enforcement and prosecutors want to partner with them.
“It isn’t an overnight fix,” Brown said about decreasing crime. “It is going to be a process. We are here for the long haul.”