Channel 9 speaks with incoming and outgoing Cabarrus County District Attorneys

It’s a changing of the guard in Cabarrus County as newly-appointed District Attorney Ashlie Shanley is taking over for Roxann Vaneekhoven, who stepped down from her role last week after serving the district attorney’s office for decades.

Shanley, who is running unopposed for the District Attorney seat in November, was appointed to the role by Gov. Roy Cooper near the end of August. Channel 9 spoke with both of them about their achievements and goals for the future.

Ashlie Shanley, newly-appointed District Attorney for Prosecutorial District 25

Can you tell me a little bit about what your feelings are at this moment right now and moving forward?

Shanley: I really can’t believe we are here. I think, you know, I’ve been in this position for 25 years. And 18 years ago, Roxanne really wanted to change the way we worked on the most, the most vulnerable victims. And so she wrote a grant for the Safe Haven Special Victim Unit, and I volunteered to take those cases. And for the past 18 years, I have been prosecuting the homicide and sexual assault of women and children. And with those cases, have built coalitions with law enforcement and the schools and social workers and mental health and our hospital, and now I feel like I’m seeing the fruit of that. I have my swearing-in tomorrow, and I already have so many of the acceptances and it’s in his people from those coalitions that I’ve built. And I’m going to be so happy to see them.

And now let’s move forward. We work together to help children and help with these homicide cases. What else can we do? And I’m excited, we’re going to work on violent offender cases, we’re going to attempt to decrease gun violence. We have an issue here for the first time in Cabarrus County where we have some gangs popping up. Well, we need to work together to stop that. You know, Ms. Vaneekhoven always said, and I always appreciated, criminals work together to commit crimes, we must work together to stop it. And so I’m looking forward for the next four years to working together as a community to stop crime and keep people safe.

What are your goals over the next four years? What do you hope to achieve in that span, and even long-term after that?

I want to work on the violent offenders. I’ve had the opportunity to be in the community, like I said, meeting people, talking to parents and citizens. And what they appreciate about living here is that it’s a safe place to raise their families, and it’s a safe place to operate their businesses. And so we have to continue that, and how can we make it even better? And so we’re looking at with gun violence and violent offenders, let’s persecute those cases, let’s make sure we are building the strongest cases possible. Are we receiving the training? Do we have the resources? Cabarrus County is the third fastest growing county in the state, yet our resources have not kept up with that. I believe we need more assistant DAs and more legal assistance. The employees we have here work hard, but they need some help. And so I’m going to be working to get them the resources they need. So we can really produce what our citizens are going to require.

What’s that one piece or one case that you’ve worked on that is going to kind of transform as you transition into this new role?

I’ve had so many, and so many stepping up for those who didn’t have a voice. I had cases where little children were murdered. I had cases where victims were sexually assaulted. And what I learned in each and every one of them is you cannot do it alone. You have to work with the other agencies in your community. You build that case together, you work with your hospital, you work with law enforcement, social workers in schools and mental health. Because if you don’t, you can persecute the case, and we’ll do it and we’ll do it well, but if that child is not in a better position, by the time you finish, what are you really doing? And so that’s what I’ve learned, I’m going to continue to do that, oh, we’re going to prosecute cases we’re going to keep people safe. But our goal, if we can, is what if we could prevent the case from getting to our desk in the first place? So many victims tell me if I had just known before I met the offender, this wouldn’t have happened. So we’re working diligently. We’re working in the schools, going to the community events, whatever we need to make sure our citizens know what’s out there and how to protect themselves and I want to continue that.

What would you like your community now, the people that you’re going to be serving, to know about you, as you move forward?

I want them to know that when they step in this office, perhaps as a victim or a witness, that I’m going to be treating their case, just like if I was sitting in their seat, and I’m gonna do everything possible to get the best outcome that we can. And they know that they’re gonna be treated with respect, and, frankly, that I consider it an honor to be their voice.

Roxann Vaneekhoven, former district attorney

There’s always something going on. That’s part of the reason you liked it. But there were good and bad days. How did you push through those difficult ones?

Vanessa: I think first, every leader has to create belief for their people. And that was one of the biggest roles I felt like I needed to fill, that we can make a difference. And even on those days where I might have felt frustrated or defeated, I knew that I had to lead with an attitude of, “Tough,” and in pursuit of what is right, despite what might be popular. And God’s favor, definitely, and giving me the ability, even in those tough moments, to keep moving forward and do the right thing for the right people within the justice system.

Can you talk about, in general, all of those decisions, all of those moments throughout the years, good and bad, just the weight that they carry in the community and for you?

Yeah, I mean, we make big decisions here. You know, some people say that prosecutors have more power in a courthouse than even judges. And I think the discretion that we are allowed under the law gives us a great deal of latitude on offers that we give or cases that go to trial. And so I’ve always been thankful for having wisdom and discernment, and also seeking wise counsel from others.

I think that is what ultimately helps me as well as our office to be consistent in our approach. I think, if you were to ask the average citizen, you know, what do you appreciate most about Roxann’s service? I think they would tell you, she’s tough on crime, and she will do what’s right, despite of what’s popular. And that was my goal coming in. And I think I walked out this door today, knowing that I fulfilled that.

You talked about wisdom. What piece of advice do you wish you knew 27 years ago coming in, and that you would now pass along to the next person?

That there’s a time to speak, and there’s a time to be quiet. And when the time to be quiet comes, other things will speak for you and even better and louder. I think my nature is I’m a fighter, and I don’t give up easily. I’m relentless. And I think there are times in the past where when I was in my younger years, so to speak, I wanted to have a response for everything. And I think as I’ve gotten more experience and input some years on, I realized there truly is a time to be quiet. And you can find great solitude in that and letting things speak for themselves.

What would you like the public to know about how you decided to end your term as DA?

So this last term would have ended in December, but I made a very deliberate decision at the beginning of the year. If I could retire by the end of the summer, I would do that. My son’s getting ready to start high school. And when Ms. Shanley filed for district attorney at the beginning of the year and no one filed against her, I began to think of what would be the appropriate time to go. After the primary, I reached out to the governor’s office the very next week, and I started to share with them that I would like to leave by the end of the summer but that I would not leave unless I knew they would appoint the next District Attorney, which she would have been in January. I did that for a few reasons. First is there’s no point in someone coming in for three or four months and totally, you know, turning the office upside down. Moreover, the people that work here have their good people that they do good work and I wanted to make sure that they would not be out a job if somebody new came in just for a few months. So after speaking to the governor, I submit I did my paperwork and set the goal to be by the end of the summer. And that’s what brings us here.

Was that a difficult decision to step out a little earlier? Or is this something that’s feeling natural for you?

It was the absolute right decision. I have felt very good about it for really for two reasons. One is that Ashlie and I have worked together for 26 years and we’re very like-minded in the mission in the pursuit of justice and the approach with victims. And so that transition is very easy. The other thing is that you can only really have one captain on a ship. And for the sake of the people that work here and helping her to get a head start and being able to put the right people in place, it just was not a difficult decision. It’s good for me, and it’s good for the office as a whole. And it’s good for Ms. Shanley, who can take the reins and start with her protocols.

A career of service. What do you do next?

I have a lot of different things that I’m looking forward to putting time into. My undergraduate degree is in business. So I think it will be something more business-related. I have a passion for helping people obtain freedom and what I mean by freedom, whether it’s victims, recognizing that the crime that victimized them doesn’t define who they are. I want people to feel empowered. And so I really enjoy natural health. I enjoy helping people with their finances. And I do love law still. So I think it’s going to be a combination of the three. Of course, there’ll be some travel and a lot of family time that I’m very much looking forward to without having the pressure of this work.

(WATCH BELOW – 9 Investigates: Courtrooms ‘dangerously’ over capacity at Cabarrus County courthouse)

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