INDIANAPOLIS — Cyndi Carrasco believes the Marion County prosecutor's office needs to change at the top.
"I am an attorney. I am a wife. But most importantly, I'm a mom. I'm running for prosecutor because of that," Carrasco said. "I want this city to be the city that it was, a vibrant safe city, (on) the trajectory that it was going on when I first chose to make it my home."
An American-born daughter of naturalized Mexican immigrants, Carrasco, 42, grew up in El Paso, Texas, and moved to Indianapolis in 2003.
She graduated from Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 2006 and soon went to work for the Indiana Office of Inspector General as a staff attorney. About six months later, she was appointed director of the State Ethics Commission.
In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence tapped her to become the state's second-ever Inspector General. Gov. Eric Holcomb made her one of his deputy general counsel's when he took office in 2017, a post she held when she announced she was jumping into the prosecutor's race in January.
Marion County saw a record-setting 282 homicides last year. Carrasco, a Republican, said the current prosecutor simply hasn't done enough to make the city safe.
"(I'm running) so that my daughter can have the opportunities that I know the city can offer. Unfortunately, right now with the crime crisis that our city is experiencing, those opportunities just aren't possible," Carrasco said.
"I want to change that. I want to get the prosecutor's office back to the fundamentals. I want to get that office doing what it needs to be doing which is prosecuting crime so that our citizens here in Marion County can have the chance to make a better life for themselves."
Indiana as a state leans heavily Republican. Carrasco, however, is running in Democrat-leaning Marion County for an office that hasn't been won by a Republican since 2006.
"The next Marion County prosecutor has to have leadership experience," Carrasco said. "I have that leadership experience."
SEE | WRTV 2022 Election Guide
Below are six questions and answers with the Republican candidate for Marion County prosecutor, Cyndi Carrasco.
*Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Question: Marion County has experienced several straight years of record homicides. What’s driving this violence? What can we do to stop it?
Carrasco: "There's no one answer to what's driving this violence. ... The fact of the matter is that it's resulted in record homicides for the past two years. 271 people lost their lives last year. We're on pace to hit over 200 homicides this year, over 180 So far. The numbers are just astounding. (Note: There were 272 homicides in 2021 in the areas patrolled by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and 10 more that happened in other jurisdictions in Marion County, according to IMPD data provided to WRTV).
"There's no one simple solution to what what is going to solve this problem. ... We can start by selecting a prosecutor that is going to make sure that we get back to doing the job of the prosecutor's office, which is prosecuting crime.
"It's about holding people accountable. It's about making sure that people who commit crimes on a repeat basis are appropriately charged; that we don't dispose of the majority of the cases through plea deals that put violent repeat offenders back out on our streets. There's a lot of things that the prosecutor's office can do to start to effectuate the change on a very concrete basis."
Q: Critics have cited cases where defendants have been released on bond only to commit other violent acts as evidence of problems in the county’s justice system. What, if anything, do you believe should be changed about the way Marion County judges decide who should be freed on bail?
Carrasco: "The prosecutor's office has a great influence on bail. ... The judge is the one who's going to ultimately make the decision on what bail was set, but the prosecutor's office has such great influence over what that judge decides. That comes in the way of making sure that the judges ... have a full picture of the individual's criminal history. That's important, because the judge has to understand whether or not that particular individual has a history has a history of violent repeat offenses, so that they can make an informed decision.
"Similarly, the prosecutor's office can object or can request a higher bail based on the circumstances of each individual case. And what I hear from folks who are or were in the in the prosecutor's office is that that's not necessarily happening right now.
"So yes, it's the judges who ultimately make the decision with the prosecutor's office and the deputy prosecutors who are in court every single day have the ability to be able to effectuate the change."
Q: The FedEx shooting raised questions about how the prosecutor’s office uses Indiana’s Jake Laird/Red Flag law. What should the public understand about this law?
Carrasco: "The very basic concept that the public should understand about the Red Flag Law is that the prosecutor's office had the ability to even try to stop the shooter from purchasing the weapons that he used at the FedEx tragedy, and they didn't.
"The law requires that the filing be filed with the judge so that a determination can be made about whether or not the person is a danger to themselves or to others. And that simply didn't happen. What's more important too is that it didn't happen in that instance, and later on, we found out that it didn't happen in several other instances after the FedEx shooting. A week or two after the FedEx shooting, there have been (at least) 20 filings of red flag cases that had just been sitting there for different amounts of time.
"It's important that we use the laws that we have currently on the books that will help us prevent tragedies such as the FedEx situation in order to be able to make change in our community."
Q: Every employer these days is having problems filling open positions, and the prosecutor’s office is certainly no exception. What needs to be done to recruit and retain deputy prosecutors?
Carrasco: "The Marion County prosecutor's office is one of the largest and, in my opinion, most important law firms that Marion County has. It is critical to be able to recruit and retain the most talented deputy prosecutors. What I've been hearing from deputy prosecutors who have left the office is that the office environment was not one that was conducive for them to be able to do their job.
"Some of the most experienced former deputy prosecutor's office members tell me ... they knew that they were earning on average $10,000 less than other deputy prosecutors in across other central Indiana counties but they weren't doing the job because they wanted to get rich. ... They did it because they felt a sense of being able to effectuate change in their community.
"When the new prosecutor came in, that changed. ... They felt that they were no longer able to do the job that they signed up for, to hold criminals accountable. They would not feel as prepared because the people who were experienced and who were serving as mentors decided to leave the office.
"When Cyndi Carrasco becomes prosecutor, we're going to get back to business. We're going to get back to prosecuting crime. We're going to make sure that they have the training and the mentorship to be able to do their job fully, confidently and that they'll be supported in their job."
Q: How can the prosecutor’s office keep guns out of the hands of violent felons and other people who should not have them?
Carrasco: "There's so many factors that go into keeping guns out of people's hands, but the prosecutor's office has the ability to be able to effectuate change in that way by fully prosecuting gun crimes.
"We talked about some of the plea deals in some of the cases that we've seen from the prosecutor's office and almost in all the cases that I've reviewed now ... the gun charges are usually dropped. We have to get serious when it comes to people who commit crimes with guns. We've got to set the tone that if you're going to have a gun and you're going to commit a crime, that there are going to be consequences."
Q: Youth crime is a constant problem. We’ve seen two high-profile cases recently of 13-year-olds charged with murder. What’s driving juvenile crime and how can the prosecutor’s office address the problems?
Carrasco: "It is heartbreaking to me to hear that 13 year olds are being arrested, that 13 year olds are getting involved in some pretty serious crimes. ... I believe that every individual's interaction with the criminal justice system is an opportunity for us to be able to put that person on a better path, and it's so true when it comes to to juveniles.
"I think it's important for the prosecutor's office to be able to focus specifically on juveniles. I think that in order for us to really start to make a difference. It's going to take a partnership with with a community. It's going to take a partnership with faith based leaders. ... They want the prosecutor to be sitting at the table to be part of the solution.
"Now, I am by no means suggesting that we have to look at juveniles as criminals and throwing them in jail and putting them in juvenile detention centers and that's the end all, be all solution. Absolutely not. But it's our juveniles that need to know that there are consequences if they start to engage in criminal activity. The prosecutor's office can have a hand in that."
"I think it's a critical partnership with faith based leaders who are very much wanting to get to the root cause of what's happening so that they know these juveniles know that they can resolve conflicts without reaching to guns. It's about the nonprofit organizations that are focused on making sure that juveniles have an outlet instead of joining other people who might recruit them for criminal activity. And it's a combination of all of those things that are going to slowly start to change the pace of our juveniles engaging in criminal activity."
Watch the full interview with Cyndi Carrasco below.
Below are two bonus questions with Marion County Prosecutor candidate Cyndi Carrasco
Bonus Q1: There are a couple of things that you didn't talk about that I think I need to ask about. One is, what do you think about gun control?
Carrasco: "My number one focus is violent crime. It is gun crime. That's why I'm running... I am a responsible gun owner and I very much champion responsible gun ownership, but the key word is responsible gun ownership.
"There was much talk about the constitutional carry bill. I don't know what the statistics of the constitutional-carry law will have on gun crime. I am a very data-oriented leader and I very much want to keep track of what effects this constitutional-carry law has and let the data then dictate what where we go from here.
"But I want to re-emphasize my whole purpose in running for this office is to reduce gun crime so nothing is off the table for me. Every action of the prosecutor's office is going to be look through that lens of how can we reduce crime."
Bonus Q2: We didn't talk about mental health What about mental health and mental illness issues?
Carrasco: "Mental health... is a reason for the rise in crime and issues facing every city, not just our city. I champion the efforts of the IMPD in instituting MCAT (the Mobile Crisis Assistance Team) and having the recognition that there is a very serious issue with mental health and behavioral issues that law enforcement gets called for oftentimes.
"Law enforcement officers often (tell) me, 'Look, we were trained to be law enforcement officers, not necessarily to deal with some of the mental health issues and the mental health crisis or behavioral crisis that we're facing.' But people are used to dialing 911. ... In recognition of that, IMPD and the city decided to pair up a mental health professional with a police officer so that we can start appropriately addressing those those situations.
"I think that MCAT is a great start. If I become prosecutor, I'd like to champion even more of that effort by trying to introduce a program that will give those officers a place to be able to send those individuals to get the help the resources that they need."
Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @vicryc.