Associated Press

Maricopa’s Slap at Alvin Bragg Plays Politics With People’s Lives

Karen Friedman Agnifilo

February 28, 2024

Rachel Mitchell’s move risks lasting damage to America’s justice system

Rachel Mitchell’s move risks lasting damage to America’s justice system

Every single day for the almost 30 years that I walked into One Hogan Place as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, I passed by words prominently displayed on the wall: “You can’t play politics with people’s lives.” It is a quote attributed to the late Frank Hogan, the legendary Manhattan district attorney. Each and every Manhattan assistant district attorney is taught this from their first day; they are told to abide by this code in every decision they make. Politics and justice never belong in the same place, period.  

These words demanded revisiting last week, when the elected Maricopa County Attorney, Rachel Mitchell, refused to extradite an alleged vicious murderer to Manhattan, claiming that “having observed the treatment of violent criminals in the New York area by Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg, I think it’s safer to keep him here and keep him in custody.” Mitchell fails the Hogan test — and sets a dangerous precedent for interstate extraditions, which must happen routinely, if the nation is to have a functioning criminal justice system.

What is happening in the case at hand? A man named Raad Noan Almansoori is alleged to have brutally murdered Denisse Oleas-Arancibia, who was found dead on the floor of a hotel room at the SoHo 54 Hotel, a luxury hotel, after an argument between the two over how long he could stay. A clothes iron found next to her body had been used to bludgeon Oleas-Arancibia, leaving bits of the iron embedded into her skull. Chilling new details have emerged about this crime after Almansoori was arrested in Arizona and confessed to strangling Oleas-Arancibia, wrenching her neck back and forth in an attempt to snap it and ultimately smashing her in the head with the iron because “she just wouldn’t die.” Almansoori then fled to Arizona and was eventually arrested there 10 days later, but only after allegedly stabbing two Arizona women, who fortunately did not suffer Oleas-Arancibia’s fate and lived. 

There is no doubt that, if the allegations are true, Almansoori is one of the worst, most violent criminals there is, a man who should never be released from custody to re-offend again. Almansoori is a one-man crime spree; at the time of the New York murder, he was out on bail in another brutal case, this time in Florida, for choking, raping and holding a woman captive in her home and threatening to kill her. Apart from these incidents, he has already racked up a long multistate rap sheet, but thanks to the excellent work of both the NYPD and Arizona law enforcement, he was apprehended before he could brutalize any more women in his wake.  

Almansoori isn’t the first person to flee one jurisdiction to be apprehended in another state. This happens routinely with criminals fleeing both to and from New York. In fact, it’s so common, there is a straightforward legal mechanism in place for one state to request that a prisoner be held and transferred to another. Federal extradition laws establish a formal relationship among sovereign states in order to facilitate the detention and transfer to another state or sovereign where a person is either suspected of or convicted of a crime. This, for example, is how Harvey Weinstein — after his conviction in New York — was transferred to Los Angeles to face charges there.

In domestic extradition, the process requires one governor who is seeking extradition to make a request formally to the governor of the state holding the prisoner.  This request, called a “governor’s warrant,” is lodged with the jurisdiction holding the prisoner. Sometimes, the defendant seeks to block an extradition. Never have I seen an extradition request refused by a state prosecutor. Indeed, extraditions are ultimately not prosecutors’ call to make. Governors make and accept requests; prosecutors do nothing more than facilitate the process, in a brother/sisterhood of sorts. That is why Mitchell’s refusal to facilitate the extradition of Almansoori is an ultimately empty political stunt that plays politics with people’s lives.  

There is an unwritten understanding among prosecutors and law enforcement: Murder trumps all other crimes. If a person is accused of murder, that takes precedence over whatever else he is charged with in other jurisdictions, thus Mitchell, like all prosecutors, should be facilitating Almansoori’s transfer to New York to face prosecution rather than trying to block it because the New York case is the more serious. Mitchell’s empty pronouncement that she cannot trust the Manhattan DA’s office treatment of violent criminals is a bald political statement and not a legal one, echoing the stunt that Rep. Jim Jordan orchestrated last year when he held hearings in New York City trying to make more or less the same point Mitchell is asserting now. 

What are the facts? Manhattan’s murder rate is about one third of Phoenix’s. Last year there were 198 murders in Phoenix, compared to about 71 in Manhattan, which has roughly the same population. Zoom out to Maricopa County and the comparison is again favorable: 2023 saw at least 283 murders in Maricopa County, which has a population of 4.5 million. New York City, pop. 8.6 million, had 386 homicides. That gives Maricopa a murder rate 1.4 times higher than New York City.

 Of course, the stabbings in Arizona are serious crimes. But when extradition requests are made, a dispassionate discussion among law enforcement should be — and in every case I have every been involved in is — had about not only which is the most serious case but also who has the strongest case and the greatest likelihood of incarcerating the defendant for the longest period of time. That’s not what’s happening here. Mitchell has crossed a bright line in law enforcement which risks eroding faith in the objectivity of prosecutorial decision-making and sowing institutional distrust. That will ultimately make us all less safe, especially if other prosecutors follow her corrosive lead. 

If prosecutors start refusing to extradite violent criminals to jurisdictions because they disagree with the political party or philosophy of the prosecutor, that will send a clear message to fugitives that there are safe havens. Not only does it create a perverse incentive for violent criminals to flee to these safe havens, it also erodes trust in law enforcement, which could affect witnesses who may already be distrustful of the criminal justice system, resulting in an increasing difficulty in prosecuting cases, thus making us all less safe.  

All this is especially disturbing to me in light of my professional experience. Although I have never worked with Bragg, I have worked with many of the homicide prosecutors who will ultimately be handling this case. I personally know their work ethic and abilities. It is not an overstatement to say that the men and women who are homicide prosecutors in the Manhattan DA’s Office are among the most ethical and skilled in the business. Due in part to their work, along with their strong partnerships with the NYPD, shootings in Manhattan went down 38% between 2021, the year before Bragg took office, and 2023. Murders went down 24%.

So what happens now? Next steps in New York will be to seek an indictment from the grand jury and apply for a governor’s warrant, which will then be filed in Maricopa County, thereby placing a “hold” on the defendant so he cannot be released from custody and slip through any more proverbial cracks to continue his serial crime spree. Either way, when there are two jurisdictions, both with serious charges, Amansoori will ultimately have to face both jurisdictions. It is just a matter of when.

Maricopa County has long had an infamous reputation in law enforcement circles. It is still reeling to rebuild its reputation after the scandals of Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, which cost taxpayers millions and violated the rights of so many. By infecting justice with politics again, Mitchell is endangering the justice system she purports to respect and is doing a disservice to the citizens of Maricopa County.