On Monday, January 14, 2013, Paul Allen “P.A.” Billings, Robert “Big Rob” Roundtree sat down with the Honorable Patrick A. Miles, Jr., current U.S. Attorney for Michigan’s western district for an interview. Miles is the first African-American to hold the position, and was appointed to the post in 2012 by the Obama administration.
Muskegon County Prosecutor D.J. Hilson and Muskegon Heights Police Chief Lynne Gill joined the second segment of the interview.
Miles is the U.S. attorney for Michigan’s western district, which encompasses 49 of Michigan’s 83 counties and 11 native American tribes, adding up to approximately 3.5 million people. Any federal crime in the area passes through his office, as well as times when the federal government is involved on either side of a lawsuit.
The U.S. Attorney’s office reports to the Attorney General, and oversees federal prosecutors. They work closely with the IRA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency and other parts of the federal government.
Miles grew up in Grand Rapids and went to Ottawa Hills High School, where he played baseball against teams from Muskegon and graduated at the age of 16. He went on Aquinas College for his undergraduate education and then onto to Harvard Law at the same time as Barack Obama.
Miles stated that his district’s current aims focus primarily on four areas: homeland security, healthcare fraud, child exploitation (pornography, internet predators), civil rights. He says he wants to see more action taken on civil rights issues in his district.
“That goes all the way from local misconduct to our highest elected public officials,” said Miles. “If they are abusing their position and taxpayers’ dollars and violating people’s constitutional rights.”
Miles also says he wants to bolster and expand prisoner re-entry programs by working with employers to develop new programs. He states that the American public is “not getting a good return on their tax dollars” when ex-convicts get out and have issues rejoining society, which often leads to returns to the prison system.
On Growing Up, And On Youth Today
Miles says he was “very blessed” by two parents who placed a strong emphasis on education and participation at church, and describes himself as much more fortunate than some of today’s youth. Beyond his parents, Miles cites his church minister when he was growing up as an influence.
However, Miles stated that he was a victim of fairly overt racism in the 1970s, including a time when he claims a teacher made him take a standardized test on a paper towel so it would be unreadable and disqualify him for an advanced program.
He sees his focus on his career very early in his life as part of his success. He spoke to today’s youth and the pressures on them to follow the crowd and not think ahead:
“You just have to keep pushing and overcoming and work hard. Motivation is always tough thing when you are young. Getting motivated, thinking about the future, not about what’s important today, what’s cool, what the other kids think, but your future. You’ve got one life, and what are you going to do with it? Decisions and choices have consequences, and where do you want to be to be in ten, twelve years or twenty years. The sky is the limit in terms of opportunities if you apply yourself – everyone has different skills, talents and abilities, but if you work on and develop those skills and talents and abilities, no one can keep you down if you believe in yourself.”
Policy Discussions – Marijuana, Local Cooperation
Miles spoke on several topics in the interview. Regarding marijuana, Miles stated there’s “so much misunderstanding out there.”
“You get your marijuana from a licensed caregiver, and that doesn’t have to be a doctor. Here’s the thing: the licensed caregivers can only grow a limited amount.”
A caregiver can have up to six patients including themselves, and grow up to 12 plants per patient for a total of 72 plants. “Joint grow operations” are illegal, firearms can’t be present, and the marijuana must be locked in a secured location. Marijuana may be acceptable for medical uses on permission of a doctor, but Miles pointed out that it is not truly legal in the state for anyone to use.
“The general policy has been for the Obama administration, if you are in compliance with the state law, we are going to leave you alone,” said Miles. “But when you get well beyond the state law limits, if you are growing a really significant amount, you will be looking at federal prosecution.”
“If you are complying with the state law, got your license, got your card, you’re limited in your amount, and you’re going to be ok under the state law, you’re probably going to be okay under federal law too unless you have a firearm [or] prior felonies.”
On a question from Chief Gill about cooperation with local law enforcement:
“We definitely want to work with the local police officer[s]. They are on the ground. They know the neighborhoods.”
Miles also discussed the educational opportunities his office and other federal offices have available for local law enforcement, including interrogation seminars.
On a caller’s question on the Obama Administration’s plan for gun control:
“Under the federal laws, there is no federal gun trafficking statute,” said Miles. “We just don’t yet at the federal level have the laws that we need to address it. The gun violence that has been going on recently is out of control, and we’re seeing so many types of cases… it is definitely a priority of this administration.”
Past Interactions with President Obama
Miles met current President Barack Obama in the late 1980s while at Harvard Law. While there, both followed similar paths. Miles became the editor of the Harvard Law Record, the student newspaper for Harvard Law, while Obama became the editor of the Harvard Law Review, the legal publication.
While he claims he didn’t know Obama very well during law school, they continued to cross paths in Chicago and Miles became involved in campaigning for Obama as he rose in political office.
Miles has played basketball with Obama:
“He’s a good jump shooter,” said Miles on Obama. “I’m a streaky shooter, I can go to the lane a little better but I’m more defense and passing.”
Miles’ also took a chance to compare his performance strengths and weaknesses against the president’s.
“He’s a better singer than I am by far, but I’m a better dancer.”
On legacy and the future
Miles has 38 “dedicated, hard working” attorneys in his office, with a main office in Grand Rapids, and two satellites in Marquette and Lansing.
On being the first African-American U.S. Prosecutor for Michigan’s western district, Miles shared an anecdote about his older African-American friends visiting his office. Just inside the entrance, one sees portraits of Miles, Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama on the wall. The three African-American men next to each other on the wall make some of his friends emotional:
“They never thought it’d be possible to even have one of those positions. It’s staggering to think. It does humble me a lot to think of the opportunity I’ve been given.”
Miles noted that his time in the office could easily end at the end of president Obama’s second term, unless the Democratic Party wins a third term and opts to keep him in the job. He didn’t rule out the possibility, but he did downplay a future run for higher office:
“It’s a very difficult thing to do. You have to raise so much money… I’m not a candidate, not at all.”