Louisville’s new prosecutor to focus on gun violence, victim services
Louisville Metro’s new Commonwealth’s Attorney Gerina Whethers says she wants to “build bridges” with other law enforcement agencies in order to address the city’s gun violence crisis.
Gov. Andy Beshear appointed Whethers to the top prosecutor position last month following the death of Tom Wine, who held the position since 2012. Whethers most recently served as secretary of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet, which acts as a human resources department for thousands of state employees. Her more than two decades of public service also included a stint as a courtroom prosecutor in the County Attorney’s Office.
In an interview with LPM News, Whethers said her first priority as Commonwealth's Attorney will be to prosecute cases and make sure the public is safe.
“But the biggest thing is to build bridges,” Whethers said. “We have to work community-wide because the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office cannot solve all crime.”
A holistic approach
Louisville has experienced a spike in shootings since 2020, including record-breaking numbers of homicides. Whethers said many of the gun violence cases her office handles involve young people. Recent data from the Greater Louisville Project shows people under the age of 25 are more likely to be involved in shootings, both as perpetrators and victims.
Whethers said she’s interested in working with the Louisville Metro Police Department and other community partners to intervene with families whose kids are going down the wrong path.
“Working with families before it gets to us, because that’s a whole other animal once it gets to us,” she said.
While some people have accused the city’s prosecutors of not being tough enough on young people accused of violent crimes, Whethers said each case her office takes on is complex.
“We need to look at what support families are giving, what we have to deal with in terms of the defendant, and then we have to come to some sort of conclusion of how we move forward,” she said. “We go in front of a judge, we also have our colleagues on the other side … I guarantee you there’s not many times we go in and everybody is very happy with what we’ve done, because everybody has their own interest.”
Just like her predecessor Tom Wine, Whethers said she has her own criminal justice issues that she’s passionate about. In addition to alleviating youth violence, she also wants to focus on aggressively targeting human trafficking and improving victim services. She said decreasing the time it takes for defendants to stand trial will help victims get closure.
“Wine has done some spectacular things and he was a spectacular person,” she said. “There were some things that he was passionate about and it’d be the same thing for me.”
Whethers is the first Black woman to serve as the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney. Her appointment will last through November when a special election will be held to decide who will finish out the rest of Wine’s term, which ends in 2024.
It’s a tight turnaround for Whethers, who said she has every intention of campaigning to take on the prosecutor's position permanently.
“The first part is just to get acclimated and be here for the people in this office,” she said. “But definitely, I would not have taken the appointment if I wasn’t looking at longevity.”
A cancer survivor and public servant
Whethers moved to Louisville at an early age, living first at the Village West Apartments near Downtown. In the early 1970’s her family moved out to the South End, where she attended Pleasure Ridge Park High School.
“I have a lot of people in my family who are in the military, which is what brought us here,” she said.
Whethers said her family was very close and her parents put a big emphasis on politics and public service.
“So it was not a real big transition for me to be doing what I’m doing right now,” she said.
At age 21, Whethers lost her mother to breast cancer. She was diagnosed with the same disease 10 years later.
Whethers was still finishing up chemotherapy and raising a toddler when she graduated from the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law. She immediately went to work as a staff attorney for Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman.
Being a 23-year cancer survivor keeps her motivated and humble and reminds her that this life is bigger than herself, Whethers said.
“It keeps the reality part in your life and understanding that, in this job, we’re not going to make everybody happy,” she said. “As long as we stay centered and grounded, and do our jobs the way we’re supposed to do them, we’ll be okay.”
Whethers worked as an assistant county attorney in the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office’s Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Unit and as executive director of victim advocacy in the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, before becoming secretary of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet in 2019. Whethers is also a board member of the NAACP’s Louisville Chapter.
She said it was her daughter who told her about the historic nature of her appointment. As the first Black woman to serve as Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Whethers said she hopes to be an inspiration.
“My daughter’s proud and that says a whole lot,” she said. “I’m hoping it's the same for our younger generation.”