Christie shrugs off criticism he politicized Washington stabbing

Story highlights

  • Earlier this month, Kevin Sutherland, 24, was stabbed to death while riding the Washington Metro
  • Christie used the example of Sutherland's suspected killer to criticize liberal criminal justice policies

Manchester, New Hampshire (CNN)Chris Christie on Friday shrugged off criticism that he used the stabbing death of a man in Washington for political gain in a speech about criminal justice reform.

Earlier this month, Kevin Sutherland, 24, an intern for Rep. Jim Himes, D-Connecticut, was stabbed to death while riding the Washington Metro. Christie said Thursday the suspect was arrested after committing a violent robbery days before Sutherland's death, but was later released.
"The reason that man was on the train? His charge got reduced to a misdemeanor and he was released the day after being arrested," Christie, a former U.S. attorney, said in Camden, New Jersey. "For decades, mayors and cities across America have pretended that the police are the enemy, and that lax criminal justice policies are compassionate."
    Christie's speech focused on highlighting his efforts in New Jersey to find bipartisan solutions for issues within America's criminal justice system. He laid out policies he would support as president, including greater community outreach from police departments, bail reform, and programs focused on addiction recovery for non-violent offenders, as well as rehabilitation and support systems for first-time offenders.
    But he also used the example of Sutherland's suspected killer -- as well as the death of Kathryn Steinle, who was allegedly shot to death earlier this month by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported from the U.S. to Mexico five times -- to criticize what he called failed liberal criminal justice policies.
    But Sutherland's family on Friday said the New Jersey governor was exploiting "someone else's tragedy to further his own ambitions."
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    "The fact that Gov. Chris Christie would invoke my son's name in a politically motivated speech just three days after our family laid him to rest shows that he cares little about the grief my family is feeling," Doug Sutherland, Kevin's father, said in a statement to CNN. "He obviously spent little time finding out who my son was and what he stood for. If he had, he would have discovered someone who was kind and compassionate -- someone who could feel the pain of others. He would have found someone who would never exploit someone else's tragedy to further his own ambitions. He would have found someone very different from himself."
    Himes also chastised Christie in a Facebook post on Friday.
    "By speaking about Kevin Sutherland and his family in this way, Christie has once again shown himself nothing more than a pure opportunist with no sense of decency and a severely distorted idea of right and wrong," Himes said. "To use Kevin's death to score political points is vile."
    When asked Friday about the family's criticism outside a campaign stop in Salem, New Hampshire, Christie defended his remarks.
    "I was using that as an example, and an appropriate example, of the problems that we have in our country," Christie said. "No, I don't agree with that, with all due respect to them."
    Christie isn't the only Republican presidential contender to come under criticism from a victim's family.
    Earlier this week, Steinle's brother, Brad Steinle, told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he felt his sister's death was being exploited by Donald Trump, who has criticized U.S. immigration policy and has cited the Steinle case in particular as a wake-up call for increased border security.
    "Sensationalizing it is not the route we would like to go," Brad Steinle said. "If you're going to use somebody's name and you're going to sensationalize the death of a beautiful young lady, maybe you should call and talk to the family first and see what their views are."