WEST CHESTER — In choosing the lineup of her top assistants, new Chester County District Attorney Deb Ryan demonstrated that she is not afraid to buck previous practices and, instead, think outside of the box.
Ryan, the first-ever Democrat to occupy the county’s top law enforcement office, announced that she had chosen a veteran Philadelphia prosecutor to serve as her second-in-command; a member of the county’s opposition Republican Party as the head of the office staff and liaison with outside organizations; and a county detective lower on the office totem pole than others as the head of her investigative unit.
Ryan appointed Michael R. Barry as First Assistant District Attorney, Andrea Cardamone as Chief of Staff, and David M. Sassa as Chief of the Chester County Detectives.
“This is an outstanding team of highly experienced, ethical, and hardworking people who have dedicated their careers to public service.” Ryan said in a news release. “They all have extensive backgrounds in law enforcement as well as lengthy records of success in serving and protecting the community. I am incredibly proud to have them working at the District Attorney’s Office in these positions.”
Barry’s selection stands out as a break from county tradition, as Cardamone and Sassa are well known in local legal and law enforcement circles and he is a relative unknown.
In past years, new District Attorney’s have chosen as their first assistants prosecutors who have experience in the county office. For example, even though former District Attorney Tom Hogan’s choice for his top aide, Michael Noone, came to the office from private practice, he had previously worked inside it as a county prosecutor.
Barry, on the other hand, has spent the majority of his professional career in Philadelphia, serving as a prosecutor in the city for almost 19 years and, more recently, at the law firm of Weitz & Luxenberg in Cherry Hill, N.J.
According to Ryan, Barry handled thousands of cases throughout his career, working as a homicide prosecutor for six years and then as Bureau Chief of the Central Division in 2010, supervising fifteen attorneys for all non-homicide crimes in North Philadelphia and Center City. He then served as the Deputy District Attorney of the Pretrial Division for two years where he oversaw a team of one hundred prosecutors and staff.
In addition to being awarded the 2009 FOP Lodge Award of Special Recognition for the successful prosecution of a case involving the murder of two retired police officers, the son of a Philadelphia police officer was named the 2016 Philadelphia Gay News “Person of the Year” for the successful prosecution of the so-called Center City Gay Bashing Case, in which he won convictions of three people accused of attacking a gay couple in the city.
The gay community reacted with disappointment and some anger when Barry was later ousted from the Philadelphia DA’s Office in January 2018 by then-incoming District Attorney Larry Krasner, a former defense attorney turned progressive-prosecution activist.
At the time, Barry said he thought his record would have been compatible with the goals of Krasner, who ran as a reformer. “In particular, I thought there’d be a place for me, as I had worked almost entirely over the past two years on criminal-justice-reform projects and had handled numerous cases that were important to progressives,” including the gay-bashing case, he told the Philadelphia Gay News.
He is a graduate of Temple University School of Law in 1998 and the University of Scranton, and will start in the office on Jan. 27. As first assistant, he will be responsible for overseeing the more than 30 trial prosecutors in the office and making decisions on charging defendants.
“Mike and I started our careers together in the Philadelphia DA’s Office,” Ryan said on Friday. “He is a dedicated champion of victims and an extremely talented prosecutor. He has deep roots in law enforcement, his father was a police officer, and he served the Philadelphia DA’s Office with integrity and distinction. I know he will be an excellent fit in this office.”
As well as she may know Barry, Ryan knows the other attorney she asked to serve in her administration: Cardamone. Currently a deputy district attorney in the DA’s Office, Cardamone and Ryan worked as colleagues together for several years and grew to be friends. In a speech given when she was named, like Ryan before her, Chester County Prosecutor of the Year, Cardamone identified Ryan as one of her so-called “tribe” — female prosecutors who came of age in the office at about the same time.
What makes her an out-of-the-ordinary choice, however, is the fact that she ran for a position as judge of the Common Pleas Court as a Republican, alongside her predecessor as Chief of Staff and former colleague, Chuck Gaza. In the past, DA’s have made sure that those who were their top aides came from the same political party, all Republicans.
Cardamone, a 17-year veteran of the office, successfully prosecuted some of the most complex and difficult cases in the office, from a gang-related double homicide to the corruption case of former Coatesville Area School District Richard Como, over the course of her career. As Deputy District Attorney, she supervised the investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault cases.
A native of Gladwynne, Montgomery County, she graduated from Harvard Law School in 1999 and from Washington and Lee University in 1993 with a degree in Economics and English. She will be responsible for overseeing the office staff as well as acting as a liaison with outside organizations.
Sassa has been a county law enforcement officer for over thirty years. With his twenty-four years at the Chester County Detectives, he is the longest serving detective currently employed at the District Attorney’s office.
But as a sergeant he was below a higher-ranking detective, Lt. Michael McGinnis, who in past administrations would likely have been chosen to fill the position as chief, as did Kevin Dykes, the outgoing chief who was promoted in 2016 by Hogan. Dykes is now the county’s Chief Deputy Sheriff.
Sassa came to the detectives from the North Coventry Township Police Department, where he served as a patrol officer, detective, and sergeant. He has worked at the Chester County District Attorney’s Office since 1996 as a detective in the drug and major crimes units. Including extensive experience investigating major crimes including, homicides, robberies, narcotics, sexual assaults, Sassa worked closely with Ryan when she supervised the DA’s Child Abuse Unit.
He was the recipient of the John J. Crane Award for Excellence in 2017 for his work protecting children. He graduated from the Montgomery County Police Academy Act 120 program in 1989, and holds an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Montgomery County Community College.