Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Criminal Justice

A Tale of Twin Cities

On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was shot driving while Black outside of St. Paul, Minneapolis. Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot him five (5) times. Philando’s murder was witnessed by his girlfriend and his 4-year-old daughter in the back seat.

Credit: Stephen Govel Star Tribune

Fast forward to June 16, 2017.  A Minneapolis jury acquits Officer Yanez of Philando’s murder. On July 15, 2017, barely a month later, Minneapolis police officer Mohammad Noor shoots Justine Damond, a White woman from Australia.  Ms. Damond calls the police to report a possible rape occurring outside of her home. When the police arrive, she goes outside in her pajamas to talk to them. As she stands on the driver’s side of the police car talking to the driver, Officer Noor shoots across the front seat, past his partner through the open window. He shoots Ms. Damond in the stomach and she dies on the scene.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Damond’s murder has sparked international condemnation, particularly by the Australian Prime Minister.  You see, we are among the most deadly countries in the world when it comes to gun violence. So, this type of crime in Australia is extremely shocking. The idea that the police “shoot first and ask questions later” seems incredible in most countries around the world.

Valerie Castile, Philando Castile’s Mother and Don Damond, Justine Damond’s fiancé, embraced at the Peace and Justice March for Justine on July 20, 2017

These two tragic deaths in the twin cities are interrelated. In both cases, the victim did not pose a threat of harm to the officers.  Still, it is likely that the officer who shot Justine Damond will claim that he feared for his life, just like the officer who shot Philando Castile. And, it is also likely that Officer Noor will not be found guilty of any crime, just like Officer Yanez. It seems that even when police officers are charged, it is still really difficult for prosecutors to get a conviction.

How Did One Murder Lead to Another?

Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

And so it is that the murder of a Black man laid the foundation for the murder of a white woman. Indeed, the inability of the community to hold a police officer accountable for the death of a Black man created the permissive climate for another officer to murder a White woman. Suddenly, everyone in Minneapolis-St. Paul is “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” Now the truth is revealed. The use of deadly force by police officers in America against citizens is out of control. And when we allow police officers to target and terrorize communities based on race, religion or wealth, no one is safe.

It would not surprise me if Officer Noor thought that Justine Damond was Black.  The Yanez acquittal verdict certainly told everyone in the Twin Cities (and indeed the nation) that Black lives do not matter. For Officer Noor to pull his gun, shoot across the front seat of the car and out of the window to kill an unarmed woman in her pajamas, speaks volumes about public safety in that city. It clearly confirms that public safety does not exist in that community.

Nor can it exist in any community where the rights of everyone are not respected and protected. This is a hard lesson that we all should learn from this tale of Twin Cities.

Time to Connect the Dots

Oakland Dodges A Bullet

This week, Oakland dodged a bullet.  On July 12, 2017, Judge Thelton Henderson decided not to place a receiver in charge of the Oakland Police Department. 

In 2003, OPD agreed to a Consent Decree known as the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA). It was only supposed to last 5 years. In 2012, receivership was threatened because OPD failed to hold officers accountable for using excessive force against Occupy Oakland demonstrators. Instead, in December 2012, the Court appointed a Compliance Director to ensure successful compliance with the NSA.

A 2013 comprehensive study of U.S. Justice Department Oversight of Local Police since 1994 does not mention any police department that has ever been placed under receivership.

Credit: Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

This time, again, the lack of accountability goes to the highest levels. Now we know why former Chief Sean Whent really resigned.  The Swanson-Barron Court report issued on June 21, 2017 exposes the cover-up from the initial investigators all the way to the Mayor’s office.

Let’s Connect the Dots

Here’s a brief timeline of how we got here:

  • 9/25/15 – Officer Brendan O’Brien is found dead with a “suicide note” disclosing OPD’s sex trafficking activities
  • 9/26/15 – O’Brien’ suicide note is circulated to OPD Command Staff, including Chief Sean Whent
  • 9/30/15 – Criminal Investigations Division (CID) Homicide investigators interview Jasmine and blame her for O’Brien’s suicide
  • 10/1/15  – Internal Affairs Division (IAD) opens an investigation
  • 10/7/15 –  CID Lieutenant reports that the CID investigation is closed
  • 10/30/15 – IAD does a single interview with Jasmine by telephone
  • 2/10/16 – IAD investigator provides a draft report to OPD supervisors
  • 3/8/16 – Court Monitor learns of sexual misconduct allegations
  • 3/23/16 – Judge Henderson issues Order re: potential violations of the Negotiated Settlement Agreement (NSA)
  • 6/10/16 – Chief Whent resigns as reports of a cover-up explode
  • 1/4/17 – Anne Kirkpatrick is hired as new OPD Chief
  • 5/1/17  – Kirkpatrick promotes Lois, Coleman & Holmgren
  • 6/21/17 – Swanson-Barron report released
  • 7/10/17  – Kirkpatrick defends her decision to promote Lois, Coleman & Holmgren

Who Made the Decisions?

According to the East Bay Express, Deputy Chief John Lois was the head of OPD’s Bureau of Investigations. In October 2015, he approved the closure of two criminal investigations of police misconduct within a week, despite obvious evidence of wrongdoing. He has just been promoted to Assistant Chief of Police, the second-highest position in the department.

 

Capt. Kirk Coleman was in charge of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in October 2015. Task 28 of the NSA requires the CID Commander to notify and coordinate promptly with the DA’s Office regarding possible officer criminal misconduct. OPD failed to notify the DA. Coleman is being promoted to run Internal Affairs, putting him in charge of all police-misconduct cases.

 

Lt. Roland Holmgren was the head of OPD’s homicide unit in October 2015. Two homicide investigators, Sgts. Bradley Baker and Jason Andersen, blamed Jasmine for O’Brien’s suicide in their interview, and watched her destroy evidence to protect other officers. Holmgren watched this interview. Holmgren then closed the homicide investigation within a week. He is being promoted to Captain and will be in charge of the CID.

Who Was Kept In The Dark?

When Kirkpatrick came to Oakland in January 2017, she had to rely on someone to tell her what was really going on inside OPD. Presumably that person was the Mayor who hired her. Perhaps the task was delegated to City Administrator Sabrina Landreth who oversaw OPD for 6 months. When Kirkpatrick proposed to promote these 3 men in May, you think someone would warn her that they were implicated in covering up sex trafficking by police officers. Instead, it appears that Kirkpatrick was kept in the dark. Worse case scenario, she was told and promoted them anyway.

According to the East Bay Express, Kirkpatrick defends and still intends to move forward with her promotions.

At the same time, according to the Court’s report, police and City officials kept the District Attorney in the dark. The Mayor claims she told District Attorney O’Malley about the investigation in May 2016. The earliest news of a DA investigator implicated in the misconduct, former OPD Capt. Rick Orozco, broke in June 2016. According to the East Bay Times, Orozco, a 20-year OPD veteran, was let go a month later. According to other reports, Orozco was the second DA employee implicated in the misconduct.

Not surprisingly, the first 2 recommendations in the Swanson-Barron report are designed to improve the reporting of potential officer criminal misconduct to the DA’s Office.

Who Will Hold OPD Accountable?

In September 2016, DA O’Malley was asked and said she did not intend to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice. This week, Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan called the question again.  She is not alone. Oakland City Councilmember Noel Gallo also says that the everyone responsible for mishandling the Guap case, including the top leadership, should “face the music.”

The challenge to holding anyone accountable may be the statute of limitations. The statute for misdemeanor crimes is generally 1 year. Possible misdemeanors in this case include destroying or concealing evidence, preventing a witness from testifying or interfering with a police officer which is considered obstruction of justice. Conspiracy to obstruct justice can be charged as a felony. The statute of limitations for the felony charge is 3 years. The alleged cover-up began in October 2015. So, the DA is either out of time or time is running out.

The new Chief faces a similar problem. The time to complete an investigation of police misconduct is 1 year. So, the question is whether anything done so far constitutes an investigation of the top OPD brass. If so, when did it begin. The Chief is also either out of time or running out of time.

Judge Henderson left the matter in the City’s hands for now. The City has until September 25th to file a report in response to the Swanson-Barron report.

Credit: East Bay Express

If you agree that Chief Kirkpatrick should either postpone or rescind the promotions of Chief Lois, Capt. Coleman or Lt. Holmgren, you should call her at 510-238-8865, or hit her on twitter at @oaklandpoliceca. You can tell her for me if she really wants to “transform” OPD, she needs to start at the top. You can also tell Mayor Libby Schaaf at @theOaklandMayor.

 

 

 

Why I’m Running For DA

My friends’ first question is not why am I running for DA. The first question is “have you lost your mind?”  No, I have not lost my mind.  I know who I am and I know why I’m running.  So here it is.

No Police Accountability

Exhibit ACourt-Appointed-Investigators-Report-on-City-of Oakland’s Response to Allegations of Officer Sexual Misconduct.  This scathing report exposes the total lack of accountability we have in Alameda County for police misconduct. It is particularly disturbing because OPD is under a consent decree that requires the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) Commander to inform the DA of possible criminal conduct by officers. Yet, neither the City Attorney nor the District Attorney have taken any responsibility to enforce this provision of the Consent Decree. This persistent problem has cost our City millions of dollars.

Our DA says she had no knowledge of the investigation of police sexual exploitation going on right under her nose. The Court’s report verifies this claim. Nancy O’Malley had no idea that sex trafficking by the police was happening in Alameda County. It has been reported that two investigators in her office were part of the problem. She says she was completely unaware of the ongoing investigation until she read about it in the newspaper. To me, that is a gross dereliction of duty on her part.

When Officer Brendan O’Brien killed himself in September 2015 and left a note, he was still under suspicion of killing his wife. The question is why the DA did not ask “what’s in the suicide note?

Courtesy: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The Court report leaves no doubt that various members of OPD, certainly including former Chief Sean Whent, the Internal Affairs Division and CID Commanders engaged in obstruction of justice. When asked if she intended to investigate anyone for obstruction of justice, DA O’Malley said flatly “no.” Surely, this is why OPD felt completely comfortable covering up these crimes. There simply is no history of accountability for police officers in Alameda County.

“Is this because I was little?”

The Court finds that OPD did not properly investigate because of “an implicit but evident bias against the victim.” The report says “put simply, CID and IAD wrote off this victim.” Regrettably, I observed a similar bias in the DA’s response. While our County’s female leaders did not come right out and blame the victim, no one acted like they gave a damn about Jasmine. It was as if her exploitation was not taken seriously. Ultimately, the DA left Jasmine to languish in a Florida jail for 17 days.

Sept. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Terry Chea)

When DA O’Malley famously announced “I would charge these officers but I don’t have a witness,” Jasmine was facing a felony and 15 years in prison. She was tricked into going to Florida in the first place by the Richmond Police Department.

The fact is the Richmond police sent DA O’Malley’s star witness across the country. Richmond PD placed Jasmine in a situation where she was held against her will, assaulted and arrested because she wanted to come home.  If I were the DA, I would absolutely demand a thorough investigation of possible witness tampering. I would absolutely do everything in my power to hold whomever sent my witness to Florida accountable. More importantly, I would do everything in my power to bring her home. The same bias that OPD exhibited was obvious in the DA’s response to Jasmine’s incarceration in Florida – they wrote her off.

No Criminal Justice Reform

In 2014, Proposition 47 passed in Alameda County by almost 74% of the voters. We recognize that we cannot solve our problems by locking everyone up. DA O’Malley vigorously opposed Proposition 47.  She called it “a frightening fraud with irrevocable and far-reaching consequences.” How can we expect her to implement legislation she considers “a frightening fraud?”

In 2012, California voters passed realignment legislation to reduce the numbers of people in prisons and bring them home. The measure, Proposition 36, passed in Alameda County with 78.6% of the vote.  Yet, in 2016, DA O’Malley proposed to spend only $1.72 million of her $73 million budget on re-entry services.

In 2015, the DA’s office prosecuted almost 41,000 adults and 1001 juveniles.  Ninety-three percent (93%) of the adult cases reviewed for charging resulted in some type of prosecution. So, if you get arrested in Alameda County, there is a 93% chance that you will be prosecuted for something. In contrast, Homeless Court meets six times a year and helps about 300 people a year.

The vast majority of the prosecutions (59% – almost 29,000 cases) were for misdemeanor crimes. The misdemeanor numbers include thousands of women arrested for prostitution. In 2015, the Safety Net Program – a program to create a safety plan for at-risk and high-risk victims of commercial sexual exploitation – only reviewed 83 cases.

The New Jim Crow in Alameda County

In 2015, almost 1500 juvenile cases were presented to the DA. Of those 1,001 (67%) resulted in prosecutions. Felony arrests of African-American kids were a startling rate of 25 per 1,000 compared to 2.3 per 1,000 for White kids. Only 112 kids were referred to a restorative justice program. Only 80 kids participated in our Collaborative Mental Health Court. In 2014, Alameda was one of only 9 counties in the State where the DA only charged Black or Latino kids as adults. “The New Jim Crow” is alive and well in Alameda County.

Why We Have to Make A Change

We have got to change the picture of justice in Alameda County. The days when the DA can “talk the talk” and not “walk the walk” have to be over. As Adam Foss says, we need prosecutors who want to change lives, not ruin them. We need better public safety outcomes. Alameda County has the 4th highest homicide rate for young people (ages 10-24) in the State. Whatever she’s doing is not working.

Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are about sending folks back to jail.  Since 2012, we have rejected that approach in Alameda County. We want to bring people home and rebuild families and restore our community. We want to end the horrendous racial divide that has infected our judicial system. We want to treat and teach our kids how to be kids. That’s how we need to spend our money – by investing in our people. We need Justice Done Right in Alameda County.

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

A cultural shift is happening across the country.

On Wednesday, June 14, Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson pled guilty to one felony and resigned.  Many of us started calling for his resignation and prosecution in January. It only took six (6) months for it to become reality.  Prosecutorial accountability in action!

Why Peterson Had to Go

In May, a civil grand jury recommended that Peterson be removed from office.  The grand jury relied upon the fact that Peterson misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars in campaign money.  But, Peterson has done more than steal $66,000 over the last five years. Peterson represented an old way of thinking about criminal justice that is not in line with the people who live in Contra Costa County.

Mark Peterson advocated against criminal justice reform at every turn. Voters in Contra Costa County voted overwhelmingly in favor of Prop. 36, Prop. 47 and Prop. 57. These bills all helped relieve the overburdened California prison system.  In 2012, Peterson opposed Prop. 36, which reformed California’s draconian three-strikes law. He told the Mercury News that the 3 Strikes law “gives prosecutors a powerful bargaining position.” He also opposed Prop. 47 and Prop. 57.

Peterson is both ignorant and dismissive of the structural racial inequities in the criminal justice system.  After the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown in Ferguson, Peterson wrote “All Lives Matter,” and argued that “crimes are perpetrated disproportionately by poor people of color.

As the District Attorney, Peterson decided to charge Black children in Contra Costa County as adults 12 times more often than white kids. While African Americans make up 9.6 percent of the total county population, they represent 41 percent of the juvenile probation population. Peterson regularly overcharged and prosecuted Black, Latino and poor women for petty theft crimes while excusing his own felonious conduct.

The Flip Side of Unequal Justice

While Peterson has showed a disdain for the people he represents and serves, he has shown favoritism to bad actors in law enforcement. He conducted the most perfunctory investigation of the Richmond police officers who were allegedly complicit in a massive sex trafficking ring.  He initially refused to prosecute any of them.

Peterson turned a blind eye to the community’s concerns about sexual exploitation and obstruction of justice. The Richmond Police Department initially denied and later admitted that it arranged to transport the 19-year-old survivor-victim witness to Florida.  Once there, she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and incarcerated facing a possible 15-year sentence under extremely dubious circumstances.  Peterson’s office made no effort to assist me in securing her release from jail or returning her to California.

Peterson’s 2014 investigation of the murder of Richard “Pedie” Perez, an unarmed man shot by Richmond Police Officer Wally Jensen, was so flawed that the family and much of the community remains outraged that a murderer may have gotten away. There is compelling evidence that Officer Jensen initiated a physical confrontation by repeatedly tackling Pedie. Pedie was unarmed and intoxicated. After tackling Pedie, Jensen backed up, pulled his gun and shot Pedie three times, killing him.

Peterson also refused to investigate whether the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) was defrauded in connection with a $1.6 billion school construction bond program. There is compelling evidence that the WCCUSD provided contractor SGI with rent-free office space, a 10 percent markup on general contracting reimbursements and reimbursement for office furnishings, supplies and cellular service. An investigation also found that SGI received substantial increases in pay, averaging 69 percent, when 10 or 20 percent would have been reasonable.

The Michael Gressett Scandal

In 2015, Peterson rehired his friend and supporter, Deputy DA Michael Gressett. In 2008, Gressett was charged with a violent sexual assault against a female co-worker involving an ice pick and a handgun. Eventually, Contra Costa County paid $450,000 to settle the victim’s civil case for rape. She accused Gressett of sodomy and false imprisonment. The criminal case against Gressett was dismissed on a technicality. Later, the Attorney General’s office decided not to refile the criminal case because the victim had moved to Florida and refused to return to California to testify against Gressett.

How The Community Brought Him Down

Peterson’s downfall was the culmination of months of organizing and a community that “woke up.” Citizens, everyday people became aware of his actions and rejected his reasoning. First it was activists holding a public trial in front of his office in January. Peterson was “found guilty” on a 7-count indictment. To his credit, County Supervisor John Gioia stood up to represent the interests of his community and called for Peterson’s resignation.

Then it was the civil grand jury recommending his removal. Next, it was a vote of no-confidence by the prosecutors’ union. Local editorial boards called for his resignation. Most people were absolutely appalled by the fact that Peterson intended to run for re-election.

Peterson’s resignation is a victory for the people of Contra Costa County. The community found its voice and used its voice to reject lawlessness by its chief law enforcement officer.  Peterson’s prosecution proves that law enforcement officials can be held accountable under the law.  All it takes is a will to look, speak up and act out! #Stay Tuned & StayWoke.

 

Justice-By-Geography

My mouth fell open when I read this! Shocking! In Alameda County? It surprised me and not much about our judicial system surprises me.

The Prosecutor’s Power to Charge Children

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 57. It passed in Alameda County by an overwhelming 77% majority.  One of the main changes in the new law is to eliminate the prosecutor’s discretion to charge children between 14 and 18 as adults. It repealed California Proposition 21, which was passed in March 2000. Proposition 21 gave prosecutors the authority to decide whether to try a child as an adult.

In a “direct file” case, the prosecutor had the sole authority to decide whether to charge a child as an adult. Under the old law, the decision had to be made within the first 48 hours of an arrest. As a result, prosecutors often had minimal information about the circumstances of the crime or the child. In addition, there was almost no opportunity to interview key witnesses before making the decision.

At the same time, placing a child in the adult prosecution track has dire consequences for his or her “rehabilitation.” First of all, children are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted in adult prisons than in juvenile facilities. Furthermore, children are up to 36 times more likely to commit suicide after being housed in an adult jail or prison than those in juvenile facilities.

Disparity Gap in the Rates of Direct File

Fortunately, organizations like the W. Haywood Burns Institute, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and the National Center for Youth Law sounded the alarm on this practice.  Based on their research, they concluded that prosecutors were charging kids as adults at alarming rates. The prosecutor’s power to charge kids as young as 14 as adults was completely unregulated in California and most of the nation. Not surprisingly, the practice primarily impacts kids of color who were 90% of all “direct filed” cases.

These youth law advocates conducted a comprehensive survey and comparison of California counties. They found that the type of justice you receive in the juvenile system depends on where you live – hence, justice by geography! Furthermore, since 2003, there has been a growing disparity gap in the rates of direct file prosecutions of children by race in California.

Statewide numbers reveal that in 2014, for every White child charged as an adult, there were 3 Latino and 11 Black kids. What is shocking to me is that in Alameda County, prosecutors did not charge a single White kid as an adult in 2014.  Yet, in the same year, Alameda County prosecutors charged 14 Black or Latino kids as adults. Alameda is one of the nine counties in the State where only Black or Latino youths were subject to direct filing.

The Road to Recovery

Our road to recovery from juvenile injustice in California is likely to be long and difficult. With the passage of Prop. 57, the decision to prosecute a child as an adult is now decided by judges. Those of us who question the wisdom of this approach wonder whether we are going backward instead of forward. We know that in real world, judges have usually supported prosecutors.  Indeed in Alameda County, most of the sitting judges were prosecutors. So, some of us are concerned that “the fox is already in the henhouse.”

The response to our concerns was that the judge must make his decision in public and give a statement of reasons for the decision. Now, the prosecutor must make a motion to transfer a child to adult court. The judge must hold a hearing and evaluate whether the child should be tried as an adult. The hope is that increased transparency will lead to more accountability and better outcomes for kids.

In the meantime, it is unclear whether any of the kids charged, convicted or sentenced under the old law are entitled to relief.  In fact, once they were charged as adults, they were subject to the same pressures to plead guilty as adults. According to the AG’s records, 88% of the kids charged as adults are convicted and sentenced as adults.

Can We Save Children We Already Condemned?

Kurese Bell in San Diego County is a case in point. Kurese was only 17 when he and a friend, 18-year-old Marlon Thomas, robbed two marijuana dispensaries. At the second one, they unintentionally got into a shootout with a security guard inside the building. Eighteen year old Marlon was killed. Because Marlon’s death occurred during a robbery, 17-year old Kurese was charged with murder as an adult. Kurese was convicted in January 2017, after Prop. 57 became effective. If he is sentenced as an adult, he is not likely to have a parole date for 25 years.

Kurese’s case was a “direct file.” Ironically, the District Attorney of San Diego is the only DA in the State who supported Prop. 57. San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is a former Juvenile Court Judge.  She says that she believes that a judge should hear both sides as to why a juvenile should be treated as an adult.

Earlier this year, Kurese’s lawyer, Patrick Dudley, took the courageous step of asking the Court to apply Prop. 57 retroactively to Kurese’s case.  The motion was granted!  The judge applied Prop. 57 and granted Kurese a transfer/fitness hearing in which the presumption is that Kurese is “fit” for a juvenile court disposition.  The prosecution must prove that he is not. A hearing is scheduled for May 12th.

Whether we will see similar steps to achieve justice in Alameda County by applying Prop. 57 retroactively remains to be seen.  Certainly, given our history of racial disparity in charging children, justice would appear to demand it.

Ending the Bail System

© 2013 Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

This week, California is taking a momentous step forward. The State Senate, supported by the Assembly, is moving to end bail as we know it. For as long as I have been a lawyer, “making bail” has been a requirement in our criminal justice system. The rule says you are “innocent until proven guilty.” Making bail is the first step that undermines the rule. In our system of justice, once you are arrested, you must prove your innocence. That requires money, starting with bail money.

Where Did It Come From?

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. California led the way to mass incarceration when we approved the 3-strikes initiative in 1994. The right to bail comes from English law. It was incorporated into our Constitution in the Eighth Amendment. Today, a coalition of civil rights organizations supported by dozens of advocacy organizations has taken a huge step to repair the damage of racist failed policies. Thanks to Professor Michelle Alexander, we know that there were more African-American men in prison, jail, on probation or parole in 2013 than were enslaved in 1850.

Almost a dozen legislators, including Assembly District 18 representative Rob Bonta are pushing forward with bail reform. There are two measures being pushed through the State Assembly. Bail reform – SB 10 and AB42. Passage is not guaranteed. Bail reform failed in the legislature in 3 prior attempts. SB10 creates a pretrial services agency in each county and a hearing process for anyone who cannot immediately be released on their own recognizance.

For the first time, the judge deciding whether to release an individual must consider the presumption of innocence along with other factors.

We Have A Bail Problem

The current system allows a person’s wealth rather than their guilt or innocence to determine whether they will remain in jail until the case is over. Indeed, in California, the average bail amount is $50,000. This is five times higher than the rest of the United States. Thousands held in county jails across the state have not been convicted of a crime. They may in fact not have committed any crime. Many people arrested spend up to 5 days in jail even when there is not enough evidence to charge them.

Bail is historically and often used to coerce guilty pleas. Prosecutors often ask for a high bail and judges grant the request to coerce the person to plead guilty. A 2017 study by Human Rights Watch found that between 2011-2015, 1,451,441 people were arrested and jailed for felonies. Of that number, almost 500,000 were eventually found not guilty, their cases were dismissed, or the prosecutor never filed charges.

Alameda County Has A Bail Problem

In 2014-2015, Alameda County spent close to $15,000,000 to incarcerate people whose cases were either dismissed or never filed. Many innocent people had cases filed against them, but the case was dismissed or they were acquitted after spending weeks or months in jail. It is estimated that more than 85% of the people in jail in Alameda County are pretrial detainees – they have not been convicted or pled guilty. Ninety-one percent (91%) of those who pled guilty to a felony were released shortly after they took the plea deal. Most of the time, there is no legal right to sue for wrongful imprisonment, even if you were innocent.

When a person cannot make bail, it may cause loss of employment, income and/or housing. Our current system causes traumatic family disruption. On the one hand, when a person is held in jail, the whole family suffers shame and fear. To bail someone out may require multiple family members to take on crushing debt. The consequences of pretrial detention affect people of color, particularly Black people, and poor people far more often than white people. The stories of people losing their jobs or their homes because they went to jail and couldn’t make bail are far too common.

SB10 and AB42 are important steps in addressing the terrible consequences of mass incarceration. They both need our support to pass this time. The question is do we really believe that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and if so, does that matter? Please sign the Courage Campaign’s online petition!

Hypocrisy in Alameda County

Credit: Alameda County Sheriff’s Dept.

Former Livermore Police Officer Daniel Black is on trial.  He is one of dozens of Bay Area police officers who allegedly abused their power to sexually exploit my former client, Jasmine.  Black admits that he had multiple sexual encounters with 19-year-old Jasmine.  He claims the sex was part of “a private relationship” with Jasmine.  Black’s alleged conduct took place in April 2016 while the Oakland Police Department was trying to cover up Jasmine’s sexual exploitation by OPD officers.

In September 2015 OPD Officer Brendan O’Brien committed suicide and left a note “naming names.”  O’Brien’s suicide exposed the commercial sex trafficking of young women by law enforcement throughout the Bay Area.  Daniel Black was not one of the men named in the note.  Apparently he was not aware of the ongoing OPD cover-up and investigation. He is accused of going to Richmond to get Jasmine in April 2016, and using food and alcohol to compensate her for having sex with him.

Felonies and Misdemeanors

Penal Code Section 266i (a)(2) provides that any person who “[b]y promises, threats, violence, or by any device or scheme, causes, induces, persuades, or encourages another person to become a prostitute” is guilty of pandering. Dan Black’s sexual exploitation of 19-year-old Jasmine was “pandering” her under the law.  The fact that someone has previously engaged in prostitution is not a defense to the charge.  Penal Code Section 266 is a felony.

Dan Black is on trial for five (5) misdemeanors.  He is charged with engaging in prostitution, engaging in lewd conduct in public and giving alcohol to a minor (under age 21).  Misdemeanor charges carry far less severe punishment than felony charges.  Misdemeanor convictions can include unsupervised probation or no jail time.  Felonies usually include some type of prison or jail time and significant restrictions of your constitutional rights, including the right to vote.  Dan Black is not charged with any felonies.  He is not charged under California’s human trafficking law.  This is very strange.

Proposition 35 – Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act

In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 35.  The law passed by a huge margin. 81.3% of voters said yes.  Prop. 35 is intended to fight commercial sex trafficking, particularly as it affects minors.  It changed the law to include more crimes in the definition of human trafficking, increase penalties for trafficking, provide more services for victims, change evidence rules in trafficking cases, require law enforcement training in human trafficking, and expand requirements for sex offenders.  As a result of the voters, Prop. 35 includes a violation of Penal Code Section 266.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley was a major supporter of Prop. 35.  Yet, none of the Bay Area police officers who sexually exploited Jasmine face charges under Prop. 35.  Not a single one.  This is the worst sex scandal to ever rock Bay area police departments.  This scandal cost Oakland 3 police chiefs in nine days.  These crimes will cost the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda millions of dollars.  Yet, none of the police officers charged in Alameda County are facing sex trafficking charges.  Not a single one.  It is as if Prop. 35 does not even exist.

Prosecutorial Discretion and Overcharging Crimes

What makes this situation even more bizarre is that prosecutors routinely overcharge defendants.  The practice of overcharging has become one of the hallmarks of our criminal justice system – a way to ensure that the system can actually function.  The only way the Courts can handle the number of cases charged by prosecutors is by getting plea bargains.  If every criminal defendant insisted on going to trial and refused to “take a deal”, the system would totally collapse.

In his book Why Innocent People Plead Guilty, Jed S. Rakoff writes that “our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.”

There are no written regulations controlling the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power in California or anywhere else in the United States.  There is no established or meaningful process for appealing the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power. The result is that an estimated 95% of all criminal cases end with a plea bargain.

Credit: New York Review of Books

Jed Rakoff cites the case of Brian Banks from Long Beach, California.  Banks, who had been a high school football star with a scholarship to USC at the time of his arrest, served five years in prison for rape and kidnapping charges.  Brian did not actually commit the crime.

 

Brian Banks accepted a plea bargain under the advisement of his original lawyer.  He was freed in 2012 through the efforts of the Innocence Project.

Comparing Brian Banks’ case to Daniel Black’s case may seem like comparing apples to oranges.  But the real difference is that Brian Banks was charged and convicted of a crime he did not commit, while Dan Black is not charged at all with crimes he admits he committed.  Is this a case of “white privilege” or “badge privilege?”  Something is definitely wrong with this picture.  The artist in Alameda County is our District Attorney.

Women Dying in California Prison

Women Dying in California Prison

In our discussions about mass incarceration, the plight of women in prison is often ignored. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners is sounding an alarm. The alarm says that since 2013, there is an epidemic of dying women in the California Institution for Women (CIW) including suicides.

On November 10, 2016, inmate Bong Chavez hung herself from a ceiling vent. For 2 weeks before she killed herself, Bong requested mental health services. She also allegedly told an officer she was suicidal. Bong was serving time for killing her own child in 2011. When she killed her child, she reportedly suffered from “significant mental health issues” including a brain tumor. She ended up in CIW after pleading “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter.

High Suicide Rate Documented

CIW is in Chino, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles. The suicide rate at CIW is 5 times the suicide rate of all California prisons and 4-5 times more than the national average for female prisons.

In January 2016, Lindsay Hayes, a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention within jails, prisons and juvenile detention, completed a court-ordered suicide prevention audit of all of California’s prisons.  Hayes found that CIW is “a problematic institution”  which “exhibited numerous poor practices” in the area of suicide prevention. His report found that CIW staff recorded more than 400 emergency mental health referrals for suicidal behavior in a six-month period in 2015, but only nine were entered in the mental health tracking system. Staff apparently was not completing required forms to refer inmates for mental health services.

Consequences of Overcrowding

Overcrowding in California’s prisons is normal. As of October 2013, CIW was designed to hold 1,398 inmates. In fact, the number of women housed there was 2,155, almost 800 more than its maximum capacity. In July 2016, the total number of inmates was still almost 500 women over capacity at 1,866.

With overcrowding comes a lack of supervision of officers and prisoners. Overcrowding causes a widespread inability to access programs, as well as delays and inadequate medical and mental health care. Safety and security, the hallmarks of CDCR’s mission, are severely comprised inside the institution. CIW reportedly has a very high rate of methamphetamine use. “Jackie,” currently incarcerated at CIW, blames the overcrowding for what she calls “an extreme increase in the internal drug trade in the prison system and all the associated fights, lockdowns and increased restrictions.”

In July 2016, a woman formerly incarcerated at CIW sued CDCR for rape and sexual assault.  She alleged that her assailant, Officer Michael Ewell, had sexually assaulted a female correctional officer at another institution and impregnated another female inmate before he sexually assaulted her.

Preventable and Mysterious Deaths

On July 30, 2014, Margarita Murugia was found hanging in her cell. She was reportedly distraught because her requests to see her dying mother were denied.

dae-dae-headshot-300x225Before her, Shadae Schmidt, better known as DaeDae to her friends, was found dead in her cell on March 14, 2014. She suffered a stroke in February 2014 but was placed in solitary confinement less than 3 weeks later where she died.

 

On April 14, 2016, Erika Rocha committed suicide.

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Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult in LA County. Facing a double life sentence for attempted murder, Erika took a plea deal for to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison. At the time of her death, she was serving her 21st year of incarceration. She suffered from mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years each in solitary confinement.

shaylene-momShaylene Graves died in June 2016, also an alleged suicide. She was only six weeks away from being released. She was planning how to work to help others after she got out. Shaylene had served 8 years for being the getaway driver in an armed robbery. She was just 19 years old when she was arrested. Her family is doubtful that she hung herself and continues to demand answers and accountability.

What Can You Do?

There is a petition online asking Governor Brown and the California State Senate to investigate the deaths at CIW.  I urge you to sign it and support the efforts to address this tragic situation.

Compassion of Our Hearts

Compassion of Our Hearts

I love Thanksgiving.  I try to live my life in a spirit of gratitude.  I really appreciate that we dedicate time in our lives every year to be thankful for our blessings.  I am so thankful for my life.  I have lived a miracle and “He didn’t have to do it.  It could have been me outdoors or in jail,” and I know it.  I often remember to be thankful that I am not living on a hill in Haiti.  Current events make me thankful that I am not living under a building in Aleppo, Syria.

thankful-forThis year I am most thankful for forgiveness, for friends who “prayed me through” a very challenging transitional year, for new love and for something called s-a-b-b-a-t-i-c-a-l which I did “my way.”

Compassion in Our Lives

We all can be especially thankful for the compassion in our lives.  As I look around, I am surrounded by friends who show compassion every day.  I am so thankful for my sister Tonsa who takes really good care of my Mom, Mildred.  My foster sisters Gina, Rendi and Virgie took great care of my foster mother Alice. They kept her for more than a decade, long after Mama could no longer speak or move. My cousin Bonita was the solid rock of compassion for my Aunt Eleanore and Uncle John.

It warms my heart to have so many friends who have done the same for their loved ones.  My friend Hope dedicated her life to taking care of her parents, Lela and Ivan.  Since Lela passed, Hope continues to shower compassion on Ivan.  My friend Torrey showed compassion to her mother Mary for years, long after Mary forgot who Torrey was.  Torrey said “she thinks I am just a nice lady who comes to visit her.”

The compassion that my friends demonstrated for their loved ones is so inspiring.  Fania and Angela‘s gentleness with their mother Sallie B. was phenomenal. It has been my privilege to watch daughters like Dianne, Faye and Deborah take care of their mothers, Frances, Imogene and Irene. My friend Shirley‘s steadfast commitment to her Dad, Pops, before he died was comforting to us when Shirley suddenly passed away.

Compassion Knows No Lines

Compassion is not limited by gender.  My cousin Shawn‘s commitment to his mother, Sharon, was unwavering as she battled breast cancer.  How well Antwon cared for his Mother in her last days is one of the most endearing stories about him.  It was my privilege to watch my friend Marshall act with total commitment to his Mother in her final years. My friends, Darryl, Douglas and Duane each showed the same compassion for their mothers in their illnesses when they needed it most.  These are truly men of honor.

My friend Charles continues to honor his mother by taking care of his aunts.  Bishop Macklin‘s concern for his ailing mother touches the heart of every member of our congregation. My godbrother Jay stepped up right away when my foster Mom Amy fell ill and needed 24-hour care. Jay and his wife continue to be there for Amy every day.

Compassion In Action

In law, it is often hard to remember that a law firm is a business. “Beating the drum for justice” is hard work and expensive.  It is very hard to accept that we can not help everybody.  But, it was compassion that moved me to help clients like John Bumphus and Abner Morgan, Deanna Freitag and Tonsa B. What I received in return for that “help” has been life-changing courage and compassion. It was compassion that led me to step off my sabbatical and go to Stuart Florida to rescue Jasmine from jail and bring her home.

In this season, I am reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.  The painful truths of our broken justice system grieve the heart. Our criminal justice system is truly an instrument of evil.  Our lack of compassion for children tried as adults and condemned to life in prison is appalling.  The failure of compassion for women who ended up in abusive relationships and then prison is beyond frustrating. Our willingness to accept the death penalty regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence is profoundly disturbing. As Bishop Desmond Tutu pointed out, it’s “as if America’s soul has been put on trial.” Bryan Stevenson‘s compassionate heart is a light of hope for all of us.

In Bay Area politics, we have a rising star in Lateefah Simon.  We are all so proud of her. Her life’s work is rooted in compassion.  I know that her “popularity” is rooted in compassion.  Many people came to know her because of her love for Kevin Weston. The battle she and Kevin fought to save his life touched all of our hearts. Our compassion for this brilliant young couple flooded Facebook. Out of compassion for them, our spirits soared. Our hearts were opened. We were united in community by compassion.

The Greatest Gift of All

As you experience this Thanksgiving, regardless of your circumstances, try to remember that the greatest gift of all is love.  “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13.)  I really appreciate the people in my life and our world who show compassion for others.  As I move forward in my life, I pledge to more consistently practice “random acts of kindness.” Remember that your greatest legacy may be how you showed compassion for someone else.

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