Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Juvenile Justice

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.

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.

Simple Justice – Abolish Juvenile Fees

juvenile-defendants-jailedI am standing in the chambers of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.   There are many other advocates for justice who came to speak in favor of a moratorium on juvenile fees.   I remind the Supervisors first, that Black Women Vote and Black Votes Count.

I represent BWOPA, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Richmond-Contra Costa Chapter.  Why is that so important?  Because these types of fees have devastated Black and Brown families for decades and no one said anything.  And too often, when we have a conversation about institutional racism, there is no Black voice at the table.

What Are These Fees?

In California, juvenile administrative fees are imposed on families whenever a child comes into contact with a County’s juvenile justice system.  In Contra Costa County, the fees include cost of care when a child is placed in any detention facility and electronic monitoring fees when a child is released but still under probation supervision.  The law allows counties to charge parents for public defender services as well as the cost of drug and substance abuse testing.

The fees are first determined by the probation department.  The parent then receives a letter telling her that she owes money as a result of her child’s arrest and incarceration.  The probation officer is supposed to tell the parent that she has a right to a statement of the fees, and there is a time limit to contest the fees.  The officer is also supposed to tell her that she has a right to a hearing in the juvenile court, and warn her that if she fails to appear, the probation officer will recommend that the court order her to pay the entire amount.  (California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 903.45)

Creating Racially-Based Economic Disparity

The imposition of these fees on low-income families clearly undermines the family’s integrity.  It also reinforces the economic disparities so prevalent in our society.  If the parent does not pay the costs, eventually the debt goes into collections and may become a judgment against her.  In Contra Costa County, the probation department has records of almost $17 million of uncollected juvenile fees.  The uncollected fees  go back as far as 1990.  Probation admitted that its practices and policies for the collection of these fees (both the ones previously collected and the $17 million uncollected fees) might not exactly comply with State law.

In a recent bankruptcy case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote ‘burdening a minor’s mother with debts to be paid following his detention . . . hardly serves the future welfare of the child and hardly enhances the Probation Department’s attempt to transform him into a productive member of society.”  (In re Maria G. Rivera.)  In that case, the son was incarcerated for 593 days.  The family got hit with a bill of almost $20,000.00.  The mother paid ½ of it.  When she filed bankruptcy after several years, Orange County opposed her discharge in bankruptcy of the remainder of the fees.  The Ninth Circuit questioned the County’s actions, stating  “the County raises yet another obstacle to Rivera’s efforts to provide her son with the support about which the County claims to be so deeply concerned.”

“Not only does such a [juvenile fee] policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating “as a regressive tax,” but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.”  In re Maria G. Rivera, No. 14-60044 (9th Cir. 8/10/16).

“The New Jim Crow” in Contra Costa County

Researchers have documented that in Contra Costa County, a Black child is 8.4 times more likely than a white child to be arrested.  That same child is 10.7 times more likely than a white child to be referred to the juvenile court, 10 times more likely to be found delinquent, 15.7 times more likely to be detained before a hearing, and 23.3 times more likely to be incarcerated.  (CA Dept. of Justice, published online at www.data.burnsinstitute.org).

Pervasive racial disparity in the juvenile justice system creates massive racially-based economic disparity for families caught up in the system.  Black and brown families are devastated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system overall.  The realities of “the new jim crow” are particularly heart-breaking when it comes to our children.  Research concludes that legal indebtedness contributes to poverty “in three ways: by reducing family income; by limiting access to opportunities such as housing, credit, transportation, and employment; and by increasing the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice involvement.”  (Harris A., Evans H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary United States, American Journal of Sociology, 115, p. 1756.)

A Step Forward

On September 25, 2016, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors took an important  first step.  The Court adopted a full moratorium on juvenile fees.  The Board suspended the assessment and collection of all fees.  Contra Costa joined two other Bay Area counties that have taken similar action.  Alameda County repealed the policy.  Santa Clara County adopted a moratorium.  This is a victory for all children and families.  The policy hit Black, Brown and low-income families the hardest.

Advocates to Be Grateful For!

This victory is a direct result of advocacy by the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition, the University of California Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic and the Reentry Solutions Group.  Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for the advocacy of everyone who participated in this effort, including Supervisor John Gioia.

Jasmine Is Free!

JASMINE.V2 JASMINE IS FREE!  Since May 2016, citizens of the Bay Area have been shocked and appalled by revelations of abuse of power by police officers in 6 different law enforcement agencies.  The central figure caught in the eye of the storm is a teenage girl, who says that she has lived in the Bay Area’s commercial sexual exploitation marketplace since she was 12.  This is who she really is and how she looked when she was just 13 years old.

On August 29, this young victim was shipped to a so-called “rehab” facility in Florida where she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and carted off to jail.

jaz-free-v3Today the Martin County State Attorney David Lustgarden dropped all felony charges against Jasmine.  The Court accepted a “no contest” plea to a misdemeanor simple battery, with a stipulation to withhold adjudication. That means Jasmine will not have a criminal record and will eventually be restored to her crime free criminal record status.

“CELESTE GUAP” Exists No More

“Celeste Guap” is dead”! “You have 187’ed Celeste”[1]! I am going to become a veterinarian and work to free other girls,” Jasmine told her attorneys from her jail cell dressed in her felony pumpkin orange prison clothes. Jasmine is eager to pursue her chosen career goals. She expresses gratitude for all who are supporting her and she says “other girls as young as 12, like I was, are out on the street. I want to help them. I will work to free them.”

Jasmine Is Not The Only One

Her attorneys, Charles A. Bonner and Pamela Y. Price, express their fear about the lasting effect this trauma will have on Jasmine, emphasizing that “Celeste Guap” was only the tip of the iceberg of children bought, traded, coerced, and passed around as a sex toy for men in power. Jasmine’s victimization by cops in uniform who have raised their right hands and swore to uphold the United States’ Constitution, and to protect and serve is particularly disturbing. And yet these police officers betrayed the trust of the communities who pay their salaries by abusing again and again young vulnerable minor girls in our community.  “Outrageous!!  This case is the story of Slavery, Crimes, Cops and the exploitation of our Children. Why do we as a society allow child sex slavery to exist in our communities?” says Attorney Charles Bonner.  “We all must act now to protect these girls; protect the children. Stand up or Sit Down in Protest! Every little bit helps.”

Attorney Pamela Price declared that “public safety requires public trust.” Officers of the law betrayed the public trust and undermine the safety of every Bay Area citizen. Human trafficking is a Billion dollar business that thrives mainly on the sex trafficking of women and children. We will not knowingly allow paid servants of the law to participate in the violence, intimidation and commercial sex exploitation of our children. Now we know because one very brave very young woman has the courage and the will to do the right thing.

The Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund  is established and administered under the non-profit Bracelet Charitable Freedom Fund.  All donations are tax-deductible.

[1] (California Penal Code 187 means killed or homicide)

The Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund

JASMINE.V2Since May 2016, the citizens of the Bay Area have been shocked and appalled by revelations of the abuse of power by Bay Area police officers.  The accused officers are in 6 different law enforcement agencies.  The central figure caught in the eye of the storm is a teenage girl.  She says that she has worked in the Bay Area’s commercial sexual exploitation marketplace since she was 12.

On September 1, 2016, we learned that this young victim had been shipped to a so-called “rehab” facility in Florida where she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and carted off to jail.

Three horrifying truths have emerged in this crisis of corruption: (1) her sexual exploitation was cultivated, condoned and encouraged by law enforcement officials; (2) she is not the only child caught up in the Bay Area’s network of police sexual predators; and (3) her swift transformation from rape victim to felony assailant sends a clear message to all commercially sexually exploited youth in the Bay Area that you best not say anything to anybody.

Say Goodbye to “Celeste Guap”

For months, the teenage girl who was raped and exploited by police officers was the highlight of the news.  “Celeste Guap” was everywhere – from CNN to Youtube.  Some reporters demanded answers from police officials and focused on the lack of accountability and the pervasiveness of the problem.  Others elevated “Celeste Guap” to a Kardashian-like celebrity status.  Almost every interviewer seemed to ignore the obvious facts that she was a victim who was robbed of her childhood and that she needed a lawyer bad.  The obvious came crashing into everyone’s reality with her arrest in Florida.  While some of us were standing in front of the Richmond Police Department demanding transparency and accountability in her case, her carefully orchestrated transition from victim to felon had already taken place.  As part of her criminalization, her real name, Jasmine, was revealed as well as her home address, details about her medical treatment, her arrest and her transport to the jailhouse with her hands and feet shackled together in a hobble, a device that ties a suspect’s hands to their legs.

Was It A Set-Up?

Even before the proverbial SH– hit the fan, no one in law enforcement was taking responsibility for “the brilliant idea” to send 19-year-old Jasmine to Florida for “rehab.”  The Richmond Police Department has denied any involvement in sending her to Florida.  The Alameda County District Attorney’s office responded to inquiries with a “no comment.”  The story out of Florida is that Jasmine, at 5 feet, 130 pounds, was being subdued by two security workers, both of whom are described as 6 feet tall and one weighing 230 pounds, and the other at 240 pounds.  The 6 foot, 230 pound security officer is identified as the victim of the aggravated battery felony charge.  His injury is a bite on the arm.  Jasmine was taken from the alleged rehab facility where she was allegedly detoxifying from heroin to jail, where she has been since August 29th.  She has no family there or any ties to Florida, or any reason to be there, other than someone in Bay Area law enforcement thought it would be a good idea for her to go there.  It will be very interesting to learn who persuaded Jasmine that this was a good idea and what law enforcement agency that person actually works for.

The Bracelet Freedom Fund

     BRACELET IMAGEIn 2009, Attorney Charles Bonner published a novel called The Bracelet.  It is based on a case he handled where at least four young women were kidnapped and held as sex slaves in Syracuse, New York.  The case and the story highlights the pervasiveness of sex trafficking in our country and around the world.  Jasmine has hired Attorney Charles Bonner to represent her.  Attorney Bonner insists that I assist him with the case.  Together, we have set up a freedom trust fund for Jasmine’s legal and medical expenses, and to assist any other commercially sexually exploited youth who have been preyed upon by the police or other traffickers.  We know that Jasmine is not the only one.  We know that her tragic story is not unique or unusual.  Indeed, as a former foster child who walked away from an obviously dysfunctional system, I can truly say “there for the grace of God go I!”

And so my heart bleeds for this child.  If your heart is touched by her ordeal, please go to the Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund and donate whatever you can for her rescue, recovery and redemption.  Help us send a message to the other victims who are still trapped and living in a nightmare of fear, addiction and exploitation that we really will not tolerate sex trafficking in our backyard.  Thank you.

The Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund is established and administered under the non-profit Bracelet Charitable Freedom Fund.  All donations are tax-deductible.

A Crisis of Corruption – Call to Action

A Crisis of Corruption – Call to Action

A broad coalition of local and state advocates are calling upon Governor Jerry Brown to issue an Executive Order directing Attorney General Kamala Harris to take jurisdiction and control over the investigations of all allegations arising out of the involvement of any member of a law enforcement agency with the rape victim identified as Celeste Guap.   

Public Safety Requires Public Trust 

SEX TRAFFICKINGWe find ourselves in the midst of a crisis in public safety. The very police officers that are charged to protect and serve the public have been exposed as engaging in a conspiracy of sex trafficking. For 8 months, local law enforcement and public officials hid this scandalous behavior from the court-appointed monitor in Oakland and the public, while taking no real action against the officers who violated the public trust.  Even today – 11 months later – there has not been a single prosecution of anyone for any violations of law.  Officers who have resigned voluntarily remain uncharged.  Certainly the list of possible offenses include statutory rape, assault with intent to commit rape, obstruction of justice, interference with a police investigation, perjury, just to name a few.

 

We believe the reason for the apparent lack of accountability under the law and to the public trust is that our local officials have a conflict of interest. Every District Attorney’s office, every City Attorney’s office and every County Counsel’s office works closely with local law enforcement on a day-to-day basis.  To ask or expect these law enforcement agencies to diligently investigate and prosecute their partner law enforcement agencies is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.  

The Call to Action

On September 1, 2016, we will issue a call to action to Governor Jerry Brown.  We believe that the alleged conduct of these law enforcement officers involves an abuse of power and a violation of the public trust that is best addressed by a single and independent law enforcement agency rather than each local law enforcement agency. Six different law enforcement agencies have been implicated to date.  What appears to a lack of communication between Oakland officials and other local law enforcement agencies is startling. It clearly suggests that our concerns about the human trafficking of our daughters, sons, sisters and brothers across county lines in the Bay Area are not being taken seriously.

 

Let us be clear that we understand that “Celeste Guap” is not the only victim of this type of police abuse, and we are not calling for increased criminalization of minors, women or men identified as sex workers in our communities. We understand and appreciate that minors and women engaged in sex work in our communities are extremely vulnerable to the abuse of power by our law enforcement agencies and that “blaming the victim” is not an appropriate response to our crisis.

 

We believe that upon direction by the Governor of California, our Attorney General has the authority to investigate, manage, interpret, prosecute or inquire about any alleged incidents of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers with “Celeste Guap.” We believe that the Attorney General’s independent investigation of this crisis in our communities is essential to restoring public trust in our law enforcement agencies. We believe that public trust is essential to public safety. We therefore call upon Governor Brown to exercise his authority under Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution to ensure a comprehensive and independent coordinated investigation of these incidents.

The Signatories:

 

Attorney Pamela Y. Price, Political Education Chair, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) Richmond/Contra Costa Chapter, Member Elect, Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee

Kathleen Sullivan, President, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) Richmond/Contra Costa Chapter

Jerilyn Stapleton, President, California NOW

Cheryl Branch, President, CALIFIA NOW

Sarai Smith-Mazariegos, Co-Founder, MISSSEY, Founder, S.H.A.D.E. Project

Cat Brooks, Co-Founder, the Oakland Anti-Police Terror Project

Leigh Davenport, the Take Back Oakland Coalition

Freddye Davis, President, NAACP Hayward/South County Chapter

Kimberly Thomas Rapp, Executive Director, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Mike Katz-LaCabe, the Center for Human Rights and Privacy

Nola Brantley, Founder & Former Executive Director, MISSSEY

Ben Steinberg, Community Activist, Richmond California

Sign The Petition Calling for An Independent Investigation