Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Police Misconduct (Page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

Hypocrisy in High Places

Hypocrisy in High Places contributes to the death of a just society.  The Coalition to Restore Public Trust and the Contra Costa Coalition for Racial Justice call for the immediate resignation of District Attorney Mark Peterson.  Elected in 2010, DA Peterson has violated the public trust.

The FPPC Charges – Campaign Finance Violations

According to  charges pending before the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), over a 5-year period, DA Peterson used more than $66,000 of campaign contribution money for his personal expenses.  As the FPPC points out, when an official makes personal use of campaign funds, it erodes public trust in the political process.

According to the FPPC, Peterson admits that he started misusing his campaign contributions in 2011 shortly after he was elected. His misappropriation of funds continued until 2015 when he learned that his campaign account had been selected for audit.

The misuse of money donated to his campaign included hotels, meals, movie tickets, gasoline, clothing and more. He also withdrew cash  for his personal expenses from the campaign account.  Other times, DA Peterson transferred money from the campaign account to his personal account.  The FPPC charges include more than 600 separate fraudulent transactions.

The FPPC Charges – Perjury and Fraud

For 5 years, DA Peterson acted as his own Treasurer.  During that time he filed at least 4 falsified FPPC reports which did not disclose his personal use of the funds.  After he was caught, he claimed that the withdrawals from the campaign account were actually “loans.”

DA Peterson has been a lawyer for more than 30 years, since 1983. As a lawyer, officer of the Court and elected official, he knows the meaning of receiving and holding money “in trust.” Every time that he used the campaign account for his own personal benefit, he knew that he was violating the fundamental values of the law and his ethical duties as an attorney. He knew that he was violating the trust of everyone who donated money for him to become our DA.

DA Peterson obviously cannot and will not hold himself accountable under the law. He has lost our community’s trust.  Our community deserves to have a District Attorney who acts ethically and upholds the law.  Mark Peterson has shown that he cannot be trusted to do either.  For these reasons, we call for his immediate resignation.

The Call to Action – The People v. Mark Peterson

To support the call for DA Peterson’s resignation, the Coalition to Restore Public Trust will convene a public trial of Mark Peterson on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at 900 Ward Street, in front of his office in Martinez.  We urge the public to attend the trial and hear the evidence of DA Peterson’s unethical conduct and support our call for his resignation.  We also urge you to sign the online Petition calling for his investigation and prosecution by the California Attorney General.

A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men

few-good-men-movie

One of my favorite movies is “A Few Good Men.” I love the iconic scene where Jack Nicholson screams at young lawyer Tom Cruisecolonel-jessup-quote

 

 

The Truth About the Oakland Police Department

This past week, Oakland was rocked with details of two “cover-up” claims by OPD supervisors and City officials.  Homicide Detective Sgt. Mike Gantt alleges that top police officials and city leaders, including Mayor Libby Schaff, retaliated against him because he tried to investigate the death of Irma Huerta-Lopez.  Gantt believes, along with many others, that OPD Officer Brendan O’Brien murdered Huerta-Lopez.

Irma Huerta-Lopez was the wife of disgraced OPD officer Brendan O’Brien.  She was found dead in their home in June 2014 under suspicious circumstances. Her family alleges that O’Brien killed her and OPD covered it up.  O’Brien killed himself in September 2015.  He left a note about his sexual exploitation of a minor (my former client Jasmine).  OPD covered up the note and the police sexual abuse ring for 9 months.  KRON 4’s Haaziq Madyun blew the case open in May 2016.  O’Brien was never arrested or charged for his wife’s death.

The second case filed in federal court this week details OPD’s cover up of criminal conduct by another officer.  Olga and Nemesio Cortez are suing the City because they were attacked by a drunken OPD officer in their home in December 2015.

The rookie officer, Cullen Faeth, is the son of OPD Sgt. David Faeth.  The lawsuit alleges that hours after the attack OPD officers and supervisors paid 2 midnight visits to the Cortez family trying to confuse and dissuade them from filing charges.  The lawsuit alleges that OPD officers tried to manipulate an eyewitness to the attack to misidentify a second suspect who flashed a gun at Mrs. Cortez.  The Cortez believe the second suspect was actually Sgt. Joseph Turner pictured here.opd-sgt-turner

The lawsuit alleges that the Cortez family found out that their assailants were OPD officers weeks after the attack.  Neither OPD or the District Attorney’s office shared that information with them initially.  Ironically, Mrs. Cortez is an Alameda County probation officer.

The Code of Silence

Every organization has a culture, a set of informal rules and understandings.  Not written down.  Not discussed openly often.  Particularly police.  Like the code of silence, for instance.  It is not written anywhere that you should look the other way when you see a fellow officer engaging in a crime, but we know that it happens.  It is not written anywhere that you should withhold evidence of a crime when the perpetrator is a law enforcement officer, but we know that it happens.

It is not written anywhere that you should l-i-e in a deposition and say “I don’t recall” when you saw and heard a fellow officer break the law, but we know that it happens.  It is not written anywhere that every person who flunks “the attitude test” when dealing with the police should be charged with “resisting arrest” and “assaulting a police officer” but we know that it happens.

Every police department is vulnerable to the abuse of power.  Police exploiting women for sex and law enforcement officials covering it up is not new in the Bay Area.  Police and public officials covering up criminal conduct by police officers is not new in Oakland.  We  know that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

A citizen asked me recently, if the police are doing the crime, who should we call to come protect and serve us?  I told her, in Oakland, you have to protect yourself.

einstein-evil

The question for OPD is do you have “a few good men?”  The question for us as a community is “can we handle the truth?”  I hope we pass Measure LL on Tuesday.  It’s a good step in the right direction of our search for truth.

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

I’m sitting in a small crowded courtroom in the Hayward Hall of Justice.  Lots of reporters and cameras on tripods, court personnel and a few civilians.  I’m thinking about my next blog, “the Politics of Trust.”  Then, a funny thing happened on the way to justice.

An elderly Caucasian man stands on the side of the courtroom looking over the scene.  Most don’t notice him – I realize that he is the judge waiting to take the bench.  Soon he does.  The Judge very quickly goes through the steps of arraignment for former Contra Costa Deputy Sheriff Ricardo Perez.

perez-court-v2Ricardo Perez is charged with felony oral copulation with my client, Jasmine.  It is apparently well known that he was “one of her regulars.”  Since she was still a minor, he was actively engaged in the commercial sexual exploitation of a child (CSEC).  He reportedly worked as a Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy for several years.

Who Is the Judge?

Judge Joseph J. Carson was first appointed as a judge by Governor Ronald Reagan in June 1972.  In  April 1984  Governor George Deukmejian elevated him to serve as a Superior Court judge.  Judge Carson was a Deputy District Attorney for Alameda County between 1966 and 1972 before he became a judge.

The district attorney asks Judge Carson to set Perez’ bail at $60,000.  After reading Perez’s probable cause statement, Carson smiles and says, “Fish Ranch Road?  I haven’t been there since high school.”  Carson then let Perez remain out of custody on his own recognizance.

Judge Carson’s decision to let defendant Perez out on his own recognizance (OR) is in stark contrast to the $300,000 bail Jasmine was held on in Florida a month ago.  Judge Carson’s OR  decision was obviously based on his own world view about CSEC and perhaps, his own fond memories of hanging out on Fish Ranch Road.  When he made the comment, he seemed to snicker at the thought of whatever happened to him the last time he was on Fish Ranch Road.

What A Difference Race Makes

Judge Carson’s decision to OR defendant Perez on a felony charge is very different from bail decisions issued for most Black and Brown defendants in our criminal justice system in Alameda County.  The experience of racism is still channeled through the bail system in America. Study after study has documented the disparity by race in bail decisions across the country. 

In her 2013 analysis of bail practices, Washington College of Law Professor Cynthia E. Jones describes how judges “exercise virtually unbridled discretion in making bail determinations, which are too frequently corrupted by the random amount of money bond imposed, the defendant’s lack of financial resources, the implicit bias of the bail official, and the race of the defendant.  These factors combine to create an extreme dysfunction in the bail determination process” resulting in severe over-crowding of jails and racial disparities in bail outcomes between African-Americans and whites.  (Jones, C. E. (2013). “Give Us Free”: Addressing Racial Disparities in Bail Determinations.” New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, 16(4), 919–62.)

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 2008 and 2011, Alameda County was one of the largest jail jurisdictions in the United States, (in the top 15) with an average daily population of more than 4000 inmates.  Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of our average daily jail population that was un-sentenced but remained detained was consistently much higher than the state average.  Typical reasons for staying in jail before sentencing are the inability to post bail, public safety or flight risk, or slow criminal justice processing.  The population of detainees “presumed innocent until proven guilty” is overwhelmingly Black and Brown.

The Racial Divide in Alameda County

Justice in Alameda County has historically been racially imbalanced.   In 2002, the rate of felony arrests in California for African Americans was 4.4 times higher than for whites.  Our rate of incarceration in Alameda County was 7.5 times higher; the rate of incarceration for second strikes was 10 times higher.   African Americans were incarcerated at a rate almost 13 times higher than whites under the three-strikes program.

In 2004, in Alameda County, African-Americans were only 14.61% of the population; we were 52.85 of all felony arrests.  In contrast, 41% of the population was White and only represented 22% of all felony arrests.

In 2008, 55.0% of the inmates in Santa Rita Jail were African American, while only 18.1% were White.  At that time, 12.2% of adult residents in the County were African American and 40.5% were White.

There is clearly a legacy of racial injustice in Alameda County.  Yet, we can count the number of police officers criminally charged for criminal misconduct in Alameda County on one hand.  When an officer who clearly abused his position and power and exploited a young girl is actually charged, no bail is his reward.  Judge Carson’s decision adds “insult to injury.”

How do you feel about that?  Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

bunion-v2On Friday, September 23, 2016, the first Oakland police officer in our “crisis of corruption” goes to Court.  Brian J. Bunton, who allegedly abused his power as an officer of the law will be arraigned on several charges, including felony obstruction of justice. As we finally move forward in the continuing saga of abuse of power by police officials, the question looms, does obstruction of justice really matter?  Is obstruction of justice a “victimless crime?”

What is Obstruction of Justice?

“Obstruction may consist of any attempt to hinder the discovery, apprehension, conviction or punishment of anyone who has committed a crime. The acts by which justice is obstructed may include bribery, murder, intimidation, and the use of physical force against witnesses, law enforcement officers or court officials.”

For anyone who is tempted to think that obstruction of justice is a “victimless crime,” I offer the story of prosecutorial misconduct in Bakersfield, California.  There, Kern County Deputy District Attorney Robert Murray admits to falsifying a confession transcript that he provided to a defense attorney.  Murray gave it to the defense attorney during plea negotiations when Murray knew defense counsel was trying to persuade the defendant to take a deal.  Murray claims he was joking, but only after he was caught.  Murray still works for the Kern County District Attorney.

The trial judge threw out the charges when the faked confession was exposed.  The case involved alleged sexual abuse of a ten year-old girl.  The defendant could have been sent away for life if convicted.  As a result of Murray’s misconduct and the dismissal of the charges, the defendant, a sexual predator, is freed.  He is later arrested and charged with having sex with a minor under fourteen.  Prosecutors believe he impregnated the girl when she was thirteen.  In effect, because the prosecutor decided to “obstruct justice,” a sexual predator got away with sexual assault of a 10-year-old girl and went free to victimize another 13-year-old girl.  So I ask, the parents of which one of these girls thinks that obstruction of justice is “a victimless crime?”

Closer to Home

Closer to home, in July 2010, the Oakland City Council approved a $6.5 million settlement in a case which exposed the routine use of false or misleading information for search warrants.  There, OPD’s own records allegedly showed that more than 57% of all search warrants in drug cases involving a confidential informant between 2001 and 2008 were based on false information.  Eleven officers are fired.  Most are later reinstated.  None of the officers accused of creating false police reports are ever prosecuted.  Some of them still work for Oakland police.  The number of people sent to jail based on false information remains unknown.

In October 2011, Oakland agreed to pay $1.7 million to the family of Jerry Amaro. Oakland police beat Mr. Amaro while arresting him on suspicion of trying to buy drugs from undercover police officers.  They broke five of his ribs and lacerated one of his lungs.  He died a month later of pneumonia caused by his fractured ribs. None of the officers involved documented the use of force.  OPD told his heartbroken mother that her son “died in the street” following a gang dispute over drugs.  None of the officers accused of filing false police reports to conceal Amaro’s beating were ever prosecuted.  Some of them still work for Oakland police.

The Tip of the Iceberg?

Officer Brian Bunton, facing felony charges for obstruction of justice, appears to be the tip of the iceberg in Oakland.  In our case, it appears that many people went to great lengths to conceal ongoing widespread criminal activity.  We know that OPD investigators received a suicide note from Officer Brendan O’Brien in September 2015.  We know that OPD investigators looked into Jasmine’s cell phone with all of its incriminating text messages and recorded calls.  We also know that access and information to Jasmine’s Facebook page was publicly available.

whent-resignsPolice chiefs in both Richmond and Oakland were allegedly her Facebook friends.  And yet, every one of the local District Attorneys staunchly maintains that she or he did not even know about the suicide note or the OPD investigation until she or he read about it in the East Bay Express Newspaper.

Clearly, higher officials than Brian Bunton obstructed justice in this case.  We are all victims of the obstruction of justice because we have to live with the fallout.  Public safety requires public trust!  Who can we believe – the Mayors, the DAs, the Chiefs?  I’m not sure that any of them has any credibility left.  Where were they for nine months?  Who else should be charged with obstruction of justice?  What do you think? Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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.

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