Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Justice Reform (Page 1 of 3)

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.

Calling Social Engineers

Calling Social Engineers

Charles H. Houston (1895-1950) said a lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.  On Monday, January 30, 2017, Mr. Trump fired a social engineer.

Credit: Wikipedia

Her name is Sally Yates.  She was the Acting Attorney General of the United States.  The statement that triggered Mr. Trump’s rage describes her constitutional role:

“My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts.

 

In addition, I am responsible for ensuring that the positions we take in court remain consistent with this institution’s solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.  At present, I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful.

Consequently, for as long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”

America’s Private Prisons for Immigrants

This is not the first time that Sally Yates took a principled position on behalf of the American people.  In August 2016, Ms. Yates instructed Justice Department officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or “substantially reduce” the contracts’ scope. The goal is to reduce and end the federal government’s use of privately operated prisons.  These prisons are used exclusively for non-citizen inmates.

Yates’ action follows the Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on federal private prisons.  The OIG found federal private prisons have higher rates of assaults and deaths under questionable circumstances, problems with contraband, low quality food and medical care.  These problems are reported in multiple exposes in Mother Jones and the Nation. These are the same prisons Mr. Trump will use to house immigrants targeted for deportation.

As a result of the Trump Executive Order on immigration issued on January 27, 2017, students, visitors and green-card-holding legal permanent United States residents from seven countries — and refugees from around the world — were stopped at airports in the United States and abroad.  Some refugees were blocked from entering the United States and sent back overseas.  Some refugees stopped at airports with no place to go would be detained.  That’s why Americans and lawyers descended upon major airports.  People who had committed no crime but had no place to go would be taken to federal private prisons.

Being A Social Engineer

It is a good time to be a civil rights lawyer.  Around the country, lawyers are organizing and galvanized to be social engineers.  It means that we, like Sally Yates, will uphold and defend the Constitution as a part of our regular day job.  Not just on holidays. The fight is clearly on.  Michael Moore warns that Mr. Trump has started a bloodless coup.

By changing the laws, firing lawyers and senior staff and giving legal authority to his advisors with the stroke of his pen, Mr. Trump is clearly taking control of the Executive branch.  With three Supreme Court nominations within his reach, he will soon control the United States Supreme Court.  Under a far right Supreme Court, our role as civil rights lawyers will likely be rendered obsolete in federal Courts.  Our role as social engineers may be the only way left to practice civil rights law in America. Thankfully, Charles Hamilton Houston, in his life’s work, has already given us the precedent to follow.

Why Are They Marching?

Why are They Marching?

I’m standing at the corner of Ninth and Fallon in downtown Oakland.  My phone rings and its Amy, my elderly foster mother in Cincinnati.  “Why are they marching?” she asks.  Another friend reports that her mother asks her in a not-so-nice tone “Did you wear a vagina on your head?”  So, not everybody “got the memo!”

So why did we march, by the millions here and around the world.  The “official” goal of the day was “to stand together in solidarity for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”  That’s the memo I got for the Women’s March in Oakland.  And so, more than 100,000 people had a peaceful march through Oakland.  Yes, we stood and we walked in solidarity.

A Beautiful Sight to See!

It was a beautiful sight – to see my beloved awesome beautiful Oakland community once again on the right side of history.  And the signs said it all.

“Keep those Bad Apples Out of the Cabinet.”

“The Children Are Watching.”  “Resist Fear, Assist Love!”

“You can’t comb over misogyny.”

“I Love Nasty Women!”

“ACA saved my life!”

“We won’t go back to the Dark ages.”

“A woman’s place is in the resistance.”

“Make America Read Again!”

 

“From Class to Crass!”     “Our rights are not up for grabs, neither are we!”

“Black Lives Matter!”  Someone simply said “Ugh!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was music and drums and tamborines.  We danced, we chanted, we marched.  There was exceedingly warm comaraderie, respect and appreciation for everyone around you.  It felt like love overflowing. And yes, those little pink hats were everywhere, symbols of a woman’s vagina.  When I asked the man standing next to me what they meant and he told me, all I could say was “I knew that.”

Why Does It Matter?

So, the question is why does it matter that millions marched around the world.  We are now in the midst of the Trump “deconstruction” of America.  Executive orders are literally flying out of the White House.  Threats of ridiculous policy initiatives have now become law.  Trump is doing everything he can to divide America.  The “haves” are going to have it their way.  The rest of us will have to figure it out on our own.

What the Women’s March says to each of us is that we are not on our own.  It does not matter if you are Mexican or Muslim, you are not going to be left on your own.  It does not matter if you are homeless or homebound, you are not going to be left on your own.  It does matter if you are a military veteran, you are not going to be left on your own.

It matters whenever you say “NO” to fascism, racism, sexism and tyranny.  Mr. Trump’s pen cannot change our vision for the future of our children and our nation.  His tweets cannot change our commitment to keep Dr. King’s dream for America alive.  While Trump honors the murderous legacy of President Andrew Jackson, let us remember the magnanimous leadership of President Barack Hussein Obama.

The Children Are Watching!

In the week of celebrating Dr. King’s birthday, I kept reading  his “Letter from A Birmingham Jail.”  Dr. King reminds the white clergymen that”injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  He reminds them that “everything Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.”  He reminds them that “the goal of America is freedom” and “if the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”

As we move forward this year, the marches will sustain and strengthen the work of those who commit themselves to the ongoing struggle for social justice.  As an activist whose entire life was transformed by “the struggle,” I know the power of seeing millions of people marching for what they believe in.  Let us continue to beat the drums for justice.  Let’s keep marching for our lives and the lives of our children!  The children are watching!

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.

Honor the Godfather of Soul

Ten years ago, on December 25, 2006, James Brown, the Godfather of Soul died.  For many years, in honor of his memory, I hosted an annual James Brown Party.  We danced and laughed in celebration of his music, his life and his spirit.  James Brown was a musical genius, a trailblazing businessman and a civil rights icon.

 

This year, instead of hosting the party, I am making donations in his name to some really worthwhile nonprofits.  So, you should “save the date” for the 2017 James Brown Party, and make your tax-deductible donation in 2016 to an organization that is working to make a difference in this world.

Organizations That Work

Please check out and consider the following amazing organizations:

Legal Services

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI.org) is a non-profit organization in Montgomery, Alabama working to improve justice and fairness in America by providing legal assistance to condemned prisoners, people wrongfully or unfairly sentenced, including juveniles incarcerated as adults.  You can make your donation online, by telephone or send a check to 122 Commerce St., Montgomery, AL 36104.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR.com) champions the legal rights of people of color, poor people, immigrants and refugees, with a special commitment to African-Americans.  You can make your donation online or send a check to 131 Steuart Street, #400, San Francisco, CA 94105.

The Ohio Justice & Policy Center (OJPC) based in Cincinnati, Ohio fights to protect the basic human rights and dignity of incarcerated people. You can make your donation online or send a check to 215  East 9th Street, #601, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

Community-Based Organizations

  Friends Foundation International (FFI.org) is an organization of friends (including me) who share the bond of friendship to use our collective commitment, resources and energy to improve the human condition and protect the environment all over the world.  You can make your donation online or send a check to Friends Foundation International, c/o Michael Freund, 1919 Addison St., #105, Berkeley, CA  94704.

Men and Women of Purpose ( MWP) is a community based non-profit in Richmond, California that provides re-entry services in Contra Costa County to help returning community members make the transition from jail to community.  MWP’s re-entry programs include employment counseling, transportation, housing referrals, mentoring, sobriety support, family reunification counseling and life skills training to cope with the mental, emotional and financial challenges of re-entry.  You can send a check to 3029 MacDonald Avenue, Richmond, CA 94804.

Kids Kasa is a foster family agency based in Fresno, California. Kids Kasa provides safe, structured, nurturing and therapeutic foster homes for at-risk children from ages 0 to 21.  Their program includes Independent Living Skills to prepare kids for emancipation.  You can send a check to 1275 W. Shaw Ave. #107, Fresno, CA  93711.

My list could go on and on, but since my money is limited, so is my list.  The good news is that there are literally thousands of organizations around the world working to help others.  Please pick one and make a donation in honor of the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown.  Have a happy and safe New Year!

Love, Pamela

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.

Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

Processed with VSCO with c8 preset

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.

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén