In a commendable act of bravery, the public defender’s office took a public stance against the years of misconduct they have witnessed in DA Nancy O’Malley’s office. Their motion to disqualify the entire office from a case states that O’Malley “ignores misconduct in the ranks and in fact covers up that misconduct and, frankly rewards it. . . . Over the past decade, there has been a well-documented pattern of misconduct by some attorneys in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office that has gone uncorrected and unpunished.”
This public condemnation is unprecedented and quite courageous because of the strong possibility that the DA would retaliate. And retaliate she did. Instead of addressing the issue head-on with transparency, DA O’Malley retaliated by instituting a blanket gag order on all her deputies. She prohibited her deputies from having any informal negotiations with the public defenders.
The people caught in the middle are the residents of Alameda County whose cases will now be delayed. Unfortunately, rewarding and promoting problematic deputies shows the people of Alameda County that O’Malley lacks the compassion and integrity needed to create a safer and more just system of justice.
Lawyer A in the Motion
Ironically, the deputy DA whose misconduct triggered the motion is one of O’Malley top deputies. He is referred to as “Lawyer A” in the motion. In May 2018, on the eve of the 2018 primary election, Lawyer A (DDA “Butch” Ford) widely circulated a text message. He called me “a threat to community safety” who “must be stopped.” In 2019, DDA Ford received the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) Prosecutor of the Year Award. O’Malley was the President of the CDAA in 2019. She has since been implicated in the $3 million CDAA scandal of mismanaged funds.
The public defender’s motion alleges multiple cases involving alleged misconduct by DDA Ford. Then, there’s the case where DDA Ford asked for and received an 84-year to life sentence for a 15-year-old boy convicted of murder. In 2016, the sentence was overturned as excessive and unconstitutional. That case always bothers me a lot, especially for the hurt that all the families in that case suffered.
A Call to Action
In a related recent development,a 2-year studyfunded by the ACLU andthe Urban Peace Movement found that policies and practices of the District Attorney’s Office, under the leadership of DA O’Malley, led to overcriminalization, needlessly cost the County money and promoted mass incarceration, and had a devastating impact on Black and Brown communities. We should not be surprised if DA O’Malley strikes back against this devastating report.
Both the public defenders’ motion and the ACLU report are a call-to-action to all who believe in freedom, justice and equality.Now is the time for a change. Now is the time to join the fight to restore public trust in our justice system.Please join us by making a contribution to our campaign today.Every dollar helps! Thank you.
This year, the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) scandal has been under media scrutiny for shady budget dealings under the leadership of Alameda County’s own DA – Nancy O’Malley.
O’Malley was the most recent past president and had leadership roles in the CDAA for the last decade. Recent news reports from the San Francisco Chronicle and Davis Vanguard have shown that the CDAA mismanaged more than 3 million dollars. The CDAA improperly shifted the money toward lobbying and advocacy efforts against progressive criminal justice reforms. The intended purpose was upholding environmental and workplace safety protections.
The Sierra Club California, NextGen California, and the California League of Conservation Voters (to just name a few) have called the CDAA’s actions a “dereliction of public duty.” San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Salazer has called upon the entire CDAA Board – including DA O’Malley – to resign immediately. The California Attorney General is investigating, based in part on the request of the new executive leader of the CDAA.
This mismanagement hurts smaller and rural counties, where DA’s lack the resources to take on large corporations. In the wake of the CDAA scandal, there are state-wide calls from organizations and leaders to have Counties sever ties with the CDAA.
The CDAA’s Problematic Record
The work of the CDAA has been troubling for at least a decade. As the State has been passing sweeping reforms in criminal justice through legislation, the CDAA has worked behind the scenes to fight reforms and instead, used its budget to push for harsher crime laws.
The CDAA actively worked to oppose needed modifications to three strikes laws. They poured money and muscle in the election to stop Prop 47 in 2014 which reduced penalties for most drug possession cases and low-level thefts. In 2016, they opposed Prop 57 which shortened prison time for nonviolent offenders and restricted the prosecution of juveniles as adults.
– “Law enforcement organizations have been advocating for policies and guided by philosophies that really haven’t changed in 40 years. They don’t rely on data or empirical evidence about what makes us safer.”
In fact, under DA O’Malley’s leadership – for the first time in CDAA’s history – a central California County DA withdrew from the association and called out the organization for working against statewide criminal justice reforms. Last month, in an op-ed in the Orange County Register, bar leaders penned an article titled – “It’s time for the DA associations to stop standing in the way of reform.”
A Commitment to Change
Even before the CDAA scandal broke, four sitting DA’s created a new prosecutor’s association in California to counter the more conservative values of the CDAA. They join progressive prosecutors across the country who have separated themselves from the oppressive policies of the past. National organizations such as Fair and Just Prosecution are training new prosecutors and providing them with the tools to address the harms of past practices.
And in a plea for sweeping reforms, Congresswoman Cori Bush (D. Mo.) has been asking voters across the country to bring change to their community by electing new DAs who uphold the values of equity and reform.
I stand ready to uphold the values of equity, reform and compassion. These values have been missing from the Alameda County criminal justice system for more than a decade. I stand for embracing the reforms that Alameda County voters and the State legislature have passed over the last ten years. As a civil rights lawyer for 30 years in this community, I understand the imperative of constitutional policing and prosecutorial independence.
When elected to be the District Attorney of Alameda County in June 2022, I commit to take aggressive steps to restore public trust in our criminal justice system, ensure public safety, end mass incarceration and root out racial, socioeconomic and gender disparities within Alameda County’s criminal justice system. We deserve nothing less than that kind of leadership. Please go to pamelaprice4da.com to check out my full platform and make a donation.
In February 2011, Attorney John Burris called me and asked me to help him with a police misconduct case. It was the Oscar Grant case. There were 4 motions to dismiss the case filed by Bart and the numerous officers that John’s firm had sued. My firm’s assignment was to oppose the motion to dismiss Anthony Pirone. We did so successfully and kept him in the case.
Anthony Pirone was one of the first officers to arrive on the Bart platform in response to a call. Pirone immediately focused on Oscar and his friends, racially profiled them, punched and kneed Oscar repeatedly, and finally jumped down on Oscar with his full, 250-pound body weight, pushing Oscar face-down onto the concrete platform and pressing his knee on Oscar’s neck; all the while taunting Oscar by calling him a “nigger” and a “bitch-ass nigger.”
Anthony Pirone committed a hate crime against Oscar Grant. He is the one who literally set into motion the action that caused Johannes Mehserle to kill Oscar Grant. Yet, then District Attorney Tom Orloff made a decision not to charge Anthony Pirone with anything. Bart fired Pirone but he walked away a free man.
Everyone who saw the videotapes of the events on that Bart platform knew what Pirone did. Everyone included me, my staff, the judge and all of the lawyers involved, including then Chief Assistant District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. The civil lawyers were subject to a protective order in 2009 (meaning we could not talk publicly about everything we saw and knew) but DA Nancy O’Malley was not.
DA Nancy O’Malley knew in 2009 that Anthony Pirone was a liar. When she became the DA in September 2009, she did not re-open the case. Instead, she chose to turn a blind eye to Pirone’s racist torture of Oscar Grant because Oscar Grant was just another Black kid whose life did not matter.
Just like Jody Woodfox’s life did not matter. Jody Woodfox was shot in the back by an OPD officer in July 2008, and O’Malley’s office covered up the murder for 12 years. Just like Alan Blueford and Kayla Moore and so many others, including brown, white and indigenous people like Andrew Moppin, James Greer, Joshua Pawlik, Jacob Bauer and Elena Mondragon.
On November 3, 2020, California State Propositions will be decided by voters. Here are Pamela’s Recommendations for the California State Propositions-November 2020. It covers Propositions 14 to 25 with brief summaries and recommendations on how to vote.
Prop. 14: Stem Cell Research Institute Bond Initiative – PYP SAYS YES
A “yes” vote supports issuing $5.5 billion general obligation bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute and making changes to the institute’s governance structure and programs. A “no” vote opposes issuing $5.5 billion general obligation bonds for the state’s stem cell research institute, which ran out funds derived from Proposition 71 (2004) for new projects in 2019.
Prop 15 is a tax reform measure to create a split roll property tax system and spend the revenue increase on education and other public services.
Close property tax loopholes benefiting wealthy corporations.
Cut small business taxes.
Reclaim billions every year to invest in our schools and local communities.
Exempt homeowners, renters, small businesses and agricultural land so they continue to be protected by Prop 13.
Prioritize transparency and accountability by requiring public disclosure of all new revenues and how they are spent. Advocates estimate that Alameda County will receive almost $197,000 million in revenue.
Voting “Yes” on Proposition 16 would reverse the ban on equal opportunity policies like affirmative action so that elected leaders can design programs that provide good jobs, better wages, and access to great schools for all Californians.
Prop 17: Allow Parolees to Vote – PYP SAYS YES
Prop 17 will amend the California Constitution so that Californians who have completed their prison term can fully participate in our democracy by restoring their right to vote.
Prop 18: Allow 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primaries – PYP SAYS YES
Proposition 18 will allow Californians who will be 18 by the time of the general election to vote in the primary election. Voting Yes on 18 allows first-time voters to participate in the full election cycle, and builds a lifelong habit of civic participation.
Prop. 19: Property Tax Transfers, Exemptions and Revenue for Wildfire Agencies and Counties – PYP SAYS NO
California’s Proposition 19 would make various changes to rules that allow Californians who are disabled or older than age 55 to transfer below-market property tax assessments when moving to a new home. These lower assessments could no longer be transferred to heirs once the property owner dies, in many cases. But, while the taxpayer is alive, it would make transferring below market assessments easier by eliminating certain exceptions in current law.
Black and Brown communities are often adversely impacted by generational poverty and face particular challenges to accumulate wealth in America, due to systemic racism and segregation in housing. Proposition 19 may increase the challenges to transferring home ownership to the next generation while maintaining the structural advantages that white Americans enjoy.
Prop 20: Tough on Crime Measure – PYP SAYS NO
Proposition 20 is a “law and order” measure to reverse the criminal justice reforms enacted by AB 109 (2011), Proposition 47 (2014), and Proposition 57 (2016). These three criminal justice reform measures reduced the state’s prison population. A “yes” vote will create more felonies for which early parole is restricted; recategorize certain types of theft and fraud crimes as wobblers (chargeable as misdemeanors or felonies); and require DNA collection for certain misdemeanors. A “no” vote rejects this attempt to expand incarceration and revive punitive justice in California.
Prop 21: Expand Rent Control – PYP SAYS YES
Proposition 21 will allow for the expansion of rent control throughout California. It will give local governments the power to implement tenant-friendly protections that limit annual rent increases, prevent displacement, and make living in California more affordable for all residents.
Prop 22: Attack by Uber and Lyft on Labor Rights – PYP SAYS NO
Proposition 22 would consider app-based drivers to be independent contractors and not employees or agents. It only applies to app-based drivers for Uber, Lyft and DoorDash. If drivers are considered employees, they are entitled to the protections of minimum wage and benefit laws and workers’ compensation for injuries.
Voting “yes” on this initiative will Uber and Lyft to buy their way out of the law. Other business owners would continue to be subject to Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5). AB 5 was signed into law in September 2019. It makes many people employees who were considered independent contractors before the law changed. The change in the law has had a devastating impact on small businesses, particularly minority and women-owned businesses. Proposition 22 does not help us.
The measure addresses much needed safety improvements for patients received dialysis services. A “yes” vote supports this ballot initiative to require chronic dialysis clinics to:
have an on-site physician while patients are being treated;
report data on dialysis-related infections;
obtain consent from the state health department before closing a clinic; and
not discriminate against patients based on the source of payment for care.
Proposition 24: Consumer Personal Information Law and Agency Initiative – PYP SAYS YES
A “yes” vote will expand the state’s consumer data privacy laws. It includes provisions to allow consumers to direct businesses to not share their personal information; removes the time period in which businesses can fix violations before being penalized; and create the Privacy Protection Agency to enforce the state’s consumer data privacy laws.
A “yes” vote upholds Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which replaces cash bail with risk assessments for detained suspects awaiting trials. A “no” vote will repeal SB 10. SB10 was passed into law in 2018 after its backers sold it as the replacement for money bail.
In fact, SB10 was a backroom deal between legislators, judges, and law enforcement unions. While SB10 ends the use of money bail, it allows judges to order “preventive detention” with no avenue for release. The law lacks meaningful due process constraints and uses criteria so subjective that judges can choose incarceration in nearly every felony case (“the Black box”). It gives more power to judges and money to probation departments, without ensuring any reduction in the number of pretrial detainees. Many people will still be incarcerated before their cases are even decided.
Remember: if you vote by mail, sign your ballot envelope!
Resolution Calling on Governor Newsom to Exercise Emergency Powers to Release Immigrants Detained in California Detention Centers
WHEREAS, While COVID-19 has already caused significant harm to those living freely in our society, it poses a more severe threat to those who are locked in institutional facilities like immigration prisons and detention centers, where close quarters, lack of resources for basic hygiene, and limited access to health services become breeding grounds for communicable disease that can result in innumerable deaths; and
WHEREAS, During a state of emergency, Governors are empowered to take drastic measures to protect the lives of people in their states, such as seizing control from private hospitals and releasing incarcerated individuals from crowded jails, and just as Governor Newsom has applied his broad emergency powers to impose a shelter-in-place order and close down schools and businesses, he can do so to close immigrant detention centers, many of which are private facilities as well as municipal and county run jails; and
WHEREAS, It is urgent that we protect our most vulnerable neighbors who are trapped in overcrowded detention centers that could become sites of major outbreak and death if we fail to act, and most of the people held by ICE, including very young children, have homes to go to or can access support from the hundreds of community organizations willing to help provide housing;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, That the Alameda County Democratic Party urges Governor Newsom to use his emergency powers to release all immigrants currently detained in California immigrant detention centers in the interest of public health;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Alameda County Democratic Party also urges Governor Newsom to suspend the transfer of individuals from California state custody to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and halt the expansion of immigrant detention facilities.
Sponsored by: Paola Laverde (AD 15), Bobbi Lopez (AD 15) and Igor Tregub (AD 15)
Alameda County Central Committee Resolution Supporting Removal Of Police Officers From School Sites
WHEREAS, public concerns have been raised across our County that the presence of local police officers in our schools is an inappropriate use of public resources which results in over-criminalization of young people and the prevalence and impact of inequitable and inappropriate use of force by law enforcement giving rise to deaths, injuries, trauma, and stress that disproportionately affects marginalized populations is a critical public health issue,
WHEREAS, in Alameda County in 2018, even though Black children were only 10% and Latino/a/x children were only 32% of the youth in Alameda County, Black children were more than 60% and Latino/a/x children were almost 26% of all felony juvenile arrests (a total of 86%), and this racial disparity in juvenile felony arrests in our County is a symptom of the systemic racism that infects our criminal justice system,
WHEREAS, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee recognizes that removing police officers from school sites in our County is an important step in disrupting the school to prison pipeline and the systemic racism which undermines educational opportunities for Black and Brown children and a necessary step to improve public safety, public health and public trust in our County,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee supports demands by our youth that every school district take immediate steps to remove police officers from school sites and redirect potential cost savings to agencies that are responsible for the health and well-being of families in need, and promote policies that provide mental health services, domestic violence prevention, marriage/domestic partner counseling, gang prevention, anti-bullying programs, substance abuse prevention, parenting skills that include alternatives to physical punishment, and other social services without regard to the gender of the parent;
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED That the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee directs the Chairwoman of our Central Committee to promptly send an official copy of this resolution to the Superintendent, President and Clerk of every school district in Alameda County, the Superintendent, President and Clerk of the Alameda County Board of Education, the President of the California Board of Education and every ex-officio member of this Committee, including the California State Superintendent of Education.
Resolution Urging that Alameda County Democrats Refuse Donations from the Alameda County Sheriff and Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations
WHEREAS, though there are many good officers and prison guards who serve with courage and honor, law enforcement in Alameda County as a whole has a history of racial profiling, discrimination, and violence against Black, Latinx, AAPI, Native American and other communities; and racially biased, militarized policing has been used as a tool nearly 200 years;
WHEREAS, Alameda County’s residents have struggled for decades to ensure that Alameda County law enforcement departments and officers are held accountable to all communities they serve by advocating for reasonable measures such as the community-led Independent Commission on Police Practices to promote responsible, accountable policing and address disparities in policing practices of stops, arrests and use of force, and there has been systemic racism throughout law enforcement, and the law enforcement system is closed, sheltered from public scrutiny and accountability, protected through state law, and in desperate need of reform; and
WHEREAS, the Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations and the Alameda County Sheriff have been major obstacles to such accountability; and
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alameda County Democratic Party shall refuse all contributions from the Alameda County Sheriff and Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations (defined for the purposes of this resolution as those exclusively representing law enforcement and not general unions that may have a small percentage of law enforcement members) and requests that all Alameda County Democratic elected officials refuse such contributions as well and reject the endorsement of such associations;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alameda County Democratic Party urges that any candidate, including elected officials running for a new or the same office, who has taken money from the Alameda County Sheriff and Peace Officer, Deputy Sheriff, and Correctional Officer Associations since 2018 donates said funds to community organizations that work in Alameda County on issues such as racial justice, criminal justice reform, re-entry services or the empowerment of the Black community, indigenous community and other communities of color, provide a written acknowledgement of this contribution to the Committee at the time that he or she requests our endorsement and pledges not to take any such contributions in the future.
Respectfully Submitted, Soli Alpert (AD15), Andy Kelley (AD15), Paola Laverde (AD15), Bobbi Lopez (AD15), Barisha Spriggs (AD20), Igor Tregub (AD15), Alfred Twu (AD15), Mark Williams (AD20), Pamela Price (AD18)
Alameda County Central Committee Resolution Calling on Governor Newsom to Exercise Emergency Powers to Stop COVID-19 in California Prisons
WHEREAS, COVID-19 has caused significant harm to those living freely in our society, it poses a more severe threat to people locked in California’s correctional facilities where close quarters, lack of resources for basic hygiene, insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), including sanitizer and hygiene products, and limited access to health services have made these institutions breeding grounds for COVID-19, and thousands of incarcerated people currently face a potential death sentence, and
WHEREAS, the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitations (CDCR) has more than 2,500 active cases of COVID-19 as of June 30, 2020, and the transfer of incarcerated people from the California Institution for Men (CIM) to San Quentin Prison (SQSP) led to an outbreak of COVID-19 at SQSP which went from 0 to 1,080 confirmed cases in less than 30 days, and due to a lack of testing, the true number of COVID-19 cases is likely to be understated, and
WHEREAS, during a state of emergency, Governors are empowered to take drastic measures to protect the lives of people in their states, such as releasing incarcerated people from crowded jails, and the entire California prison system is roughly 137% over capacity, and in particular, the North and West Block at SQSP are at roughly 190% capacity, and transferring incarcerated people around the state between prisons will lead to the spread of the virus and the creation of new prison “hot spots” and is unfair to incarcerated people, their families and loved ones,
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED That the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee supports demands from community organizations that CDCR and Governor Gavin Newsom take emergency action to release as many people as possible in order to reduce the prison population and protect incarcerated people from a COVID-19 death sentence, stop transferring incarcerated people from one prison to the other, modify and issue the necessary Post orders to assign correctional staff to work in only one part of every prison to avoid actively spreading the virus across any prison, immediately provide ongoing and adequate testing to 100% of all inmates and correctional staff, provide personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizer, hygiene products and other essential goods (stamps, envelopes) for free through the end of the pandemic.
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED THAT this Resolution shall promptly be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom, Governor Newsom’s Criminal Justice Department, the Secretary of CDCR, the Undersecretary of CDCR’s Health Care Services, Assemblymembers Marc Levine, Ash Kalra, and all Assembly Members and State Senators representing Alameda County, and the California Democratic Party.
Wow! This hits home in Alameda County. They decided to “Follow the Money!”
2018 – Follow The Money
In 2018, Republican Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern gave $50,000 to a campaign committee supporting incumbent District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. Ahern has been widely criticized for his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. He gives immigration status information on people in the county jail to ICE, and sets releasees up to be picked up by ICE. He also signed a letter in support of Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General.
DA O’Malley is the only check on Sheriff Ahern, a fact that is particularly significant today. You see, Sheriff Ahern just placed Alameda County under curfew and is arresting peaceful protestors everywhere! Under Ahern’s leadership, the Santa Rita County Jail has earned a reputation as “the most dangerous place in the County.”
In 2018, political committees formed by law enforcement unions spent over $200,000 to help DA O’Malley hold onto her seat. Donors included local and state police unions of every size from around the state. Many of them also gave directly to O’Malley’s campaign.
In the last few days of the 2018 campaign, these political committees sent hit pieces with graphic images of child molesters throughout southern Alameda County to scare primarily white folks in believing that I was “soft on crime.” Apparently, it worked.
A Clear Conflict of Interest
DA Nancy O’Malley also accepted a $10,000 contribution to her DA campaign from the Fremont Police Officers Association. She received it at the same time she was investigating Fremont officers – including the union president – for the murder of 16-year-old Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon. Naturally, O’Malley cleared all of the officers of any wrongdoing after she got the contribution.
On a press call Monday, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton acknowledged “We work very closely with law enforcement and we have to evaluate whether some of those same officers have committed crimes. . . . Across California there are dozens of law enforcement unions, representing rank and file police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, and correctional officers. and these unions play a major role in state and even local politics.”
According to courthousenews.com, Becton notes the current rules of professional conduct say elected prosecutors should avoid soliciting support from attorneys representing accused officers, and should recuse themselves from prosecutions that could give rise to a conflict of interest. But they are not precluded from benefiting financially or politically from groups that pay the attorneys’ fees for accused officers.
Too often, prosecutors act as if they are above the law. They rarely recuse themselves. They routinely fight efforts for independent outside investigation of cases where officers are accused of using deadly force.
Police Own Our Cities
Last year, the San Francisco Police Associationspent over $700,000 trying to buy the DA election. As I pointed out then, every American city, county and state has a powerful police association, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers. They defend crooked cops and threaten elected officials.
Technically, it is a union formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for officers. In the real world, however, POAs are laser focused on doing whatever it takes to control elected officials. POAs are political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.
In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies. As we can see, these policies undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, look for the POA to be fighting back and holding the line. Usually in lockstep with the local District Attorney.
Waking Up the Democratic Party
In a real surprise twist, somebody is waking up the Democratic Party. Following the press release by Boudin, Gascon, Becton and Verber Salazar, the California Progressive Caucus took a position. In a call to action, the Caucus said:
“Since the power of the Democratic Party rests in good measure on its ability to raise almost unlimited cash that can be funneled into campaigns, that is where we should start with solutions. We must decline money from law enforcement organizations and stop funneling money to those Democrats that refuse to make Black lives a priority. We must declare loudly when law enforcement organizations are opposing measures to save Black lives and then we must mobilize support to counter them.”
The California Progressive Caucus knows how to “follow the money.” Calling out centrist Democrats who accept police union money is a welcome development. Too often, police unions have been able to use their money to buy protection for bad cops and repressive policies.
Unfortunately, Alameda County is not alone in trying to protect bad cops and racist practices. Still, as San Francisco and Contra Costa and San Joaquin counties move forward, maybe we’ll take another look around. In the light of George Floyd’s murder, we know that is way past time “wake up. “
I live in Oakland California about 3 miles from San Leandro California. San Leandro is what some call a “bedroom community” to Oakland. It’s a City where restrictive covenants and land use permits were used to stop Black people from moving from Oakland to San Leandro. Local celebrity Brian Copeland tells the story of how he grew up in San Leandro when it was 94% white. Copeland wrote a play and a book about it.
Most folks in the East Bay know San Leandro’s history. So when San Leandro police shot and killed Steven Taylor in a Walmart store on a Saturday afternoon, it was not a surprise. Steven Taylor was allegedly mentally ill, with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He appears to be in a mental health crisis when 2 San Leandro police officers approach him. He refused to put down a bat and pulled away as the officers tased him. They then shot and killed him in front of dozens of shoppers. The video shows that an officer actually tased Steven Taylor as he lay on the floor bleeding to death.
This is the second recent police killing in San Leandro. On June 11, 2019, San Leandro police shot Anthony Gomez, an unarmed allegedly intoxicated Latino man. An officer shot him from the street as he stood alone on his mother’s front porch. Officers claimed he had a block of wood in his hand that looked like a gun.
Mental Illness Should Not Be A Death Sentence with Police
There is an increasing recognition that mental illness is a reason to spare people not from responsibility for their crimes but from the ultimate sanction of death. Simply put, a mental health crisis should not be a death sentence.
The same month that San Leandro police shot and killed Anthony Gomez, Walnut Creek police shot and killed 23-year-old Miles Hall. Walnut Creek is another almost all-white enclave in Contra Costa County. Hall’s family members reportedly sought mental health assistance from police in the days before he was shot by two officers who came to his home. Miles Hall was Black.
California’s New Law
In California, a new law changed the standard for use of deadly force, effective January 1, 2020. The law is based in part, on the recognition that “individuals with physical, mental health, developmental, or intellectual disabilities are significantly more likely to experience greater levels of physical force during police interactions, as their disability may affect their ability to understand or comply with commands from peace officers. It is estimated that individuals with disabilities are involved in between one-third and one-half of all fatal encounters with law enforcement.”
The new law allows the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer only when the officer reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or another person. The impetus for the Legislature to pass the law was the murder of 22-year-old Stephon Clark. Clark was an unarmed Black man shot dead in Sacramento after officers mistakenly thought they saw a gun. He was shot 8 times, including 3 times in the back, in his grandmother’s backyard. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber wrote and pushed for AB392 in response to the murder of Stephon Clark.
Steven Taylor’s murder in my Assembly District 18 provides an early test for the new law. Regrettably, the person in my district who will interpret the new law is District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. DA O’Malley has never prosecuted a cop in Alameda County for murder.
Death in Alameda County
Between 2010 and 2015, at least 6 people died at the hands of police in Alameda County: Hernan Jaramillo, Roy Nelson, James Greer, Kayla Moore, Mark Bennett and Martin Harrison.
Hernan Jaramillo was allegedly having a mental health crisis and begged officers for his life. Video footage was not released by police until 2 years after his death. It shows Mr. Jaramillo pinned to the ground by officers who ignored his cries of “I can’t breathe.” (Sound familiar??) DA O’Malley did not even investigate Mr. Jaramillo’s death because she did not have a policy to investigate in-custody deaths that don’t involve shootings.
While the DA’s investigation was pending, O’Malley accepted a $10,000 donation from the Fremont police union to her re-election campaign. Shortly thereafter, she cleared the shooters – the Fremont police union president and another officer – of any wrongdoing in Ebbie’s death. She ruled that the shooting was “justified.”
2018 Police Killings in Oakland
In January 2018, a BART police officer ran from the West Oakland BART station onto the street and shot Sahleem Tindle in the back. Tindle was unarmed at the time. O’Malley declined to bring any charges. In March 2020, however, a jury found BART liable for wrongful death and awarded Sahleem Tindle’s family $6.34 million dollars.
In March 2018, Oakland police shot and killed Joshua Pawlik. A federal court monitor ruled that the police essentially executed Mr. Pawlik, when they woke him up and shot him as soon as he moved. Again, O’Malley’s investigation exonerated the officers and she released her report a year later in conjunction with OPD. She released her report on the same day that OPD released theirs with the same conclusion – no fault. The fallout from Mr. Pawlik’s murder ultimately led to the firing of former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick. The settlement of the lawsuit by Mr. Pawlik’s family for $1.4 million is pending.**
The Conflict of Interest
Our experience with DA O’Malley in Alameda County is a clear example of the conflict of interest that district attorneys experience when asked to hold police officers accountable. O’Malley’s investigation of Mr. Gomez’ death is not yet finished almost 9 months after police shot him on his mother’s front porch. Clearly, Mr. Gomez’ death and determining whether police acted justifiably or wrongly is not a priority for DA O’Malley.
Maybe if DA O’Malley had taken the San Leandro police shooting of Anthony Gomez seriously, Steven Taylor would still be alive?
Fortunately, there is a solution. I have introduced a resolution to the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee to support Steven Taylor’s family’s call for an independent investigation into his murder. The resolution calls upon the California Attorney General to “investigate, manage, prosecute or inquire about any incidents of use of deadly force by law enforcement officers to ensure that the laws of the State are being adequately enforced and in particular, to ensure compliance with AB392 codified as Penal Code Section 835a.”
The Oakland East Bay Democratic Club, Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, John George Democratic Club and the Coalition for Police Accountability also support the resolution. It is based on Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution which allows the Attorney General to supervise and supercede the powers of every District Attorney. The resolution was passed unanimously by the Alameda County Central Committee.**
A Test for California Law
Steven Taylor’s murder will be one of the first cases to “test” the enforcement of California’s new law for use of deadly force. If the Attorney General accepts the call, he could create a statewide standard for police accountability when deadly force is used.
The murder of Steven Taylor happened in our Assembly District 18. Therefore, I called upon the leaders of our Assembly District to support the resolution at the Central Committee. Both Assemblymember Rob Bonta and his former District Director and Alameda City Councilmember, Jim Oddie have a vote. Central Committee member and San Leandro City Councilmember Corina Lopez has already pledged her support of the resolution.
I am hopeful that the leaders of our community and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will be found standing on the right side of justice. Hopefully, accountability for police use of deadly force will be established before another person is killed unnecessarily.
** This piece was updated to reflect that the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously passed the resolution on May 6, 2020 and that a settlement payment of $1.4 million by the City of Oakland to the Pawlik family is pending.