Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Criminal Justice Page 1 of 2

Only 16 Votes

Credit: Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

Tiffany Caban’s Election – Part 1

Tiffany Caban is losing her election to Queens District Attorney by only 16 votes. Only 16 votes could decide the race. The criminal justice system in Queens impacts 2.4 million people. The race highlights the dangers of “provisional ballots” and the power of absentee ballots.

Election officials initially tossed out an estimated 2,500 provisional ballots. Some people registered too late to vote in the primary election. Others moved and did not re-register in time. Some voters forgot to sign and swear they were registered Democrats. On the flip side, usually the most reliable and conservative voters cast absentee ballots. Absentee voters vote early and those votes usually decide the race. That conventional wisdom may prove true in Queens.

What’s At Stake in Queens

Tiffany Caban’s race for District Attorney has captured the attention of the nation. Her story, in case you missed it, is an original American story. She’s young, a mere 31 years old, of Puerto Rican descent, a former Public Defender and the first in her family to graduate from college. Bringing all of her real life and world experience, she put together a broad coalition of progressives, formerly incarcerated folks, sex workers and undocumented immigrants.

New York based Working Families Party, Real Justice PAC, Color of Change, Our Revolution and Democrats for Socialist America (DSA) also supported Tiffany. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krashner, Singer John Legend, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former NY gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon and the New York Times newspaper all endorsed Tiffany.

Only 1 major labor union endorsed Tiffany Caban.

According to the New York Times, the Queens District Attorney’s office is woefully out of step with the community it serves. The office features high racial disparities in prosecutions and routine violations of the right to counsel. It has no dedicated unit to address wrongful convictions and no oversight of abusive landlords.

Who is Melinda Katz?

Melinda Katz, Tiffany’s opponent, is an established player in New York politics. Melinda has been the Queens Borough President for 6 years. She will be termed out when her term expires in 2021. She is running for her 6th elected office in 25 years. In her long political career she has not shown any interest in criminal justice reform. She has not led any challenges to mass incarceration in New York.

In 1995, Melinda voted as a member of the New York State Assembly to reinstate the death penalty. On the City Council, she voted to increase penalties for low-level offenses and create a new category of crime (gang recruitment). She also favors increased police surveillance in city schools. Every elected member of Congress from New York except one, and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo endorsed Melinda.

Not surprising, big labor unions like SEIU, Teamsters, Firefighters and the building trades all support Melinda Katz. Melinda has no courtroom experience even though she is a lawyer. Her last real gig was as a lobbyist for real estate clients at Greenberg Taurig. The firm has a scandalous history, including a$7.6 million fine in 2006 levied by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to settle allegations that the firm helped cover up a bank’s financial misconduct. Greenberg is also Rudy Giuliani, former NY mayor and current Trump surrogate’s old law firm.

The Democratic Party Favorite

Here’s how one local writer described Melinda’s ties to the Queens Democratic Party:

Katz has also cemented her ties to the Queens Democratic Party, which is often criticized as one of the last bastions of calcified political power in the city. The Party protects and promotes its own and, in any race, brings to bear a large cadre of local, state, and national elected officials that originated from its ranks or owe it some allegiance, as well as the allies of those officials, other local party officials like members of the state committee, political club members, and others.

The Queens Democratic Party was previously headed by Congressional representative-turned-lobbyist Joe Crowley, who lost to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and has been fundraising for Katz.”

According to one commentator, Melinda Katz ran on the traditional campaign of fear and racism. As she notes, “Law-and-order feminists have long used the idea of professional white women’s safety and reputation against young women activists of color.” Yet, she’s ahead by only 16 votes.

The Wrong Side of History

In August 2018, Shaun King lamented the absence of the Democratic Party in the fight for criminal justice reform. He asked “Does the Democratic Party really care about black people or do they just want our votes?”

The reality, reflected in the Queens DA race, is that the Democratic Party is very much present. On the wrong side of history. This was obvious in the 2018 Alameda County District Attorney race. According to the local Democratic Party Chair, Robin Torello, incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley “fights for our Democratic values of justice, equality and civil rights everyday.”

Credit: Pamela Price for District Attorney 2018

Every one of O’Malley’s answers are inconsistent with the California Democratic Party platform. Nonetheless, the Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee, the Sierra Club and Senator Kamala Harris all endorsed O’Malley. After that, less than 100 days after winning re-election with financial and logistical support from the Democratic party machine, O’Malley endorsed the anti-choice Republican candidate for State Assembly over a Democrat. Fortunately, the Republican lost her seat.

Only 16 Votes

I pray that Tiffany Caban can get at least 17 more votes. Still, the hard lesson for progressives is that we have to “flip” the party. We have a chance to do just that in Alameda County in March 2020. If you are not a registered Democrat, you must re-register and do it early.

One estimate is that a million independent voters (registered as “no party preference”) in California risk not being able to vote for president or local Democratic party representatives in the March primary. In other words, independents who want to change the status quo in March 2020 best re-register to vote as a Democrat. You can change it back later.

In California, the drop dead date to re-register to vote by mail in the primary is January 15, 2020. So, you can only vote by mail for local Democratic party officials if you are a registered Democrat by January 15, 2020. If you want to vote in person, the final date to re-register to get a Democratic ballot is February 17, 2020.

Across the country, we see this is where “the petal meets the metal.” We really need everyone to “#DEM-ENTER” ASAP.

If you can please help Tiffany pay for the recount in the Queens DA race, go to her webpage at cabanforqueens.com and make a contribution. Tiffany is a corporate-free candidate.

Biden’s Baggage

Credit: Rex/Shutterstock

I started writing Biden’s Baggage weeks ago. At the time, there seemed to be just a trickle of information about his record on issues that are pivotal in this election. Issues of endless wars, mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, race and gender equality are all in play in the 2020 Presidential election. Suddenly, what was a trickle of bad news for Biden became an avalanche.

At the first televised Democratic debate, Biden did little to stem the tide of bad press. He seemed to fumble his answers on his 2002 Iraq war vote. He could not defend his opposition to integration and cozy relationships with segregationists. Three issues not even addressed in the debate are Biden’s leadership in creating mass incarceration, his inconsistent support for a woman’s right to choose and his dastardly treatment of Professor Anita Hill.

Why Are We Here?

This is Joe Biden’s third run for President. He first ran in 1988 and dropped out in disgrace after being accused of multiples instances of plagarism. Biden ran again in 2008 and dropped out after the Iowa Caucus. He won less than 1% of the delegates there. According to the Washington Post, it was a year in which voters said they were seeking change and Biden “struck Iowans as a little too familiar, fixtures of a Washington establishment that had grown stale from years of gridlock and partisan infighting.”

Joe Biden’s current cache stems solely from his role as Vice President to Barack Hussein Obama. But let’s be clear: Obama’s candidacy was so extraordinary and inspiring, we could care less who he picked as his Vice President. President Obama had a blank check. He could have written in Bozo the Clown and we would have said okay. Certainly Biden did not disappoint as the Vice President. But make no mistake about it: Barack and Michelle Obama excelled as the first couple and they didn’t need Joe Biden to do it.

Too Much to Overcome?

To be fair, Joe Biden is known as an ardent advocate for middle class America and the rights of workers. Since 2015, he has supported the ideas of free college and $15 hour/minimum wage. He introduced the first-ever climate bill in 1986 and understands that climate change is an existential threat to our future.

Still, while Joe Biden wants to talk about his achievements as Vice President, he has all this baggage. Indeed, the rest of us are looking at his record in the U.S. Senate. Biden voted for the Iraq war in 2002. Some consider that vote his “blackest mark” in his foreign policy past, and an “Achilles’ heel” of his candidacy. Based on blatant lies about “weapons of mass destruction,” the war cost us more than a trillion dollars and plunged Iraq into a devastating civil war. Biden apparently knew it was a lie but went with it anyway.

The Author of Mass Incarceration

Joe Biden has a long record of leadership creating the mass incarceration that continues to decimate Black and Brown communities. Over a 10-year period, Biden wrote multiple “measures to increase incarceration and prisons. He advocated for tougher prison sentences for drug offenses, particularly crack cocaine, despite its inherent racist impact.

In 1984, Biden worked with racist segregationist hero Sen. Strom Thurmond to expand federal drug trafficking penalties and civil asset forfeiture. Biden wrote and sponsored the 1986 crime bill that created sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine. In 1989, he delivered a drug policy address that called for more police, more prosecutors and longer sentences. Biden helped write the 1994 federal crime bill that increased sentences and funding for state prisons. He sometimes refers to it as “the Biden Crime Law.

The Enabler of Clarence Thomas

Biden claims that he “did everything in my power to defeat Clarence Thomas.” The actual history is very different. It has long been known that Biden cut a deal with Republican Sen. John Danforth, Thomas’ main sponsor, to end the 1991 confirmation hearings quickly. Biden told a group of women legislators that he had promised Danforth “in the men’s gym that this would be a very quick hearing.”

Former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) and six other female Democrats asked Biden to conduct a complete investigation and delay Thomas’ confirmation. Instead, Biden kept his word to Danforth. Biden refused to allow three other women who would have corroborated Anita Hill‘s testimony to testify. Schroeder says “[T]o have railroaded that through and not listen to the other three women and let his colleagues absolutely tear [Anita Hill] apart was absolutely horrible.” Anita Hill believes that the #METOO movement might have begun in 1991 if Joe Biden had done his job. Anita has “made it clear that Biden is not her candidate for President.”

Pro-Choice or Not?

In this time, a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body is being taken away. Joe Biden is seen by many as “the unreliable pro-choice advocate.” Here’s why:

1970s-80: Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding of abortions

1977: Biden supported the toughest anti-abortion measure ever – an amendment to deny abortions in cases of incest and rape

1981: He proposed the Biden Amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act which continues to bar U.S. aid from being used for biomedical research related to abortions

1982: He voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade

1983: Biden voted five times to bar the Federal Employees Health Benefits program from funding abortions for federal employees

1988: He voted against adding a rape and incest exception to the Hyde Amendment

As late as 2003, Joe Biden’s score on support for abortion rights by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice America was only 36%. It improved to 100% in more recent years, starting in 2006. The question is whether we can count on him to fight the battle for a woman’s right to choose or will he revert back to “states’ rights?”

A Supporter of “States Rights”

In fact, on Thursday, June 27, 2019, Joe Biden reverted to “states’ rights.” When challenged by Sen. Kamala Harris about his opposition to busing to integrate schools, Joe went back to his roots: “states’ rights.” The unmasking of Biden’s baggage on the issue of race is now complete.

Biden led the fight against school busing for at least a decade. He sponsored numerous measures to stop busing, working with notorious racist segregationists. In 1975, after Sen. Jesse Helms‘ amendment failed, Biden crafted his own bill to bar federal funds to help school districts integrate.

Sen. Edward Brooke (R. Mass.) (Credit: Getty Images)

Sen. Edward Brooke, the first Black man elected to the U.S. Senate after Reconstruction, called Biden’s bill “the greatest symbolic defeat for civil rights since 1964.”

Joe Biden’s baggage is real and should weigh heavily in any consideration of his candidacy for President. We owe those who fought on the right side of history to make the country a better place at least that much. #BlackWomenLead

Repeal No. 2

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Protest, Parkland, Florida 2018

The news this week is the same news we heard last week. The same insane incessant scourge of gun violence overwhelms us. The same “thoughts and prayers” that were issued by legislators around the country last week are re-issued this week. To a different family. To a different grieving community. To the same shocked nation.

Someone asked me after reading “Every 16 Hours” last week, what is the call to action? The call to action is simple: Repeal the Second Amendment. Repeal No. 2. The Second Amendment is the hard rock that supports every argument that we should continue to allow people to be killed with guns.

The Second Amendment was added to the Constitution as a compromise to protect the slave patrols in the South. The Founders knew the militias were necessary to keep slaves under control. Just like we abolished slavery, we need to abolish the Second Amendment. It is a vestige of our history, just like Jim Crow and mass incarceration, that is still killing us.

The Second Amendment Is Killing Us

This week, two teenagers opened fire at a high school in Colorado. They killed Kendrick Castillo, 18, and wounded eight other students. A gunman killed Riley Howell, 21, inside a University of North Carolina-Charlotte lecture room. Two people were killed and four others were injured in the attack.  The national news is abuzz with tributes to these two young men for bravery. The media sensationalizes their lives and murders.

Less sensational but just as deadly are the events here at home in the Bay Area. In Oakland, on Friday night, someone shot and killed 30-year old Tristan Carson, a clothing designer and event promoter at the intersection of East 12th Street and 23rd Avenue. No suspects, no motive. Just another young life lost to gun violence.

On Tuesday morning, a gunman shot and killed a 47-year-old man in Pittsburg as he stood outside his car. The shooting was the City of Pittsburg’s 8th homicide in 9 months, and the 5th in less than 6 weeks.

Today, May 9th, in San Ramon, police and FBI descended upon California High School to investigate threats of a gun attack. Someone scrawled three graffiti messages threatening to shoot up the school on May 9th. Two of the messages included racist slurs about Black people.

In Oakland, 4-year-old Na’Vaun Jackson is still recovering.

Na’Vaun accidentally shot himself in the head when he found a gun in the house. He survived but his family and the entire neighborhood was traumatized. There is a GOFUNDME page to help the family survive the financial devastation of this tragedy. The man who left the gun in the house has been arrested and will likely go to jail.

It Is Time to Repeal No. 2

What do all of these events have in common? Guns. Across this country, guns are everywhere. Despite our efforts to regulate and control access to guns, the situation has gotten completely out of hand. Increased criminal penalties and harsh sentences have had no impact whatsoever on the access to guns or the number of people killed by guns. Legal or illegal, guns kill, wound and maim too many people every day.

It is long past time to repeal the Second Amendment. That will remove the legal justifications that have thwarted every gun control measure ever proposed. We have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world. A March 2016 study in the American Journal of Medicine found that 90% of all women, 91% of children under 14 , 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms in the world were in the United States.

The United States stands alone in its allegiance to gun violence. In 2010, the number of gun homicides in the U.S. was at least 9,960. The Centers for Disease Control reported 11,078 firearm-related homicides that year. In comparison, there were only:

173 in Canada

155 in the United Kingdom

158 in Germany

142 in France

30 in Sweden; and

11 in Japan.

How Do We Repeal No. 2?

The devastation to our country because of the Second Amendment should compel us to take bold action to address our national crisis. It will not be easy – it may not be quick. Going through Congress requires a 2/3 majority in both the House and the Senate and approval by 38 states. Bypassing Congress means we need 34 states to call for a Constitutional Convention to pass the repeal legislation and then 38 states to approve it.

The last time a Constitutional Amendment was repealed was in 1933. It took legislators less than a year to repeal the 18th Amendment which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. It was a national conversation that led to the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

In this moment, we are having a national conversation about gun violence and gun control. In the words of retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the simple but dramatic action of repealing the Second Amendment will move us closer to stopping gun violence than any other possible reform.

To support the movement to repeal No. 2, sign a petition at MoveOn, find and support a youth group in your community that is committed to getting this done. In this season, young people are on fire to stop the violence and they should not listen to anyone who tells them it can’t be done. The future of this country is in their hands.

In the immortal and wise words of Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible, until it is done.” Let’s get this done as soon as possible. #RepealNo2.

Time to “Bern” America

Black American Soldiers In Vietnam (1971)

This coming Saturday April 27th, I will co-host a bilingual house party with Andrea Luna for people to learn more about Bernie Sanders campaign for President and sign-up to volunteer. After much soul-searching, I have decided and declare that I’m all in for Bernie Sanders.

“The Fierce Urgency of Now”

Killer Mike caught my attention when he asked the question on the Real – do you like and respect Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? His analysis is that Bernie’s agenda most closely matches the agenda of Rev. King.

In the years right before he died, Rev. King talked about the need to transform America. In his book “The Black Presidency” Michael Eric Dyson reports a conversation in 1966 where Rev. King told his advisors that “[t]here must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.” We know that King was murdered as he was organizing the Poor Peoples March on Washington, and unifying people across race, religion and class with the goal of eradicating poverty in America. Rev. King did not live to see the March. He knew that his days were numbered. One of his most famous statements is “the time is always right to do what’s right.”

In America today, there is no time to wait. Certainly not for anyone who cares about Black people. In 1966, Rev. King declared that “Of all the inequalities that exist, the injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” According to a 2016 Kaiser report, Blacks have significantly higher death rates than Whites for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. HIV and AIDS diagnoses rates among Blacks between ages 13-64 are more than eight and ten times higher than that for Whites. The death rate for HIV is eight times higher for Blacks compared to Whites.

The Kaiser study also found that in 2014, 71% of Whites were insured privately and only 21% had Medicaid or public insurance. By comparison, 51% of Blacks had private insurance, and 37% had Medicaid or public insurance. We know that the substantial gains made under the Affordable Care Act are being wiped out by Trump.

In 2019, Black women are disproportionately suffering high and increasing infant and maternal mortality rates. In 2019, too many people in America of every race and gender have to choose between filling a prescription or buying food. The high cost of health insurance means that many people simply cannot afford health care. In fact, medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy.

Enter Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist. Bernie is undeniably the leader on national health care reform. The California Nurses Association and National Nurses United went to the mat for him in 2016 because of his position on health care reform. Every other candidate today is sailing in his wind and mimicking his commitment.

In 2009, the Democratic Party abandoned single-payer, and even as late as 2017, many House Democrats did not support Medicare for All.

Consistent Values & Commitment

Bernie Sanders has been consistent on health care reform, civil rights and opposition to war, some of the biggest issues we face today. He has a plan to address the epidemic of gun violence in this country, an issue that I care deeply about.

Bernie Sanders Arrest In Civil Rights Demonstration – Chicago (1963)

Bernie’s arrest during a 1963 civil rights protest of segregation in Chicago schools when he was a student at the University of Chicago resonates deeply with my personal history. At the University of Chicago, Bernie was a leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a major civil rights group and led protests over racial inequality.

As a Senator, Bernie voted against the Iraq War in 2002 and warned of “unintended consequences.”

As the conscience of the country, in 1967, Rev. King condemned the Vietnam War and warned about “the Casualties of the War in Vietnam.” As a result he was labeled “an enemy of the State” and ridiculed on all sides.

My True Confessions

One, I am not an original “Berniecrat” from the 2016 presidential campaign. Two reasons: (1) I was dealing with seismic shifts in my personal life in that season; and (2) an elderly White male senator from Vermont was not someone who caught my attention in time for me to do anything to help him.

Two, I knew Hillary Clinton was a deeply flawed candidate. I witnessed how she and Bill treated Lani Guinier and Marianne Wright Edelman. I witnessed Hillary’s complicity in the Monica Lewinsky episode – how they treated “that woman.” I watched the proliferation of criminal injustice laws and new unfair tax burdens imposed on victims of unlawful discrimination under the Clintons’ leadership. I watched how they ran against Sen. Obama. I heard Bill’s racist comments and Hillary’s disappearing-reappearing Southern drawl.

Three, I went “hard to the paint” to elect Barack Hussein Obama as the first Black president. In 2008, Hope Young and I went to ground zero – Dayton, Montgomery County Ohio – and walked, talked and worked to the point of exhaustion. Election night, as we eagerly watched the results coming in and started to party to Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror, I confessed to my friends that my greatest joy in my commitment to Obama was not about him, but the fact that Michelle Obama – a Black woman – was going to be the First Lady. 

The Time Is Right Now

As we move forward in 2019, the time is now and there is a fierce urgency. My father often said “time waits for no man.” The California primary is less than a year away. Yes, I need Bernie to call out sexism and racism more, and to focus on equity in addressing the impacts of centuries of racial inequality. But, I appreciate his consistency and I hate hypocrisy.

At the end of the day, I agree with Killer Mike (and Nina Turner and Danny Glover): “we need the total antithesis of what we say we don’t like about Donald Trump.” We need more than simply “any functioning adult” to help us get out of the mess we are in. I believe that loyalty to the legacy of Rev. King requires all out support to elect Bernie Sanders in 2020.

Whether or not you are sure about what to do in this moment, I urge you to attend one of the many house parties taking place on Saturday, April 27th around the country. Go to map.berniesanders.com to find a house party near you! Don’t wait – get it done now. “The time is always right to do what’s right.”

A Luta Continua!

“I Reject the Chief’s Conclusions”

“I reject the Chief’s principal conclusions in this matter.”

Those few words summarize the February 19, 2019 report by Oakland’s Compliance Director, Robert Warshaw. Those few words should end the career of OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick in Oakland.

Robert Warshaw 2016 – Credit: Darwin Bond Graham

The proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” should be the OPD cover-up of the murder of one Joshua Pawlik. A year ago, on March 11, 2018, Mr. Pawlik was shot 22 times with AR-15 rifles by four (4) OPD officers. His crime – he had a gun.

I have long come to know that if you have a gun and you encounter a policeman in Oakland you will die. Mr. Pawlik’s case is so very similar to that of Demouria Hogg. Both men were apparently asleep when awakened by OPD officers. Both men had guns in their possession and they were immediately shot and killed when they woke up. A gun is a death sentence.

Or, consider consider the case of Alan Blueford who was alleged to be found near a gun and shot dead. Or the case of Sahleem Tindle, who was also observed near a gun and shot dead.

If you are even near the gun, and there is an OPD or Bart officer present, you will die. If they think you have a gun, you will die.

Mr. Pawlik’s murder, however, disturbed Mr. Warshaw. Mr. Warshaw is the Court-appointed monitor, who for the last 10 years has been getting paid to monitor OPD under the Negotiated Settlement Agreement aka our Consent Decree. What seems to have disturbed Mr. Warshaw is that there is a video of the murder which OPD ignored. Apparently, the video is inconsistent with the officers’ statements.

According to to Mr. Warshaw, the OPD investigators did not

(a) did not use the video to question the officers;

(b) did not address the inconsistencies between the video and the officers’ statements; and

(c) used their questions to support the justification of the officers’ actions.

According to Mr. Warshaw, the video shows minimal movements by Mr. Pawlik, consistent with someone waking up. The video “does not show an overt threatening action on his part.”

Why Fire the Chief?

According to Mr. Warshaw, Chief Kirkpatrick went “above and beyond” in her efforts to discount the video evidence and exonerate the officers. Chief Kirkpatrick also rejected the disciplinary recommendations of the department’s internal Executive Force Review Board for the officers and the commander in charge of the situation, Sgt. Francisco Negrete. According to Chief Kirkpatrick, Sgt. Negrete’s “errors in judgment” were not significant enough to sustain the recommended discipline even though they likely cost Mr. Pawlik his life.

Chief Kirkpatrick came to Oakland in the midst of one of the worst police misconduct scandals in our history involving the murder of an officer’s wife, sex trafficking and the rape of a minor by police officers. So far, we have 3 lawsuits arising out of OPD’s cover-up of various parts of this criminal activity. Chief Kirkpatrick’s only response to our troubles was to promote the commanders who led the cover-ups and close the promotional ceremony to the public.

These are the men that she has come to rely upon and protect as the Chief.

Oakland police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick greets officers as she arrives to the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Oakland to attend a department promotion ceremony in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, July 14, 2017. The promotions of Roland Holmgren to captain, John Lois to assistant chief and Kirk Coleman to captain has raised eyebrows after the trio were referenced in a damning report about how OPD mishandled the Celeste Guap investigation. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

Chief Kirkpatrick claimed that she came to Oakland as “a reformer.” But she admitted to reporters in her first press conference that she had not even read the Consent Decree and she had no plan for how to comply with it and end Court oversight. Apparently, she still has no plan. And it would appear that Mr. Warshaw has lost all confidence in her judgment.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Whether the Chief goes or stays, the City will pay. We will pay.

The City paid $1.2 million to settle the civil lawsuit for the murder of Demouria Hogg. Mr. Pawlik’s family has already filed suit, and no doubt, we will pay to settle that case. Federal Judge Orrick, upon receiving Mr. Warshaw’s report, appointed his own investigator to take another look at Mr. Pawlik’s murder. His Order directs the City to start paying for this investigation.

We will continue to pay for Mr. Warshaw’s services. Since his appointment in 2009, we have paid his two companies more than $8 million, on average almost $1 million a year. The Chief’s base salary is a whopping $270,000 a year. The four officers who fired 22 rifle shots at Mr. Pawlik are still on the payroll.

On March 6, 2019, District Attorney Nancy O’Malley issued her report simultaneously with OPD’s report, finding no problems with the investigation and exonerating the OPD officers. Nothing new there either.

I say, fire the Chief and let’s hold the monitor accountable for holding our police accountable. He seems to be the only one with any official power interested in doing so at the moment.

A Tale of Twin Cities

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

Credit: Stephen Govel Star Tribune

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

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

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

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

How Did One Murder Lead to Another?

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

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

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

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

Time to Connect the Dots

Oakland Dodges A Bullet

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

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

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

Credit: Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

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

Let’s Connect the Dots

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

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

Who Made the Decisions?

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

 

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

 

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

Who Was Kept In The Dark?

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

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

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

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

Who Will Hold OPD Accountable?

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

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

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

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

Credit: East Bay Express

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

 

 

 

Why I’m Running For DA

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

No Police Accountability

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

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

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

Courtesy: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

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

“Is this because I was little?”

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

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

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

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

No Criminal Justice Reform

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

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

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

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

The New Jim Crow in Alameda County

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

Why We Have to Make A Change

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

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

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

Prosecutorial Accountability In Action

A cultural shift is happening across the country.

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

Why Peterson Had to Go

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

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

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

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

The Flip Side of Unequal Justice

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

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

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

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

The Michael Gressett Scandal

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

How The Community Brought Him Down

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

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

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

 

Justice-By-Geography

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

The Prosecutor’s Power to Charge Children

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

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

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

Disparity Gap in the Rates of Direct File

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

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

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

The Road to Recovery

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

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

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

Can We Save Children We Already Condemned?

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

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

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

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

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