Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Police Misconduct Page 1 of 3

A Double Survivor

October Is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Pamela Price will be the first domestic violence survivor elected to serve as Alameda County District Attorney
October Is Domestic VIolence Awareness Month

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (#WeAreResilient) Gabby Petito’s disappearance, search and painful death has captured the national spotlight. Domestic violence cuts across all cultural, economic, racial and gender divisions. One in three women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence, mostly by an intimate partner.

The body cam footage of the police response to a report of domestic violence involving Gabby was very revealing. Instead of approaching Gabby as a victim of domestic violence, the police threatened her with jail time. She went from victim to criminal in an instant. Their rush to dismiss her as a victim of domestic violence and criminalize her apparently cost Gabby her life. I too understand how surviving domestic violence can be criminalized because I am what I call “a double survivor.”

A Double Survivor

In 1981, I found myself in an abusive relationship with the father of my only child. My baby was only 2 months old when our situation imploded. I was living alone with our child, and the father kept threatening me and my baby. Often he showed up unannounced at the Albany Village where I lived. Despite my multiple calls to the police, he kept showing up. They never arrested him. He broke into my house; they cited and released him. On August 20, 1981, when he showed up and threatened me, I called the police again. This time, the police decided to give my 2 month-old still nursing baby to her father and let him take her away. When I objected, I was arrested in my own home for “fighting in public” and interfering with a police officer or “resisting arrest.”

I was fortunate because I knew lawyers who supported me on my journey. My boss defended me “pro bono.” When I refused to “take a deal”, I went to trial and was acquitted by the jury. It was a frightening and humiliating experience. I survived both the domestic violence in my home and the overzealous Alameda County prosecutors who wanted to destroy my life. Obviously I was a Black woman who did not know her place. I am a double survivor.

A Lens of Life Experience

That experience certainly informs and shapes the lens through which I view domestic violence and the administration of justice in this kind of case. When I am elected in June 2022, I will be the first domestic violence survivor to ever serve as Alameda County District Attorney. As a survivor of domestic violence, I am deeply aware of and sensitive to the needs of survivors. I take these issues very seriously. When dealing with such cases, I will always prioritize the safety, needs, and desires of survivors (and children, if they are involved) and seek long term solutions that will keep families and communities safe.

I am fully committed to addressing violence in our community, including the literally hundreds of crimes labeled as “domestic violence.” Intimate violence cases that result in bodily harm or injury, which include elder abuse, family violence and intimate partner violence, will be prosecuted as appropriate. I will use the full force of the law and the resources of the DA’s office to protect everyone subjected to intimate partner violence, and hold those who engage in unlawful acts of violence and intimidation accountable to their loved ones and the community.

In New York City and other jurisdictions, practitioners, courts, district attorneys and advocates have developed a comprehensive approach for abusive partner intervention. They provide services for people who cause harm as a central part of their work to support survivors, foster healthy relationships and communities, and end violence. We know that “hurt people hurt people.” A restorative justice approach may be more effective in holding offenders accountable while increasing survivor satisfaction and keeping communities safer. This approach is what we hope to bring to Alameda County.

A New Vision for Justice

Alameda County also needs to prioritize spending to protect survivors and not treat them like criminals. I recognize that a woman has a right to defend herself and her children. We need to completely re-focus peace officers in their response to survivors and witnesses of violence in our community. We need to address gang and gun violence and their role in domestic violence in our communities. I will work with the Court and our public health services and other stakeholders to establish a specialized domestic violence court that uses a holistic strategy to both address and prevent domestic violence. We must be vigilant to not make anyone else “a double survivor” of our criminal justice system.

Since COVID-19, violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified. COVID-19 has forced survivors of domestic violence to choose between staying with an abuser or living on the streets. In Alameda County, 26% of homeless families with children said domestic violence was the primary reason they lost their housing. And during this pandemic, there has been a wide-spread shortage of beds in homes and shelters. Oakland’s Serenity House provides housing and services for women fleeing domestic violence. Its Director reports a six-fold increase since COVID-19.

Meanwhile, despite the glare of the media attention for Gabby, thousands of “missing” women and girls of color go without media attention. In 2019, a staggering 5,590 Native American women were reported missing. And instead of actually covering these missing cases – the conversation has shifted to the inequity of media coverage. That is an important point to make. Still we cannot lost sight of the fundamental problem: too many women are subjected to violence in the world. Black, Brown and indigenous women are especially vulnerable to being criminalized if they try to protect themselves or their children. Women are too often not believed, or not “deemed worthy” of time or services.

“It’s a long time coming” – 40 years for me – but change is coming to Alameda County.

Remember Black August

Pamela Price and Angela Davis, Fighting for Justice Reform

Black August began in the 1970s to mark the death of imprisoned Black Panther, prison activist and author, George Jackson. George Jackson died in a prison rebellion at San Quentin State Prison on August 21, 1971. His memorial service was held at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland on August 28, 1971. His death sparked demonstrations here and around the country to protest the conditions under which he lived and died. In Attica, New York, prisoners launched a silent fast to commemorate Jackson’s life and mourn his death. Three weeks later, they staged what would become the most significant prison rebellion in American history.

Black August is a time to honor freedom fighters, and martyrs of the Black freedom struggle. It’s a moment of respect for those whose lives were lost in the struggle. A moment to appreciate those who are still dedicated to ending mass incarceration, racism and double standards in the criminal justice system. 

Angela Davis is an international symbol of the fighting spirit of Black August. While organizing on behalf of George Jackson and two other prisoners accused of murder, Davis herself wound up behind bars. In 1971, Angela was charged with criminal conspiracy, kidnapping and first-degree murder. A massive international movement formed to free her and she was cleared of all charges. The experience solidified her already deep determination to fight for fundamental change in America.

The Lessons of George Jackson

George Jackson was only 29 years old when he died. He was serving a “1 year to life” sentence. He was 18 in 1961 when he was arrested for participating in an armed robbery. Another 18-year old used a gun to steal $71.00. George admitted that he was in the car. Both young men pled guilty to the crime. Apparently, because George had a lengthy juvenile record, his life was considered “expendable.” He was only 19 when he was convicted and sent to San Quentin State Prison.

In the 9 years before his death, George Jackson co-founded a Black Panther Party chapter and the Black Guerilla Family at San Quentin. George became a committed activist who resisted racism and physical assaults inside prison walls. His eloquent prison writings were published and became immensely popular with an international audience concerned with the conditions of incarceration in American prisons and the unequal and harsh prosecution of Black, Brown and indigenous people. Prior to his death, he spent years in solitary confinement. By accounts from those who knew him, George Jackson was charismatic, intelligent, strong and soft-spoken.

In 1970, barely a year before his death, he was accused of killing a correctional officer at Soledad State Prison. The State never completed the case against him. He was killed a few days before the trial started.

The tragedy of George Jackson’s young life and death speaks loudly to our current movement for criminal justice reform. The idea that an 18-year-old should be incarcerated for “1 year to life” for being an accessory to a crime seems barbaric today. That he should die in prison less than 10 years later sounds like a tragedy that should have somehow been avoided. But it was, and continues to be the reality for too many Black, Brown and poor young people whose lives are considered “expendable.” Fifty years after the death of George Jackson, we are still fighting deeply embedded racial injustices and economic disparities in our criminal justice system.

A Scientific Basis for Change

In his book, “Just Mercy,” Bryan Stevenson says that “none of us want to be judged by the worst thing we’ve ever done in our lives.” But, that is exactly what happened to George Jackson. Today, the neuroscience tells us that “adolescents often lack the ability to make mature judgments, control their impulses and consider the consequences of their actions.” In 2005, in Roper v. Simmons (2005), 543 U.S. 551, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the research of the American Psychological Association (APA) and rejected the death penalty for a 17-year-old. The APA also presented its early MRI research on brain function indicating that the brain continues to develop through young adulthood in areas that may bear on adolescent decision-making.

Point No. 4 of our 10-point platform incorporates the scientific research that was accepted by the United States Supreme Court, more than 15 years ago. We will not charge juveniles as adults. Nor should we expect a magical transformation in their decision-making the day that they turn 18. There is a transitional period that for some may be completed by age 25. For others, it may continue well past age 25.

When I am elected to serve as District Attorney of Alameda County, I commit to (1) stop over-criminalizing our youth; (2) stop charging and/or incarcerating youths under the age of 18 as adults; and (3) establish age-appropriate programs to prevent and address criminal violations by young people between the ages of 18 and 25.

Postscript

The incarceration, life and death of George Jackson shows that incarceration, as practiced in America over the last 60 years, does not work. It does not create positive outcomes in the lives of the person incarcerated, their victims, their families or their community. It does not make us safe. We must develop and embrace alternatives to incarceration that repair the harm, the person and the beloved community. All of us, and especially our children, deserve nothing less than our best efforts.

Angela Davis Endorses Pamela Price for Alameda County District Attorney

Oath Keepers In Alameda County

Oath Keepers Booth at Urban Shield Event in Castro Valley, 2017
Oath Keepers Booth at 2017 Urban Shield event- Credits: Courtesy of CBS SF Bay Area

On January 6, 2021, everyday white citizens tried to overthrow the government. They were led by white supremacist organizations well-known to our government. One of those groups is the Oath Keepers, a right-wing extremist group that operates in Alameda County.

In Alameda County there are rumors that our Sheriff Greg Ahern is a member of the Oath Keepers. Suspicions are that, even if Sheriff Ahern is not a member, he embraces their beliefs. In 2017, the Oath Keepers had a booth at the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office’s Urban Shield training program. The booth shown above was at a church in Castro Valley. The Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency for Castro Valley.

The Oath Keepers have long claimed to be composed of current and former police, military and first-responders. As the national news has reported all week, the group targets law enforcement for recruitment. The group was formed in 2009 in direct response to the election of America’s first Black president. They are largely responsible for the violent attack on the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

The NAACP and Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson have sued the Oath Keepers for the January 6th insurrection pointing out that “the coup attempt was a coordinated, months-long attempt to destroy democracy, to block the results of a fair and democratic election, and to disenfranchise millions of ballots that were legally cast by African-American voters.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has long classified the Oath Keepers as an extremist anti-government group. The group is well known for attending Black Lives Matter protests heavily armed. They became famous when they showed up in Ferguson Missouri to intimidate protestors following Michael Brown’s murder.

The Santa Rita Jail

Given the Oath Keepers’ unholy infiltration of local law enforcement, it is not surprising that Alameda County has problems in Santa Rita Jail. Sheriff Greg Ahern runs the jail. Our jail is located in Dublin, the home of Alameda County Supervisor David Haubert, a known supporter of the Oath Keepers. The jail is known nationally for human rights abuses and racism.

Black and Brown people are the overwhelming majority of people held at the jail. In 2018, Black people were incarcerated in Santa Rita at a rate of 946 per 100,000 residents compared to 115 per 100,000 residents for whites. In 2018, more than 83% of the people incarcerated at Santa Rita had not been sentenced for a crime.

Since 2014, an estimated 42 people have died at the hands of police at Santa Rita jail. In 2017, a woman gave birth in an isolation cell without any medical assistance or help. Sheriffs deputies reportedly ignored her screams. When addicts are arrested, the jail does not always provide medical treatment or services. Instead, the deputies leave addicts to suffer with withdrawal symptoms by themselves. In 2019, inmates staged a hunger strike to protest their inhumane conditions at the jail.

Still, Sheriff Ahern, a Republican, continues to enjoy the support of the all-Democratic elected Board of Supervisors.

JoAnn Walker Is The Change

In 2022, for the first time since 1986, Alameda County will have a choice of who to elect to be the Sheriff. In January 2021, I joined JoAnn Walker who is a candidate for Alameda County Sheriff on our criminal justice reform slate.

JoAnn Walker is a 25-year police officer, an educator, a graduate of CalState Hayward and a Master Post-certified Instructor. Walker is well versed in issues of mental and emotional health, suicide and domestic violence. Because Walker is a Black female resident of Alameda County for more than 40 years, she is sensitive to the issues of race and gender discrimination that have characterized the Alameda County justice system.

JoAnn Walker knows that jails should not be used to fill the need for drug rehabilitation services, housing and mental health services. JoAnn Walker believes that we cannot continue to have a “double standard” for residents and law enforcement officers. I believe that JoAnn Walker will bring leadership with integrity to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department.

Let’s hope we take our best shot in June 2022. Please check out walker4sheriff.com. And then act accordingly.

Prosecute Anthony Pirone

Bart Officer Anthony Pirone, holding Oscar Grant’s head down with his left hand,
with his left knee on Grant’s neck, moments before Oscar was shot in the back

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. 

The family of Oscar Grant and our community are calling on O’Malley now to charge Anthony Pirone with felony-murder. This is the same rule applied to thousands of Black and Brown residents of Alameda County to coerce unfair plea bargains. The same rule used to incarcerate people for decades whose punishment did not come close to the crime. O’Malley has discretion but it should not be used unfairly or applied unequally. Simple Justice. That is all the family is asking for. 

Please support this demand for fair justice! Please sign the Petition and spread the word! 

TELL DA NANCY O’MALLEY TO CHARGE ANTHONY PIRONE WITH THE FELONY MURDER OF OSCAR GRANT III

Emergency Release for Immigrant Detainees

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)

No Police In Schools

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.

POA Money Banned In Alameda County

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)

Follow The Money

#Justice for George Floyd Poster

This week, San Francisco is leaning way forward in criminal justice reform in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, joined by Diane Becton, the first Black woman District Attorney in Contra Costa County, George Gascon, the former SF District Attorney and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar called for the California State Bar to pass an ethics rule prohibiting prosecutors from accepting political donations and endorsements from law enforcement agencies and police unions.

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

Elena "Ebbie" Mondragon killed by Fremont Police in March 2017
Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, Credit: CBS SF

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.

In 2018, Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert accepted $13,000 in campaign contributions from the Sacramento police union while she investigated them for the murder of Stephon Clark. Needless to say, her office did not charge any of the officers involved in that killing.

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 Association spent 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.”

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?” In fact, the Democratic party has been heavily invested in the fight for criminal justice reform. Only on the wrong side of history – on the side of the police.

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. “

Death in San Leandro

Steven Taylor, Killed by Police  in San Leandro
Steven Taylor Killed by San Leandro Police, April 18, 2020
Photo Courtesy of S. Lee Merritt

Death in San Leandro

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.

Gwen Woods and her son, Mario Woods
Courtesy: ABC News

Steven Taylor’s murder in San Leandro is so so reminiscent of the murder of Mario Woods by police in San Francisco.

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.

In March 2017, Fremont police officers shot and killed Elena “Ebbie” Mondragon, a 16-year-old passenger in a botched police attempt to arrest the driver of the car. Ebbie was shot 5 times with AR-15 styled rifles when plainclothes officers fired into the moving vehicle.

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.

Attorney Larry White Opinion: OPD Reform Was Not Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

Coalition for Police Accountability Logo
Coalition for Police Accountability

The following editorial by Larry White, Attorney for the Coalition for Police Accountability was originally published in the Mercury News on March 13, 2020.

Larry points out how former OPD Chief Anne Kirkpatrick’s actions after she was fired confirm that police reform was not possible under her leadership. 

Anne Kirkpatrick was fired from her job as Oakland Police Chief last month by Mayor Libby Schaaf, on recommendation of the independent Oakland Police Commission. The Coalition for Police Accountability called for her dismissal a year ago and the Police Commission had been considering it for months.

Kirkpatrick is not happy; it’s not my fault, she says, it was that greedy Robert Warshaw, the Monitor appointed by the federal judge who oversees the Negotiated Settlement Agreement. He held us back, just so he could make more money.

Essential Background

Some background is essential. The City of Oakland gave to a federal judge ultimate oversight over the city’s police department when it agreed to the NSA in 2003. The arrangement was to last no more than five years and result in real reform of the Oakland Police Department. It’s still going on but the OPD under Kirkpatrick actually went backward in compliance and is doing worse than it did three years ago.

None of it is my fault, Kirkpatrick says. What we really need, is the (Bill Barr and Donald Trump) U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Warshaw, she asserts, because it’s all his fault.

So many things are wrong with this that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, in any well governed city, a police chief, even a former chief, does not involve herself in politics. That’s a dangerous road for a city’s chief law enforcement officer to go down.

And then there’s the fact that the Monitor is not in charge of the NSA, he’s not even a party to the NSA; he’s just an employee of the federal court. But even more alarming is that Kirkpatrick (who has a law degree) doesn’t seem to understand that the judiciary is a separate and independent branch of government.

Calling on the Department of Justice, part of the executive branch, to “oversee the overseer” and to investigate a federal court is directly out of some extreme right wing playbook, something that perhaps Trump might do in the terrifying event that he gets reelected. The Department of Justice cannot “oversee” a federal court–at least not while we still have a democracy.

The parties to the NSA are the City of Oakland, a group of plaintiffs represented by two civil rights attorneys, Jim Chanin and John Burris. They have called for the firing of Warshaw and the City has not tried to end the NSA. At this point the only way it can be ended is if the parties agree that the OPD has complied with the NSA requirements. In order to do that, we need an effective police chief who is actually committed to reform.

Oakland Police Department Chief of Police Anne Kirkpatrick is sworn in by Mayor Libby Schaaf at City Hall in Oakland, Calif. on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

Oh and one more bit of demagoguery that needs to be called out. Kirkpatrick says that Warshaw had been accused of sexual harassment “yet he was allowed to keep his job.” These charges were investigated and Warshaw was fully exonerated.

Reform Wasn’t Possible Under Chief Kirkpatrick

The NSA process is far from perfect and the sooner it is history the better. But first its goal -reform of the Oakland Police Department – must be met. That could never have happened under Anne Kirkpatrick.

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