Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Category: Justice Reform (Page 2 of 3)

Women Dying in California Prison

Women Dying in California Prison

In our discussions about mass incarceration, the plight of women in prison is often ignored. The California Coalition for Women Prisoners is sounding an alarm. The alarm says that since 2013, there is an epidemic of dying women in the California Institution for Women (CIW) including suicides.

On November 10, 2016, inmate Bong Chavez hung herself from a ceiling vent. For 2 weeks before she killed herself, Bong requested mental health services. She also allegedly told an officer she was suicidal. Bong was serving time for killing her own child in 2011. When she killed her child, she reportedly suffered from “significant mental health issues” including a brain tumor. She ended up in CIW after pleading “no contest” to voluntary manslaughter.

High Suicide Rate Documented

CIW is in Chino, California, about an hour east of Los Angeles. The suicide rate at CIW is 5 times the suicide rate of all California prisons and 4-5 times more than the national average for female prisons.

In January 2016, Lindsay Hayes, a nationally recognized expert in the field of suicide prevention within jails, prisons and juvenile detention, completed a court-ordered suicide prevention audit of all of California’s prisons.  Hayes found that CIW is “a problematic institution”  which “exhibited numerous poor practices” in the area of suicide prevention. His report found that CIW staff recorded more than 400 emergency mental health referrals for suicidal behavior in a six-month period in 2015, but only nine were entered in the mental health tracking system. Staff apparently was not completing required forms to refer inmates for mental health services.

Consequences of Overcrowding

Overcrowding in California’s prisons is normal. As of October 2013, CIW was designed to hold 1,398 inmates. In fact, the number of women housed there was 2,155, almost 800 more than its maximum capacity. In July 2016, the total number of inmates was still almost 500 women over capacity at 1,866.

With overcrowding comes a lack of supervision of officers and prisoners. Overcrowding causes a widespread inability to access programs, as well as delays and inadequate medical and mental health care. Safety and security, the hallmarks of CDCR’s mission, are severely comprised inside the institution. CIW reportedly has a very high rate of methamphetamine use. “Jackie,” currently incarcerated at CIW, blames the overcrowding for what she calls “an extreme increase in the internal drug trade in the prison system and all the associated fights, lockdowns and increased restrictions.”

In July 2016, a woman formerly incarcerated at CIW sued CDCR for rape and sexual assault.  She alleged that her assailant, Officer Michael Ewell, had sexually assaulted a female correctional officer at another institution and impregnated another female inmate before he sexually assaulted her.

Preventable and Mysterious Deaths

On July 30, 2014, Margarita Murugia was found hanging in her cell. She was reportedly distraught because her requests to see her dying mother were denied.

dae-dae-headshot-300x225Before her, Shadae Schmidt, better known as DaeDae to her friends, was found dead in her cell on March 14, 2014. She suffered a stroke in February 2014 but was placed in solitary confinement less than 3 weeks later where she died.

 

On April 14, 2016, Erika Rocha committed suicide.

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Erika was 14 years old when she was charged as an adult in LA County. Facing a double life sentence for attempted murder, Erika took a plea deal for to 19 to Life. Erika was 16 years old when she was sent to state prison. At the time of her death, she was serving her 21st year of incarceration. She suffered from mental health issues attributable to her incarceration as a youth, including at least four indefinite terms of 2-3 years each in solitary confinement.

shaylene-momShaylene Graves died in June 2016, also an alleged suicide. She was only six weeks away from being released. She was planning how to work to help others after she got out. Shaylene had served 8 years for being the getaway driver in an armed robbery. She was just 19 years old when she was arrested. Her family is doubtful that she hung herself and continues to demand answers and accountability.

What Can You Do?

There is a petition online asking Governor Brown and the California State Senate to investigate the deaths at CIW.  I urge you to sign it and support the efforts to address this tragic situation.

Compassion of Our Hearts

Compassion of Our Hearts

I love Thanksgiving.  I try to live my life in a spirit of gratitude.  I really appreciate that we dedicate time in our lives every year to be thankful for our blessings.  I am so thankful for my life.  I have lived a miracle and “He didn’t have to do it.  It could have been me outdoors or in jail,” and I know it.  I often remember to be thankful that I am not living on a hill in Haiti.  Current events make me thankful that I am not living under a building in Aleppo, Syria.

thankful-forThis year I am most thankful for forgiveness, for friends who “prayed me through” a very challenging transitional year, for new love and for something called s-a-b-b-a-t-i-c-a-l which I did “my way.”

Compassion in Our Lives

We all can be especially thankful for the compassion in our lives.  As I look around, I am surrounded by friends who show compassion every day.  I am so thankful for my sister Tonsa who takes really good care of my Mom, Mildred.  My foster sisters Gina, Rendi and Virgie took great care of my foster mother Alice. They kept her for more than a decade, long after Mama could no longer speak or move. My cousin Bonita was the solid rock of compassion for my Aunt Eleanore and Uncle John.

It warms my heart to have so many friends who have done the same for their loved ones.  My friend Hope dedicated her life to taking care of her parents, Lela and Ivan.  Since Lela passed, Hope continues to shower compassion on Ivan.  My friend Torrey showed compassion to her mother Mary for years, long after Mary forgot who Torrey was.  Torrey said “she thinks I am just a nice lady who comes to visit her.”

The compassion that my friends demonstrated for their loved ones is so inspiring.  Fania and Angela‘s gentleness with their mother Sallie B. was phenomenal. It has been my privilege to watch daughters like Dianne, Faye and Deborah take care of their mothers, Frances, Imogene and Irene. My friend Shirley‘s steadfast commitment to her Dad, Pops, before he died was comforting to us when Shirley suddenly passed away.

Compassion Knows No Lines

Compassion is not limited by gender.  My cousin Shawn‘s commitment to his mother, Sharon, was unwavering as she battled breast cancer.  How well Antwon cared for his Mother in her last days is one of the most endearing stories about him.  It was my privilege to watch my friend Marshall act with total commitment to his Mother in her final years. My friends, Darryl, Douglas and Duane each showed the same compassion for their mothers in their illnesses when they needed it most.  These are truly men of honor.

My friend Charles continues to honor his mother by taking care of his aunts.  Bishop Macklin‘s concern for his ailing mother touches the heart of every member of our congregation. My godbrother Jay stepped up right away when my foster Mom Amy fell ill and needed 24-hour care. Jay and his wife continue to be there for Amy every day.

Compassion In Action

In law, it is often hard to remember that a law firm is a business. “Beating the drum for justice” is hard work and expensive.  It is very hard to accept that we can not help everybody.  But, it was compassion that moved me to help clients like John Bumphus and Abner Morgan, Deanna Freitag and Tonsa B. What I received in return for that “help” has been life-changing courage and compassion. It was compassion that led me to step off my sabbatical and go to Stuart Florida to rescue Jasmine from jail and bring her home.

In this season, I am reading “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson.  The painful truths of our broken justice system grieve the heart. Our criminal justice system is truly an instrument of evil.  Our lack of compassion for children tried as adults and condemned to life in prison is appalling.  The failure of compassion for women who ended up in abusive relationships and then prison is beyond frustrating. Our willingness to accept the death penalty regardless of a person’s guilt or innocence is profoundly disturbing. As Bishop Desmond Tutu pointed out, it’s “as if America’s soul has been put on trial.” Bryan Stevenson‘s compassionate heart is a light of hope for all of us.

In Bay Area politics, we have a rising star in Lateefah Simon.  We are all so proud of her. Her life’s work is rooted in compassion.  I know that her “popularity” is rooted in compassion.  Many people came to know her because of her love for Kevin Weston. The battle she and Kevin fought to save his life touched all of our hearts. Our compassion for this brilliant young couple flooded Facebook. Out of compassion for them, our spirits soared. Our hearts were opened. We were united in community by compassion.

The Greatest Gift of All

As you experience this Thanksgiving, regardless of your circumstances, try to remember that the greatest gift of all is love.  “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13.)  I really appreciate the people in my life and our world who show compassion for others.  As I move forward in my life, I pledge to more consistently practice “random acts of kindness.” Remember that your greatest legacy may be how you showed compassion for someone else.

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A Few Good Men

A Few Good Men

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

 

 

The Truth About the Oakland Police Department

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

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

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

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

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

The Code of Silence

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

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

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

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

einstein-evil

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

Simple Justice – Abolish Juvenile Fees

juvenile-defendants-jailedI am standing in the chambers of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors.   There are many other advocates for justice who came to speak in favor of a moratorium on juvenile fees.   I remind the Supervisors first, that Black Women Vote and Black Votes Count.

I represent BWOPA, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Richmond-Contra Costa Chapter.  Why is that so important?  Because these types of fees have devastated Black and Brown families for decades and no one said anything.  And too often, when we have a conversation about institutional racism, there is no Black voice at the table.

What Are These Fees?

In California, juvenile administrative fees are imposed on families whenever a child comes into contact with a County’s juvenile justice system.  In Contra Costa County, the fees include cost of care when a child is placed in any detention facility and electronic monitoring fees when a child is released but still under probation supervision.  The law allows counties to charge parents for public defender services as well as the cost of drug and substance abuse testing.

The fees are first determined by the probation department.  The parent then receives a letter telling her that she owes money as a result of her child’s arrest and incarceration.  The probation officer is supposed to tell the parent that she has a right to a statement of the fees, and there is a time limit to contest the fees.  The officer is also supposed to tell her that she has a right to a hearing in the juvenile court, and warn her that if she fails to appear, the probation officer will recommend that the court order her to pay the entire amount.  (California Welfare & Institutions Code Section 903.45)

Creating Racially-Based Economic Disparity

The imposition of these fees on low-income families clearly undermines the family’s integrity.  It also reinforces the economic disparities so prevalent in our society.  If the parent does not pay the costs, eventually the debt goes into collections and may become a judgment against her.  In Contra Costa County, the probation department has records of almost $17 million of uncollected juvenile fees.  The uncollected fees  go back as far as 1990.  Probation admitted that its practices and policies for the collection of these fees (both the ones previously collected and the $17 million uncollected fees) might not exactly comply with State law.

In a recent bankruptcy case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote ‘burdening a minor’s mother with debts to be paid following his detention . . . hardly serves the future welfare of the child and hardly enhances the Probation Department’s attempt to transform him into a productive member of society.”  (In re Maria G. Rivera.)  In that case, the son was incarcerated for 593 days.  The family got hit with a bill of almost $20,000.00.  The mother paid ½ of it.  When she filed bankruptcy after several years, Orange County opposed her discharge in bankruptcy of the remainder of the fees.  The Ninth Circuit questioned the County’s actions, stating  “the County raises yet another obstacle to Rivera’s efforts to provide her son with the support about which the County claims to be so deeply concerned.”

“Not only does such a [juvenile fee] policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating “as a regressive tax,” but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.”  In re Maria G. Rivera, No. 14-60044 (9th Cir. 8/10/16).

“The New Jim Crow” in Contra Costa County

Researchers have documented that in Contra Costa County, a Black child is 8.4 times more likely than a white child to be arrested.  That same child is 10.7 times more likely than a white child to be referred to the juvenile court, 10 times more likely to be found delinquent, 15.7 times more likely to be detained before a hearing, and 23.3 times more likely to be incarcerated.  (CA Dept. of Justice, published online at www.data.burnsinstitute.org).

Pervasive racial disparity in the juvenile justice system creates massive racially-based economic disparity for families caught up in the system.  Black and brown families are devastated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system overall.  The realities of “the new jim crow” are particularly heart-breaking when it comes to our children.  Research concludes that legal indebtedness contributes to poverty “in three ways: by reducing family income; by limiting access to opportunities such as housing, credit, transportation, and employment; and by increasing the likelihood of ongoing criminal justice involvement.”  (Harris A., Evans H., & Beckett, K. (2010). Drawing Blood from Stones: Legal Debt and Social Inequality in the Contemporary United States, American Journal of Sociology, 115, p. 1756.)

A Step Forward

On September 25, 2016, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors took an important  first step.  The Court adopted a full moratorium on juvenile fees.  The Board suspended the assessment and collection of all fees.  Contra Costa joined two other Bay Area counties that have taken similar action.  Alameda County repealed the policy.  Santa Clara County adopted a moratorium.  This is a victory for all children and families.  The policy hit Black, Brown and low-income families the hardest.

Advocates to Be Grateful For!

This victory is a direct result of advocacy by the Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition, the University of California Berkeley Law Policy Advocacy Clinic and the Reentry Solutions Group.  Our community owes a tremendous debt of gratitude for the advocacy of everyone who participated in this effort, including Supervisor John Gioia.

Your Blessing Is On the Way

Your Blessing Is On the Way

I run up the stairs in my office to the lobby.  Robin Morgan sits there waiting.  I am so excited.  Today is closing argument in Morgan v. Amtrak and I love closing argument.  I know how long Robin has been supporting her husband, Abner Morgan.  I tell her to “hold on, your blessing is on the way!”  Little did I know that “her blessing” would not come for another seven (7) years.

Morgan v. Amtrak – the Racial Harassment Case

Robin’s husband Abner was an electrician for Amtrak in the Oakland Yard.  He worked there for five (5) years.  Abner walked off the job when the foreman told him to “get your black ass in here.”  That “direct order” from a racist foreman was the last straw for Abner.  For years he and his co-workers had complained about racism in the Yard.  Their complaints had even triggered Senator Barbara Boxer to request an investigation by Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).  The OIG investigation confirmed that Amtrak subjected Black men working on the Yard to harsher discipline, more dangerous job assignments and abusive treatment.

Amtrak fired Abner in 1995.  At the trial in 1998, one of the white foreman came forward and testified that one Amtrak supervisor regularly performed something he called “the shufflebutt ni–er dance.”  The foreman testified that the white supervisor did his dance in the office at night for the other supervisors’ entertainment.

pyramid-of-prejudiceWe presented evidence of the most despicable racism in any workplace.  The jury found that Amtrak’s management was “grossly unprofessional” and engaged in “questionable ethical conduct.”  The jury also found that the response from Amtrak’s EEO Office was “woefully remiss.”  But, the jury still ruled in favor of Amtrak.

 

Our Trip to the Supreme Court

Fast forward to 2000.  I’m standing in my guest bedroom crying.  We had won the appeal in the Ninth Circuit.  Amtrak had filed a petition for hearing in the United States Supreme Court.  We opposed it.  After months, the Court granted the petition and accepted the case.  I was so upset.  We had waited so long and won the case on appeal.  Robin and Abner had three children: two teenagers and a mentally disabled adult son.  Abner’s firing meant they had to survive mainly on Robin’s income for years.  They had suffered great hardships.  My firm had been tested by the years of unpaid legal services as well.

I called my mentor Howard Moore, Jr., the famous civil rights lawyer who raised me from a pup  lawyer.  The conversation with Howard was very short.  I told him through my tears that the United States Supreme Court had granted the petition for hearing.  Howard said “that’s great kid.  Congratulations! This will be great for your career.” And hung up.

I had no idea what Howard knew.  I would be one of the few Black women in history to argue a case in the United States Supreme Court.  We spent six (6) months preparing for the oral argument.  Bill McNeill and the Employment Law Center offered their assistance as soon as it became public that it was my case.  My team included Bill and his lawyers Jory Steele and Willie and Shelley Gregory.  Of course, Howard agreed to serve as my co-counsel on appeal and sponsored my request to be admitted to the United States Supreme Court bar.

The Fight for the Case

It was not long before lawyers around the country contacted me.  Some offered help with the briefing and strategy on how to win the case.  Others simply wanted to take the case.  There was intense pressure on me to let an “experienced” Supreme Court lawyer handle the case.  I quickly learned that “Supreme Court lawyer” was an exclusive all white male club.  So, I called Howard again.  This time, the conversation was equally short but not so happy.  Howard was angry.  When I told him that people wanted to take my case and argue it for me, he said “If a woman with a degree from Yale and two degrees from UC Berkeley can not argue her own case in the Supreme Court, she should give all of her degrees back.”  And he hung up on me again.

morgan-v-amtrak-1And so that was decided.  Abner Morgan, to his credit, co-signed Howard’s statement by saying that I was his lawyer and he was not going to let anyone else argue his case.  I got it.  So I gathered my wits, my spirit, took charge of the situation and got us all to Washington, D.C.

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I argued the case in January 2002.  We “claimed the victory” in my office in Oakland and again in the hallowed halls of the United States Supreme Court.  The Court ruled in our favor in June 2002.  We WON!

The Final Outcome

Winning in the Supreme Court meant that we got to try the case again.  It took another two years to get through the appellate process and back to the trial court.  In May 2004, we tried the case a second time.  pam-with-abner-morganThis time, the jury got it right and awarded Abner $500,000.

After nine (9) years of litigation, Amtrak finally settled the case later that year.

Robin’s blessing finally arrived.  What I can say to anyone reading this who has ever been tested, from a woman of faith who has been blessed and highly favored over and over and who believes in the power of prayer, “hold on. Your blessing is on the way.

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to Justice

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

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

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

Who Is the Judge?

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

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

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

What A Difference Race Makes

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

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

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

The Racial Divide in Alameda County

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

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

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

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

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

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

Obstruction of Justice-Does It Matter?

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

What is Obstruction of Justice?

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

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

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

Closer to Home

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

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

The Tip of the Iceberg?

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

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

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

Jasmine Is Free!

JASMINE.V2 JASMINE IS FREE!  Since May 2016, citizens of the Bay Area have been shocked and appalled by revelations of abuse of power by police officers in 6 different law enforcement agencies.  The central figure caught in the eye of the storm is a teenage girl, who says that she has lived in the Bay Area’s commercial sexual exploitation marketplace since she was 12.  This is who she really is and how she looked when she was just 13 years old.

On August 29, this young victim was shipped to a so-called “rehab” facility in Florida where she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and carted off to jail.

jaz-free-v3Today the Martin County State Attorney David Lustgarden dropped all felony charges against Jasmine.  The Court accepted a “no contest” plea to a misdemeanor simple battery, with a stipulation to withhold adjudication. That means Jasmine will not have a criminal record and will eventually be restored to her crime free criminal record status.

“CELESTE GUAP” Exists No More

“Celeste Guap” is dead”! “You have 187’ed Celeste”[1]! I am going to become a veterinarian and work to free other girls,” Jasmine told her attorneys from her jail cell dressed in her felony pumpkin orange prison clothes. Jasmine is eager to pursue her chosen career goals. She expresses gratitude for all who are supporting her and she says “other girls as young as 12, like I was, are out on the street. I want to help them. I will work to free them.”

Jasmine Is Not The Only One

Her attorneys, Charles A. Bonner and Pamela Y. Price, express their fear about the lasting effect this trauma will have on Jasmine, emphasizing that “Celeste Guap” was only the tip of the iceberg of children bought, traded, coerced, and passed around as a sex toy for men in power. Jasmine’s victimization by cops in uniform who have raised their right hands and swore to uphold the United States’ Constitution, and to protect and serve is particularly disturbing. And yet these police officers betrayed the trust of the communities who pay their salaries by abusing again and again young vulnerable minor girls in our community.  “Outrageous!!  This case is the story of Slavery, Crimes, Cops and the exploitation of our Children. Why do we as a society allow child sex slavery to exist in our communities?” says Attorney Charles Bonner.  “We all must act now to protect these girls; protect the children. Stand up or Sit Down in Protest! Every little bit helps.”

Attorney Pamela Price declared that “public safety requires public trust.” Officers of the law betrayed the public trust and undermine the safety of every Bay Area citizen. Human trafficking is a Billion dollar business that thrives mainly on the sex trafficking of women and children. We will not knowingly allow paid servants of the law to participate in the violence, intimidation and commercial sex exploitation of our children. Now we know because one very brave very young woman has the courage and the will to do the right thing.

The Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund  is established and administered under the non-profit Bracelet Charitable Freedom Fund.  All donations are tax-deductible.

[1] (California Penal Code 187 means killed or homicide)

The Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund

JASMINE.V2Since May 2016, the citizens of the Bay Area have been shocked and appalled by revelations of the abuse of power by Bay Area police officers.  The accused officers are in 6 different law enforcement agencies.  The central figure caught in the eye of the storm is a teenage girl.  She says that she has worked in the Bay Area’s commercial sexual exploitation marketplace since she was 12.

On September 1, 2016, we learned that this young victim had been shipped to a so-called “rehab” facility in Florida where she was promptly arrested, charged with a felony and carted off to jail.

Three horrifying truths have emerged in this crisis of corruption: (1) her sexual exploitation was cultivated, condoned and encouraged by law enforcement officials; (2) she is not the only child caught up in the Bay Area’s network of police sexual predators; and (3) her swift transformation from rape victim to felony assailant sends a clear message to all commercially sexually exploited youth in the Bay Area that you best not say anything to anybody.

Say Goodbye to “Celeste Guap”

For months, the teenage girl who was raped and exploited by police officers was the highlight of the news.  “Celeste Guap” was everywhere – from CNN to Youtube.  Some reporters demanded answers from police officials and focused on the lack of accountability and the pervasiveness of the problem.  Others elevated “Celeste Guap” to a Kardashian-like celebrity status.  Almost every interviewer seemed to ignore the obvious facts that she was a victim who was robbed of her childhood and that she needed a lawyer bad.  The obvious came crashing into everyone’s reality with her arrest in Florida.  While some of us were standing in front of the Richmond Police Department demanding transparency and accountability in her case, her carefully orchestrated transition from victim to felon had already taken place.  As part of her criminalization, her real name, Jasmine, was revealed as well as her home address, details about her medical treatment, her arrest and her transport to the jailhouse with her hands and feet shackled together in a hobble, a device that ties a suspect’s hands to their legs.

Was It A Set-Up?

Even before the proverbial SH– hit the fan, no one in law enforcement was taking responsibility for “the brilliant idea” to send 19-year-old Jasmine to Florida for “rehab.”  The Richmond Police Department has denied any involvement in sending her to Florida.  The Alameda County District Attorney’s office responded to inquiries with a “no comment.”  The story out of Florida is that Jasmine, at 5 feet, 130 pounds, was being subdued by two security workers, both of whom are described as 6 feet tall and one weighing 230 pounds, and the other at 240 pounds.  The 6 foot, 230 pound security officer is identified as the victim of the aggravated battery felony charge.  His injury is a bite on the arm.  Jasmine was taken from the alleged rehab facility where she was allegedly detoxifying from heroin to jail, where she has been since August 29th.  She has no family there or any ties to Florida, or any reason to be there, other than someone in Bay Area law enforcement thought it would be a good idea for her to go there.  It will be very interesting to learn who persuaded Jasmine that this was a good idea and what law enforcement agency that person actually works for.

The Bracelet Freedom Fund

     BRACELET IMAGEIn 2009, Attorney Charles Bonner published a novel called The Bracelet.  It is based on a case he handled where at least four young women were kidnapped and held as sex slaves in Syracuse, New York.  The case and the story highlights the pervasiveness of sex trafficking in our country and around the world.  Jasmine has hired Attorney Charles Bonner to represent her.  Attorney Bonner insists that I assist him with the case.  Together, we have set up a freedom trust fund for Jasmine’s legal and medical expenses, and to assist any other commercially sexually exploited youth who have been preyed upon by the police or other traffickers.  We know that Jasmine is not the only one.  We know that her tragic story is not unique or unusual.  Indeed, as a former foster child who walked away from an obviously dysfunctional system, I can truly say “there for the grace of God go I!”

And so my heart bleeds for this child.  If your heart is touched by her ordeal, please go to the Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund and donate whatever you can for her rescue, recovery and redemption.  Help us send a message to the other victims who are still trapped and living in a nightmare of fear, addiction and exploitation that we really will not tolerate sex trafficking in our backyard.  Thank you.

The Jasmine Freedom Trust Fund is established and administered under the non-profit Bracelet Charitable Freedom Fund.  All donations are tax-deductible.

A Crisis of Corruption – Call to Action

A Crisis of Corruption – Call to Action

A broad coalition of local and state advocates are calling upon Governor Jerry Brown to issue an Executive Order directing Attorney General Kamala Harris to take jurisdiction and control over the investigations of all allegations arising out of the involvement of any member of a law enforcement agency with the rape victim identified as Celeste Guap.   

Public Safety Requires Public Trust 

SEX TRAFFICKINGWe find ourselves in the midst of a crisis in public safety. The very police officers that are charged to protect and serve the public have been exposed as engaging in a conspiracy of sex trafficking. For 8 months, local law enforcement and public officials hid this scandalous behavior from the court-appointed monitor in Oakland and the public, while taking no real action against the officers who violated the public trust.  Even today – 11 months later – there has not been a single prosecution of anyone for any violations of law.  Officers who have resigned voluntarily remain uncharged.  Certainly the list of possible offenses include statutory rape, assault with intent to commit rape, obstruction of justice, interference with a police investigation, perjury, just to name a few.

 

We believe the reason for the apparent lack of accountability under the law and to the public trust is that our local officials have a conflict of interest. Every District Attorney’s office, every City Attorney’s office and every County Counsel’s office works closely with local law enforcement on a day-to-day basis.  To ask or expect these law enforcement agencies to diligently investigate and prosecute their partner law enforcement agencies is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.  

The Call to Action

On September 1, 2016, we will issue a call to action to Governor Jerry Brown.  We believe that the alleged conduct of these law enforcement officers involves an abuse of power and a violation of the public trust that is best addressed by a single and independent law enforcement agency rather than each local law enforcement agency. Six different law enforcement agencies have been implicated to date.  What appears to a lack of communication between Oakland officials and other local law enforcement agencies is startling. It clearly suggests that our concerns about the human trafficking of our daughters, sons, sisters and brothers across county lines in the Bay Area are not being taken seriously.

 

Let us be clear that we understand that “Celeste Guap” is not the only victim of this type of police abuse, and we are not calling for increased criminalization of minors, women or men identified as sex workers in our communities. We understand and appreciate that minors and women engaged in sex work in our communities are extremely vulnerable to the abuse of power by our law enforcement agencies and that “blaming the victim” is not an appropriate response to our crisis.

 

We believe that upon direction by the Governor of California, our Attorney General has the authority to investigate, manage, interpret, prosecute or inquire about any alleged incidents of sexual misconduct by law enforcement officers with “Celeste Guap.” We believe that the Attorney General’s independent investigation of this crisis in our communities is essential to restoring public trust in our law enforcement agencies. We believe that public trust is essential to public safety. We therefore call upon Governor Brown to exercise his authority under Article V, Section 13 of the California Constitution to ensure a comprehensive and independent coordinated investigation of these incidents.

The Signatories:

 

Attorney Pamela Y. Price, Political Education Chair, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) Richmond/Contra Costa Chapter, Member Elect, Alameda County Democratic Party Central Committee

Kathleen Sullivan, President, Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) Richmond/Contra Costa Chapter

Jerilyn Stapleton, President, California NOW

Cheryl Branch, President, CALIFIA NOW

Sarai Smith-Mazariegos, Co-Founder, MISSSEY, Founder, S.H.A.D.E. Project

Cat Brooks, Co-Founder, the Oakland Anti-Police Terror Project

Leigh Davenport, the Take Back Oakland Coalition

Freddye Davis, President, NAACP Hayward/South County Chapter

Kimberly Thomas Rapp, Executive Director, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area

Mike Katz-LaCabe, the Center for Human Rights and Privacy

Nola Brantley, Founder & Former Executive Director, MISSSEY

Ben Steinberg, Community Activist, Richmond California

Sign The Petition Calling for An Independent Investigation

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