Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Chesa Boudin

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. “

What About the POA?

San Francisco District Attorney Elect Chesa Boudin
San Francisco District Attorney Elect Chesa Boudin (Credit: Chesa4DA Campaign)

In the wake of the much-celebrated victory of San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, the question arose “what about the POA?”

San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) Logo
The SF POA spent $700,000 in the SF DA race

Most people, unfortunately, don’t even know what “the POA” is. POA stands for Police Officers Association. Every American city, county and state has one, whether it be city police, county sheriff or state correctional officers.

It’s a union. Technically, as a union, it is formed to advocate for better working conditions and pay for its members. In the real world, however, POAs have taken a more sinister role to control the politicians elected to govern our cities, counties and states. POAs are really political action committees that spend millions of dollars every year to influence elections.

The National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) is a coalition of police unions and associations from across the United States organized for the purpose of advancing the interests of America’s law enforcement officers through legislative advocacy, political action and education.” NAPO supports its member organizations across the country.

Holding the Line Against Reform

Predictably, these police associations lead the resistance to criminal justice reform, bail reform, decriminalizing marijuana and anything else. So, when the SF POA spent $700,000 in a local election, no one should be surprised. Phil Matier reports that “much of the $700,000 spent by the San Francisco Police Officers Association against progressive district attorney candidate Chesa Boudin came from out of town, even out of state.”

Elections are when the POAs take off the gloves and step out from the cover of secrecy. They have no problem being in the light to attack a politician they don’t like. What we have to remember, however, is that after the election, they are still there. Some slink back into the darkness to watch and wait for the next attack. They sometimes politely (and quietly) threaten elected officials with whom they disagree. And even without the express threat, most politicians are wary of offending the POA.

SF POA is different – they’re special. They stay on the attack. Even when the previous District Attorney George Gascon was not running for office or did not have an opponent, the SF POA bought radio ads to attack him. We should presume that it will attack Chesa as he gets into the business of reforming the DA’s office. Openly and viciously. Even though their election strategy backfired, the smear tactic of fear and lies usually works, so it’s still in their playbook.

The Benefit of the Battle

In SF, the POA lost the battle for SF DA. One benefit of the battle, however, is that the POA was exposed in the light of day – for all to see. This represents an opportunity for progressives everywhere to highlight the role that the POA plays in every community. In every city, county and state, the POAs band together to reinforce repressive and racist policies that undermine the fabric of the community. In every progressive challenge to the status quo, not just a District Attorney race, look for the POA to have a hand in fighting back and holding the line.

For example, the National Police Association states it has “a mission of combating the influence of anti-police activists and helping to hold them accountable.” It “use[s] the law as a method to highlight abuses by antipolice elected officials, change behavior, and seek corrective action.” One example of its work in 2018 was to request an investigation of San Jose’s independent police auditor. NPA directly challenged the auditor’s “fitness” to serve in his appointed role.

We all know that knowledge is power. So, we need to make sure that everyone knows how the POA uses its power in the shadows. They defend corrupt cops and threaten elected officials. They are both well organized and extremely well-funded. Their goal is to maintain the infrastructure of mass incarceration at all costs. The POA is clear in its mission. Progressives need to be just as clear about the POA.

A Women’s Safety Panel

Mario Woods Protesters attend SF Police Commission meeting chaired by DA candidate Suzy Loftus
Emond Juicye (middle) activist, and Minister Keith Muhammad listen to Suzy Loftus, President of the San Francisco Police Commission at the beginning of the SF Police Commission meeting held at the Salvation Army Kroc Center January 20, 2016 in San Francisco, Calif. Photo by Emma Marie Chiang

I just got triggered again. A Women’s Safety Panel?

It’s a fundraising event organized by supporters of San Francisco DA candidate Suzy Loftus. Loftus is the candidate of choice for disgraced SF police chief Greg Suhr, and SF Mayor London Breed. The San Francisco Democratic Party has also endorsed Loftus. Loftus is by definition “the establishment choice.”

So, it’s not surprising that her supporters have invoked the victim safety song to elevate her candidacy. It’s a tried and true tactic for white women running for office. In her story about Tiffany Caban’s race, Melissa Gira Grant writes in The New Republic, “Law-and-order feminists have long used the idea of professional white women’s safety and reputation against young women activists of color.” White women “have embraced and promulgated a feminism that sees the police and prosecutors as allies in women’s empowerment.”

It worked in New York. There, Melinda Katz, a career politician who favors increased police surveillance and the death penalty with no courtroom experience won the race for Queens DA.

“A Women’s Safety Panel” vs. Criminal Justice Reform

We saw the same traditional campaign of fear and racism here in Alameda County in 2018.

In the race for Alameda County DA, domestic violence survivors attacked and defamed me as “a threat” to their safety. DV survivors rallied in front of incumbent DA Nancy O’Malley‘s office denouncing my candidacy. Of course O’Malley’s staff and supporters attended the rally, and the local media covered it. Never mind that I am personally a DV survivor. Or that I was arrested for defending myself in my own home from an abusive partner, prosecuted by the DA’s office and fortunately acquitted by a jury at trial.

Forget that I co-founded the Bay Area Defense Committee for Battered Women in 1979, while still in law school. We advocated in the courts for DV survivors, particularly those prosecuted in Alameda County. My understanding of and commitment to self-defense for battered women was developed years before my own arrest for defending myself.

Never mind that I have MY receipts for thousands of dollars that I donated to the non-profit Family Violence Law Center before it was subsumed into the Alameda County District Attorneys’ office.

Too often, facts don’t matter in politics. Too often, what matters is who you know and how long have you been in the game. In SF, Suzy Loftus has been a fixture in the SF police community for decades. She is a protege of Sen. Kamala Harris and a proud member of Kamala’s “squad.”

Kamala's "squad" - Suzy Loftus Twitter Post of Loftus, Buffy Wicks, Debbie Mesloh, Kamala Harris and a friend
Buffy Wicks, Debbie Mesloh, Kamala Harris, Suzy Loftus and friend
Credit: Suzy Loftus on Twitter Image

The Return of Kamala

Loftus worked for Harris in SF and then in Sacramento at the Department of Justice. Loftus is a former deputy DA who spent years supporting SF’s unique contribution to mass incarceration. The SF DA’s racial disparity study found that between 2008 and 2014, Blacks were only 6% of the population, but were 41% of those arrested, 43% of those booked into jail, 38% of cases filed by the DA and 39% of new convictions.

Loftus was with Harris in 2009 when the DA’s office withheld information about a corrupt police technician. A SF judge condemned the office’s indifference to “the systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.” And, when Harris unsuccessfully retaliated against the judge, Loftus was a leader on her team.

Loftus was also with Harris while Harris was Attorney General. As AG, Harris supported the death penalty while refusing to support Proposition 47, or statewide standards for police body-cameras or investigations of police for shooting civilians or sexual exploitation of minors.

Loftus was there when Harris refused to meet with Gwen Woods.

Loftus clearly enjoyed personal success as Kamala’s protege. In this election, however, Loftus claims a commitment “to reform our broken criminal justice system.” Her campaign started, however, as a “tough on crime” challenge to incumbent DA George Gascon. Gascon is the only DA in California to endorse Proposition 47 and advocate openly for criminal justice reform.

Black Women & Greg Suhr

Greg Suhr’s support for Loftus is not surprising at all. Loftus is the former Chair of the SF Police Commission and currently works for the SF Sheriff. She supported Suhr in the storm created by the exposure of racist and homophobic texts by SFPD officers in 2015. Her new-found commitment to criminal justice reform did not lead her to support the 17-day hunger strike by the Frisco 5 calling for Suhr’s removal in the wake of Mario Woods’ murder.

Suzy Loftus, Mayor Ed Lee and SFPD Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin announce resignation of Greg Suhr
Mayor Ed Lee (middle) announces the resignation of SFPD Police Chief Greg Suhr on May 19, following the fatal shooting of Jessica Williams, by SFPD earlier that morning, as Police Commissioner Suzy Loftus (left) and SFPD Deputy Chief Toney Chaplin (right) stand by the mayor’s side during a press conference in City Hall.
Photo: Joel Angel Juárez

When Mayor Ed Lee was forced to let Suhr resign after SFPD shot and killed Jessica Williams, an unarmed Black woman, Loftus was there. It was the third fatal shooting by SFPD of a person of color in 6 months, including Jessica Williams, Luis Gongora and Mario Woods. According to Matier & Ross, the meeting to arrange Suhr’s resignation and the appointment of a new interim Chief, ended with a round of hugs and handshakes, and did not include the two Black female SF Supervisors.

Dog Whistle for Racism

Not surprisingly, progressive Black activists in SF are not supporting Suzy Loftus for DA.

“If Suhr is a supporter of yours and you’re running for District Attorney, it shows me you’re about prosecuting black and brown folks and any of the corruption going on in the department,” said Equipto, a San Francisco rapper and activist and one of the Frisco 5 hunger strikers.

Let’s be clear: “a women’s safety panel” is a dog whistle for racism. It’s a call to white supremacy, and particularly white women, to support the continued over-incarceration and criminalization of Black and Brown people. Regrettably, some Black women have unknowingly bought into that narrative, apparently thinking that only the white woman can save us. What my sisters need to understand, however, is that resistance to sexual harassment and violence is deeply rooted in the intersectional oppression and resistance of Black women.” 

Many “woke folks,” like myself, have endorsed Chesa Boudin for SF DA. Chesa has a history of fighting for bail reform, for the rights of immigrants and restorative justice for victims. He has a clear commitment to address the grossly unjust racial disparities in San Francisco. Chesa is the only one who personally knows the impact of the criminal injustice system on everyday people.

Ballots drop in SF for this election in less than 2 weeks. To help elect Chesa Boudin in this critical race for justice, please make a contribution here!

At the end of the day, let’s pray that SF is really as progressive as some people think it is!

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