Legally Speaking With Pamela Price

Pamela Y. Price, Attorney at Law

Tag: Commercial Sexual Exploitation

Hypocrisy in Alameda County

Credit: Alameda County Sheriff’s Dept.

Former Livermore Police Officer Daniel Black is on trial.  He is one of dozens of Bay Area police officers who allegedly abused their power to sexually exploit my former client, Jasmine.  Black admits that he had multiple sexual encounters with 19-year-old Jasmine.  He claims the sex was part of “a private relationship” with Jasmine.  Black’s alleged conduct took place in April 2016 while the Oakland Police Department was trying to cover up Jasmine’s sexual exploitation by OPD officers.

In September 2015 OPD Officer Brendan O’Brien committed suicide and left a note “naming names.”  O’Brien’s suicide exposed the commercial sex trafficking of young women by law enforcement throughout the Bay Area.  Daniel Black was not one of the men named in the note.  Apparently he was not aware of the ongoing OPD cover-up and investigation. He is accused of going to Richmond to get Jasmine in April 2016, and using food and alcohol to compensate her for having sex with him.

Felonies and Misdemeanors

Penal Code Section 266i (a)(2) provides that any person who “[b]y promises, threats, violence, or by any device or scheme, causes, induces, persuades, or encourages another person to become a prostitute” is guilty of pandering. Dan Black’s sexual exploitation of 19-year-old Jasmine was “pandering” her under the law.  The fact that someone has previously engaged in prostitution is not a defense to the charge.  Penal Code Section 266 is a felony.

Dan Black is on trial for five (5) misdemeanors.  He is charged with engaging in prostitution, engaging in lewd conduct in public and giving alcohol to a minor (under age 21).  Misdemeanor charges carry far less severe punishment than felony charges.  Misdemeanor convictions can include unsupervised probation or no jail time.  Felonies usually include some type of prison or jail time and significant restrictions of your constitutional rights, including the right to vote.  Dan Black is not charged with any felonies.  He is not charged under California’s human trafficking law.  This is very strange.

Proposition 35 – Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act

In 2012, California voters passed Proposition 35.  The law passed by a huge margin. 81.3% of voters said yes.  Prop. 35 is intended to fight commercial sex trafficking, particularly as it affects minors.  It changed the law to include more crimes in the definition of human trafficking, increase penalties for trafficking, provide more services for victims, change evidence rules in trafficking cases, require law enforcement training in human trafficking, and expand requirements for sex offenders.  As a result of the voters, Prop. 35 includes a violation of Penal Code Section 266.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley was a major supporter of Prop. 35.  Yet, none of the Bay Area police officers who sexually exploited Jasmine face charges under Prop. 35.  Not a single one.  This is the worst sex scandal to ever rock Bay area police departments.  This scandal cost Oakland 3 police chiefs in nine days.  These crimes will cost the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda millions of dollars.  Yet, none of the police officers charged in Alameda County are facing sex trafficking charges.  Not a single one.  It is as if Prop. 35 does not even exist.

Prosecutorial Discretion and Overcharging Crimes

What makes this situation even more bizarre is that prosecutors routinely overcharge defendants.  The practice of overcharging has become one of the hallmarks of our criminal justice system – a way to ensure that the system can actually function.  The only way the Courts can handle the number of cases charged by prosecutors is by getting plea bargains.  If every criminal defendant insisted on going to trial and refused to “take a deal”, the system would totally collapse.

In his book Why Innocent People Plead Guilty, Jed S. Rakoff writes that “our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.”

There are no written regulations controlling the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power in California or anywhere else in the United States.  There is no established or meaningful process for appealing the prosecutor’s exercise of his charging power. The result is that an estimated 95% of all criminal cases end with a plea bargain.

Credit: New York Review of Books

Jed Rakoff cites the case of Brian Banks from Long Beach, California.  Banks, who had been a high school football star with a scholarship to USC at the time of his arrest, served five years in prison for rape and kidnapping charges.  Brian did not actually commit the crime.

 

Brian Banks accepted a plea bargain under the advisement of his original lawyer.  He was freed in 2012 through the efforts of the Innocence Project.

Comparing Brian Banks’ case to Daniel Black’s case may seem like comparing apples to oranges.  But the real difference is that Brian Banks was charged and convicted of a crime he did not commit, while Dan Black is not charged at all with crimes he admits he committed.  Is this a case of “white privilege” or “badge privilege?”  Something is definitely wrong with this picture.  The artist in Alameda County is our District Attorney.

Will He Keep His Promises?

Will He Keep His Promises?

I woke up Wednesday morning in Trumpland. My worst fears are coming true. Will he keep his promises?  In the first days I am upset and depressed. I feel better as I hear others calling out to fight back. In the months between Trump’s election as President and his inauguration, most of us will gather our thoughts and renew our passports (just in case).

The media tries to push the country into denial. Even elected officials maligned by Trump insist that he did not really mean what he said. They say he will be “different” as the President than the person who ran for President.

If He Keeps His Promises

If he is true to his word, on Day 1, President Trump will issue an Executive Order suspending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and any funding to support the Act. His actions may send the economy and world markets into a downward spiral.

If he keeps his promises, President Trump will direct the FBI to re-open its investigation of Hillary Clinton. We should not be surprised if newly appointed Attorney General Rudy Giuliani orders Hillary’s arrest.

first-they-cameIf he keeps his promises, President Trump will invest millions of dollars to ramp up the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). ICE will develop a comprehensive plan to locate and deport millions of working and poor people suspected of immigrating from Mexico, South America, Syria or Haiti. We should expect that vigilantes will volunteer to assist in the effort to deport these “illegal aliens.” He will also immediately start construction of the wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

We should not be surprised if President Trump rejects the Obama administration’s position on private prisons and directs the Bureau of Prisons to renew all of the private contracts.  We should expect that funding for re-entry of formerly incarcerated persons, community policing and mental health services will be severely reduced. California will continue to be the leader if not the only state committed to working against mass incarceration in America.

If he keeps his promises, President Trump will champion laws to defund Planned Parenthood and declare abortion completely illegal. Led by Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican-controlled Congress will likely pass these laws.

What President Trump labels “locker room talk” may became more prevalent in our schools and public places. Our efforts to stop violence against women and eliminate commercial sexual exploitation of women and under-age girls are likely to receive minimal support in the new Trump administration.

Packing SCOTUS with Scalia Clones

If he keeps his promises, President Trump will immediately appoint a Scalia-like judge to replace Justice Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court.  Justice Scalia was a rabid opponent of affirmative action appointed to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan. In 2015, Justice Scalia appeared to openly endorse a racist argument that Black students do better at “slower-track schools” stating:

Most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re being pushed ahead in classes that are too fast for them. . . . I’m just not impressed by the fact that the University of Texas may have fewer [Black students]. Maybe it ought to have fewer.

President Trump will likely have more opportunities to “pack the court” with Scalia-inspired justices, based on suggestions from the Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation, two right-wing conservative think-tanks.

The Good News

The good news is that already, everywhere, resisters to the Trump Presidency are organizing. In the Democratic Party, progressives are organizing to redeem the party. One of the most poignant “calls to action” was issued “the day after” by former Emerge Director, Kimberly Ellis.  She’s running to change the face of the Democratic Party.

Outside the party, thousands, perhaps millions, have joined Bernie Sanders’ ourrevolution.org. Black Lives Matter continues to be an inspiring movement rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country and committed to the empowerment of our community. And I really believe that if there ever comes a day that Latinos and immigrants are being hunted down en masse and sent off to concentration camps, most of us will not watch silently and fail to “speak out.”*  We are our brother’s keeper.

Finally, I was honored by Hillary’s final words to the Obamas: “To Barack and Michelle Obama, our country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude. We thank you for your graceful, determined leadership.” The Obamas together, made all of us look kindly on and feel better about America. I hope that once we recover from the shock of Trump’s election, we will “shake the dust off our feet” and keep stepping toward the light. The race is clearly not given to the strong or the swift but to he that endureth.  “Banish the darkness with light.”

*  Quote from “First They Came for the Socialists”.  Martin Niemoller (1946).

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.

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: Is Something Wrong In Gotham City?

A Crisis of Corruption: Is Something Wrong In Gotham City?

Since May 2016, the citizens of the City of Oakland have been shocked and appalled by the abuse of power within the Oakland Police Department (OPD). The story begins in Richmond in 2010 where a 12-year-old girl says she begins to have sex for money.  Fast forward to September 2014, in Oakland, Irma Huerta Lopez is  shot dead in her home. The prime suspect in her death – her husband, police officer Brendan O’Brien. Despite her family’s protests and the suspicious circumstances, Irma’s police officer husband is cleared of all wrongdoing by his employer, the Oakland Police Department. O’Brien also received a pass from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office – no charges are filed.

On September 25, 2015, O’Brien commits suicide. Sometime prior to his death, O’Brien begins a sexual relationship with the young girl from Richmond, while she is still a minor. O’Brien is aware that she has sexual relationships with other police officers, including multiple OPD officers. O’Brien leaves a suicide note. He admits his sexual relationship with the teenage girl and names other OPD officers whom he knows are having sex with her. OPD begins a very quiet and apparently limited investigation. The Alameda County District Attorney’s office does not file any charges against anyone. The City Attorney’s office takes no action.

SEX TRAFFICKINGFast forward 9 months. The teenage girl goes public on social media and with investigative reporting by local reporters. The scandal explodes. City officials scramble to get ahead of the public disclosures and deny the widespread nature of the conduct, only to be exposed as collaborators themselves in the crisis of corruption. The scandal spreads to include 6 different law enforcement agencies.

Oakland’s History

Oakland is historically “ground zero” for police corruption. It was the unbridled racism of our police force that gave birth to the Black Panther Party 50 years ago. Police scandals in cities like Richmond, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are mirrored in our own “Riders” scandal. OPD is under one of the longest imposed consent decrees in the country with a federal court-appointed monitor. The abuse of power by some police officers is nothing new in Oakland.

“Something is clearly wrong in Gotham City.” Three police chiefs down in 9 days. 28 police officers with allegations of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) against them. Our crisis of corruption has exposed how deep and far the abuse of power has spread. Even the Oakland Police Officers Association President professes to be “deeply disappointed.”  While our community decries the commercial sexual exploitation of minors and works to end human trafficking, many police officers acted like it was “business as usual.” And, some of the guardians of the law turned a blind eye to this form of abuse of power.  Hence, my question – is something wrong in Gotham City?

Check out this Petition calling for an independent investigation on Change.org. I would also love to hear your comments. Feel free to post your comment here or at my Facebook page.

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