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California district attorney resigns after pleading no contest to felony

California district attorney resigns after pleading no contest to felony

Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson has resigned in disgrace after taking thousands of dollars from his campaign account and spending it on meals, clothes and for other personal needs.

Peterson was charged with 13 felonies by the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, but within hours had resigned and pleaded no contest to one felony charge of perjury for making false statements on state campaign disclosure documents, with all the other counts being dropped.

The charges stem from Peterson using $66,000 of campaign money for personal use. He was sentenced to 250 hours of community service, three years of probation and will be prohibited from running for public office during his probation.

He could also face disbarment or have his law license suspended.

Peterson was in his second term of office and in the process of running for a third term. He was first elected in 2010 and reelected without an opponent in 2014.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The actions brought a remarkably swift conclusion to a rare criminal case filed by state prosecutors against an elected county district attorney.”

Peterson was previously fined $45,000 by the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission. “According to the FPPC inquiry, Peterson used campaign funds for about 600 personal expenditures totaling $66,372, including groceries, jewelry store bills and movie tickets,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

A civil grand jury had also recommended that Peterson resign. That recommendation was supported by the editorial board of the East Bay Times.

“If Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson cared one iota about the integrity of his office and the reputation of county law enforcement, he would do the honorable thing: resign,” the editorial said. “But Peterson doesn’t care and he’s not honorable. Rather, he’s a self-centered law-breaker.”

Peterson’s departure will be welcomed by criminal justice advocates. Throughout his tenure in office Peterson has supported minimum mandatory sentencing like three strikes and you’re out, claimed racism has nothing to do with the large number of black people in prison, and also vocally supportedthe death penalty even as his neighboring prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, has repeatedly called for ending it.

Los Angeles Can Take Further Steps to Protect Its Immigrant Neighbors

Los Angeles Can Take Further Steps to Protect Its Immigrant Neighbors

Donald Trump’s presidency represents a serious threat to undocumented immigrants across the country and here in Los Angeles. Mayor Eric Garcetti has boldly rejected President Trump’s dangerous rhetoric, but if the mayor and locally elected leaders truly want to protect immigrant Angelenos, they must commit to ending “broken windows” policing and other practices, which put many people at great risk of deportation for doing little more than sleeping on a sidewalk.

District Attorney Jackie Lacey has a significant amount of discretion when it comes to recognizing and responding to the threats faced by immigrants who have been arrested for minor infractions. Prosecutors consider factors unrelated to the crime all the time when deciding how to charge an individual. Because President Trump’s Executive Order criminalizes people charged with any crime, however minor, it is vital that prosecutors in sanctuary cities recognize the consequences of charging immigrants with low-level offenses, such as traffic violations or loitering, and use their discretion wisely.

Prosecutors should also stop asking for cash bail, which results in people who can’t afford bail being held in detention. Undocumented immigrants are particularly likely to be cash-poor, and holding them in jail because of an inability to post bail makes them “sitting ducks” for ICE. Studies show that bail has little impact on public safety, and a 2011 state law gives the Board of Supervisors the power to authorize risk-based, no-money pretrial release, but as of early 2017 a cash bail system is still in place.

Mayor Garcetti has supported the California Values Act (SB54), and has said the city will not participate in the President’s deportation program, both of which are important steps. But city officials also have significant discretion over how closely local law enforcement agencies are allowed to cooperate with ICE officials. For example, Mayor Steve Fulop of Jersey City recently signed an executive order barring “local police and government agencies from collaborating with immigration authorities unless mandated by law or a court.” He also ordered that federal authorities get a warrant before searching public facilities. Mayor Garcetti should follow his lead and affirmatively bar the police department from acting as an arm of ICE without a court order.

Furthermore, city councils also have tremendous discretion in determining which minor offenses are considered prosecutable, and a new report by Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project urges mayors and city councils to rethink how people are sucked into the criminal justice system. The Los Angeles City Council has taken an important step in decriminalizing street vending, believing that continued criminalization would open dozens of business owners up to deportation. However, according to a 2016 study by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law, the city still has two dozen laws against “sitting, standing, and resting,” “sleeping, camping, and lodging,” and “begging and panhandling.” These laws open residents up to unnecessary contact with law enforcement. Mayor Garcetti and the city council should enact decriminalization ordinances for these kind of offenses.

Because criminal justice reform and sanctuary city policies are inextricably linked, local leaders have a significant impact on protections for undocumented persons. Mayor Garcetti’s commitment to building trust with immigrant communities is admirable, and he and the rest of the city and county government should reinforce that commitment by using the power of the criminal justice system to protect the most vulnerable among us. Isn’t that what our religious traditions call us to — to treat everyone as a citizen and as our kin? I pray that Los Angeles will lead the way to an American table of belonging, accountability, and human flourishing.

Rev. Zachary Hoover is the Executive Director of LA Voice PICO, an interfaith community organization that unites people from diverse backgrounds to improve the quality of life of Los Angeles residents.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are Rev. Hoover’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Fair Punishment Project.

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Dallas County prosecutors will not charge police in teenager’s tasing death

Dallas County prosecutors will not charge police in teenager’s tasing death

Police officers in Mesquite committed a crime when they tased a teenager in 2013 who would later die. But because it took the office of Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson so long to come to that conclusion, the officers cannot face criminal charges.

Graham Dyer, 18, was shocked with a Taser on his testicles while he was handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser. Dyer was on a bad LSD trip at the time he was tased and was throwing his body around the back of the police car.

The medical examiner concluded that he’d died from injuring himself.

But video from that night showed that Dyer had been repeatedly tased. One officer had threatened to kill him and police had not properly restrained him in the back of the car.

It took years for Dyer’s parents to get the full details of what happened to him with the Mesquite police department refusing to turn over records and video of that night. It wasn’t until they asked the FBI for help and then asked for the records that the federal agency had collected that the Dyer’s finally found out what happened.

According to the Austin American-Statesman “There was the image of Graham in the backseat of the police cruiser, his hands and feet bound — yet also unseatbelted or otherwise restricted — in obvious distress, hurling himself about the car. And then the ghostly image of a police officer’s hand with a Taser stun gun appearing in the camera frame, shocking Graham on the leg.

“And then, pushing him on his back and shocking him again — this time directly, and apparently deliberately, in his testicles. And Graham screaming silently as the electric shock to his genitals appeared to be repeated.”

Michael Snipes, the first assistant district attorney, said he wished he could file criminally negligent homicide charges against the officers but the three year statute of limitations has expired. Snipes could charge the police officers with manslaughter, which does not have a statute of limitations, but Snipes said the evidence didn’t justify that charge because the police behavior did not meet the required legal standard.

But it’s worth noting that Johnson and her predecessor, Susan Hawk, showed no interest in this case until Dyer’s parents found out what happened and the media reported on it. None of the officers who were involved in Dyer’s death have been disciplined.

A civil suit filed by Dyer’s parents is still pending.

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