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California prosecutor declines to charge police officer who shot unarmed teenager

California prosecutor declines to charge police officer who shot unarmed teenager

Embattled Orange County Prosecutor Tony Rackauckas will not prosecute a police officer who shot an unarmed 18-year-old.

Rackauckas announced in a letter last month that there’s insufficient evidence that Santa Ana Detective David Prewett committed a crime in the January shooting of Steve Salgado.

This is the second time Prewett has been cleared in a fatal shooting of an unarmed man.

Police said Prewett was on anti-gang patrol when his unit approached a car blocking an alley. Salgado, who police say was a known gang member, got out and ran away with his hand on something in his pocket, possibly leading Prewett to believe Salgado was armed.

He was shot after looking back at police. Cell phones and drug paraphernalia was found on Salgado’s body, but no weapons.

Prewett was one of several officers who shot Elmer Perez in 2010 while Perez was holding a toy gun. Prewett declined to give a statement to investigators after both shootings.

After Salgado, who was Latino, was killed, about 30 people protested his death by marching to the Santa Ana police department.

The decision to clear Prewett is another controversial decision for Rackauckas. As In Justice Today has previously reported, Rackauckas has drawn a challenger for his 2018 reelection bid after numerous scandals have hurt his popularity.

His office is being investigated by the California Attorney General and federal authorties over allegations he planted jailhouse snitches in the county jail and in January 2016, a special committee that Rackauckas set up concluded that there was a “failure of leadership” in his office.

Rackauckas was also removed from the death penalty prosecution of Scott Dekraai because of his office’s failure to turn over evidence to the defense. Furthermore, several investigators in his office also claim that the district attorney interfered in multiple investigations and engaged in cover ups when police broke the law.

Pennsylvania murder conviction reversed due to witness and prosecutor’s lies

Pennsylvania murder conviction reversed due to witness and prosecutor’s lies

In 1998, Vance Haskell was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole for the shooting of Darrel Cooley. Nearly four years prior, Cooley was gunned down with a semiautomatic weapon at a steakhouse in Erie, Pennsylvania. Haskell matched the profile of a suspect based on the reports of multiple witnesses, but it was the testimony of one witness in particular, Antoinette Blue, that sealed his fate. Unlike the other witnesses, Blue was able to pinpoint Haskell as the gunman.

Two decades have passed since Haskell was found guilty, but a recent federal court ruling increased the chances that the 48-year-old will see the outside of a prison after all. On August 1, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Haskell’s conviction because Blue committed perjury during the 1998 trial.

Three years went by between the day of the shooting and the day Blue recounted what happened to law enforcement. At the time, she was facing criminal charges of her own and locked up at the Erie County Jail. Blue reached out to a detective working on Haskell’s case and later acted as a key witness for the prosecuting attorney, Matthew Hayes. Blue was released from jail, even though more charges had been brought against her during her time there. Hayes also informed the judge in Blue’s case that she was being cooperative. At Haskell’s trial, however, Blue lied about her criminal charges and the fact that she received leniency for her cooperation.

On August 1, a panel of three appellate judges concluded:

Blue lied when she testified — both at Haskell’s preliminary hearing and at his trial — that she expected nothing in return for her testimony. She expected and eventually received favorable treatment at sentencing for her Mercer County charges. The Commonwealth, of course, knew Blue’s testimony was false and failed to correct it. Turning to the final inquiry, we conclude that there is a reasonable likelihood that Blue’s false testimony could have affected the jury’s judgment.

Erie County District Attorney Jack Danieri intends to appeal the 3rd Circuit’s ruling. It is possible that Haskell will be tried again for Cooley’s murder, and that he could still live out the rest of his life in prison. But the overturned conviction also leaves room for Haskell’s release.

Haskell is far from the only person whose fate in the criminal justice system rested in the hands of a witness swayed by a prosecutor. He is, however, one of the lucky ones. It is rare for a convicted person to prove that there was some form of misconduct during their trial, let alone prove that a witness committed perjury at the request of a prosecutor or received some sort of compensation for testifying.

Publicized cases have, over time, offered a glimpse at how this type of bargaining between prosecutors and witnesses damns people to a lifetime of imprisonment — or worse. The Death Penalty Information Center, an organization that tracks capital sentencing and execution trends nationwide, recorded examples of multiple people sentenced to die in the 1970s and 1980s because of this collaboration. Several witnesses agreed to testify against defendants, in order to receive immunity or leniency for their own involvement in a capital offense.

A number of death row inmates have been exonerated more recently because testifying witnesses received money from investigators or prosecutors and lied about it. In 2015, Montez Spradley was released from an Alabama prison after it was discovered that his girlfriend, a primary witness in his case, was given $10,000 for testifying. The girlfriend had received $5,000 from Deputy District Attorney Mike Anderton by way of a private fund and $5,000 straight from the governor’s office. In February, a federal appeals court overturned the conviction of Andrew Lee Thomas Jr., who was prosecuted by Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich in 2001. A witness had received $750 from the FBI, but later testified that she hadn’t been compensated for her cooperation. Weirich denied having any knowledge of the payment.

In Pennsylvania, Haskell’s fate is still up in the air. But his case demonstrates, once again, that prosecutors will go to great lengths to win.

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Marin County teenager tried as adult gets new hearing under Prop. 57

California Supreme Court and 1st District Court of Appeal

Marin County teenager tried as adult gets new hearing under Prop. 57

The office of Marin County District Attorney Ed Berberian is fighting to keep a man locked up in prison even though an appellate court has ordered a new hearing in his case to determine whether he should have been tried as a juvenile.

Max Wade, now 22, was sentenced in 2014 to 21 years to life imprisonment for two separate crimes he committed when he was a teenager: the theft of a Lamborghini owned by celebrity chef Guy Fieri (during which Wade rappelled down from the ceiling of a California dealership and drove it out the front door), and the attempted murder of a romantic rival. Although Wade was 16 and 17 when the crimes occurred, prosecutors elected to try him as an adult, saying that the crimes showed a level of planning and sophistication unusual for a juvenile.

But nearly three years after Wade was sentenced, California passed Proposition 57, which was designed to reduce the state’s prison population by putting a greater focus on rehabilitation. One of the key aspects of the ballot initiative is that it took the power to try juveniles as adults away from prosecutors and gave the final authority to judges.

Proposition 57’s passage was a major victory for criminal justice reformers who long argued that California prosecutors abused their unchecked power by trying too many juveniles as adults.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled last month that Proposition 57 should be applied retroactively to Wade’s case. Notably, other appellate courts have come out differently on Proposition 57’s retroactivity, and that issue is now pending before the California Supreme Court.

If Wade ends up being prosecuted in juvenile court, he would have to be released by the time he turns 25, attorney Charles Dresow, who represents Wade, told the Marin Independent Journal.

Under his current sentence, the earliest Wade can apply for parole is 2040.

But Berberian’s office has vowed to keep Wade in adult court and the top elected prosecutor has criticized Proposition 57 as “poorly written and deceptive.”

“Max Wade was appropriately handled and sentenced in the manner that reflected his violent conduct,” Berberian said. “We will pursue all appropriate and available legal procedures to see his imposed sentence is reinstated.”

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