As the race for District 4 County Supervisor begins to take shape, we are surprised to see incumbent Jim Provenza advertise that he is “proud to have [Yolo DA] Jeff Reisig's endorsement.”
To us, it doesn't feel that long ago that we were fighting to bring change to the Yolo DA's office, and so naturally we view Supervisor Provenza's embrace of DA Reisig with concern.
Lately (especially since the closer-than-expected 2018 election), DA Reisig has tried to fashion himself as a “progressive prosecutor.” We find this hard to square with his record of fighting progressive reform.
For example, we have read a lot about the Yolo DA's office expunging cannabis-related convictions. However, what often gets left out of the coverage and press releases is that these expungements are required by the passage of Proposition 64, a proposition made law by a majority of the voters, and one which DA Reisig opposed when it was on the ballot.
But to many of us this is not just a matter of public policy. We’ve also seen firsthand the impact that draconian policies and outright misconduct in the DA’s office have had on community members and their families in Yolo County.
Many of us stood with Yolo County Board of Education candidate Maria Grijalva when DA Reisig publicly accused her of “campaign finance violations,” just as absentee ballots were released and as her election was starting, only to see the charges completely “withdrawn” two weeks later after the political damage had been done. It is deeply concerning to us that DA Reisig used his public office to attack a respected community leader and political rival (Maria was Dean Johansson’s top donor) of criminal activity without any evidence. We believe this is a clear abuse of power.
Several of us were also there when Patti Pape spoke out in May 2018 about the tragic death of her son Eric Pape. Eric was accused of injuring a nurse while he himself was in the midst of a mental health crisis after being committed to Sutter Hospital in January 2017. Despite the obvious mitigating circumstances and Eric’s sincere desire to seek mental health treatment, the Yolo DA’s office vigorously pursued felony charges against Eric for over a year. According to Eric’s mother Patti, Eric’s “self-worth [and] his future were being held hostage by the courts, and he saw no hope,” and “the stress of his felony trial contributed to his eventual suicide.”
And for a few of us, this goes back much further, to April 2009 and the death of a young farm worker named Luis Gutierrez. Luis was walking home to meet his mother for lunch when he was stopped by plainclothes officers in the Yolo County Gang Task Force because his appearance was “consistent” with that of “known gang members.” Luis ran away from the plainclothes officers, who proceeded to chase him and eventually shot him in the back. The officers claim that Luis threatened them with a knife sometime after he started running away. The Yolo DA’s office had a legal and moral responsibility to investigate this incident and to ensure that justice was served. Instead they cleared all of the officers of any wrongdoing and released a report that — in the words of retired California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso — “raised more questions than answers.”
Tragically this story repeated itself in February 2017 when Michael Barrera died after being beaten and repeatedly tased by Woodland police officers. According to the DA’s own report, Michael became unresponsive while handcuffed, face down in the mud, with an officer’s knee pressed against his shoulder, and shortly after telling the officers that he couldn’t breath. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead less than an hour later. Yet, once again the District Attorney’s office cleared the officers, and Michael’s family is still fighting for justice with a federal civil rights lawsuit.
Endorsements matter. They help establish networks of trust that many voters find useful in making their decisions. So when a candidate asking for our vote advertises an endorsement for or by DA Jeff Reisig, it raises concern that they don’t know or don’t care about the injustices we have witnessed in our local criminal justice system. We urge all candidates seeking to represent residents of Yolo County to be clear about where they stand.
Grace Park Bassett
Capt. Paul B. Fullerton
M E Gladis
Wayne Chris Hawkes