No Police Shooting Charges from L.A. DA in Six Years

Critics say that Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey never charges police officers in fatal shootings, even in egregious cases. The law is weighted in favor of officers.

If there was ever a police shooting that would bring criminal charges against a law enforcement officer in Los Angeles, the killing of Brendon Glenn looked like it could be the one. The shooting was captured on video. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck issued an unprecedented public call for the officer to be prosecuted. The city paid out $4 million to Glenn’s family. Nearly three years later, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey decided not to bring charges against Officer Clifford Proctor, marking a rare public clash between two of the L.A. area’s top law enforcement officials, reports the Los Angeles Times. Her decision illustrates how even at a time of intense nationwide scrutiny of police officers, it remains extremely rare to prosecute them for on-duty shootings.

The law is heavily weighted in favor of officers if they reasonably perceived a threat to themselves or others when they opened fire, even if the belief was mistaken. Lacey’s supporters say she calculated she would not win at trial, sparing a police officer the ordeal of unnecessary criminal charges and herself the public humiliation of losing a high-profile case. Her critics say she appeared so intent on clearing the officer that her 83-page memo justifying the decision reads like it was written by a defense lawyer. Since taking office in 2012, Lacey has not brought charges against a police officer for an on-duty shooting. Some experts were concerned by Lacey’s reasoning, saying it might signal to officers that when there is a tussle in close quarters, they could justify opening fire by later claiming the suspect was trying to disarm them. Glenn is the third fatal high-profile police shooting in recent years involving a similar scenario.


Phila. Prosecutor OK’s Meek Mill’s Release on Bail

The decision is up to a judge, but Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner says that rapper Meek Mill may have been wrongfully convicted in 2008. Evidence has emerged that puts his conviction, and scores of others, in jeopardy.

Meek Mill, the Philadelphia rapper jailed on a weapons-and-drugs conviction, may have been unjustly convicted thanks to a cop who lied at his 2008 trial, District Attorney Larry Krasner said Wednesday in announcing that he will not oppose Mill’s immediate release on bail pending appeal of his case. USA Today calls it “a shocking development” in a contentious case that has implications for scores of other convictions in Philadelphia involving police officers whose names appear on a list of officers whose credibility has been questioned by fellow officers and by local prosecutors.

Mill has been in jail or under house arrest for more than two years, most recently for probation violations. Since last fall, he and his lawyers have been trying and failing to persuade a judge to release him on bail while his case is appealed. Now evidence has emerged that puts his conviction — and that of scores of others — in jeopardy. “In the event (Mill’s) conviction is reversed (in whole or in part) as a result of post-conviction proceedings, the risk of an unjust or disproportionate sentence having been served exists,” Krasner said. “That risk increases as long as (Mill) remains in custody.” Because hundreds of other convictions have been reversed based on information provided by a whistleblowing cop, “there is a strong showing of likelihood of (Mill’s) conviction being reversed (in whole or in part),” Krasner said. The decision on whether to release Mill now or soon still rests with the judge in his case. Mill’s mother, his friends and fans, leading sports figures and community leaders in Philadelphia have sharply criticized Judge Genece Brinkley, who sentenced Mill to two to four years in prison for violating probation on a decade-old guns-and-drugs case. An appeals court in December denied a request to free the 30-year-old musician on bail.


Is Defeat of 6 TX DAs a Justice Reform Victory?

After half of the Texas district attorneys seeking re-election were defeated in primaries last week, a board member of the National District Attorneys Association says, “Incumbency does not have the shield that it once did.” The question is how many of the winners are progressive reformers.

Six of the 12 sitting Texas district attorneys who faced primary challengers lost re-election bids last week, the Texas Tribune reports. Analysts disagree on whether this is a sign of criminal justice reform taking center stage or normal turnover. The 12 incumbents challenged in their primaries were among about 50 district attorney seats up for election this year. Experts said the number of ousters is indicative of a trend that district attorneys, who often would stay in office for decades, are no longer safe. “Incumbency does not have the shield that it once did,” said Josh Marquis, a district attorney in Oregon since 1994 who serves on the board of the National District Attorneys Association. Marquis said part of that weakened shield is because voters nationwide are becoming more informed about the power of their local prosecutors.

On top of that is the relatively new threat of big money pouring into these races to fund more progressive, reform-minded candidates. Liberal billionaire George Soros has set his sights on transforming the American criminal justice system one local prosecutor at a time. His money largely funds candidates running on reformist issues, like reducing mass incarceration by diverting low-level drug offenders into treatment programs and addressing racial inequality. A group tied to Soros gave almost $1 million to defeated Bexar County DA Nico LaHood’s largely unknown opponent in the Democratic primary, Joe Gonzales. Gonzales, who likened LaHood to President Trump, beat LaHood by nearly 20 percentage points. Marc Levin of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation says the recent results show that “voters want a district attorney who will define success by improving public safety and reducing recidivism, which in many cases involving nonviolent offenders means alternatives like a drug court rather than prison.”


San Antonio Prosecutor Loses Primary Election

Defense lawyer Joe Gonzales defeated San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood in Tuesday’s primary election. The DA says he was the subject of “$1 million worth of lies,” citing contributions from a political action committee backed by George Soros. Gonzales accused LaHood of misconduct.

San Antonio District Attorney Nico LaHood conceded the Democratic primary, according to reports from inside his election night party, reports the San Antonio Express-News. LaHood barred Express-News journalists from attending the event. Defense lawyer Joe Gonzales has 60 percent of the vote in early results from his bid to unseat LaHood in the Democratic primary with 5 percent of precincts reporting. LaHood, who was trying to win a second term, has had a bruising race with Gonzales. Their confrontation dates to a 2017 murder trial in which Gonzales alleged prosecutorial misconduct by LaHood.

Gonzales, a relative political unknown as recently as a few months ago, has been aidedby an influx of donations from a George Soros backed political action committee, reports KSAT. LaHood said, “In my opinion, the voters were unfairly influenced by $1 million worth of lies. There’s no other way to say it. But we have a system and the voters have spoken. And I respect their voice.” Gonzales said LaHood “didn’t have the correct temperament to run that office. I’ve said from the very beginning, ‘You have to treat everybody at the courthouse with respect.’ “


ACLU Targets DA Races in At Least Eight States

Working with funds from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, the American Civil Liberties Union is planning voter outreach campaigns in many areas. The Fraternal Order of Police disagrees with the drive’ goals.

The American Civil Liberties Union, backed by billionaire Democratic donor George Soros, is investing resources and applying organizational muscle in local district attorney races in 2018. The ACLU is among organizations working to elect prosecutors who are willing to jumpstart a laundry list of criminal justice reforms, including an overhaul of the pretrial bail bond system. It received a $50 million grant from Soros’ Open Society Foundations in 2014. In this year’s elections, the organization is planning voter education and outreach campaigns in district attorney races in California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont and possibly North Carolina and Missouri, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The group will focus on contests in big cities with large jail populations that feed the state prison system, said the ACLU’s Taylor Pendergrass. More than 1,000 local prosecutors are up for election in November. “We’re just recognizing how powerful district attorneys are in shaping criminal justice policies, both at the local level, but also at the statehouse,” Pendergrass said.

Soros-funded super PACs and advocacy groups have helped elect progressive district attorneys who now serve metro areas such as Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and Orlando. Law enforcement officials, anti-crime groups and the bail bond industry are pushing back, warning that weakening the nation’s approach to crime will put public safety at risk. James Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police doesn’t buy the “underlying premise” that many people are unjustly incarcerated or are serving inordinately long sentences. “George Soros and the Kochs don’t have to worry about criminals on the street,” Pasco said. “They’ve got security guards and live in secure areas … But it’s going to make a tremendous difference to those people, who by circumstance or accident of birth, find themselves living in high-crime, poverty-stricken areas without the wherewithal to protect themselves.”


Liberals Focus on MA District Attorney Races

Several county prosecutors in Massachusetts face challenges from the left this year. The American Civil Liberties Union is running a “What a Difference a DA Makes” campaign.

Against the backdrop of last year’s Philadelphia district attorney’s race, which drew national attention when an ex-civil rights lawyer with no background as a prosecutor and little support from law enforcement won a decisive victory, a wave of new candidates for top prosecutor positions is emerging, with many vowing to carry the mantle of criminal justice reform, the Boston Globe reports. Consider these three Massachusetts counties: In Suffolk, three candidates for district attorney believe minimum mandatory sentences for low-level drug offenders should be repealed. In Middlesex, incumbent Marian Ryan, a Democrat and self-described progressive, has a challenge from her left, a former prosecutor and defense attorney who describes herself as the true liberal in the race. In Worcester, District Attorney Joseph Early, who has run unopposed every four years since he was elected in 2006, faces a defense lawyer who is calling for a citizens advisory board to ensure that prosecutors are being “fair and impartial.”

Amid growing resistance to mass incarceration and racial disparities in prosecutions, district attorney races have taken on prominence. Wealthy donors have made major contributions to reform-minded candidates, and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are lobbying voters to pay attention to low-profile races. “District attorneys will throw their hands up and say ‘We’re not responsible for what society leaves on our doorstep.’ And that’s just not true. They have an important role in reducing those disparities,” said Rahsaan Hall of the American Civil Liberties Union, leader of “What a Difference a DA Makes,” a campaign to raise awareness about the job. Despite the state’s liberal leanings, most Massachusetts district attorneys have a traditional law-and-order philosophy, resisting changes such as limiting mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses and increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 19. They have faced little, if any, opposition.


Mueller Sets a Fast Pace in His Russia Investigation

Compared with investigations of former President Bill Clinton and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, Robert Mueller’s probe is moving quickly, with 19 charges and two major guilty pleas in only nine months.

Robert Mueller has worked for about nine months on the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. He already has charged 19 people with wrongdoing, and won guilty pleas from the president’s former campaign vice chairman and his former national security adviser, NPR reports. The pace “is very similar to some of the best special prosecutors in modern history,” said Ken Gormley, the president of Duquesne University and the author of two books on special prosecutors. For many people, the model prosecutor was Archibald Cox, who investigated Watergate for a little more than a year before he was fired.

Cox developed evidence about obstruction of justice by President Richard Nixon. The prosecutor who replaced Cox built on that work, ultimately leading to Nixon’s resignation. The White House, President Trump and his lawyers have been pressing  Mueller to move even faster. So is another familiar figure: former Whitewater independent counsel Ken Starr. “The American people, I think, want to know, was there collusion,” Starr told CNN. Starr spent five years and more than $40 million investigating President Bill Clinton. Critics say Starr took too long and wandered away from his original mission. An investigation of Clinton’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros, took nearly 11 years and resulted in a misdemeanor guilty plea for providing false information about payments to a former mistress. Back to Mueller, Wake Forest University Prof. Katy Harriger said measuring his success will be a challenge. “For some people, success will only be if somehow the president gets impeached,” she said. “And for other people, success is a complete exoneration.”


Ex-Juvenile Justice Chief Listenbee Joins Philadelphia DA

Robert Listenbee, former administrator of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention will join the District Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia as the First Assistant DA to Larry Krasner.

Robert Listenbee, former administrator of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), will be joining the District Attorney’s Office in Philadelphia as the First Assistant DA, the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said, “By having Robert Listenbee, who distinguished himself in the Obama administration as part of my team, we will be able to add more capacity to everything we do from juvenile justice issues to supporting the communities we serve to offering our city’s most vulnerable citizens a helping hand.”

“The City of Philadelphia has always been home to me,” Listenbee said, “and having the opportunity to join the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office as DA Krasner’s First Assistant, as he embarks on one of the most consequential reform efforts of any district attorney’s office in the nation, is not just an honor, but is beyond exciting.” Listenbee ran OJJDP from March 2013 until January 2017. After that he was a Visiting Fellow at the Stoneleigh Foundation, which works on juvenile justice and child welfare. He formerly was chief of the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia for 16 years and a trial lawyer with the association for more than two decades.


Can a Jury Alone Decide Guilt?

Prosecutors have too often left it up to juries to sift through evidence of cases against individuals whom they decided were guilty of their crimes without a thorough investigation, says Brooklyn (NY) DA Eric Gonzalez. He adds his office is making sure that never happens again.

Is it easier to take a second look at suspect convictions when crime rates have declined, and the public is no longer clamoring for tough-on-crime strategies from their prosecutors and police?

Brooklyn (NY) District Attorney Eric Gonzalez argues that prosecutors in fact should beware of the opposite problem: when crime rates accelerate, critical evidence that might exonerate a defendant can be sidestepped by DAs who are too eager to satisfy the public’s demand for quick convictions.

Eric Gonzalez

Brooklyn (NY) District Attorney Eric Gonzalez

In a conversation with The Crime Report’s Victoria Mckenzie during last week’s John Jay/Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America, Gonzalez conceded that prosecutors too often left it to jurors to decide on their own how to judge the credibility of both witnesses and evidence without pursuing thorough investigations.

The Crime Report: Since your Conviction Review Unit is handling cases that are decades old, are you able to see whether the decline of jury trials have had an effect on wrongful convictions either way?

Eric Gonzalez: Most of the cases that we’ve overturned have been jury trial cases. We have overturned a plea in one case, where a person was facing deportation, and we found…fabrication. But most of the cases have been jury trials. I’m going to say, and this is controversial in a way, but what I found is— especially in the 1980s and 1990s, when the homicide rate in Brooklyn (left) over 800 people killed, that the volume of cases weren’t very well investigated.

And often if there was probable cause, a lot of these cases would be put before juries with the kind of concept of “let the jury decide.” Make out a legally sufficient prosecution, but let the jury decide.

I think that today we look at these cases a little bit more critically. We don’t abdicate our responsibilities as prosecutors to make sure we have a certain moral certainty of the defendant’s guilt before giving it to the juror to say “you decide.”

That is something I am very critical of, and in some of these cases I think prosecutors could have stopped the prosecution of the case saying they had credibility questions about the witnesses. In the past maybe we allowed jurors to decide credibility, and sort of stepped back from making sure that we believed in their guilt.

TCR: So your review unit is not handling cases where the defendant pled out even if he/she may have been innocent, just to get out of jail etc.

EG: What we’re focusing in on right now are currently cases where the person is still incarcerated. And a lot of these plea cases, especially with low level crime, the person is pleading in order to get out of prison, and they’re moving on with their lives and they don’t have the resources or the organizations like the Innocence Project going back and bringing these petitions.

We have looked at pleas, we do look at pleas, but we’re really focusing our resources on the people currently incarcerated. So I think in a lot of plea cases you don’t have people still in jail.

Victoria Mckenzie is Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.


Justice Reformers Focus on Prosecutor Races

After Larry Krasner’s victory in Philadelphia, civil rights advocates are looking at DA contests in cities like Dallas, Baltimore, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis. George Soros is backing the effort.

National civil rights organizations are teaming with local groups to push their agendas in  district attorney races, where a few thousand votes can determine who asserts the most influence over the local justice system, NBC News reports. Picking targets carefully, crunching election data to influence pivotal voter blocs, and benefiting from the largesse of George Soros, crusaders have racked up big wins, most recently in Philadelphia, where civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner was elected chief prosecutor last year. Using Krasner as proof that their strategy can work, the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change and like-minded political action committees now focusing on 2018 races, with Dallas at the front of a list that could also include Baltimore, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis, as well as parts of Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Oregon.

Each will involve targeted voter-education drives and the hiring of formerly prisoners to canvass neighborhoods, asking voters to demand that candidates pledge to curb mass incarceration. “We want to send a clear message that these are the real issues and the litmus test in the election, and to demonstrate the public demand for it,” said Scott Roberts of Color of Change, which organizes online campaigns focused on ending injustices against African-Americans. Stanford law Prof. David Sklansky, who studies prosecutors, says that, “In a growing number of races, people have defeated incumbents by running on platforms that are very policy heavy. They’re not calling for more punishment, but more sensible policies,” from police oversight to criminal sentencing. The trend in 2013, when Ken Thompson defeated longtime Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. Since then, self-described reform candidates have won in Chicago, Denver, Houston, and Orlando, and in smaller jurisdictions in Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.