Improving on what we've got. | Lost Coast Outpost | Humboldt County

Rick Randall asks Adrian Kamada, Stacey Eads, Michael Acosta

3 ^

Improving on what we've got.

We’ve had a “revolving door” jail, diversion programs that don’t work, and defendants of violent crime often facing lower-level charges than are possible and/or appropriate.  People moan about judges and lenient sentencing but the judges are just following the State rules and guidelines, and can’t judge on charges beyond what the DA brings to court.  DA charging decisions have led to real crooks who are a threat to our community getting off light, and they are most certainly not being “rehabilitated”.  All this in addition to bad plea agreements and lost trials that don’t get talked about.

Maggie Fleming came into office with promises of more efficiency, smarter choices, and the retention of skilled lawyers and staff.  It seems that none of that has happened.  There’s a long list of skilled prosecutors who have made the choice to leave.  The Sheriff’s Department and local Police have wasted literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime having Officers sit in courtroom hallways waiting to testify only to be told to go home.

The question: how will you distinguish yourself from the 8-year Fleming tenure and how will you turn the office around, or if you disagree with my assessments what makes you happy with the status quo?  Thank you for your time.

— Rick Randall

Responses

Michael Acosta

I agree with your statement. The “Revolving Door” paradigm is frustrating and it needs to be cautiously overhauled. Here is how I would do it:

  1. New Metrics: Change the Goals and the Measurement of Success.

    a. We need to measure our effectiveness in terms of private loss, not public gain. Do the amounts of money forfeited or kilos of drugs seized visibly effect your daily quality of life or your observable public safety? I doubt it, maybe indirectly, perhaps observably on occasion, but not directly and consistently. What matters is how many of our relations and acquaintances have been physically injured by criminals, and how severe their injuries were, What matters is how many of our neighbors and friends have sustained losses to their private property from theft and vandalism, and what will be the replacement cost to them. Are the monies seized by the government in forfeitures going to replace my $200 car battery that was stolen? Or my catalytic converter? No, it won’t, even though over 62% of forfeiture money goes directly to local law enforcement in totally discretionary funds. It won’t be spent to replace your broken store window or your slashed tire or my neighbor’s stolen delivery parcel. How many stolen delivery parcels have there been this month, where were they, and exactly how many criminals are responsible? Probably a lot fewer criminals than the number of packages, because whoever is doing that is doing it over and over again with impunity. Loss and injury analysis. Those are the metrics we should look to so that our limited prosecutorial resources are well spent and our efforts result in vectors showing declining property crime and decreasing violence over time.

    b. It’s not about incarcerating more people, its about incarcerating the right ones. It is a sad reality that the largest architectural masterpiece in our beautiful coastal community is the County jail. Out of 195 recognized countries, the United States ranks #1 in the world in number of people incarcerated, both in absolute terms and per capita, having more than 2 million prisoners nationwide, which is roughly 25% of the world’s total prison population. Our incarceration rate is almost 2x that of communist Russia, easily 5x that of China, and surprisingly 10x that of Islamic Syria.  We somehow have more prisoners in absolute numbers than China does, despite China’s population being 4x our population.  The prison population was only 200,000 in 1972 in the US, which even after adjustment for population, is significantly lower than the mass incarceration of today.  At the same time, the United States, in no empirical study, ranks in the top ten safest countries in the world. For example, in 2021, US News and World Report ranked the United States #38 in safety, a drop in six positions from 2020. Global Finance Magazine ranks the United States #71 in safety for 2021. What does this tell us about our approach to crime and punishment?

    There are many offenders in this community that deserve to be locked up, but making decisions about incarceration out of frustration leads to higher costs with diminishing returns. Yet, our frustration is justified because we see habitual offenders out of custody, after recently committed crimes, and still committing more crimes. Prosecutorial resources should not be directed at incarcerating the most offenders we can, but should be directed towards incarcerating habitual offenders for the longest period of time possible. The next two points of my agenda are critical new protocols that will help guide this effort.

  2. Cease the practice of giving lighter sentences to less lucrative categories of crime in exchange for information on more lucrative categories of crime. There are perverse financial incentives embedded in our civil forfeiture laws for prosecutors to make money off of crime by selling leniency on forfeiture ineligible cases in exchange for leads on more profitable forfeiture eligible cases. And because the business of trading leniency to thieves and unregistered sex offenders for forfeiture prospects is legally protected by evidentiary privilege, the public doesn’t know what this common practice is really costing us. Thieves that are given leniency in sentencing, or whose reported crimes go completely overlooked, commit more crimes with impunity, armed with the knowledge that deals can be made later. Case in point, I saw a Facebook entry recently documenting two well-known thieves,who happen to be twins living in Eureka, breaking into a car in Loleta in which the clever owner had placed a streaming video camera. These two guys are well known to the police, and commit petty thefts probably every day; true menaces to society. Yet, despite the videotape, and several members of the Facebook group positively identifying them, the twins haven’t been arrested for this incident, because they help the police make money on forfeiture eligible cases. Here, the cost of the future government profit is absorbed in part by the clever owner of the vehicle that was burglarized. Private citizens shouldn’t bear the costs of public profits. So there would be no more quid pro quo trading leniency for profit under my administration. Prosecutorial resources would be evenly applied, regardless of who the offender is, or who the offender tells on. The evidentiary privilege provided to informants would only be granted to non-offenders, for whom the confidential informant laws are properly legislated. Otherwise, we just are just profit-maximizing through selective prosecution, instead of prosecuting for public safety.

  3. Utilize banishment (aka voluntary removal from Humboldt County) as a remedy for habitual offenders.  Stipulated agreements that criminal offenders will voluntary leave the County for a specified period of time would not be unconstitutional, and actually have a couple advantages over incarceration. First, banishment costs us nearly nothing. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, in the 2020-21 fiscal year, it cost us about $106,000 per year in California to incarcerate one inmate. Second, in most cases where banishment would be both an appropriate alternative to incarceration (i.e. nonviolent crimes), and a desirable alternative to incarceration (i.e. habitual offenders, including recidivist thieves, unregistered sex offenders, and drug dealers) the period of banishment would be twice as long as the period of incarceration would have been, because no “4019 good time credits” would be given to the out-of-custody out-of-county offender.

    Banishment would be implemented through non-statutory deferred entries of judgment in which offenders plead guilty with entry of the judgment deferred to the completion of the banishment period during which would leave the County for the maximum consecutive sentence available. Exiles (those banished) caught present in the County of Humboldt during the banishment period would have judgment entered and serve the maximum consecutive sentence without further due process of law.

    Anticipating the argument that banishment is unfair to other counties, I would assert that Humboldt County has been used as a dumping ground for parolees by the California Parole Board for years, and that criminals seem to disproportionately migrate to Humboldt County due to its remoteness and low population density. So, this addition to the arsenal of dispositions for our worst repeat offenders is really just balancing things out. Other counties, both large and small, use voluntary removals from time to time, but it is usually not memorialized as policy. This would be proposed as formal written policy, in consultation with the Risk Management department of the County, to be used frequently as an alternative disposition for habitual offenders.

    [The next two agenda items address violent crimes, which are most recently rising again.]

  4. No plea bargaining in home invasion cases. Each and every case of robbery of a person in an occupied dwelling (i.e. a home invasion) should be prosecuted to the fullest without any plea bargains. Offenders can always plead the sheet (i.e. to all charges) and throw themselves on the mercy of the Court at sentencing, but the DA’s office would not participate in any plea bargaining on home invasion cases.

  5. Seek the death penalty for all eligible first degree murder cases supported by DNA evidence. I would seek the death penalty in all special circumstance first degree murder cases with supporting DNA evidence, despite Governor Newsom’s August 19, 2021 moratorium on executions and his repeal of the lethal injection protocol. There have been some heinous crimes recently in Humboldt County. Crimes worse than those I have seen in fictional movies. It is questionable whether the death penalty deters future crime, but regardless, seeking the death penalty for heinous murderers is an expression of the People’s moral outrage, and it should be sought in all cases that shock the conscience. The majority of death row inmates who were wrongfully convicted had trials that lacked DNA evidence, either because of incompetent assistance of counsel or because a judge denied DNA testing. And even though electrocution, the gas chamber, and lethal injection have been found to be cruel and unusual punishment, I believe that California should and will re-legislate the firing squad (which was its original method of execution) as the most humane execution method. The death penalty is important because it insures that the convicted inmate is housed with other condemned inmates and is not eligible for lower security levels of incarceration. Since 1978 in California, only 13 death row inmates have actually been executed, but 21 more have taken their own lives, whether for contrition or cowardice, but none of those inmates were vindicated postmortem with DNA evidence. So being on death row itself does have some effect on the condemned.

    It was during the last 8 years, that Gary Bullock was convicted of the heinous murder of Father Eric Freed. Because the death penalty was plea bargained away, Gary Bullock has never spent time on death row in San Quentin, but instead was somehow assigned to Sierra Fire Camp before being reassigned to a “Sensitive Needs Yard” at the RJ Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, where he is presently housed. A tragic case in point of how community outrage and grief should have been expressed by seeking the death penalty.

  6. Equal justice for all, not tied to race, gender, class, or social status. Arguably the most disenfranchising case of the last 8 years was People v, Marci Kitchen. It is admittedly pure speculation, but I have to wonder whether the same result would have been achieved if the defendant was poor, or male, or a person of color. Therefore, in order to check our own subconscious prejudices (and we all have them), the DA’s office should look at the available demographic data on dispositions of similar charges before making offers to resolve major cases which may have at least the appearance that race, gender, class, and/or social status played some role in the development of a plea offer.

  7. Encourage the expanded use of body-worn cameras to reduce testimonial time in court. A picture is worth a thousand words, especially in court. In order to save costs incurred during lengthy testimonial hearings, the DA’s office needs to encourage, or insist upon, the use of available technology that has already been procured by law enforcement during the execution of search warrants, and during most calls for service, when practical. to wit, The California District Attorney’s Association published a Model Body-Worn Camera Policy back in 2016, and I have yet to see anything similar implemented in this County. Body-worn cameras protect both the public and our law enforcement officers from false allegations, and facilitate the expedient disposition of cases.

  8. Retention of human resources in the District Attorneys office.

    I moved to Humboldt County in 2001, having been recruited by California Indian Legal Services from my managing attorney position at Dakota Plains Legal Services in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. I remember getting here at the tail end of Terry Farmer’s dynasty as the District Attorney, and during the contentious Farmer-Gallegos election that saw Paul become the next DA. For some reason I can’t now remember, I had the opportunity to meet with Rob Wade at the DA’s office after the election, but before Gallegos took office. Mr. Wade told me that he was relocating to the Tahoe area and had accepted a position at the District Attorney’s office there. During this brief encounter, it occurred to me that, whatever the issues were during that 2002 election, Terry Farmer had assembled an office full of solid, heavy hitters; prosecutors that cumulatively represented so many years of experience and that were also forces to be reckoned with individually; prosecutors like Andrew Isaac, whose blistering intelligence, cunning legal skills, and distinctive New England mannerisms just exuded leadership in the interests of justice.  So many of them left, including Ms. Fleming herself. I wondered whether it was because they didn’t want to work for Paul, or because they had just held on that long out of respect for Terry Farmer. I don’t really know, but at that point, institutional memory and continuity was largely lost at the District Attorney’s office.

    Forward to 2018, when Mr. Adrian Kamada, my esteemed opponent, is designated the Environmental Prosecutor of the Year, yet is not retained soon thereafter by the DA’s office, and makes a lateral move to the Public Defender’s office. Similar to Ms. Fleming’s candidacy, we might deduce from Mr. Kamada’s candidacy that he would have preferred to remain at the DA’s office. In any event, it seems that retention of human resources has, to some extent, hampered the last two administrations over the course of two decades. As I mentioned, I’ve been in management positions before, both at a law firm and in a tribal government, and high turnover means more management, more training time, and less productivity. To address this, here’s what I promise to do, if elected.

    I would facilitate the retention of current deputy prosecutors by reprogramming half of the $185,120.00 salary of the elected District Attorney position to deputy DA salaries, with each receiving some salary raise between $5000 to $10,000 per deputy DA. In tough economic times, our elected officials should feel the financial pinch along with us, and I would certainly be willing to face the same affordability “struggle” as my staff for four years, which would be easy at $92,560.00 per year.  I’ve worked for three legal aid societies in the last thirty years, so  I am well suited to lower paying public service posts. The salary of the elected DA should be somewhere on par with the other deputy DA’s; maybe slightly more, but too large a disparity effects morale, and its hard to retain talent that is underpaid. It may be just a symbolic gesture, but if it increases morale and retention, then it is worth it. And since I do not intend to run again, regardless of the outcome of this election, its not that big of a sacrifice to make. (As an opponent of career politicians, I can swear to you now that I would be a one-term DA, if elected),

    Lastly, I would certainly extend an offer to Mr. Kamada to rejoin the DA’s office. I would also hope that Ms. Stacey Eads would remain, as she has through Ms. Fleming’s and Mr. Gallegos’ administrations, to her credit. [Vote for me, and get all three!]

    Thank you for your excellent opening question, Mr. Rick Randall.

 

 



 



 



Adrian Kamada

Mr. Randall,

I agree with your overall assessment, and it is time to make cultural and structural changes in the District Attorney’s Office.  Continuing with “the ways things have always been done” is not effective, as our crime statistics over the past eight years clearly demonstrate. 

As District Attorney I will make the tough decisions at the appropriate times with the goal of enhancing public safety and achieving justice.  I will distinguish myself from the current administration by developing new policies and programs aimed specifically at the important issues you have raised.  Additionally, I will usher in the most transparent District Attorney’s Office in our county’s history.

The first step and immediate change is the responsible use of resources. The second step is implementing fresh ideas and programs to ensure our approaches to justice are fair, serve to protect the public, restore lives, and strengthen the fabric of our community and families.

As you pointed out, the D.A.’s Office has been losing many trials, and police officers are often waiting all day in the court hallway just to be sent home. This is where an immediate change will be made. As the D.A., I will make informed decisions ensuring that prosecutors are well-prepared for trial by freeing up their time to focus on the most serious cases. If a prosecutor has homicides, home-invasion robberies, and other serious and violent cases on their plate, then they cannot be waiting in court every day to pursue low-level offenses that should be easily resolved in a manner that holds the defendant accountable.

There is no need to drag these low-level offenses through the system only to reach foregone conclusions that are proscribed by statutory law—if the defendant is eligible, they will be granted probation. This also reflects the legislature’s and judicial branch’s goal of addressing prison overcrowding, and making efforts at rehabilitation, which also avoids spending the taxpayer’s money of more than $100,00 a year to incarcerate a single person. It simply does not make practical, or economic sense. More fundamentally, it does not make our community safer—more often incarceration leads to making an individual more likely to reoffend.

Furthermore, the current model takes officers off the streets, prosecutors away from more serious cases, wastes the time of witnesses, and postpones closure for victims, often resulting in “bad pleas” and lost jury trials after the case dragged through the court system for years.

The second step is to implement innovative new programs that reduce the “revolving door” and that create better results.  A first-offender program for low-level offenses aimed at steering people away from the criminal justice system and a repeat-offender program that provides real consequences for people that continuously commit crime is just one example.

We will think critically about the facts and circumstances of each case and craft tailored resolutions aimed at preventing the defendant from engaging in future criminal behavior. They will be held accountable for their actions to enhance safety and justice for the victim and for our community. We can do better than continuing down a path that we already know doesn’t work.

Finally, as you noted, the D.A.’s office has lost many cases that nobody hears about.  As District Attorney I will issue a press release on the results of every trial, not just the cases the office “wins”.  We will post the results of all cases on our website, use social media to provide updates on trials and resolutions in major cases, and respond publicly to any inquiry that we legally can. The District Attorney must keep the people they serve adequately informed, whether cases go their way or not.  Honesty and transparency are the critical pillars in gaining and keeping the public’s trust.

I hope I adequately answered your question.  If you or anyone else would like to discuss the policies and programs I will implement in more detail please free to email me at adrian@ak4da.com.

Respectfully,

Adrian 

Stacey Eads

Mr. Randall,

I thank you for sharing concern in the safety of our community.  You’re not alone in your frustrations with the criminal activity we experience in our community. The emotional, physical and financial toll is real and offenders should be held accountable.  

Undoubtedly, our criminal justice system is an evolving landscape constantly presenting new challenges which inherently call for new and adaptive approaches  by all members of the justice system.   I am adaptable and open to change and suggestions, at the same time that I remain focused on the mission of the District Attorney’s Office to achieve justice and promote public safety.  Useful change requires identification of actual problems and recognition of what works.  Since she took office in 2015, DA Fleming implemented changes that eliminated a massive crime charging backlog of hundreds of cases, resolved staffing shortages, improved office morale, and greatly improved the consistency of decision-making in the office to reduce the “DA-shopping” that had previously occurred.  When DA Fleming took office in January 2015 the Humboldt Superior Court had 1024 felonies pending in the system.   By April of 2019 that number was down to 578.  Of course with Covid and the limitations of jury trials and court availability we have seen those numbers grow but the D.A.’s Office continued to work through Covid. These facts do not suggest the need for radical change. 

On the subject of wins and losses:  the Office has tried 5 felony trials so far in 2022, 4 resulting in guilty verdicts and one resulting in a hung jury (which means we have the option of retrying the case).  

In 2021 we completed 25 trials (20 were felonies) with 18 of the 25 returning verdicts of guilt which is 72%.  In 2020 we completed 8 felony trials and the juries returned 7 guilty verdicts and the jury hung in one which is an 87.5% conviction rate.

It’s also important to recognize that conviction rates don’t perfectly correlate with the quality of prosecutions.  The California Rule of Professional Conduct 3.8 states: “A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.  This responsibility carries with it specific obligations to see that the defendant is accorded procedural justice, that guilt is decided upon the basis of sufficient evidence, and that special precautions are taken to prevent and to rectify the conviction of innocent persons.”  Prosecutors achieve justice by bringing charges they believe they can prove and fairly presenting them to a jury.  Given California law, decision making of  judges, and the variability of juries, any particular not guilty verdict does not indicate that prosecutors should not have brought charges and pursued conviction.

On the retention issue, allow me to offer some historical perspective and information on the current status of the attorneys.  When DA Fleming took Office in January 2015, there were only 10 attorneys in the Office and only 3 had more than 3 years in the Office (I was one of them, with 12 years of experience, many more than anyone else.)  We now have 16 attorneys, and 8 of those have more than 5 years in the Office.  As is typical in smaller DA Offices statewide, we regularly lose early-career prosecutors who start in a small office and then move to an office closer to home or a larger office where they receive substantially higher pay.  Almost every attorney hired since 2015 by DA Fleming who left is now serving in a DA’s Office elsewhere in the state.  Furthermore, of our current 16 attorneys, 6 joined this Office after starting their prosecution careers in another DA’s Office.  Those people have brought both experience and connections to other counties that assist us in our work here in Humboldt.  Staffing the DA’s Office will remain a challenge.  I will continue to recruit professional, ethical prosecutors with the passion to serve and seek justice for all.

On the issue of law enforcement officers wasting time in courtroom hallways: Officers get told to go home for a variety of reasons, none of which are the result of mismanagement or mistakes by the District Attorney.  The main current issue is the decision of the judges and court staff to require all officers to come to court at the same time, even though all the cases bringing them to court could not possibly be put on at the same time.  

As for the broad issue of appropriate responses to criminal behavior: Incarceration, under certain circumstances, is the only mechanism to adequately protect the public, impose accountability measures and achieve justice.  Some of those very cases I’ve prosecuted are: People vs. Seng Yang, People vs. Cory Fisher, People vs. Michael Flowers, People vs. Barry Sanford and People vs. Mario Alexander.  Each is a very real tragic example of predators who could not safely remain in our community because of their heinous crimes inflicted upon particularly vulnerable victims.  My proven record demonstrates that I know incarceration under certain circumstances is the only option.  

Nonetheless, under entirely different circumstances, diversion may be an appropriate course of action from the perspective of all parties.  Criminal conviction for provable criminal conduct does not always equate with justice served.  California law provides for multiple statutory diversion opportunities for a variety of circumstances, such as defendants with mental health disorders, cognitive developmental disabilities, and current or prior service as a member of the United States Military.  

For example, a crime committed by a Veteran suffering from PTSD as a result of their military service or a person suffering from a mental disorder, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, that played a significant factor to commission of the offense, may be better addressed via treatment than incarceration. 

I will advocate for development of a Mental Health Court.  Resources will be dedicated to train and educate the Office, myself included, with the ultimate goal of working collaboratively with other agencies, services, resources, at both the local and state level, to actively battle the mental health crisis our community faces.  Preventive and responsive measures will assist the mentally ill person, reduce crime, and promote the overall safety and well-being of all.

Property crime will be prosecuted.  Yes, the laws have changed over the last few years, reducing the accountability measures, nonetheless I will prosecute.  Repeat offenders should serve time, even if the jail is the only option.  Our family-owned businesses cannot continue to absorb the cost.  Employees cannot continue to be forced to watch as carts full of unpaid merchandise are scooted out the door, again, by the same thief.   This is intolerable and must stop.  Accountability measures, including jail, must be utilized.

As your District Attorney I will continue the positive track DA Fleming placed the Office upon.  As my predecessor has done, I will work tirelessly to serve our community, compassionately support crime victims, inform the public, and make critical decisions fairly and effectively in a timely manner— always knowing most every decision directly impacts the daily lives of others.  I will continue to work collaboratively with my justice partners, including law enforcement officers, Probation, Tribes,  victim advocates, defense counsel and the Courts, to adapt to these changes never forgetting my foremost duty to promote public safety for all.    

As District Attorney I will ensure victims of crime are afforded their rights as required by law and principle.  A strong team of prosecutors, advocates and investigators will be assigned to handle all crimes involving elder, dependent adult, children and sexual assault victims.  The same team members will be assigned to each case from inception to conclusion to ensure the victim has the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the team advocating on their behalf.  Victims will be supported with compassion and respect.

Thank you, Mr. Randall, for this opportunity to address some misconceptions and let you know I humbly look forward to the honor to continue my service, promoting public safety for Humboldt County, as I have done for over twenty years, with integrity, ability and commitment to the safety and well-being of all of Humboldt as your next District Attorney.  

I invite you to learn more at www.StaceyEads4da.com.  


Thank you, 

Stacey