Say No to John Russo! Pack the courtroom Friday, June 24, 2 p.m., Department 20, Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, 1225 Fallon St., Oakland
by Gabrielle Wilson
Oakland City Attorney John Russo in his plea to implement a gang injunction in Oakland’s Fruitvale District hastily used the recent criminal charge of attempted residential robbery upon a Fruitvale resident that named gang injunction defendant Anthony Garcia. In the latest arguments as to why Oakland needs another gang injunction, Garcia’s arrest was used to help sway Judge Robert Freedman to grant the injunction.
It turns out Garcia’s arrest and the resulting charge were frivolous. Prosecutors learned the statement given by Garcia’s neighbor to police was fraudulent; the neighbor said he had no idea what he was signing onto. Whether limited English or police coercion lies at the crux of the matter, the complaint given to police was recanted and charges were dropped.
Not so fast – a serious charge remains on Garcia’s record. With overzealous police and prosecutorial error at work against Garcia and others, can Judge Freedman honestly decide in favor of granting outgoing Oakland City Attorney John Russo another injunction? There’s more to come on Freedman and why his court was likely selected by Russo. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Lee reported the error in the May 15 Sunday paper.
While a conviction is a more serious mark on one’s record than a recanted charge, a charge can sometimes be just as damning. It is all some potential employers rely upon when hiring prospective employees. This mistake is not uncommon but apologies are most rare.
A district attorney should normally rely upon probable cause in deciding whether to file charges against an alleged criminal but is protected with immunity when a mistake is made. Never mind the six weeks Garcia spent in jail behind this frivolous arrest. A criminal record could prevent Garcia, 29, from certain employment opportunities for the rest of his working adult life. He now has the daunting task of trying to recapture some semblance of normalcy in his life.
Just ask Osha Neumann of the East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley about the ongoing need for a “Clean Slate” program. His organization is consistently serving individuals who want to move on in their lives and yet because of criminal records cannot seem to do so.
At the heart of a gang injunction is usually an overreaching district attorney and unfettered police power determined to gentrify a targeted area. What would appear at first blush to be an efficient crime fighting tool to clean streets and rid our communities of gang activity deceptively paves the way for real estate developers to curry favor with bankers to invigorate a sluggish housing market.
At the heart of a gang injunction is usually an overreaching district attorney and unfettered police power determined to gentrify a targeted area.
This reality proves all too costly as Anthony Garcia’s rights are trampled upon. Contemplate the future untold costs of this stain on his record. In her bestselling book, “The New Jim Crow,” author and attorney Michelle Alexander outlines the inability of former convicts to ever regain full citizenship. With criminal records in tow, an ex-con is unduly prevented from regaining full citizenship, which includes voting in most states. The U.S. Constitution and the tenet that one can pay his debt to society and receive full re-integration is now a myth.
States bear a costly burden in creating a permanent underclass of fringe citizens. To illustrate, in California a bill is currently before the legislature that aims to reduce our inmate population by granting medical parole to inmates who no longer pose a threat to society. If this bill passes, our state will save millions. It is simple: Inmates with severe medical issues and the attendant costs to care and police them could be eligible for medical parole. However, tough-on-crime advocates want all prisoners to rot in prison no matter how high the price. Kudos to Mark Leno for introducing this bill because this model is so last century and is not working.
However, the smart-on-crime policy Attorney General Kamala Harris propagates is the better approach because it is too easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We cannot expect different results using the same failed policies. Gang injunctions have been tried in numerous jurisdictions only to fail.
As Oakland fights rising crime, a sluggish real estate market and too few jobs or opportunities for its youth, gang injunctions are a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars that could be put to better use. To be sure, gang injunctions are a sure way to ameliorate problems on the surface but leave untold consequences. Just ask Garcia and the other named defendants who will not find it easy to recover.
As Oakland fights rising crime, a sluggish real estate market and too few jobs or opportunities for its youth, gang injunctions are a waste of scarce taxpayer dollars that could be put to better use.
In this unfortunate marriage between the Oakland Police Department, district attorney and city attorney, which entity will attempt to remedy this huge transgression upon Garcia or the public trust? Most agencies will not admit mistakes even when made public. As Garcia picks up the pieces of his life, a public apology is in order, but waiting for public officials to do the right thing is quite another matter.
Time might be better spent questioning the many affidavits signed by OPD officers as part of the city attorney’s case for the gang injunctions. Oakland could learn something from its neighbor across the bay. In San Francisco, dozens of criminal convictions were recently overturned after the alert San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi discovered the faulty procedures used in crime laboratories to gain illegal convictions.
A conviction, much like a gang injunction, is only as legal as the foundation upon which it rests. Some Oakland police officers are not strangers to lies, innuendos or deceit; just check the many lawsuits that continue to be paid out to unfortunate victims at the hands of rogue cops. This is why the affidavits signed by OPD officers should have been the first place Garcia’s defense attorney Michael Siegel should have looked when preparing his defense.
Who is Siegel and why is he representing Garcia and others to their peril? Early on Siegel admitted that he made a mistake causing over 50 defendants to lose representation. Though a procedural error, all it takes for an injunction to be granted is the conviction of one defendant.
When KPFA radio broadcaster and producer Nadra Foster was beaten by 12 or so Berkeley police officers three years ago, it was Siegel’s father, Dan Siegel, also an attorney and a KPFA station board member, who lauded KPFA management for calling the police on her while her daughters looked on. She had been told to leave the building and did not understand the reason for the request. She is still suffering from injuries as a result of the severe beating.
Siegel appears to have overlooked pages of affidavits signed by several OPD officers, many of whom live outside of Oakland, swearing that these named defendants are gang members who committed crimes, that they are menaces to society and they should be punished. Curious to note, however, the affidavits themselves are repetitive – cut and pasted text with recycled facts according to Oakland Police Officer Frank Morrow, who refused to sign on when presented with one.
The entire process is flawed as ever, which is probably why a federal judge called a meeting with police administration and the City of Oakland in April 2011 to force the terms of the settlement intended to clean up that department that followed the infamous “Riders” scandal and trial.
As Oakland City Attorney John Russo leaves Oakland for Alameda with two gang injunctions, possibly three, under his belt along with a couple of minority owned businesses he was instrumental in closing, he is poised to develop the Alameda Naval Air Base. The three Alameda City Council members who elected Russo after he campaigned and donated money to help get them elected have their work cut out in trying to diminish their direct conflicts of interest. Alamedans should have taken cues from the corrupt Southern California town of Bell and its city manager, Robert Rizzo, who was charged with taking $5.5 million from working class residents. The small minority owned businesses in Oakland and Alameda shut down by incoming Alameda City Manager John Russo that used to help people prepare legal documents now runs a food donation program that provides free food to the hungry.
As for Oakland, the fate of the Fruitvale District and its proposed gang injunction now rests with Judge Robert Freedman, who is no stranger to controversy. Once subject to disbarment by the Judicial Council of California, the administrative agency charged with holding judges honest, he had been cited for filing false affidavits and received probation. Apparently this was not enough to place him on the fringes of society, but what of Garcia and the North Oakland residents and all the others subject to the whims of society’s current displeasure with disposable immigrants and people of color in general? If Garcia is to be considered more than a pawn for real estate developers, his case is a clarion call for the masses to wake up.
Gang injunctions are part of a larger dilemma: class warfare, immigration, equal protection of the laws, civil rights and the toll that unfettered police power and gentrification take from society. The next court hearing on the proposed Fruitvale gang injunction is scheduled for Friday, June 24, 2 p.m., in Judge Freedman’s courtroom, Department 20, at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, 1225 Fallon St., Oakland.
Gabrielle Wilson, J.D., a legal affairs reporter and the host of Jazz Vignettes on KPFA, 94.1 FM, Wednesdays, 11 a.m.-noon, and KRML, 94.7 FM, Sundays, 2-4 p.m., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Become a fan of Jazz Vignettes on Facebook. Follow Gabrielle on Twitter: GabbyWilson.