Daily Democrat Reports in Column: “Reisig and the county are said to be discussing taking some kind of action against Greenwald.”
The biggest news perhaps was buried in the middle, in which Mr. Dorsey wrote, “Here’s what I don’t understand: Reisig and the county are said to be discussing taking some kind of action against Greenwald.”
Writes Mr. Dorsey, “Davis writer and perpetual thorn David Greenwald has used his army of interns to full advantage to publish a damaging story against the Yolo County DA’s Office and DA Jeff Reisig.”
While Mr. Dorsey calls the story, “damning,” he criticizes the Vanguard by warning people that they must “consider the source.” ” Greenwald doesn’t like Reisig and how he runs his portion of the county’s justice system. He sees corruption and a kind of overzealousness in Reisig, chasing cases while running roughshod over important facts, all in the pursuit of convictions.”
Dorsey continues, “Also, questions come up while reading the story that leave gaps. The largest gaps come from the fact that Greenwald did not talk to anyone within the Yolo County justice system in order to write this story. Certainly no one at the DA’s Office, who likely wouldn’t return his calls anyway.”
This is certainly, at least, partly true. In a conversation with Chief Deputy DA Jonathan Raven back in February, he informed me that the DA’s Office had no interest in providing comments to the Vanguard. Both his words at the time of our conversation and the inaction of the DA’s Office has forced me to rely on official statements from the DA’s Office, their prosecutors, and other county officials to fill in the gaps.
In fact, we are well aware of the complaints about the original grant story, some of them have some merit, others appear to be closer to spin. However, if the DA’s Office feels wronged in this process, perhaps they ought to re-think their strategy of not speaking to us. They are, in fact, the only government body in this entire county that does not respond to press inquiries from the Vanguard.
And if people want to suggest we have gone exclusively after the DA’s Office, we have certainly gone after the City of Davis, UC Davis, the Sheriff’s Department, as well as individual officeholders in this county. The only one of them that does not communicate with the Vanguard is the DA’s Office.
But the worst part of this story, from their standpoint, is that, for the most part, we got it right. Off the record, we were told by several former Deputy DA’s and other employees, none of whom are former candidates for DA, that they were regularly pressured to increase crime figures in grant applications. We are looking further into that angle of the story.
But I think we need to go back and look at this quote again because it is, frankly, chilling: “Reisig and the county are said to be discussing taking some kind of action against Greenwald.”
Did Mr. Dorsey get it right? Is the DA’s Office going to use the chief power of law enforcement to attempt to silence a critical voice?
They want to go after the Vanguard or myself, fine. We have a First Amendment in this country, and their actions would frankly only prove our criticisms and concerns to be correct.
To his credit, Jake Dorsey reacts to this news with a bit of disbelief.
“Really?” he writes. “If Reisig were DA in a larger county, such as Sacramento, Greenwald would not register on the man’s radar. A story like the grant story would be significant, and should be addressed, but to turn around and then attack the writer?”
“That’s some petty stuff. Not to mention unprofessional, if it is true,” says Mr. Dorsey.
He continues, “Reisig shouldn’t waste his time, or the county’s, by trying to even the score somehow with Greenwald. Take the lumps, keep doing your job. Woodland City Manager Mark Deven has a lot of experience there; perhaps they should talk.”
Mr. Dorsey also writes, “However, this would be par for the course for Mr. Reisig. Here is a man who should, by all accounts, not be bothered by a single writer lobbing shots at him without talking to him. However, he is “The Silver Bulldog,” as I was once told, a man with a certain level of ruthlessness to him – not an evil trait, but a neutral one, showing a persistence in achieving his goals.”
This is the part I do not get. Mr. Dorsey sees a “certain level of ruthlessness to him” – which he views as not an evil trait, but rather a persistence in achieving his goals.
But he qualifies the statement, “That’s a trait Yolo County should be glad to have in its chief prosecutor, the man who commands some control over how law enforcement operates in this county, but only as long as it stays pointed at the criminals.”
I do not see it that way. What I see is a man who holds one of the single most powerful offices, certainly, in this county. He has the power to change people’s lives in fundamental ways with the decisions he makes, in terms of what crimes to charge and what crimes not to charge.
From the time he took office, we had really received on a regular basis, I would say once a month, complaints from people that innocent people were being charged and sometimes convicted with rather severe crimes.
An incident that rings in my mind actually predates Mr. Reisig, and that is Khalid Berny. We wrote about his story in early 2007 . He was a farmer down in Clarksburg and he was charged with allowing his goats to roam at large.
From what we were able to gather, they got free, maybe caused some destruction to his neighbors’ property and animal control came out and cited him. Now, usually this would be treated like a violation, and a citation would be issued. In this case, he was charged with misdemeanor crimes for the goats getting free. Because there were 170 goats out, they charged him with 170 misdemeanors which would have meant, if convicted, he could have faced sixty years in prison for allowing his goats to go free.
Now that is just absurd, and he eventually hired the right lawyers and the county dropped the charges.
The problem that we faced with reacting to cases like these is we generally found out about them after the individuals were tried, convicted, sentenced, and they were looking to appeal.
So in January of this year, following a year in which we saw the shooting of Luis Gutierrez by Sheriff’s Deputies and the conviction of Ajay Dev who was sentenced to 378 years, I came upon an idea, why not monitor court cases from the start?
So we brought in our “army of interns” to monitor court cases. From where I sit, the project has been an amazing success, we have the capacity to sit and watch trials and to monitor entire cases through the court system.
Things are worse than I thought. Not all of this is on the DA’s Office. It does not help that California’s sentencing laws are so draconian and take all discretion or nearly all discretion away from the judges who have actually listened to the case.
It does not help that, in the minds of most juries, the fact that people are arrested is evidence of guilt and their defense lawyers generally have to prove innocence, rather than cast reasonable doubt.
The comments on Dorsey’s DA article have disappeared, and that is too bad, as they were instructive, at least to me. There seems to be a presumption of hate on my part. I have never even met the man, there is no personal hatred. I simply disagree with the way that he runs his office and the portion of the Yolo County Judicial System that he oversees.
I would actually much prefer having a dialogue with him, but that has never been a possibility. I think he and his employees would find that if they explain their thinking, while we still may disagree at the end of the day, at least I would be able to understand their point of view.
Right now I do not. I do not understand his office’s decision to charge a man with possession of pruno, which according to everyone involved has never been charged before, in a case where probation recommended probation.
I see cases where the strongest evidence appears to exist against one individual, such as the Ornelas case or the recent Solis case, but because one of the suspects turns state’s evidence, they end up charging another individual who could well be completely innocent of the charges.
I see cases charged where there are no clear crimes committed, I see cases charged in which there is no clear evidence linking the individual charged to the crime, and I see a lot of cases where the DA attempts to turn what is, at most, a minor crime into major charges.
The DA is certainly not the only culprit in the system, which itself is flawed. Rules of evidence and expert testimony are flawed. Understanding of the science behind eye witness testimony, confessions, interrogation techniques and even forensic science, is flawed.
We see numerous cases across the country where the convicted are exonerated after years of incarceration, but the chilling fact is that most of those are based on DNA evidence, and most cases do not have DNA evidence available to determine whether the individual involved was guilty or innocent. How many other cases have put innocent people behind bars for years?
None of this is the fault of our DA. It is the legal system itself that is severely flawed. But that is why we launched this project and have become a thorn in the DA’s side.
DA Reisig has a choice going forward, because we are not going to go away. He can either make his peace with his critics and accept that being a public officeholder opens him up to scrutiny, or he can prove us right and attempt to use the law to suppress our right to free speech and our right to criticize the government, which right is embodied in the right to free speech.
In the 1970s epic Star Wars, the hero Obi-Wan Kenobi said to his evil adversary, just as he was about to be defeated, “You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.”
It is a line that resonates against tyranny and oppression. The implied use of government, particularly government authority, to put down free speech is exactly what the framers sought to prevent through the First Amendment.
Moreover, oppression does not work in this time of instant communications and social networks. If the DA attempts to use government power to suppress our criticism, it will only prove us right. He cannot win – at least in that way.
Jake Dorsey got his column right. He concludes, “Hopefully, though, Mr. Reisig will simply let this roll off his back and be the bigger man.”
It is good advice. Responding to criticism only validates that criticism.
However, I do extend the invitation to Jeff Reisig to sit down with myself and others in the community who are critical of him to hear our concerns and to explain his point of view. It would be a good learning experience, for all involved.
Until then, I intend to remain a thorn in his side.
—David M. Greenwald reporting