Eye on the Courts: The System Failed Leslie Pinkston

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murderLast week tragedy struck the small town of Winters when William Gardner allegedly gunned down his ex-grilfriend in downtown Winters, in broad daylight, just days after being released from custody at the Yolo County jail, where he had been held on charges that he stalked and threatened the victim in this case, Leslie Pinkston.

Her friend, Katie Winkler, wrote this week that Ms. Pinkston was “terrorized by an abusive ex-boyfriend. Harassed, stalked and threatened via social media, through email, phone and in person, Leslie tried to prevent and stop this behavior on her own and with the help of family and friends. She changed her number, she moved, she stayed under the radar, all in an effort to keep herself and her daughter safe.”

“When it reached a point where those things were not enough, she sought protection from the police and the courts, pressing charges and obtaining a restraining order,” she writes.

Court records show that Mr. Gardner, who remains at large, had a long history of criminal offenses.  As Ms. Winkler noted, “He had prior domestic violence charges, prior threat charges and prior firearm possession charges and was facing more felony stalking and threat charges. He had failed to appear in court on numerous occasions. His prior acts coupled with the current charges clearly showed him as a danger and a threat to Leslie and her family. Yet he was given the opportunity to be released on bail time and time again.”

A restraining order was obtained following a January stalking incident outside of Ms. Pinkston’s home.  Mr. Gardner was alleged to have thrown a lawn chair through a window.

He also made a series of threats.  And despite missing court appearances and violating his terms of probation, he was continually able to post bail.

As Ms. Winkler asks, “Why? Why was this man allowed to be freed on bail? Freed on bail so that he could murder as he threatened to do? Why are we as a society OK with the fact that our domestic violence and anti-stalking laws protect the perpetrator more than they do the victim? Why are we content to continue to release dangerous criminals and refuse to hold them accountable for their actions?”

To those questions, the Vanguard has to ask why we see such a discrepancy in the way that the law is applied, even within the same county, from defendant to defendant.  During our times covering the court, we have seen cases where individuals are held in custody for prolonged periods of time for crimes in which they would ultimately either be acquitted or end up receiving a sentence of probation.

Pretrial custody situations have been increasingly scrutinized in the era of AB 109 and trial reform.

As an ACLU report in 2012 noted, “High rates of pretrial detention are a threat both to public safety and civil liberties.”

The report notes, “People with financial resources are able to get out of jail and return to their jobs, families, and communities. People who are unable to pay for bail or raise the necessary collateral, however, must stay in jail awaiting a trial date that could be months away. Or, they may more readily decide to accept a plea bargain as a means of getting out of jail.”

Often these people end up being released on probation or an alternative work program.  They are held there, pre-trial, as non-violent and non-dangerous offenders who will never be sentenced to a single day in prison.

“These results have nothing to do with public safety. They have everything to do with wealth and poverty. People with money are able to buy their freedom while poor people cannot,” the report continues.

Instead, we see potentially dangerous defendants with a history of failing to follow the rules, with repeated violent outbursts and threats, able to bail out of custody while relatively low level criminals end up filling the jail cells.

A similar situation arose with Clayton Garzon.  Mr. Garzon faced charges in a stabbing, but because he came from a wealthy family he was out on bail after he brutally attacked Mikey Partida in Davis last year.  After that incident, his family was able to bail him out of custody even after accepting a plea deal.  It was only when Mr. Garzon began messing around with his GPS device and violating other orders that the Yolo County Probation Department finally took him into custody.

There is a further point that Katie Winkler raises.  While the Yolo County DA’s office has been a strong proponent of Marsy’s Law which gives significant rights to victims, there is apparently no process in place that victims like Ms. Pinkston would notified when their tormenters are released.

As Ms. Winkler writes, “Leslie was never notified of his release, never even given the chance to protect herself from the ambush that took her young life and robbed her innocent 6-year-old daughter of her mother.”

She continues, “Unfortunately, the justice system failed her and failed her daughter, just as it fails countless other women who die at the hands of their abusers. Where do we stop and say enough is enough? How many women must die and how many children be made motherless before we say no more? Before we say we will not allow abusers to go free so they can kill? Before we say, stricter laws, higher bails, stiffer punishments?”

The Vanguard does not see this as a matter of stricter laws and higher bails.  We have over the last several decades created harsher punishments, to little avail.

The Vanguard sees this a matter of needing to properly assess threat for treating pre-trial custody situations.  This is about simply warning victims when their attackers are released, so at least they can be prepared if there is a problem.

Small things within the framework of current laws could have prevented this tragic death.  Sometimes things just happen, but this case was entirely preventable, had people been able to see the writing on the wall and offer the proper protections and safeguards.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “Eye on the Courts: The System Failed Leslie Pinkston”

  1. medwoman

    “The Vanguard sees this a matter of needing to properly assess threat for treating pre-trial custody situations.  This is about simply warning victims when their attackers are released, so at least they can be prepared if there is a problem.”

    On this point, we disagree. I do not think that “warning the victim” of the accused’s release is anything approaching adequate. This makes her directly responsible for her own protection when the primary duty of our police and legal system should be the protection of the innocent.
    What would you have her do to “protect herself” ? but a gun ? that didne’t work out so well for the battered woman who fired a gun into the air to fend off her abuser and was herself arrested. Hire a private body guard ? might work for the rich, but for the rest of us, won’t work ? Spend the rest of her life running and hiding ?

    I believe that the criteria here should be potential for violence, not potential ability to post bail. If the information provided in this article is correct this individual had demonstrated anger control issues in the past and had made threats of worse violence to come. How much clearer could it be that this was a dangerous individual who should have been constrained, not to punish him, but to protect the innocent until such time as he could be treated or in some way assured to no longer be a threat.

  2. Anonymous Pundit

    The system did exactly what it is designed to do. It is a legal system that consistently fails to serve justice because it is not designed to provide justice. As added insult to injury, the participants in the legal system become defensive and oppose change whenever their failures are pointed out. They profit by perpetuating a system of injustice.
    If the system was designed to serve justice, these types of crimes would be few to non-existent. In your examples, let’s not forget the 5 year old girl in S Davis who was killed by the family court.

  3. biddlin

    ” that didne’t work out so well for the battered woman who fired a gun into the air to fend off her abuser….”
    Bad judgement. The gun was pointed the wrong way.
    The police are useless in such situations and anyone with a gun should have no qualms about self-defense, or that weapon will be used against the owner, fortunately only as an exhibit in this woman’s case.
    Biddlin ;>)/

  4. Davis Progressive

    the police are useless because they can’t be there to stop everyone and can’t anticipate who will be dangerous and when. so the better answer is a point made here, better strategy for pre-trial custody situations.

  5. Davis Progressive

    “Before we say, stricter laws, higher bails, stiffer punishments”

    we’ve tried stricter laws, higher bails, and stiffer punishments for two decades – are we safer? how about smarter laws, bails, and punishments?

  6. Phil Coleman

    “Small things within the framework of current laws could have prevented this tragic death. Sometimes things just happen, but this case was entirely preventable, had people been able to see the writing on the wall and offer the proper protections and safeguards.”

    The comments about system failure in this tragic death are fueled largely by emotion born of the moment. Completely understandable, Pinkston’s friend is heartbroken and that is a shame. The life of a good, decent person has been taken.

    Disregarding the presumed bad guy, the nameless, faceless, “system” is given the blame for a preventable death. This column alleges that “people” (presumably within the system) had not seen the “writing on the wall.”

    OK, got that, now let’s look at the writing. AFTER the circumstances surrounding this singular incident were carefully examined and reconstructed, the red flags are quite easily detectable. Everyone will agree that, had there been such a scrutiny been employed before this murder, Ms.Pinkston would probably be alive today.

    Continuing with this logical pattern, the solution as urged here is to do some “small things” and, presumably, create a system within the system that can catch cases such as this and then take some sort of preventive action to curb the threat (ambiguity duly noted and repeated).

    I’m with you up to this point, but hereafter the devil is not in the details, it’s in the complexity–and costs. Multiply the instant case by hundreds or thousands in Yolo County alone. Existing staff that handle such cases have undergone several personnel cuts in the past and present. They can’t fully process even the mechanical processing and routing of current caseloads, let alone make detailed searches for potential red flags by cross-indexing of unrelated data.

    Simple things are not that simple, when there is marginal staffing and no money.

    You see, blaming the “system” is in reality blaming ourselves. We ultimately make the system what it largely by the resources we allocate to it. For the past decade, we’ve had to impose severe cost reductions in all the publicly funded “systems.” These cuts were economic necessities and no fault is assigned to those who had, and continue, to make reductions in government budgets, including public safety.

  7. JimmysDaughter

    Medwoman wrote: “What would you have her do to “protect herself” ? buy a gun ? that didn’t work out so well for the battered woman who fired a gun into the air to fend off her abuser and was herself arrested. Hire a private body guard ? might work for the rich, but for the rest of us, won’t work ? Spend the rest of her life running and hiding?”

    I agree with Medwoman. I have known many battered women. The solutions that Medwoman describe are for the wealthy. Other battered women must go under the radar, as this woman tried to do. And it still wasn’t safe. Battered women often quit their job, sometimes leave their homes with only the clothes they are wearing, because the opportunity arises for them to escape with their children.
    I also agree with Phil Coleman. (Surprise.) To paraphrase, law enforcement can’t be everywhere when budgets are cut, crime rises, and law enforcement is expected to the same work, or more, and work with less resources.
    IMHO, let all the people out of jail who are there with non-violent cannabis charges. Then look at other non-violent offenders, and let them out. Then maybe there will be time to quickly and efficiently process dangerous people like Mr. Gardner, who had a documented history of violence. It is sickening that other folks have been given jail time without bail, or a huge bail, when there is he said – she said only evidence, and no history of arrests at all. Mr. Gardner was given a low bail, and released, with a history of violence. And I don’t blame the people who should have timely notified Ms. Pinkston re: his release, but if I was responsible for notifying her, I’d feel horrible for a very, very long time.

  8. eagle eye

    Does anyone know how this single mother became involved with an unstable and violent man with a criminal record?

    She was driving a BMW SUV while he was apparently unemployed.
    Not a good combination.

  9. JimmysDaughter

    Eagle Eye, You are asking a question that has no easy answer.
    I hope you aren’t asking it to assign some blame to the deceased.
    Being unemployed does not automatically make a man a bad, violent person. It’s not her fault for choosing the wrong man to get involved with. It is his fault for not being able to control his anger & not getting the help he needs to control his violent temper.

    Single moms do go on dates and do get involved with men.
    If the man turns out to be violent, it is not the woman’s fault.
    His problem, and all of society’s problem.

  10. eagle eye

    The first responsibility of a single mother is to be sure their child is safe. Dating should take 2nd place to the child’s safety. It’s very fortunate her daughter wasn’t killed or injured. Dating this guy was a foolish and dangerous mistake. We all make mistakes, and her choice to date, and date this fellow, was a big mistake. Likewise, he made mistakes too. Can’t blame one and not the other.

  11. medwoman

    eagle eye

    [quote]Can’t blame one and not the other.[/quote]

    Are you actually equating the “mistake” of making an inappropriate dating choice with the “mistake” of deciding to kill someone ?
    Am I misinterpreting your comment ?
    Or are you simply trolling ?

  12. Themis

    [quote] “He had prior domestic violence charges, prior threat charges and prior firearm possession charges and was facing more felony stalking and threat charges. He had failed to appear in court on numerous occasions. His prior acts coupled with the current charges clearly showed him as a danger and a threat to Leslie and her family. Yet he was given the opportunity to be released on bail time and time again.”[/quote]

    These types of behaviors and crimes show he was not mentally stable. This is when a mandatory mental health evaluation and therapy would have helped much more than locking him up and letting them seethe about why he was sitting in jail.

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