District Attorney Debate Wednesday: Sparring, Some Glancing Blows

But in the End – Two Candidates with Different Views of Change

By Crescenzo Vellucci

WOODLAND – It was a “battle-royal” that never quite happened. Close, some near blows, but in the end the slugfest never fully took place.

But the first, and probably the only head-to-head debate between Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and challenger Dean Johansson, a Yolo County Deputy Public Defender, was nonetheless held Wednesday night anyway.

For Johansson, as it usually is for challengers, it was an uphill battle. It started early when he noticed his name was misspelled (Johanssen not Johansson) on the screens overlooking the nearly 200 people that came into the Woodland Community Center for the League of Women Voters forum.

The jam-packed debate actually had to expand into an adjoining room, and still there were people in every seat, on the floor, in the aisles and standing. The forum lasted nearly three hours.

For Reisig, it was a night when he appeared to want to throw some punches, and respond to some of the accusations thrown at him by the upstart Johansson campaign. But Reisig remained disciplined, and kept his punches above the belt. Usually.

Johansson, who has been a prosecutor, public defender and private attorney, started by admitting he has been a “witness to a criminal justice system, watching from the front lines….I know the problems of the system,” and had seen families “destroyed” by it.

Reisig, county DA for 12 years, began not surprisingly touting his years in office and how proud he was for “vigorously” fighting for convictions to “keep families safe.” He listed new neighborhood courts, mental health courts, restorative justice and environmental policies as successful efforts to reduce mass incarceration.

Johansson, however, hammered Reisig all night about the “school to jail pipeline” that takes young men and women – especially those of color – away from their communities for small crimes for an overzealous district attorney’s office.

“Talk is cheap. We still have the highest incarceration rates in the state. Yolo is number one for trials, more trials than any other county,” said Johansson.

But Reisig stuck to his reformist character – which was supposed to be Johansson’s shtick.

“We are the first DA office to require mandatory classes on implicit (race) bias,” Reisig claimed, while noting that the county has reduced the time that defendants have to wait to get their day in court. He touted homeless courts as a way to help the homeless.

But Johansson fought back in his response to that statement, reminding the crowd that the “courthouse is the biggest building in Woodland, right across the street from a park, (with) homeless,” and a shuttered school.

Both candidates said they oppose cash bail – Johansson describing it as a system that allows “the rich to buy themselves out of jail but the poor sit and rot…I’ve seen bail destroy job prospects and families.”

And then Johansson took a shot at Reisig, calling the DA’s office not reformist, but “draconian.”

Reisig hit back, stating he supports “bail reform,” but said judges can and should make the final decision. He added that his office – in response to Johansson charges – doesn’t overcharge and rejects 20 percent of the cases brought to them.

“The facts drive our decisions. We do have discretion to charge, or send defendants to another program like neighborhood. We grapple with this every day,” Reisig said.

Johansson responded:  “This DA takes money from bail bondsman” and that “one of the hallmarks of this DA is overcharging.”

He also charged that Reisig is “keeping deputy DAs from doing the right thing with a top-down approach. The DA says he’s a reformist (but) he has fought (change) tooth and nail. He is criminalizing Black and Brown people, and I’ve seen police loading a homeless person’s belongings onto a flatbed truck” and driving away.

Reisig answered simply that “I don’t agree we’re criminalizing anyone…this is a recurring theme of misstatement of facts…what he (Johansson) is saying is untrue.”

Regarding the issue of prosecution of law enforcement in excessive force and shooting cases, Johnasson maintained that Reisig isn’t doing enough and that it’s a “festering evil…how many police shooters has the DA found to be bad…not one,” said Johansson.

Reisig – surprise – had a different view, defensively saying: “We have put cops in jail for mistreating people, breaking (the) law.”

And on the “gang crime” question, the two candidates couldn’t disagree more.

“There is gang crime, but it’s not like what the DA describes,” said Johansson, who was part of a team of lawyers who fought the gang injunction that, Johansson said, made criminals out of youth before they even did anything wrong.

Reisig was blunt. “Gang crime is real. We have to take serious steps…it is a real threat.”

In his closing, Johansson asserted as he had all night: “We need to be honest. There are real criminals and my goal is to make us all safer…but we’re spending lots on incarceration; we can use that money for education. The county has voted for change. I vote with you, not the past that has failed.”

For his part, Reisig stuck to the theme of the debate, noting in his close: “I believe we need a fair and balanced approach,” explaining that he has the support of much of the community. “They’re not suckers. They know me,” said Reisig.


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19 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I don’t agree we’re criminalizing anyone”

    This statement is in contradiction to the description given at the Police Academy when the gang expert spoke. In this presentation it was clear that the police gauge the likelihood of gang activity by certain markers they use such as choice of clothing color, where they “hang out” and “with whom” and ethnic background. The problem with these kinds of assessments is that the “where they hang out” frequently happens to be their own neighborhood. Where else would one “hang out”? The who they “hang out with” frequently happens to be their own sibs, cousins and friends. Who else does one usually “hang out with”?

    This is the kind of selective targeting that helps reinforce the school to jail pipeline. This is the kind of selective targeting that is getting black men shot for legally carrying a gun, or for that matter getting shot in their own back yard for holding a cell phone.

    A recent opinion piece to the Enterprise was correct in saying that we want to be kept safe from crime, including gang related crime. However, the people who inhabit the typically targeted neighborhoods also want protection. They want the police to protect them equally, not target them prejudicially. They want the same treatment that white individuals would receive and recent police and prosecutorial actions demonstrate that is often not the case.

    I believe that taxpayer money should be spent investigating, prosecuting and in cases of actual community danger, incarcerating those who are dangerous. Over charging, pursuing cases with little to no evidence, and cases in which there is no threat to the community ( bag of cheese) does nothing to make our community safer, and wastes funds that could contribute to doing so.

    1. Ken A

      I have heard the term “school to jail pipeline” often but when I was tutoring kids in Hunters Point (the kids that wanted to learn and stay out of jail) they told me that just a small numbers of the gang members and criminals in the area went to school (almost all of them were drop outs) and my friends that work for a Northern California Sheriff department and actually book people in jail said that with rare exceptions (like the frat guy that got a DUI driving home from the sports bar) VERY few people they book in the jail are enrolled in school…

      P.S. to Tia if a gang neighborhood is 99% one race how is it that the police are “racially” profiling when they stop people of that race?

      1. David Greenwald

        “if a gang neighborhood is 99% one race how is it that the police are “racially” profiling when they stop people of that race?”

        Not Tia, but I think it’s important to understand what racial profiling is and what it is not. Racial profiling targets people for suspicion of crime based on their race or ethnicity. So the first question you would ask is if people are being targeted based simply on race or ethnicity or is it based on behavior. This is why Stop and Frisk is problematic, because the data show that police in fact, targeted minorities a far higher percentage of the time and had a far lower hit rate. Another factor in this is are they targeting certain neighborhoods over others creating a de facto racial profiling.

        1. Ken A

          Davis has a lot more cops in an around Downtown every day than they do around Pioneer Park in South Davis like Woodland has more cops in an around Downtown every day than they do around their Pioneer Park across from Costco.  Do you think that they are doing this for “de facto racial profiling” since both cities have a higher percentage of people of color living around downtown than they do in their respective “Pioneer Park neighborhoods” (or will you be open to the chance that the cops in both cities are just responding to the nigher number of calls and higher crime rates around their downtown areas and not part of a giant racist plot to fill some kind of make believe  “school to jail pipeline” with innocent people of color)…

        2. David Greenwald

          No, Davis’ deployment patterns are not based on race/ ethnicity.  However, they’re traffic stops and pedestrian stops do heavily disproportionately stop blacks and Hispanics.

      1. Jim Frame

        Since we disagree on almost everything, my vote for Reisig is thus validated.

        My condolences.  I’m confident in the soundness of my opinion and don’t need validation from others.

  2. David Greenwald

    Comment that stood out for me: “We have put cops in jail for mistreating people, breaking law.”

    As far as anyone I’ve talked to can tell, there is one officer that was prosecuted, Sergio Alvarez who raped women while on duty.  Horrible crime and should have been prosecuted, but that’s not generally the type of conduct by officers that people are talking about.

    Here are several cases that come to mind:

    1.  Galvan Brothers beaten to the point of brain damage, no charges against the cops, charges against the brothers (three hung juries and a dismissal)

    2. Shooting of Luis Gutierrez – no charges against the sheriff’s deputies

    3. Pepper spray incident – no charges against Lt. Pike

    4. Brianna Home was thrown onto a cop car, she was charged with resisting and acquitted, no charges against the cops

    5. Tasering of Tatiana Bush and Jerome Wren, no charges against the cop who was fired by DPD, charges against them were quickly dropped

    6. Picnic Day – you all know about

    So as far as I can tell, no police officer accused of excessive force or a shooting in Yolo County has been prosecuted under this DA’s office.

    1. Howard P

      So as far as I can tell, no police officer accused of excessive force or a shooting in Yolo County has been prosecuted under this DA’s office.

      Thought an “accusation” had to come from a first hand, reliable source… a filed complaint (presumably filed under penalty of perjury), or arrest… with evidence (which comes later, before “prosecution”)… other than ‘hearsay’, were any of the cases/incidents cited involved with a ‘true’ (technically) accusation?

      Meant as a fair set of questions…

  3. Jeff M

    Good thing that Davis is growing less and less influential in county elections.  Reisig will win in a landslide.  My prediction.  Keeping voters safe from harm requires that liberals be a minority vote.  Just ask Kate Steinle’s family.

      1. Howard P

        Support matters nada… zero… zilch… de rien…

        Votes count and matter…

        I am more interested in folk getting informed, and vote their conscience, than I am how they vote… uninformed folk, “bullet voters” can stay home, as far as I’m concerned…

  4. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

    ”They’re not suckers. They know me.”  – said Jeff Reisig. 

    Yes Jeff, We do know you, which is why we too are voting Dean for DA. 

  5. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

    I laughed when I read that he called himself a reformer!  😅 Reisig is a DA who does NOT believe in reform or justice. He wastes taxpayer money and resources.  He has never prosecuted officers who break the law.

    It is time for change.

    Vote Dean for DA. 

  6. John Hobbs

    Sacramento’s DA race just heated up after the murder under color of authority of Stephon Clark. Money is pouring in to Noah Phillips’ campaign in the face of Schubert’s moral cowardice.

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