Letter: Why Voters Should Vote for Dean Johansson

By Scott Ragsdale

Our Yolo county courts need constructive change.  Dean Johansson will bring our courts an experienced and reasoned application of the law that will make us all safer.  There are many supporters of Reisig who, as former employees, police officers and some citizens, see a hard-working DA that is reforming.  I see it differently.  Much of what amounts to support for Reisig is cultural anxiety – that change will be more work.

We won’t be able to abdicate our obligation to make society work for more people to law enforcement.  Having Dean Johansson as District Attorney will mean we will have to face those we don’t know and don’t understand with greater inclusion.  It will mean more services – less jail. More real diversion, less conviction and less bail.

Dean will exact no less punishment from those who are criminals and is very aware of his responsibility to assure the safety and security of crime victims.  Electing Dean Johansson does not mean that individuals or groups that commit crimes that harm persons will avoid sentencing. Dean believes in prosecution, as he was a former prosecutor.  Our Yolo County needs to treat criminals as such, re-formable as such and nuisances as such.

Reisig and our legal system have been trained by decades of 3-strike/War on Drugs policy and that is going to take work by everyone to unwind.  The current DA’s office seems to be trying to justify this legacy, one that transparency won’t abide.  We need law enforcement policy and practice that convicts swiftly, protect all voices and helps reconstruct lives on all sides. We need a new DA.

I have personally witnessed the punitive application of law enforcement in our Yolo County courts.  In the Summer 2012, Tom Zolot, a friend and UCD student, was one of 12 charged with up to 11 years in prison and a share of a $1 million fine. The students protested U.S. Bank and UCD’s program requiring financial aid students to do business with U.S. Bank.  The DA’s charges were seen widely as retribution for tuition hike protests which peaked with the criminal pepper spraying.

The examining attorney in the 2011 Pepper Spray report that found that the DA’s office is “profoundly chummy” with the UCD police, and that in this case the police were not subject to the laws they enforce.  My friend Tom found this out personally when the DA’s office used its power to make sure everyone who might protest financial indoctrination and damaging financial opportunism would face jail time.

Recently U.S. Bank paid the federal government $613 million to settle an international money laundering suit.  The suit alleged that a friend of our US government backed, and questionably elected, Honduran president Hernandez who laundered drug trafficking and foreign bribery proceeds through U.S. Bank accounts for decades.

U.S. Bank has paid fines for mortgage-backed security fraud and other transgressions. That’s who our DA chooses to defend while our young people are convicted.  Tom pleaded guilty to misdemeanor and performed public service – to get out from under his multi-year jail time and $100,000 charges.

2017, the Picnic Day 5 are in court. So am I. Deputy DA Ryan Couzens uses the threat of drug and gun offenses to soften up the defendants (there were no guns or drugs involved). The defendants were not an ongoing threat to society or police.  The highly touted restorative justice program offered was taken.  The RJ program is a bargain if more court means legal fees and loss of your job

The internal law enforcement review of the Picnic Day 5 incident reported that the Davis police deferred to the DA and did not present conflicting evidence that would likely have cast doubt about the culpability of the defendants. Note that restorative justice mean that, until the defendants complete the court-prescribed restorative process and that is satisfied – the defendants are guilty as charged.  This does not feel restorative to me.

The Banker’s Dozen and the Picnic Day 5 are very public. In each case the DA would not back down from conviction. Most convictions are not covered by our media. Most convictions are pleas and a vastly disproportionate number are made by people who don’t attend League of Women’s voter DA candidate debates like the one held on April 18 at the Woodland Community Center.  Those underrepresented who did attend suggested that the DA’s office expresses a racist application of the law.  The statistics bear them out.

We have the fortunate opportunity to vote for Dean Johansson who is a keen legal mind and who is a willing public servant. We need reform and reform can be a lot to ask from a community and region that thinks of itself as progressive and even egalitarian. What we have done is abide by a practice of law that is discriminatory because it’s easier. What we have done is systematize exclusion.  In response, many enforcement practices have sanitized and streamlined the incarceration (if you can’t pay bail you wait for your court date in jail) of those that are having a hard time making their place or are just plain disliked.  We need to give our law enforcement responsive leadership that can make constructive change and move toward justice and protection for all.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Jeff M

    “Much of what amount to support for Reisig is cultural anxiety – that change will be more work.”

    Uh no. Interesting choice of words though.  It does indicate an admission that Johansson is part of a cultural war being waged by some.

    Much of what amounts to support for Reisig is rejection of the attempt to inject social justice activists into the job of law enforcement.  I prefer to keep them separated and also pay attention to the actual job description.   Otherwise we would need to replace all the horses for failing to perform as unicorns.

  2. Tia Will


    I prefer to keep them separated and also pay attention to the actual job description.”

    However, you and Jeff Reisig do not agree on what that job description is. You have claimed that his job is only to follow the law. But Jeff Reisig on multiple occasions in public has stated that he has discretion in charging. If there were no “discretion” or “judgement” involved, it would not matter who was the DA. They would blindly “follow the law”. But one point on which we are in agreement is that it very much matters who is the DA. This is because, I believe, we both know that individual’s discretion and judgement is critical. Where we disagree is who is likely to get the best results using their judgment and discretion.

    1. Jeff M

      There is always judgement.  But to use a doctor analogy, Johansson represents the doctor with an agenda to reform medicine to something the Davis hippies would prefer, and Reisig represents the doctor with and agenda to tend to his patients to make them well.

      Within those two domains there is room for judgement.

    1. Tia Will


      I thought “punishment” was out of style?”

      It definitely is with me. But I am an outlier. The reason I do not believe in “punishment” is that I view it as ineffective in providing anything except revenge for those who seek it. I do not believe “punishment” is effective as a deterrent either for the individual, or for others who might commit similar crimes.

      But neither am I “soft on crime”. My intent is to provide societal safety. I believe that those who commit property crimes should compensate those  they have injured, whether it is $3.99 for a bag of cheese, or millions as in the case of a Bernie Madoff.

      Those who are violent by intent should be maintained in secure facilities which isolate them from those at risk. Those who are violent due to mental illness, need hospitalization in secure facilities, not prison. “Punishment” beyond prevention of further harm serves no purpose in my mind and represents needless cruelty.


      1. Howard P

        Well, there is the concept of a “time out”… where a child is ‘punished’ to stop and think of their inappropriate behavior… toddler ‘prison’ if you will, but ‘punishment’ serves no purpose, and represents needless cruelty.

        Guess we should lose the concept of the ‘time out’…

  3. Tia Will


     It does indicate an admission that Johansson is part of a cultural war being waged by some.”

    What you see as a “cultural war”, I see as a reasonable inquiry into how we have divided up roles in our society. The juncture of mental illness and the law is an area that is ripe for potential improvement. Over and over we see the police being asked to intervene in cases in which someone with minimal if any mental health or social welfare awareness is asked to make an assessment that is beyond the scope of their knowledge and training. This is a disservice both to the police officer and to the individual that is being evaluated.


    Like the Tape case, the Talamontes tragedy is another such case. The mother in this case was well known to social services. She is reported as having told a social service worker that she was incapable of caring for her daughter. She was known to suffer from mental illness. And yet when a “wellness check” was done, it was the police who were sent. Through lack of knowledge of the case, and lack of specific training, they through no fault of their own, misread the situation and so alarmed the mother that within several hours of their visit, she drowned her daughter ostensibly to “protect her from the police”. The assessment was “murder” not “psychotic break” which looking at the entire picture was far more likely. 

    These are not isolated cases, they are a pattern of perspective and judgement in the way the intersection of mental illness and criminality are currently handled in our county.

    This is also not Jeff Reisig’s “fault”. It is consistent with his training and philosophy. I simply do not believe that the current DAs office is operating from a broader perspective that might help to prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future. I believe that Dean Johansson with his broader range of perspective having served as both prosecutor and defender and with a more nuanced view of mental illness vs criminality is likely to better serve our county.


    1. Jeff M

      This is also not Jeff Reisig’s “fault”. It is consistent with his training and philosophy.

      Again, thanks for the confirmation that you wish horses to be unicorns and will vote for those that claim they will make it so.   You want to place a social justice activist in the important job of district attorney.   I think you are mixing up the job description with all your dreams about Utopia.

      Most of what you seem to be advocating for is in the area of health care.   It seems you want the DA to fix what is messed up in your profession.


      1. Tia Will


        I see expecting police officers to act as either social service workers, or mental health care experts is the essence of wanting horses to be unicorns.

    1. Jim Hoch

      “social justice activists” gives “About 118,000 results” 

      “social justice activist” gives “About 180,000 results”

      “culture war” gives “About 709,000 results”

      A whole lot of nothing out there.

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