Monday Morning Thoughts: Four Cases from SF to Sac Illustrate the State of the Injustice System

Maurice Caldwell speaking at the Capitol last year asking for California to change the laws on compensating exonerees

The Vanguard is now covering cases from San Francisco to Sacramento and we find injustice across the board.

In San Francisco, we have been covering the case of Antonio Carter Bibbs accused of molesting the four-year-old daughter of his girlfriend. During opening arguments, Deputy Public Defendant Eric Quandt blasted the prosecution and investigators in the case, arguing that the four-year-old victim was the subject of a custody dispute and introduced evidence suggesting that her claims may have been the result of inadvertent memory contamination.

On Thursday, we saw the testimony of the CPS agent, Tiffany Lucero. She made a series of mistakes in her investigation, starting with the misidentification of the suspect as Antonio Carter, a registered sex offender convicted of sexual assault on a child.

Despite her claims to the court on the stand, a police sergeant testified that she told him it had to be Antonio Carter because he was a registered sex offender.

She testified that she did not make the call to remove the children on the basis of that identification, but then on the 911 recording played by the defense, she told dispatch multiple times that this was going to be a removal because the guy was a registered sex offender.

Did she actually lie on the stand or was she simply mistaken?  That remains an important question, but her denials about her reasoning certainly rang false last week.

Make no mistake, in places without the resources that San Francisco puts into their public defense system, this would likely be a wrongful conviction.  In San Francisco, it is at this point simply a tragic prosecution.

Cres Vellucci covered the Pitchess motion  – a motion to get police files against an officer that activists believe had a history of harassment of people of color – in South Sacramento.

Mr. Vellucci reports, “One mother said she filed a complaint a few months ago against him, and the insurance company representing the City of Sacramento already had called wanting to settle.”

The case of Caleb Macon, the Black driver arrested for “obstructing” a peace officer about a year ago, is an interesting case, as he now faces years in prison for a simple traffic stop that “morphed into something much bigger.”

Mr. Vellucci reports, “Rather than just being cited, Macon was handcuffed and arrested, along with his wife and brother. Now Macon, who is Black, is charged with two counts of resisting arrest for delaying, resisting or obstructing a peace officer. Each count carries with it as much as one year in jail.

“How did a simple traffic ticket escalate to multiple arrests, traumatized children and a jury trial?” Cres Vellucci asks.  “Black Lives Matter Sacramento maintains Macon and his family, including his daughter, were ‘brutalized’ by the Sacramento Police Dept. in yet another example of the SPD’s targeting of Blacks in the community, noting the high number of Black men – including Stephon Clark,  who was unarmed – killed by Sacramento city police or county sheriff’s deputies.”

It is of course fairly easy for many to discount the claims of Black Lives Matter, but as a public defender in San Francisco recently pointed out, San Francisco is less than five percent black and yet 55 percent of the people in custody in the jails are African Americans.

Unfortunately, this problem is not exclusive to either San Francisco or Sacramento – it is systemic.

Finally, here in Yolo County we have the ongoing case of Ajay Dev. On Friday, his attorney, Ed Swanson, was back in court and Deputy DA Steve Mount, who prosecuted the case, dropped all pretenses that he might be receptive to the idea that new evidence vindicates Mr. Dev.

Practically shouting in court, he informed Mr. Swanson that he intends to treat translators as though they were witnesses in a trial – which would be appropriate – but basically said that he wasn’t buying into the new translation at all. It was less what he said than how he said it.

The bigger problem that the defense faces will be getting six witnesses from Nepal into the states to testify. Vanguard Intern Lauren covered the hearing on Friday where both Judge Janene Beronio and Deputy DA Mount questioned whether the witnesses, if they could not get them into court, would have been available in 2009.

Ed Swanson, an expert on such matters, believes that case law will allow him to get their testimony via Skype – as a worst-case scenario.

The idea that evidence which could exonerate Mr. Dev would be inadmissible belies the notion of a fair trial in this nation.

As I pointed out in yesterday’s commentary, the evidence of Mr. Dev’s innocence is now overwhelming.  The jury following the 2009 conviction acknowledged that the alleged victim’s testimony was “hard to swallow,” and there were simply too many memory gaps and inconsistencies for it to be believable – except for the pretext recording.

With enhanced technology the translation of that recording moves from the damning admission of “you had sex with me when you were 18,” to the benign “if that [is] so why did you come with me since 18 years?”

But here’s the thing – the real backbreaking evidence is from those six eyewitnesses who talked to the alleged victim in real time at the time of the allegations, and all of them were told directly by her that she made it up.  A statement against interest is considered an exception to the hearsay rule.  And here’s the thing to consider – not one of those six people have a reason to make this up.  These are all friends and family members of the alleged victim.

It is very easy to convict innocent persons of crimes based on fabricated accounts.  Once convicted, it is nearly impossible to exonerate them.  The Ajay Dev case is unfolding before our very eyes and we see the lengths that the deputy DA will go to in order to prevent evidence of innocence from being heard by a judge.

Finally I will add a fourth note.  In 2011, at the Vanguard’s first annual event, the keynote speaker was Maurice Caldwell, who at the time had recently been exonerated after spending over 20 years in custody for a murder he did not commit.

As we have seen, exoneration is hard but we are also seeing that, once freed, many of these people struggle.

Bryan Stevenson writes in his seminal book, Just Mercy, “Most people released from prison after being proved innocent receive no money, no assistance, no counseling—nothing from the state that wrongly imprisoned them.”

Unfortunately our state has not done anything to help Maurice and people in his position.

Someone has started a GoFundMe to help Maurice – so far it has raised over $4000 for him –  California needs to pass a law that allows people like Maurice Caldwell to be properly compensated for the years we have taken from his life.

Wrongful convictions, overcharging, overzealous prosecution, police misconduct, racial profiling, lack of exoneree compensation – these are all major problems in the current justice system.

—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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