Last week the Vanguard published a letter from about 40 citizens questioning the endorsement by Jeff Reisig of Jim Provenza.
The response was interesting – a lot of pushback. A lot of claims that this was a “hit” or “smear” piece. Ironically, a number of commenters seemed to blame the Vanguard even though it was a guest submission and the Enterprise published the exact same letter.
Our policy for publication has always been very open and we have published a number of pieces that are critical of Vanguard coverage and opposed to Vanguard editorial views.
One of the views expressed is that the letter backfired, and there were some who said they had decided to support Jim Provenza as the result of the letter. But from a campaign perspective, if you are a challenger facing long odds going in, getting early and free attention is a huge advantage.
One thing of interest – no one responded substantively to the claims made in the letter.
The fact that now both Jeff Reisig himself and Bob Dunning have responded in the Enterprise has amplified the impact of the letter.
Bob Dunning takes the complaints about the letter and ups the ante, calling it a “Trumpian attack co-signed by 40 authors.” Writes Mr. Dunning, “Jim Provenza is undeservedly raked over a pile of red-hot coals for one reason and one reason only: his endorsement by Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig.”
He adds, “The authors of this hit piece clearly have a problem with Reisig who, it should be noted, is not a candidate for the fourth supervisorial district seat.”
His point was that “all five issues raised concern Jeff Reisig and only Jeff Reisig. It’s as if Reisig, not Provenza, is the one running for the supervisorial seat.”
Most of this piece will focus on Jeff Reisig’s substantive response.
Mr. Reisig noted that normally this “kind of criticism comes with the job” and “ordinarily, I would ignore the gross inaccuracies that permeated their column.”
My experience suggests otherwise – that Mr. Reisig is in fact very sensitive to criticism and will often respond publicly, in addition to attempting to cut off those criticizing from future communications.
He pushed back: “Curiously, the authors of the letter sought to disparage Supervisor Provenza by engaging in a wholesale misrepresentation and distortion of a few high-profile cases handled by my office in the last decade and our approach to marijuana cases.”
In response to criticism on the Luis Gutierrez case, he writes: “The authors stated that several deaths related to police encounters have not been properly investigated by my office. That is simply not true.”
He responded that the 2009 police shooting involving Luis Gutierrez “was fully investigated” and the conclusion was “the shooting was lawful because the officer was in fear for his life when Gutierrez slashed at him with a knife.”
While he makes this point using the typical “in fear for his life” claim, the Vanguard and others investigated the case and cast doubt on the evidence. It is true that the decision was reviewed – but there was never an independent investigation. Instead, the other entities simply audited the report and found that the conclusion was not “an abuse of discretion.”
Mr. Reisig is correct that a federal jury acquitted the officers – the federal jury was largely comprised of rural residents from Northern California and the trial predated recent controversies on police shootings. We covered the trial and the biggest problem is that there was a lack of body-worn cameras and it came down to the police side versus that of some witnesses – most of whom never saw a knife.
A more sympathetic jury in a more skeptical era may well have viewed this different. But at most you can argue the evidence presented at trial was inconclusive rather than exculpatory.
Jeff Reisig then defends the handling of the 2017 death of Michael Barrera.
He writes that “the letter writers once more disregarded the reported facts that police officers were called to the neighborhood after 911 calls from multiple concerned citizens stated that Mr. Barrera was armed with weapons (knife, scissors and a golf club), and was walking down the street in a highly agitated state, just a few minutes from a busy playground.”
But this is again a case that the Vanguard has extensively reviewed and Mr. Reisig himself ignores the crucial evidence of negligence on the part of the police.
At one point, Mr. Barrera said he could not breathe. Officer Gray responded by stating “that Barrera was talking and he was fine. A little over a minute after Barrera said he could not breathe, the audio captured Officer Gray stating Barrera was still breathing.”
All of a sudden, “Barrera began to vomit and liquid was coming out of Barrera’s mouth. Barrera then became unresponsive as he ceased to grab onto Officer Wright’s hands. Barrera continued to cough up liquid.
“The officers immediately turned him over and summoned medical assistance. One of the officers checked but could not detect a pulse from Barrera. Officer Drobish promptly started CPR and Officer Bell assisted in the resuscitation efforts.”
This is reminiscent of the Eric Garner situation where he claimed he couldn’t breathe, the officers mocked him, and it turned out he asphyxiated. Here Mr. Barrera claimed he could not breathe and less than a minute later he went into cardiac arrest.
Jeff Reisig does not mention the Maria Grijalva matter by name, but does state, “Such violations of the law may be appropriately handled criminally or by referral to the Fair Political Practices Commission. In fact, a complaint was referred in the case cited in their letter, and that matter is still open.”
Mr. Reisig neglects to mention that he was roundly criticized for taking a prosecutorial approach in a case that (A) was questionable with regard to the law, and (B) the target was a political adversary.
He also attempts once again to claim credit for clearing over 700 local marijuana convictions. He argues that the DA’s office was “the first in California to independently utilize new software provided by a nonprofit organization” and “[c]ontrary to the fabrication, Proposition 64 did not mandate my approach or the extent of my decisions.”
The first in the state part referred to the use of technology, when, as a Vanguard article showed, his policies were in line with the rest of the state – and many other counties acted to expunge convictions far sooner.
Mr. Reisig is correct, Prop. 64 did not mandate expungement, but AB 1793 did.
Under AB 1793, sponsored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta last year and signed into law on September 30, the DOJ was required, prior to July 2019, “to review the records in the state summary criminal history information database and to identify past convictions that are potentially eligible for recall or dismissal of sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation pursuant to AUMA. The bill would require the department to notify the prosecution of all cases in their jurisdiction that are eligible for recall or dismissal of a sentence, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation. The bill would require the prosecution to, on or before July 1, 2020, review all cases and determine whether to challenge the resentencing, dismissal and sealing, or redesignation.”
He is correct in that Prop. 64 did not mandate expungement or his approach, but he was required to do it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting