You would think Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig would have learned and simply let this go. He was roundly criticized for making personal a comment on the news by Yolo County Public Defender Tracie Olson when it wasn’t. His initial piece caused 87 community members last Sunday to sign a response. But instead of letting it go, for a second time, he has doubled down with his attack.
This time in a press release on Friday he states, “District Attorney calls for public hearing and evidence from Public Defender after she stands by her televised allegations of racist judges and corrupt local law enforcement officers.”
Of course her initial comment suggested nothing of the kind.
Tracie Olson, in response to a question on disparities, stated, “Honestly we see Black people go to prison for crimes that white people don’t go to prison for…On April 20, I looked at the jail population. We had about a little under 200 people in the jail, 49 of whom were Black. So that’s 25% of our Yolo County jail population is Black. Yolo County’s demographic population is 3% Black. So we have over an 800% over-representation of Black men and women in our local jail. So it is a local problem.”
But the words have now been twisted and manipulated by Reisig beyond any recognition.
He alleges Public Defender Monica Brushia “alluded to two instances of local police corruption, implying that peace officers stole money and drugs from your clients.”
Writes Reisig, “Allegations of judicial racism and police corruption can never be ignored. They cannot go uninvestigated. They cannot be allowed to simply fade away into the chaotic media cycle or dishonest blogosphere.”
While Jeff Reisig complained, the core of the statement by Tracie Olson was accurate. We looked at the April 20 jail population and 49 of the 194 people in jail that day were Black. As we pointed out before, at no point did Jeff Reisig acknowledge the racial discrepancies. At no point in time did he vow to attempt to reduce them. At no point in time did he simply acknowledge what two-thirds of the nation seem to be calling for—reform and an honest evaluation of racism in our criminal justice system.
Instead, he has taken generic comments to be specific criticism at him and the system and he has appointed himself, for whatever reason, as guardian of the system.
The community does not want this. In the letter signed by 87 Yolo County residents published in the Vanguard and Enterprise on Sunday, the community wants Reisig, instead of focusing on Tracie Olson and Monica Brushia, to address this point: “With the turmoil gripping this nation over racial inequities in policing and justice, it is beyond time for us to look at these numbers closely and discern where we have been and where we are going in terms of the racial disparities that run throughout our legal system.”
The community adds, “We clearly have a long way to go and this moment has shown us just how far…”
Instead, Jeff Reisig demands that “the ethical and legal obligation is on you to appear in public session before your employers, the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, and demonstrate the truth of your televised allegations of racism and corruption against judges and law enforcement from two weeks ago with facts and evidence. On issues as important as these, at a time as critical as now, silence or fact-dodging is not acceptable.”
A few years ago, in defending his boss against criticism, Jonathan Raven, the number two in the DA’s office, took exception to comparisons between Jeff Reisig and Donald Trump. “Jeff didn’t vote for Trump and doesn’t like Trump,” he said at the time.
But the reality is that these type of attacks are Trumpian—a tactic right out of Trump’s book. If he had a book.
The initial comment by Tracie Olson was accurate. Mr. Reisig responded that she took the numbers out of context and that a large percentage of the Black jail population is from out of county. But if that matters—and it is not clear to me that it should—that simply adds nuance and context to the data. It does not make her use of the data inaccurate or irresponsible.
This could have been handled with a phone call and a conversation. Moreover, she did not direct the attack at him personally. No one was mentioned. The discussion was generic.
This is thin skin. The second response piece is 2700 words long. As we said in our previous column, he doth protest too much. Double that now.
Public defenders across the state criticized him. Community members criticized him. He had his say. He could have let it go. He did not.
He doubles down on the attack in the second press release.
“Last week, I issued a public statement demanding that you appear before the Yolo County Board of Supervisors and produce the evidence supporting your allegations,” he writes.
He has no authority to demand. He is not her boss or superior. This is a bullying tactic. He is attempting to silence her. And he has uneven power because, while he is safely elected and accountable only to the voters with an election two years away, Tracie Olson is appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
He makes this point clear, “I am calling upon you, as the appointed Public Defender in Yolo County, who serves entirely at the pleasure of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors, to present your evidence in public session to that body in a full and transparent manner.”
That is every bit the threat, as Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen exhibited when he filed a whistleblower complaint against Sajid Khan. The difference is that Rosen backed down when he got called out, while Jeff Reisig doubles down.
There are two things telling about the response.
First, of the 2700 words, 1800 of them (two-thirds of them) are defending his own record. While Jeff Reisig attempts to defend his record, never has he really acknowledged that he has opposed every single reform to the criminal justice system handed down by the state legislature or the voters.
In fact, it is rather telling that, while Yolo County supported measures like Prop. 47, Prop. 57, and Prop. 64 by at least 60 percent of the vote, he vocally opposed all three.
Second, at no point does he discuss how he intends to address racial disparities in the system.
He finally, toward the end, states, “Let me be clear, my condemnation of your irresponsible use of incomplete data does not mean that I am unaware or tone deaf to the real issues that have historically affected people of color in a disparate manner. Without question, people of color, especially black people, have been victims of historical discrimination in many of our laws and parts of the country and are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system in almost every community in America.”
But instead of discussing what he can do, he flips this onto San Francisco, stating that they have “one of the worst, the most recent reported disparities on the arrest rate of black people as a share of the population are astoundingly high.”
If you look at the numbers, however, Yolo County has about 28 percent of their incarcerated population as Black, with a three percent Black population. San Francisco is 6 percent Black and 55 percent of their incarcerated population is Black. The ratio is pretty similar. And while Reisig defends Yolo County based on out-of-county incarceration, the same can be said for San Francisco. In the end, no one has explained why that point changes anything.
This could have become a jumping point for a discussion and policy initiatives. Instead it has become a destructive attack on public officials. And, frankly, given that Tracie Olson’s comment never mentioned Reisig or pointed the finger at anyone, that is all on Reisig.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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