Commentary: Renwick Drake’s Conviction Was a Massive Injustice – Now Reisig Wants Credit for Freeing Him

Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig says he recognizes that the criminal justice world has changed and that he needs to adapt with it.

“I’m not an ideologue,” said Reisig in an interview with the Sacramento Bee.  “I’m not in the same category as hardcore progressives that are looking to fundamentally rip down the system and rebuild it. I view our job more as threading the needle of criminal justice reform and public safety at the same time.”

The truth is he has made some changes, modified some of his practices—on the other hand, his office has personally filed 23 appeals in cases where the AG’s office will not take the appeal because the Yolo DA believes AB 1850, which changes the length of probation, is unconstitutional.  (The AG’s office declined comment.)

Moreover, the DA continues to post most of the state- and voter-approved reform measures.  They continued to challenge SB 1437 on felony murder.  Have challenged Prop. 57 and SB 1391 on juvenile justice reform and much more.

Yet we have local publications like the Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise continuing to laud the Yolo DA.  They seem to agree with the DA’s view: “What Reisig and Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven are doing in Yolo County is more than simply offering an innovative approach to prosecuting. They’re charting a sensible path to contemporary criminal justice and lasting change.”

They add: “Their work contrasts with that of well-known progressives such as San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón. It’s a model that traditionalists like Sacramento’s Anne Marie Schubert can and should be emulating.”

The problem is that the DA wants to have its cake and eat it as well.

As one person put it, you can’t claim to be innovative and progressive on the one hand and highlight one of the worst cases of injustice perpetrated under your office—Renwick Drake.

The fact that this kid was freed after ten years only punctuates the injustice in this case.  Under today’s law—laws that the DA has fought—Drake could not have been charged as an adult, having been only 15 at the time.

The case was overcharged as attempted murder, and only the jury prevented that travesty.  Even still, he got 23 years in prison for a case in which it screams understanding the need for a separate juvenile system.

“The West Covina native avoided an attempted murder charge, but in January 2012, a Yolo County jury convicted him of second-degree robbery and two counts of assault with a firearm. With seven different enhancements tied to those charges due to his gang affiliation and discharging a firearm, a judge sentenced Drake to 24 years in prison,” the article notes.

Last month, Yolo County District Attorney’s Office successfully petitioned for his early release, citing his “remarkable rehabilitation.”

But to give Reisig credit for righting a massive injustice and using that as evidence of his progressivism is absurd.

Drake was convicted along with co-defendant Navey Soy of robbery, but the article failed to note that the two were acquitted of attempted murder.

According to the trial record, in November 2009, a robbery victim went with two friends to a skateboard park where they had arranged to buy marijuana, as he opened the envelope full of cash, the defendants approached the robbery victim, Soy pulled the gun and pointed it at them and Drake took the victim’s money.

Not believing initially that this was a real gun, the robbery victim and his friends set out in pursuit after the defendants.  Soy fired the weapon.  Then Drake, allegedly holding the same gun, was told to fire the weapon, a bullet hit the trees above the heads of the victims.

According to the appellate court, while there was ample evidence of Soy’s connection with a gang, there was really no evidence of Drake’s gang affiliation—and yet they used that to direct file the case as an adult case.

Even under the law at the time, this should never have been a direct file case.  Even the appellate court, while upholding the conviction, noted that Drake’s gang ties were tenuous (which appears to be rather generous of the court).  

But from the start this case was troubling—first for the attempted murder charge that clearly was unsupported by the facts, and second for Drake’s involvement.

Drake was 15 at the time and developmentally disabled.  He was largely along for the ride—highly influenced by the older participant, who was also the main participant.

Yeah, he’s getting out at the age of 25, but he was incarcerated since he was 15.

As noted, the evidence that Drake even fired the gun—the same gun apparently as Drake somehow, was based on suspect testimony.

So Reisig charged a developmentally disabled 15-year-old for a crime as an adult when he was not the main person, not the main actor, and at most was following the lead from an older kid by whom he was highly influenced.  And now Reisig wants to claim credit for freeing him after the kid served 10 years?

The Drake case was a travesty of justice of Reisig’s office’s own making, and now he wants credit for releasing a kid who might have spent a year or two in juvenile detention these days, but was in PRISON for ten years.

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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  1. Ron Glick

    Hey better late than never. How much time in your opinion, should Drake, as a fifteen year old, have received for a robbery in which he fired a gun?

    As expected you miss the thrust of the Bee article that points out three different types of reforms Reisig has implemented; a mental health court, an addiction court and a neighborhood restorative justice court.

    1. David Greenwald

      What would he have gotten if the incident happened now? That’s what he should have gotten. And it’s not clear that he ever fired a gun, there was no physical evidence showing it and the witness testimony was questionable at best. The gang evidence that allowed him to be direct filed was also extremely thin – there was basically no real evidence that he was in a gang – so if charged today he would have been in juvenile court and he should have been back then too. His age, his mental acuity, and his involvement suggest he should have gotten far less than the ten years that he got and certainly even the DA agrees less than the 23 years he was sentenced to.

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