By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – In 2009 a family invited me to their home in Citrus Heights and proceeded to explain that their relative had just been convicted of 76 counts of sexual assault on his adopted daughter, they believed him innocent and he was about to sentenced in Yolo County.
That was my introduction to Ajay Dev and his case introduced me to wrongful convictions, a ridiculous 378-year sentence, and it ultimately became the launch point for the court watch.
The idea of the court watch was to shine a more critical light on the court system than what was being presented in the mainstream media—part of that was presenting another side of the story from the pro-prosecutor, pro-law enforcement narrative that has long predominated in the news.
On Friday, I published a column that in part argued that the mainstream media treats progressive prosecutors very different from the way they treat conservative prosecutors. When crime goes up under the watch of Chesa Boudin, George Gascón or Larry Krasner, for example, they are held to a different standard than when it goes up for more conservative DAs.
A reader wrote, “A theme that has been prevalent lately is that reformer DA’s are not being treated fairly by the press.
“An honest question for the Vanguard,” he asked. “Does the Vanguard feel it has treated DA Reisig fairly with its coverage?”
It is an interesting question—though ultimately, I think the wrong question.
The point I have made here is that the mainstream media, whose job it is to provide a balanced and accurate account, has held reform prosecutors to a fundamentally different standard than conservative ones.
In so doing, it presupposes that tried and failed measures of conservative prosecutors are largely not to blame for the rise of crime, while reforms have led to crime increase—even though, empirically, it is difficult to sustain that point.
Our job is somewhat different. The pro-mainstream prosecutor narrative dominates in the mainstream media.
A perfect example is the coverage that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has received by mainstream press.
For example, the LA Times a few months ago, ran a positive article on Reisig and the freeing of Renwick Drake. A few weeks earlier, there was a similarly laudatory piece on this case in the Sacramento Bee.
“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.”
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.”
This is typical of the coverage that Reisig has received in recent months in the mainstream news.
Our job: to tell the rest of the story.
It’s great, for example, that Renwick Drake was released from prison finally, but you can question whether he ever should have been in prison in the first place, rather than a juvenile facility—and certainly not for more than a decade.
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.
In fact, he overcharged the case as attempted murder, which even the jury discounted with their acquittal.
It is not that my view of the case is necessarily right, and Reisig’s view is wrong, but rather than my view of the case was never really told in either the Bee or the LA Times. Certainly not in the Davis Enterprise.
Over the last five years, you had the Bee and Enterprise endorse Reisig for reelection, and continue to refer to him as the most progressive prosecutor in the state, and ignore all evidence to the contrary that suggests he is not.
Our goal is to tell the rest of the story. That story is that Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig has done a masterful job of appointing himself as a moderate reformer but his record is not nearly as clean as some make it out to be.
Earlier this year, it was Jeff Reisig joining Schubert and 27 other elected DAs to once again block a modest criminal justice reform—a new credit calculation designed to lower second strike sentences.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig said, “Violent crime has been steadily increasing across most of California. Promoting more early releases of prison inmates who have been convicted of heinous crimes or who have violent records, without any confirmation of rehabilitation, is not making anyone safer.”
Meanwhile, in December, the Committee on Revision of the Penal Code completed their two-year report and recommended a repeal of the Three Strikes Law.
Said the group in their report, “The Three Strikes law has been applied inconsistently and disproportionately against people of color, and the crime-prevention effects the law aimed to achieve have not been realized.”
Nowhere has this been more true than in Sacramento and Yolo Counties.
That report found that Yolo County ranked as sixth in the state in terms of most people sentenced, either as a second or third strike. Sacramento was just behind Yolo at eighth on the list.
Was that reported in the mainstream media? Of course not.
In the end, our job—at least as I view it—is to provide that counterbalance that the mainstream media has lacked with respect to people like DA Reisig.
Whereas my criticism of the mainstream media is their failure to balance their coverage of DAs like Jeff Reisig—even as they hold DAs like Chesa Boudin, Larry Krasner and many others to a very different standard.