By Robert J. Hansen
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020, a coalition of current and former district attorneys called on the American Bar Association and the California State Bar to pass an ethics rule prohibiting prosecutors from accepting political donations from law enforcement agencies, according to Court House News.
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said police organizations are very active politically endorsing elected district attorneys and funding their campaigns.
“The influence or appearance of influence based on that money further erodes the moral authority of the entire system,” Gascón said in 2020.
“I think it’s apparent to all of us today that America has a crisis of trust in law enforcement. That is why we’re asking the state bar to take this item up immediately, to cure the conflict,” San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said.
Several district attorneys say they have to remove money from the equation to help build the public’s trust in the judicial system.
“We work very closely with law enforcement and we have to evaluate whether some of those same officers have committed crimes,” Diana Becton, Contra Costa County District Attorney said. “Across California, there are dozens of law enforcement unions, representing rank and file police officers, sheriff’s deputies, and correctional officers. and these unions play a major role in state and even local politics.
“We work day in and day out with them, every day. And so there is a relationship there and there’s no denying there’s not,” Tori Verber Salazar, San Joaquin County District Attorney said. “And that doesn’t impair or impede our ability to be fair and to do that we have to have that distancing and we have to have that disconnect. Their political endorsements are provided only to candidates … whom they believe will advance their interests.”
CalMatters reported yesterday that California’s law enforcement groups have contributed more than $1 million to campaigns this year in several high-profile races for the state Legislature, several statewide offices, and Attorney General.
From the beginning of last year to today, Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has received $10,000 in campaign donations from several police officer agencies, current and former peace officers, and retired Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, according to campaign finance documents.
The Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff’s Association, The Sacramento Police Officer Association, and the West Sacramento Police Officer Association have collectively donated over $5,000 to Reisig’s campaign.
In Reisig’s time as DA, from 2007 to now, his campaigns have received well over $100,000 from various law enforcement agencies.
Solano County Superior Court Judge Tim Kam even donated $250 in 2014, which is prohibited by the California Supreme Court of Judicial Ethics.
And though Reisig’s office has investigated 5 incidents where police killed somebody in his time as DA, 17 other deaths were not, according to the California Department of Justice.
From 2009 to 2020, 22 people have died either in the county jail or in the process of arrest.
Thirteen died while being arrested and the other 9 while in jail and not one police officer or deputy has been charged by the Yolo District Attorney.
The Yolo County Sheriff’s Office is responsible for the majority of the deaths while the rest occurred by the Woodland Police Department, the Davis Police Department, and the West Sacramento Police Department.
All of whom, either individual peace officers or their political agencies, have donated to Reisig’s campaign over the last 15 months.
Three died at the hands of California Highway Patrol officers in Yolo County.
Woodland police officers are currently involved in a civil lawsuit because of the 2017 death of Michael Barrera, a 30-year-old Latino whose last words were the same as George Floyd’s, “I can’t breathe.”
California State Bar Interim Executive Director Donna Hershkowitz said in 2020 that the Bar was “reviewing the request carefully and determining the appropriate next steps.”
However, the California State Bar has not yet prohibited prosecutors from accepting political donations.