Diana Becton at the Contra Costa DA Forum
By David M. Greenwald
Martinez, CA – There is only one Black elected DA in the state of California – Contra Costa DA Diana Becton and she took an unusual path to get there – she spent 22 years as a judge before being appointed to the DA position by the Board of Supervisors following a scandal that forced out her predecessor. In 2018 when most of the other reform minded DAs were losing, she won her election in her own right.
Now she faces reelection and a challenger in Mary Knox, who is clearly a traditional DA, having worked 37 years in the prosecutor’s office.
Contra Costa has seen a number of very questionable officer involved shootings, and recently former Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Hall in the Danville area was finally convicted in the death of one man and being investigated in the shooting death of another.
One of the areas where the candidates clashed the most last week was when they were asked, “Do you feel enough is being done to hold officers accountable for excessive use of force or misconduct? What, if any, changes can be made?”
Becton pointed out, “We did hold Officer Hall accountable, the charges were filed. And when those charges were filed, a jury determined that this officer was guilty and a judge sentenced him to prison.”
However, Mary Knox tried to dodge the question.
She said at first, “I was not involved in the investigation regarding the first shooting involving Officer Hall. I was not the assigned prosecutor. So it would be irresponsible of me to comment on that filing.”
She then rather gratuitously added, “But I do know that the extensive delay in the filing of charges prohibited the public and all the involved parties from having decisions made at a point in time that were effective and also it denied all of these parties, the opportunity to have transparency. These investigations have to be done swiftly and they have to be transparent.”
But did she actually take no position? Becton didn’t let her get away with this claim.
She said, “Despite not wanting to take an opinion here, my opponent has taken a public position to say, even though this person has been convicted by a jury, that she would not have filed the charges in this case.”
Know responded, ““I have never taken a public stance on the charging of Officer Hall. Dan Bornstein asked me throughout an endorsement interview, Ms. Becton was present on the Zoom, whether or not I could express an opinion about the filing of the charges. And I repeatedly told Mr. Borenstein that no, I could not because I was not involved in the investigation nor was I the prosecutor. So it would be irresponsible of me to express an opinion since I did not know all the facts.”
But then interestingly enough she continued, “Mr. Borenstein then asked me based on the facts that do know, what would you have done? And I said, based on the fact that I do know that all nine shots were fired within two seconds, that I question whether or not it would be even physically possible for Officer Hall to take his finger off the trigger. And so, based on those facts that I did know, the filing did not seem appropriate, but I have never taken a stance that I did not concur with filing.”
Hold on there Ms. Knox. You just said that you didn’t have all the facts and now you are admitted that Becton is essentially right, you disagreed with the charging decision despite the fact that a jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that Hall was guilty.
Becton agreed, “I think that’s directly contradicted by the newspaper article, endorsing me as the candidate for reform. Mr. Borenstein, it tells it in the article that he explicitly asked that question, would you have charged Officer Hall and Ms. Knox explicitly answered, ‘No, I would not have. I would not have filed the charges based on this idea that, um, he fired and could not pull his finger off the trigger,’ and also went on to state that there was a single shot, the first one that killed him, she gave very detailed reasons why she would not. Then she was asked whether she would, did she watch the video? And she admitted that she had not. And when pressed, and she said ‘well, I don’t know anything about the case,’ but the fact of the matter is, is that she did explicitly tell Mr. Borenstein that she would not have filed the charges.”
That was perhaps the most telling exchange.
However, Mary Knox also attempted to make a big deal out onon-charges filed after the Orinda massacre. She charged, “that case was presented for filing by the Sheriff’s office and the current DA decided not to file on the bloodiest massacre in Contra Costa’s history, rather than working with the Sheriff’s office and the Orinda police department with the tremendous resources we have in the DA’s office. That case was just rejected for filing and sent a very clear message to gang members that things had essentially changed in Contra Costa County.”
That’s pretty inflammatory. But Becton responded, “It was not an arbitrary decision. We came to the conclusion and even the Sheriff’s department had to conclude that we had insufficient evidence to bring charges and to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
On the fentanyl epidemic, Knox said, essentially called for a resumption in the war on drugs: “there has to be a refocus on the cartel and the organized crime drug activity in the state and begin to address this massive volume of drugs coming into California from Mexico.”
And on pretrial detention: “I believe that pretrial incarceration is appropriate, particularly with recidivist offenders. And this has been particularly important with the property crimes and the organized retail theft.” The question was: “what steps, if any, can be taken to safely reduce the rate of pretrial incarceration in Contra Costa County.”