By David M. Greenwald
San Francisco, CA – Appointed DA Brooke Jenkins found herself criticized from two directions at a forum. On the one hand, she was attacked by John Hamasaki for veering away from reform efforts and returning to a war on crime focus. On the other hand, she was accused by Joe Alioto Veronese and Maurice Chenier of not going far enough.
The League of Women Voters on Tuesday held a candidates forum for the San Francisco DA candidates at the USF School of Law. The forum was moderated by Justice Ming Chin.
SF District Attorney Candidates Hit Jenkins from Both Sides – Part One
The next question was on hate crimes against the Asian Community and others.
Joe Alioto Veronese said, we need to have “prosecutorial office that is brave enough to charge a hate crime. And that is competent enough to actually prove it. Now, I’ve been doing that. There’s no mystery behind it. In some cases, you have the smoking gun. I have nooses in a lot of my cases, but in a lot of my cases I don’t have nooses. And so I have to still prove those cases by circumstantial evidence.”
John Hamasaki, “I appreciate all of the politics around and the attention that’s been given to the Asian American community around this.”
He said, “This is a real and personal issue to some of us. I’ve been the victim of a hate crime. I went through the criminal process as a victim. I understand the failings of the criminal justice system and prosecutors need to treat victims compassionately, to treat victims with care, to have language appropriate services, to have trauma informed services, to have wraparound services because we for too long have treated our victims as just they’re another witness and this is what we’re going to use to score a conviction and get a notch on the wall.”
Maurice Chenier said, “November 7th, 2005, my nephew was slaughtered in San Francisco’s streets. I’ve seen death firsthand.”
He explained, “Hate crimes are particularly heinous, but everyone is entitled to protection. You should not be robbed because you’re white, black, yellow, or brown. You should not be shot because you’re white, black, yellow, or brown. Under my administration, I guarantee you crime is crime and I will prosecute it accordingly.”
Brooke Jenkins said, “it’s very different when you are in the criminal system. It’s not the same burden of proof as in the civil courthouse. We have a duty to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt, and we have an ethical obligation not to charge something that we can’t prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
She said, “I spent two and a half years in this city as the designated hate crimes prosecutor. And I tell you, it’s one of the hardest things to prove because it’s one of the only crimes that requires proof of motive. You have to prove what was going on in the mind of the perpetrator at the time they committed the attack or the robbery or the murder.”
The next question asked about trust and transparency in the DA’s office.
John Hamasaki responded, “The prosecutor has a special role in our, in our justice system. It is not, as you might be led to believe, just to secure convictions and put people in jail. It’s to do justice. And you do justice by being truthful, by being honest, by having an open file system where all of the discovery is shared with all of the parties. And you don’t hide evidence. You don’t hide behind press conferences and photo ops.”
He said, “I would absolutely commit to having an open policy on everything that goes on in the office and an improve data and accessibility for, for all people.”
Maurice Chenier said, “When I first started practicing law, a great lawyer, Ron Wilson, taught me two things. He said, Tell the truth because you don’t need to lie, The truth will do. And second, he says, The whole profession is witnesses and documents. And that was the easiest way to sum up the legal profession.”
He added, “I will not withhold any evidence at all. And I will work in conjunction with the police department, the witnesses, and the victims.”
Brooke Jenkins said, “We’ve had an open file policy for some time now, so that’s still in existence. The other thing that I’m working to do is to make sure that our data dashboards don’t just reveal and display charging statistics, but also display case resolutions so that people in the community understand just how these cases are being resolved, whether or not that promotes accountability, whether or not they want to determine or look at if there’s any disparities in treatment amongst offenders.”
Joe Alioto Veronese said, “This question is about distrust of the criminal justice system. And we have every reason to distrust the criminal justice system.” He said, “But people distrust this system and it’s not, and let me give you some reasons why they distrust this system, because it doesn’t work for them. When you walk around the streets of San Francisco and you see a $15 billion budget, and you see the crime, you see the mental health, you see the addiction, and then you see how people are victimized on a daily basis. That’s why people distrust this.”
Next question – San Francisco has one of the highest crime rates while San Mateo has one of the lowest – how would you account for the large disparity between our two counties.
Maurice Chenier said, “There’s a disparity in the charging because of the st the charging standards are different. Here in San Francisco. We have a real, real high charge standard, and they have selective prosecutions as opposed to, you have enough evidence to go forward, you need to go forward.”
Brooke Jenkins added, “So having been a prosecutor here for eight years, what I can tell you is San Mateo doesn’t mess around. They have, they have harsher penalties for crime in their county than we do here.” She added, “We want to be sure that we are being the most equitable and fair that we can. We want to rely on responsible alternatives to incarceration. We should never be trying to copy or emulate some other county. But at the same time, again, we need to restore accountability to San Francisco.”
Joe Alioto Veronese, “This is a more optimistic place to come commit a crime. It is. You can walk into a Walgreens and steal whatever you want and walk out and not be prosecuted. That’s happening today. You can grope women all over this city. And the only time you’re going to get arrested is when you make a news article about it. Women are fending for themselves in this city. This is bad.”
He said, “And yes, crime is up in the last four months, by the way. And you know why crime is not up in San Mateo or Marin or just jump over the wall from the marina into the Presidio because they don’t tolerate it. Two words. It’s leadership and action. Those are the two words. Leadership, action. That’s what we need from a DA.”
John Hamasaki: “I do recognize that it is true that violent crime has shot up since the recent appointment. Looking at the two of them, it’s complex.” Hamasaki said, “I’ll tell you a secret from, uh, the criminal justice side of things. San Francisco is everybody’s favorite place to take a case. Why? Because you can go to trial. Why can you go to trial? Because they don’t put together good cases here.” He said, “That’s what’s happened when you lose leadership and management in favor of politics and press releases. This office needs leadership… now.”
Next question about addressing root causes of crime – particularly petty crime like car break-ins, property crime theft and low-level drug dealing.
Brook Jenkins explained, “For people who have substance abuse disorders, we need to make sure not only that we’re getting them into treatment, but that we allow them a chance to be successful at treatment, which means they can’t be confronted with a drug dealer every 10 feet as they walk down the street.”
She added, “We have to make sure, because when you look at the ecosystem. Drug dealing fuels addiction, addiction is what makes people go out and commit these low level crimes to support their habits. So we want to be making sure that we’re getting them into our drug court, into our community justice center, into individualized treatment programs to help them actually stay in recovery.”
Joe Alioto Veronese said, “Criminal justice reform is something that absolutely needs to happen. It’s become a national conversation, but it’s got to start in San Francisco. It’s the only place where we can be successful, where we can start the show success.” He added, “We absolutely need an alternative to get people back to court, but we got to work with Sacramento. And I know a lot of people in Sacramento that I can work with, including the governor, to make sure that we have alternatives so that we can do away with those tools of oppression that currently exist within our system and truly begin the work of criminal justice reform.”
John Hamaki explained that currently the “The criminal justice system exists as it is currently to clean up on the back end. What we didn’t do on the front end when we provide communities and people with the resources that they need, people are not driven to commit crimes, especially low level, petty theft, car break-ins, property crimes that we’re talking about right now.”
He agreed with Jenkins that they need to provide services, but said, “How you go about doing that is probably where we would differ. But I agree that people with mental health need mental health treatment, people with substance abuse issues, that’s the root cause that needs to be addressed. People that are unhoused and are impoverished that don’t have a bite to eat, if they steal a loaf of bread, are we going to put them in prison? I just don’t agree with that.”
Maurice Chenier: “I’m not a heartless man. I’m going to make exceptions and try to help anyone who’s involved in crime at the lower level, as John appropriately says, stealing a loaf for bread or a serial jaywalk or whatever you want to say. The bottom line is, I’m going to help. That’s not who I’m going to target.” But he added, “As far as the thefts, I don’t necessarily agree that thefts are always petty crimes.”