Archive for the ‘District Attorney’ Category

Contra Costa DA files Grand Jury Accusation against County Assessor Kramer for “willful or corrupt misconduct”

Wednesday, June 5th, 2019

Gus Kramer from the County Assessor’s webpage.

Kramer welcomes opportunity to face his accusers

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Contra Costa District Attorney

Today, Wed., June 5, 2019 the Contra Costa County District Attorney Office’s filed a Grand Jury Accusation against Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer for “willful or corrupt” misconduct while serving as the county’s elected assessor (Government Code §§ 3060 et seq). Contra Costa County’s Civil Grand Jury asserts that the defendant violated state law in creating a hostile work environment for multiple employees in the Assessor’s Office. Due to state law, our Office must accept, serve and file the accusation against the defendant. If a jury finds Mr. Kramer violated the law and if he is convicted, he will be removed from his position as the county’s elected assessor.

The Accusation alleges misconduct by Kramer which occurred from December 2013 through 2019. The Grand Jury Accusation alleges that Mr. Kramer made sexual comments towards female employees and his disparaging remarks targeted one of the victim’s ethnicity. The Civil Grand Jury found this alleged conduct was “hostile or abusive” against four employees. As a result, the Civil Grand Jury through its investigation found that this conduct by Mr. Kramer created a hostile work environment for his employees and is therefore a violation of the Fair Housing and Employment Act.

Due to the sensitive nature of the allegations and to protect the privacy of the victims we will not be releasing any of their names.

Earlier this morning Senior Deputy District Attorney Christopher Walpole presented the filing before Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Theresa Canepa in Department 35. Our Office was not involved and did not participate in the investigation by the Civil Grand Jury. The District Attorney requested a judicial hearing to determine if the Office will be recused from the remainder of this proceeding.

The foreperson for the 2018-2019 Grand Jury is Richard S. Nakano. State law lists the requirements for the Civil Grand Jury and District Attorney’s Office to process an accusation against a public official.

UPDATE: When reached for comment Kramer stated, “I welcome the opportunity to face my accusers after all these years of these behind doors accusations. When the facts come out, I have had not one, I have had not two, but I have had three independent investigations done by the county and I have been exonerated for sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation.”

“The sad part in all of this, the Grand Jury Foreman refused to hear my witnesses who would have refuted their claims. Worse he refused to give me the time I requested to present my side. They gave me two hours. I requested eight hours. The other side had more than 10 hours. Nor did he share all the information I provided him” he continued.” “The Grand Jury Foreman is guilty of obstruction of justice.”

When this is all over, the East Bay Times, the Board of Supervisors and their appointees on the Grand Jury are going to be ashamed of themselves for the unwarranted prosecution and persecution of the County Assessor,” Kramer stated. “The saddest part of this is corruption in government is alive and well on our Board of Supervisors.”

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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Contra Costa DA creates office’s first ever standalone conviction integrity unit

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

District Attorney Diana Becton announced recently that she has created the first ever standalone Conviction Integrity Unit for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office. The unit will investigate wrongful conviction claims of actual innocence based on new evidence and information, and cases where there is evidence involving significant integrity issues. Interested parties can submit a claim using the forms on the district attorney’s website to the Conviction Integrity Unit through the District Attorney’s Office.

“Our Office is ethically bound to consider any legal wrongs committed during a prosecution of an individual. With this new unit, the public can be assured we have resources now at our disposal to investigate prior convictions and seek justice for the wrongly convicted. We have a duty as prosecutors to uphold the law and administer fair justice for all. Our Office now joins over 30 jurisdictions across the country in a growing movement to establish Conviction Integrity Units,” said Becton.

The Conviction Integrity Unit will also assist in reviewing and developing practices and policies related to training, case assessment, investigations, and disclosure obligations with the goal of preventing wrongful convictions in the first place. The unit is supervised by Deputy District Attorney Brian Feinberg and overseen by Assistant District Attorney Venus D. Johnson.

Multiple national and local criminal justice organizations such as the Innocence Project, Fair and Just Prosecution, and Immigration Legal Resource Center support DA Becton’s move to create the Conviction Integrity Unit.

In a support letter, Fair and Just Prosecution’s Miriam Aroni Krinsky wrote: “Having a process for review of convictions through a CIU is a recognized best practice around the nation. Establishing these protocols in Contra Costa County will protect the integrity of the criminal justice process and promote public safety by bolstering trust and confidence in local law enforcement and the justice system as a whole.”

Rose Cahn, a Criminal and Immigrant Justice Attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center’s said: “We applaud the CCCDA’s leadership and its commitment to ensuring that innocent people do not face continued punishment, from inside or outside the criminal justice system.”

Northern California Innocence Project’s Executive Director, Linda Starr, also supports the creation of a standalone Conviction Integrity Unit as our Office’s new unit “includes all of the best practices — neutral, expansive, and collaborative review — which will lead to just results.”

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DA Becton updates immigration policy to avoid deportation of defendants to comply with state law

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

By Allen Payton

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton issued a new policy for the DA’s Office focused on immigration. In order to comply with state and federal laws, the office has updated its immigration policy.

“It is important to have a standardized process in place to ensure we meet our obligations under the law. I am confident that with this new policy we can fairly review all options for a disposition while at the same time ensuring we meet the demands to protect the public and victims,” said DA Becton. “Moving forward, cases will be evaluated by our state legislative mandate to ‘consider the avoidance of adverse immigration consequences in the plea negotiation process as one factor in an effort to reach a just resolution.’”

Last July, for the first time ever, the entire DA’s office staff received an in-depth immigration training which focused on the role of prosecutors in considering adverse immigration consequences, i.e. deportation.

The law was changed in California in 2016 and now Penal Code Section 1016.3(b) mandates, “the prosecution … consider the avoidance of adverse immigration consequences in the plea negotiation process as one factor in an effort to reach a just resolution.”

The legislature enacted the law after finding “the immigration consequences of criminal convictions have a particularly strong impact in California. One out of every four persons living in the state is foreign-born. One out of every two children lives in a household headed by at least one foreign-born person. The majority of these children are United States citizens. It is estimated that 50,000 parents of California United States citizen children were deported in a little over two years. Once a person is deported, especially after a criminal conviction, it is extremely unlikely that he or she ever is permitted to return.” (Cal. Penal Code Section 1016.2(g)).

Following are aspects of Becton’s updated policy, under governing law, “consideration of immigration consequences during the plea negotiation process is mandatory” and “victim’s rights must also be included and considered in the plea negotiation process.”

The policy notes that “These internal guidelines are not intended to create any new procedural rights in favor of criminal defendants or to be enforceable in a court of law. Nor shall these guidelines be construed to create any presumptions that a previously sentenced defendant would have received any offer other than that which has already been extended and accepted.

The policy further states, “Prosecutors do not have an obligation to independently research or investigate the adverse immigration consequences that may result from a plea or criminal conviction.” But, they “shall consider adverse immigration consequences presented by the defense.”

In addition, the new policy requires that “the supervising prosecutor…determine based upon the totality of the circumstances if an appropriate disposition can be reached that neither jeopardizes public safety nor leads to disproportionate immigration consequences based on the information provided by the defense.”

According to the new policy, alternative considerations include, “Devising an alternative plea agreement that is factually honest and of a similar nature and consequence to the originally charged offense, but minimizes the defendant’s exposure to adverse immigration consequences; and Allowing language to be stricken from a charging document or plea colloquy while maintaining the truthfulness of the remaining charging language.”

Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Office of the Contra Costa County District Attorney contributed to this report.

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DA Becton announces end of backlog of untested sexual assault kits

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Contra Costa County District Attorney

On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, District Attorney Diana Becton and staff attended an event in New York City to announce the end of the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in Contra Costa County. These results come from the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office participation in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program, a three-year grant program to test sexual assault kits.

Our Office was one of 32 grantees funded, totaling $1,841,535 to test 1,246 kits since 2015. The testing of these kits allowed for DNA evidence to be uploaded to the national DNA databank to assist in investigations and identify offenders.

“We partnered with 24 law enforcement agencies in our community to erase the backlog of sexual assault kits in Contra Costa County,” said Becton. “I want to express my gratitude for our partners working with our office to end the backlog. Testing these kits can help bring closure and justice to sexual assault victims. We are going to continue working on this issue to ensure we never have a backlog in our community again.”

To ease the burden of testing these kits, through this grant our Office collected the untested kits from participating agencies and sent the kits to Sorenson Forensics in Utah. The collaboration between Sorenson Forensics, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Crime Lab and our Office allowed for a more efficient process of testing these kits.

Due to state law in California, law enforcement agencies have mandated reporting timeframes to test these kits. If an agency chooses not to test, they have to substantiate their reasons to the California Department of Justice. Our Office will continue to monitor the progress of all agencies in Contra Costa County to ensure state law is followed and no kits remain untested.

Overall, the Manhattan District Attorney’s program tested 55,242 kits and resulted in 18,803 DNA profiles uploaded into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Locally, the results here for our kits were:

  • 1,246 kits DNA tested (1978 to 2016)
  • 182 DNA profiles entered into CODIS
  • 122 Confirmatory hits
  • 51 Offender hits
  • 8 Cases reopened for further review by law enforcement agencies
  • Full compliance of all participating agencies
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Antioch man found guilty for attempted murder of 4 victims in 2016 shooting

Thursday, March 7th, 2019

Herald file photo.

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Contra Costa County District Attorney

On March 4, a Contra Costa County jury found defendant Kamani Stelly of Antioch guilty of five felonies, including the attempted murder of four victims and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle that contained innocent passersby, all stemming from a shooting committed by Stelly in broad daylight in December 2016. (See related article).

In the late morning of December 19, 2016, Stelly opened fire on a group of men at the corner of Cavallo Road and East 18th Street in Antioch. Stelly fired 18 shots from a semi-automatic pistol at the group of men as he paced from Cavallo Road towards the men at a nearby Little Caesar’s Pizza. One member of the targeted group was injured from Stelly’s shooting.

The busy intersection in Antioch is surrounded by local businesses and homes. One of Stelly’s bullets hit an innocent victim while she rode as a passenger in a moving car. As a result of the shooting, this young woman lost an eye and will use a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

Stelly now faces a maximum sentence of 160 years to life in state prison. Sentencing will occur on April 12, 2019 in front of the Honorable Nancy Stark – Department 20 of the Contra Costa County Superior Court in Martinez. Contra Costa County Deputy District Attorney Richard Ewenstein prosecuted the case on behalf of the People. The case originated in the Office’s Community Violence Reduction Unit.

“The defendant’s decision to resolve an argument with gunfire gravely wounded two people and endangered countless others. We are grateful to the members of the jury for their service and attention to this case and to the victims and witnesses of this crime for their courage in testifying,” stated DDA Ewenstein.

Stelly’s half-brother, Ronvell Scheneck pleaded no contest last year to being an accessory after the fact to the shooting and was sentenced to two years in prison. Another co-defendant, Cody Moss, will be sentenced to 12 years in state prison for his role in the attack.

Case information: People v. Kamani Stelly, Docket Number 05-171136-5

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DA Becton announces second Community Academy Class for Spring 2019

Monday, January 21st, 2019

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Office of the Contra Costa County District Attorney

District Attorney Diana Becton announces today that the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office will launch a second Community Academy class this March. The goal of the academy will be to strengthen community relations and provide residents a better understanding of our criminal justice system.

The academy is free and is open to residents who live or work in Contra Costa County. Individuals must complete an application and background check when they apply. Residents can access an application on our website or residents may also apply in-person at one of our offices at the following locations:

  • 900 Ward Street, Martinez, CA 94553
  • 10 Douglas Drive Suite 130, Martinez, CA 94553
  • 100 37th St. Rm 220, Richmond, CA 94805

Residents can submit the applications to the attention of Janet Era. Applicants may also email DA-CommunityAcademy@contracostada.org with their completed application. The application period ends on February 11, 2019.

The Community Academy will be made up of at least 20 residents of Contra Costa County for a 12-week course held at the DA’s Office in downtown Martinez, 900 Ward Street from 5:30-7:30 p.m. every Wednesday starting March 6, 2019. The Community Academy, which is similar to Citizens’ Academies hosted by many law enforcement agencies, is the only academy of its kind at a District Attorney’s Office in Northern California.

The academy helps underscore the office’s commitment to engaging and educating residents of Contra Costa County. Admitted applicants can expect to learn how cases are filed, the different types of crimes our office investigates and prosecutes, and the work we do not only prosecuting cases but also the community outreach efforts underway to prevent crime and to support children, parents and crime victims.

Presenters for the academy will include deputy district attorneys, investigators, victim advocates, support staff, community-based organizations and justice partners. The comprehensive overview by our office will allow residents to get an in-depth examination and review of the criminal justice system in our community.

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D.A. charges ConFire EMS Chief with embezzlement and possession of controlled substances

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

Richard P. Stephenson

Due to the investigation by the Martinez Police Department, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office charged 50-year-old Martinez resident Richard P. Stephenson with two felonies for embezzlement and two misdemeanor charges of possessing a controlled substance. 

The embezzlement charges relate to Mr. Stephenson stealing controlled substances belonging to the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District in order to support his personal drug addiction. 

An arrest warrant in the amount of $50,000 was issued on January 9, 2019.  Stephenson was arraigned at the Contra Costa County Superior Courthouse on January 10, 2019, the next court date is February 26th.

The charges filed against Richard Stephenson include:

  • Count 1, Embezzlement by Public or Private Officer – Felony
  • Count 2, Embezzlement by Clerk, Agent or Servant – Felony
  • Count 3, Possession of Fentanyl – Misdemeanor
  • Count 4, Possession of Midazolam – Misdemeanor

Case information: People v. Richard Paul Stephenson, Docket Number 01-188454-3

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Contra Costa County launches Human Trafficking Task Force with $1.2 million federal grant

Thursday, December 20th, 2018

By Scott Alonso, Public Information Officer, Office of the District Attorney, Contra Costa County

Contra Costa County recently received $1.2 million under the Federal Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) to establish a new Human Trafficking Task Force. Under the three-year grant from OVC, $500,000 is going to the Employment and Human Services Department (EHSD) for victim services and $700,000 goes to the District Attorney’s Office. This federal grant will assist both departments in developing this multidisciplinary task force that will implement victim-centered and coordinated approaches to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking through services and investigating and prosecuting these trafficking cases.

The Task Force will be an enhancement of the Contra Costa County Rescue and Restore Coalition (commonly referred to as the Human Trafficking Coalition) that was jointly formed with the Office of the District Attorney, EHSD and other partners in 2009 to address human trafficking in our county and the greater Bay Area. The Task Force’s “core team” will be co-chaired by Assistant District Attorney Venus D. Johnson and the Director of the Alliance to End Abuse Devorah Levine to ensure effective and efficient collaboration between investigation and prosecution and victim support and services.

To further combat trafficking in the county, District Attorney Diana Becton recently created a Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit within the District Attorney’s Office, which will be staffed by a dedicated sex trafficking prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Dana Filkowski.

“Our law enforcement partners will be able to focus on the growing problems associated with human trafficking in our community with this task force,” Becton stated. “We know that sharing confidential information and conducting complex investigations is challenging and resource intensive. However, with this new framework, we can prosecute those perpetrators who often times go unnoticed and provide comprehensive services to victims of trafficking. We have to keep raising awareness with the public and our law enforcement partners about the real threats that human trafficking poses to Contra Costa County.”

The Human Trafficking Task Force of Contra Costa County will be a collaboration of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies working together with victim service organizations to; 1) better identify all types of human trafficking victims; 2) enhance investigation and prosecution of all types of human trafficking; 3) address the individualized needs of all identified human trafficking victims by linking them to comprehensive services; 4) enhance awareness of human trafficking among law enforcement and service providers, as well as within the broader Contra Costa community; and 5) improve trauma-informed practices for human trafficking victims within law enforcement and victim service providers.

Task Force partners on the law enforcement side, headed by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office, will include agencies such as the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the F.B.I. and local law enforcement agencies. Task Force partners on the victim service side, headed by Contra Costa County’s Alliance to End Abuse, include Calli House Youth Shelter (Contra Costa Behavioral Health Services), Community Violence Solutions, Bay Area Legal Aid, International Rescue Committee, and STAND! For Families Free of Violence.

Contra Costa County is a natural corridor for human trafficking activities with its linkage to major metropolitan areas like Oakland and San Francisco via public transportation (BART) and its accessibility to Los Angeles and Sacramento via major highways such as 680, 80 and 5 (via Hwy 4). Though human trafficking is illegal, victims often do not know where to turn for help and community members may not know where to report suspicious situations.

The Contra Costa Human Trafficking Task Force, in partnership with the Contra Costa Human Trafficking Coalition will be working with local agencies to raise awareness about human trafficking in Contra Costa County throughout the month of January. The FBI has identified California as one of the nation’s top destination states for trafficked persons.

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