Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Interim Contra Costa DA forum draws questions on wide range of issues

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

The five semi-finalists for the interim Contra Costa County District Attorney appointment participated in a three-hour public forum at Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors hearing chambers Tuesday. Participating in the forum conducted by the League of Women Voters of Contra Costa County were from left Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Diana Becton, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Danielle Douglas, Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier, Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Tom Kensok and Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves. Supervisors plan to announce their choice by either their September 12 or September 19 meeting.

Lasts for three hours

By Daniel Borsuk

In the packed Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors hearing chambers, supervisors and citizens learned a great deal about five candidates in the running for the interim District Attorney post, vacant since the mid-June resignation of Mark Peterson on charges of lying about illegally spending $66,000 from his election campaign fund for personal use.

Before responding to questions pooled from the League of Women Voters of Contra Costa County and emceed by former Contra Costa County Clerk and Register of Voters Steven Weir, supervisors conducted a one hour hearing to allow the public to vent thoughts about the supervisors selection process of the five choices:  Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Diana Becton, Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Danielle Douglas, Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves, longtime Contra Costa Deputy District Attorney Tom Kensok, and Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Patrick Vanier, a Contra Costa County resident.

Graves and Vanier have already announced they are running for election in 2018.

During the public hearing, Graves received oral endorsements from eight speakers.  One supporter, Laura Dean Swanson described Graves as “Competent and widely respected by people for working for victims’ rights.”

But Richmond City Councilman Melvin Willis cautioned supervisors saying, “We need a district attorney who will look at alternatives other than incarceration.  We need new leadership promoting racial justice.”

Nancy Kelly, a retired public defender, urged the supervisors to select an interim DA who would eliminate the bail system, which is racially and financially biased against minorities.  Kelly also said the county’s interim DA should be one who picks “juries that reflect the community and not that reflects the upper class or white people.”

During the forum, the five semi-finalists answered a wide variety of questions to shed light regarding their opinions about “restorative justice,” a concept that all the candidates supported.

On the question about the death penalty, the responses varied.

Judge Douglas said she would seek the death penalty for cases meriting it and “would set up a death penalty review panel.”  She noted that the cost and racial disparity associated with the death penalty has shown that it has been “abused in this country.”

Vanier said he would use the death penalty for cases that genuinely merit them like the “Ted Bundy” murder case.

Kensok said he, like most Contra Costa voters, voted to abolish the death penalty.  “It’s not a deterrent, but I will never say never.”  He said there might be murder cases meriting the death penalty.

“The death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime,” said Judge Beckton.

On prosecuting environmental pollution crimes, candidates’ responses varied, but Kensok seemed to have the best response to that question.  “We have an environmental prosecutor,” said Kensok. “We have gone after Chevron.  But as DA my priority will be to use our resources to prosecute cases involving violence.”

When asked what his thoughts were about the DA office’s track record on victims’ rights, candidate Vanier said, “Less than one half of the crimes are prosecuted.  We need to do a better job of prosecuting crimes that occur in this county.”

On the topic of how to work with at-risk youth, Judge Becton said she would implement a successful program she developed in Richmond, “The Color of Justice.”  It teaches school children that African Americans do succeed academically and become lawyers and judges.

As a mother of three daughters, Judge Douglas said she would promote anti-gang awareness programs beginning in the elementary and middle schools.  “We need to publicize about the dangers of the Internet and how gangs are able to lure youth at very young age.”

All five candidates said they would not cooperate with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Supervisors plan to interview finalists for the interim post on September 12; they could announce a selection then or reveal their choice at their September 19 meeting.

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Concord dental assistant, an Antioch resident pleads guilty to child molestation

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

Alejandro Saro. Photo by Concord Police

Sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison

In April, 2016, the Concord Police Department investigated a report of a child molestation that occurred at La Clinica dental office on Sierra Road in the City of Concord. The eight-year-old female victim told officers that a male dental assistant sexually assaulted her and that he video recorded the incident while he committed the crime. Special Victims Unit Detectives were notified and quickly identified the suspect as 24-year-old Alejandro Saro, from Antioch, CA.

During the investigation, detectives reviewed patients’ records from four different dental offices where Saro had worked which led to the identification of four other female victims between the ages of 5 and 13 years old. Saro was employed as a dental assistant at La Clinica Monument in March of 2015. He was also employed by Patino Orthodontics and Western Dental, both in Concord – and a branch of Western Dental in Antioch.

The investigation also uncovered evidence that all five of the victims had been assaulted by Saro while they were under sedation for various dental procedures. Saro was arrested by detectives and the case was turned over to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office. The DA’s Office charged Saro with multiple counts of child molestation. He remained in-custody with bail set at $8.1 million dollars.

Saro was due to appear in court this week to stand trial, however, SVU detectives received notification from the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office late Sunday night that Saro had pled guilty to five counts of felony child molestation; one count for each victim.

It is not uncommon for perpetrators who commit such horrendous crimes to reach a plea bargain agreement rather than face all of the evidence against them in front of a jury of peers. Based on the thorough investigation conducted by the SVU detectives and the mounds of evidence they uncovered and piled against Saro, including numerous videos, it is presumed that he voluntarily accepted responsibility for his actions with this agreement. Saro will now appear in front of a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge for sentencing on Friday, September 22, 2017, in Martinez, where he will be sentenced to 25 years to life in state prison.

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Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Graves shares why he wants to be Contra Costa’s next DA

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Paul Graves speaks to the Friday Morning Breakfast Club in Antioch on Friday, August 4, 2017.

Speaks to Antioch’s Friday Morning Breakfast Club

By Allen Payton

Speaking before the Friday Morning Breakfast Club (FBMC) in Antioch on August 4, Paul Graves, the Senior Deputy District Attorney for Contra Costa County, answered questions and explained why he wants to be the county’s next DA. He is one of five finalists to be the Interim DA in the Board of Supervisors’ appointment process, having made the first round cut from a list of 12 applicants.

The FBMC is led by former Antioch Mayor Don Freitas and made up of current and former locally elected officials, community leaders and other concerned residents. They meet once a month for breakfast and invite a speaker as their guest.

A 22-year veteran of the Contra Costa DA’s office, Graves was the first candidate to enter the race for District Attorney in the June, 2018 election, before former DA Mark Peterson resigned. He was willing to take on his boss in response to the scandal over Peterson making false statements on his campaign finance statements about personal use of campaign funds.

“There was a cloud over the office,” Graves stated. “In the press, there was an impression something was wrong with the office. The people in that office are dedicated to the county. While that cloud was over the office, the people asked me to step up and run against the incumbent. But, I’m not going to disparage my former boss.”

“I’m not a politician,” Graves added

He announced his campaign in May following a vote of no-confidence by the Deputy District Attorneys Association and the Civil Grand Jury’s call for the removal of Peterson.

“It wouldn’t have been as big a deal if Mr. Peterson had not decided to run again,” Graves stated during the FMBC meeting. “I did not support Mr. Peterson in 2010. I was one of those who was punished. But even Mark recognized I’m a leader in this office. I was actually the solution to the problem.”

“I chose to stay when others left, because I’m committed to the county,” he shared. “We called it the ‘French Resistance’ back in 2010. We had two choices: quite or stay here and fight. I’m a fighter. So, I chose to stay and fight.”

In his brief announcement he said, “after careful consideration and consultation with my colleagues in the District Attorney’s Office and with others in law enforcement, I have decided to run for Contra Costa District Attorney in 2018. As a 22-year veteran of this office, I have a deep understanding of this community and the talented dedicated prosecutors that already serve the public. Simply put, I know I can make a difference.”

Graves expected to be demoted, again for running against his boss and planned on providing a more complete, public announcement later. But then Peterson resigned and the Supervisors decided to appoint an interim DA.

“Only two of us were candidates before the appointment process,” he said. The other one is Santa Clara County Deputy DA Patrick Vanier, who announced his campaign about a week later in May, also before Peterson resigned in June.

Graves explained to the FBMC members his plans if elected.

“I believe in a victim-centered approach,” he said. “It’s our obligation to give the best service to the victims in our office. It hasn’t changed for the past 22 years. It’s a crime-based structure. We need to look at restructuring the office.”

“People are people. Victims, witnesses and defendants,” Graves continued. He then said his overall goal is to “save lives and drive down crime in Contra Costa County.”

He spoke of the crime occurring in Antioch, East County and other parts of the county.

“Human trafficking is something we’re not doing enough of,” Graves stated. “Prostitutes on the street corners. I like to call them exploited women. There are exploiters, pimps.”

“I’ve been working with non-profits…to work on these problems.”

Regarding it occurring in massage parlors, Graves said, “Antioch Police are very involved in this. Concord Police are involved in this, treating the prostitutes as victims. Out here in East County there’s a network of massage parlors. They’re all connected.”

He then spoke of one way the DA’s office is fighting crime.

“We have a wiretap room,” Graves shared. “We want to wiretap these networks and to take them down. That is my goal.”

There’s a “huge street-level human trafficking operation in Danville” in a “nice house,” he said.

“They prey on youth, those coming out of group homes, foster care. It turns into eating, rape, and fear,” Graves continued. “The exploited women have a mental break and they become very protective of their abusers.”

“We need transition housing, out here,” he added.

“The punishment for johns are deminimis. It’s a misdemeanor,” Graves explained. “My preference is that they go through a human trafficking course and see what the women go through.”

Asked about sanctuary city policies, he responded, “as a DA, I follow the law. But the misconception about the DA’s office involvement in deportations is wrong. ICE does get notified. It happens when they’re arrested.”

“The law has changed. We have to consider their status in terms of the punishment,” Graves said. “Defense attorneys try to get us to change the charges so it’s not deportable. Sex crimes are.”

“We are a sanctuary city, not for defendants but victims,” he added.

Asked about the Deputy DA for Antioch, Graves explained, “You do (have one). But it’s not sufficient. You need a dedicated DA.”

“We have a Deputy DA in the Pittsburg Police Department. Antioch goes to Pittsburg to file cases without having to drive to Martinez,” he shared. “You do not have a community prosecutor. We have one in Richmond who can do targeted cases. Richmond PD pays part of that salary.” “We’re understaffed. We’ve always been understaffed,” Graves stated about his department. “We have the same number of Deputy DA’s as we did 22 years ago.”

But, he also said he’s very available to Antioch Police.

“Your detectives can call me 24-7 on a case and they know it,” he said. “I’ve been at Disneyland and I took a call. I would work with your Chief (of Police) to get you a DA. It would be Antioch’s community prosecutor. We need community DA’s to work on crime strategy. You need a partner out there.”

“The Antioch Police Detectives are very good,” Graves shared. “You have great police out there. You’re seriously understaffed.”

He spoke of targeted enforcement in which a repeat offender has multiple complaints filed against him, which increases the charges and advocated for pro-active, community-based prosecution.

“You do have a gang problem out here,” Graves stated. “Our gang unit needs to expand. We need a human trafficking unit. Gangs are getting in it. It’s cheaper and easier than drugs.

As to his approach in leading the office, he said, “I like to get out into the community. I like talking to the people. The office of the DA is the office of the people.”

“I will spend my time talking to the troops in my office,” Graves added.

He encouraged those in attendance to “stay involved in this election. This is a very important election. It’s turning into a hot potato…a referendum on Contra Costa County. There’s a push to become like San Francisco…shortening sentences, not arresting people.”

“I’m running on my qualifications,” he continued. “No matter what happens (in the appointment process), I’m running. I do firmly believe I am the right person for the job.”

To learn more about Graves, visit his campaign website at www.paulgravesforda.com.

A public forum for the five finalists will be held tonight, Tuesday, August 15, at 6:00 p.m.   The meeting will be in the Board Chamber at 651 Pine Street in Martinez.  Beginning at 5:00 p.m., there will be an hour reserved for public comment. During that time, you can also submit written comments to be entered into the public record.  If you have a question you would like to suggest for the forum, you will have an opportunity between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to do so. Volunteers from the League of Women Voters will be on hand to assist in collecting the question cards.  During a break in the forum, the moderator will have the ability to chose audience-submitted questions to ask during the second half of the event.  

The forum will be televised live on CCTV, as well as streamed live on this website.  CCTV can be watched on Comcast Channel 27, Wave Channel 32, and AT&T U-Verse Channel 99.

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Rep. McNerney defends sanctuary cities against DOJ threats to withhold funds

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

(Washington, DC) – On Friday, Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09), who represents portions of Antioch, sent a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ), responding to the agency’s threat to withhold federal dollars from the City of Stockton, and several other cities, if local law enforcement does not notify the Department of Homeland Security regarding the detainment of illegal aliens.

In response to DOJ’s initial letter, McNerney issued the following statement:

“The City of Stockton has made significant progress combatting crime, in large part due to its highly capable police department. The Stockton PD is nationally recognized for its innovative and effective approaches to reducing crime, and in order to ensure they can best serve their communities, Stockton police and other local law enforcement must be able to decide on the best strategy to combat crime without federal interference.

“The funds DOJ is threatening to withhold come from the Public Safety Partnership (PSP), which was created to help keep cities and communities safe and to improve relationships between community members and law enforcement. These grants are essential to our local law enforcement and withholding them would be counterproductive to the progress these regions have made.

“I sent a letter to the Department of Justice, underscoring the benefits of this program and its role in the agency’s mission. If the DOJ is truly committed to public safety through federal leadership, they will seek other opportunities to support their local law enforcement counterparts, rather than handicap them.”

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Senate committee approves Frazier’s “Jeff Belle Bill” to increase penalties for ballot statement lies

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Jeff Belle, source Contra Costa County Board of Education

Increases maximum fine from $1,000 to $20,500

SACRAMENTO – The Senate Public Safety Committee has unanimously approved a bill by Assemblymember Jim Frazier, D-Discovery Bay, which would impose stiff financial penalties on candidates who lie on ballot statements when seeking political office. AB 894 would impose a fine of up to $5,000 if a candidate includes knowingly false information on statements they submit for inclusion on election ballots. If an offender is convicted of associated criminal wrongdoing, a formula that multiplies the base fine could result in as much as $20,500 in total financial penalties for those who intentionally lie to voters.

“The penalty for shamelessly lying to voters should be very painful,” Frazier said. “And right now, it’s not painful enough. Often, the only information a voter may have about candidates is what is contained in ballot statements, especially in races for local offices that might not get a lot of press coverage. AB 894 creates a strong deterrent to dishonest candidates who falsify their qualifications in an attempt to mislead voters.”

Frazier authored AB 894 after Jeff Belle, a candidate in East County who was elected to the Contra Costa County Board of Education in 2014, was found to have blatantly lied about his qualifications, background and criminal record in the candidate statement he submitted for inclusion on the ballot. The current maximum fine for intentionally misleading voters on ballot statements is $1,000. However, instead of a punishment, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office allowed Belle to receive just an entry into a diversion program for offenders which required he admitted he didn’t have a degree and perform 20 hours of community service. (See related article).

AB 894 has received unanimous bipartisan support in every committee and floor vote. It has been approved by the Assembly Elections Committee, the full Assembly and the Senate Elections and Public Safety committees without a single “no” vote. The bill’s final vote will be on the Senate Floor after the Legislature returns from recess. If the full Senate approves AB 894, it will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

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Following Hwy 4 chase Pittsburg police arrest man in Antioch with stolen guns in stolen car

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Stolen guns discovered in stolen car Friday morning, August 11, 2017. Photo courtesy of Pittsburg Police.

At 3:35 AM on Friday, August 11, 2017, Pittsburg Police officers were monitoring Highway 4 following a license plate reader alert for a stolen vehicle. Officers located the vehicle on Loveridge Road in Pittsburg and attempted a traffic stop; however, the suspect vehicle fled and a pursuit ensued.

Officers located the suspect vehicle on the Contra Loma Blvd. onramp in Antioch and the suspect fled on foot from pursuing officers. The suspect was subsequently apprehended by a Pittsburg Police K9. A search of the vehicle revealed multiple firearms, which had been stolen during a burglary in a nearby city.

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Supervisors back state funding of Los Vaqueros Reservoir expansion

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Los Vaqueros Reservoir. Photo by Aerial Photographer Dick Jones. Courtesy of CCWater.com

By Daniel Borsuk

The first shovel may not plunge into the ground for the expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir until 2022, but the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors have signed on to back state financing of the Contra Costa Water District’s reservoir project.

With District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen and District 1 Supervisor John Gioia absent Tuesday, supervisors voted 3-0 as a consent item to send a letter of support for the reservoir to the California Water Commission to tap into 2014 voter approved $2.7 billion of state Proposition 1 funds so that the Contra Costa Water District can enlarge the reservoir’s capacity from 160,000-acre feet to 270,000-acre feet.

The Proposition 1 funding would pay 50 percent, or about $450 million of the estimated $900 million price tag with the CCWD and other participating water agencies and their customers picking up the construction price tag.

Although supervisors did not hear either opposition or support concerning their letter, the supervisors’ letter did acknowledge the reservoir project could present an environmental problem unless the CCWD takes action to address it.

Supervisors expect the CCWD to resolve an issue about a proposed alignment of the Transfer-Bethany Pipeline that could upset the environment to a portion of 13,000 acres to the East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan, a state funded part of the Natural Community Conservation Plan.  Contra Costa County and the cities of Brentwood, Clayton, Oakley and Pittsburg adopted the ECCC habitat conservation plan in 2007.

“Nothing has been decided on the pipeline’s alignment, “said CCWD Public Affairs Director Jennifer Allen. “We still have a lot of steps to go through including the pipeline alignment.”

“With this being a big rain year, I think this is a great thing to move forward on,” said Supervisor Diane Burgis of Brentwood, whose District 3 encompasses much of Los Vaqueros Reservoir.  “If we’re going to spend this kind of money, it’s better to build something that stores water during the rainy years.”

“This is an opportunity to invest against future droughts by adding to our water storage,” said board chair Federal Glover.

Supervisors Adopt New Cardroom License Ordinance

Supervisors also approved a cardroom ordinance that lays out a procedure to ensure that business operations are not interrupted following “an unforeseen event” including the death of the current licensee.

Under the new ordinance, the Sheriff’s Office is designated as the department responsible for licensing gambling establishments locally, is to be notified of the event within 10 days of the event occurrence and identify the appropriate party that should obtain a license. The successor party is required to obtain a license within 30 days of the event.

In Contra Costa County, the California Grand Casino at 5988 Pacheco Blvd. in Pacheco and the 19th Hole Casino and Lounge at 2746 W. Tregallas Road in Antioch are the only licensed cardrooms, according to the State Attorney General’s Office.

Automated License Plate Readers

In other business, supervisors gave the green light for the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff to 21 Lehr Automated License Plate Readers for $225,000 for use in unincorporated Alamo to help curb property crimes.

Installation of the Lehr ALPRs will begin at the end of August and should be completed in September, said Sheriff Lt. Jason Haynes of the Alamo Sheriff Office.  The ALPRs will be installed at seven intersections.

Sheriff David Livingston said while a review of crime statistics in the Alamo area does not show a significant increase in reported crime over the last several years, “there was an increase in property crime and residential burglaries specifically in the Contra Costa central 680 corridor.”

The county will not pick a dime on the acquisition of the ALRs because the funds are donated through three private sources.  One unnamed contributor donated $95,000.  Members of the Alamo Police Services Advisory Committee are providing $50,000 and P-6 Alamo-Las Trampas has contributed $80,500.

Alamo will join Danville, Orinda, Lafayette, Clayton and Pittsburg that have Lehr ALPRs installed on city street intersections, Lt. Haynes said.

Lt. Haynes said the license plate readers have proven to work effectively in solving especially property crimes.  He said the Sheriff’s Department has made 25 arrests in connection with Danville stolen vehicle heists over a 12-month period.

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New Rivertown business, Serenity & Sobriety opens with ribbon cutting

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

Serenity & Sobriety store owners Nancy Mattingly and Jim Albert, center with scissors, prepare to cut the ribbon to officially open their new store on Friday, July 28, 2017.

By Allen Payton

Antioch business owners, community and Chamber of Commerce leaders, as well as friends and family joined Nancy Mattingly and Jim Albert, owners of the new Serenity & Sobriety store, located at 208 G Street in Antioch’s historic, downtown Rivertown, for a ribbon cutting to officially open their store on Friday, July 28.

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock spoke on behalf of the city council.

“I want to welcome Serenity & Sobriety to downtown,” she said. “It’s a very eclectic store. It adds to the beauty of downtown.”

Jim and Nancy inside their store.

A representative of Assemblyman Jim Frazier presented the owners with a special certificate of recognition.

Richard Pagano, CEO of the Chamber spoke, next.

“On behalf of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce, thank you for your investment in downtown Antioch,” he said. “We’re very excited for you.”

Nancy responded by saying, “I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your lives to welcome Jim and I to downtown. Please spread the word.”

“We have ‘normie’ stuff, not just for recovery,” she explained. “I hope to make a difference in people’s lives. I used drugs and alcohol for 44 years. One of the reasons we chose this place is we have the Alano Club here.”

In addition to the AA and NA recovery items, the store offers Woodstock windchimes, handmade soy candles, handmade jewelry, herbal teas and mediation CD’s.

Jim shared a bit of his background, as a reason for why he opened the store.

“I’m into recovery like her,” he stated. “I’ve been sober for 42 years.”

He thanked all those who attended. Then everyone gathered as Nancy and Jim cut the ribbon to cheers from those in attendance.

Stop by and visit the new store, today. They’re open Sunday 11-4, Tuesday through Saturday 10-5 and their closed on Monday. Follow them on their Facebook page and for more information call (925) 978-9149 or email serenityandsobriety@gmail.com. See their ad in the August issue of the Herald or on the left side of this website.

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