September 23, 2020
A protester was arrested on August 20th by the San Diego Police Department. They were arrested for trying to rescue a fellow protestor from police custody. It is a misdemeanor (CA Penal Code sec. 148) to willfully “resist, delay or obstruct” a police officer in the course of their duties, and a misdemeanor (CA Penal Code sec. 241) “assault” on a police officer. Neither of those charges would have been unexpected.
It was the felony charge of lynching (CA Penal Code 405) that took us by surprise.
We all know what lynching is and who its victims are. While the word “lynching” was removed from the code in 2015, that changes nothing about the intent or history of the law and the historical and current practice it is meant to prohibit.
Still, the San Diego Police Department booked this protestor under the anti-lynching statute.
The NAACP San Diego Branch contacted the neighborhood Community Prosecutor Liaison to see if the DA planned to charge the protestor as the SDPD recommended. We received the following statement in reply:
For more than 80 years, California law defined “lynching” as the crime of taking someone from the lawful custody of a peace officer by means of a riot, according to California Penal Code 405a. However, we know that lynching has a painful history for African Americans and is more commonly used to describe murder by mob.
In 2015 Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that removed the word “lynching” from the text of the bill. Our office has not issued a case with this charge since 2011. Of the two defendants charged in 2011, one case dismissed and the other was vacated. Currently, Penal Code 405a provides that a person who participates in taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer is guilty of a felony. It is no longer referred to as “lynching.”
It recently came to [District Attorney Summer Stephan]’s attention that the sheriff had not changed its booking form and the word lynching was still being used on booking sheets. Summer was offended and appalled to learn this word was still being used in the booking form and took the following actions.
(1) We talked to the Sheriff, advised them that the word was removed from the statute in 2015, and they agreed to change the booking criteria to remove this language.
(2) Our District Attorney liaison will meet with SDPD, remind them that the law has changed to omit that language and train them not to use that language in their internal and external communications
We appreciate District Attorney Stephen’s swift response to the concerns of her constituents as relayed by the NAACP San Diego Branch.
Our Citizen’s Justice Committee, chaired by Dr Robert Brown, also considered this issue. A Sheriff’s Department employee who is a Branch member took our concerns back to the Sheriff’s Department, which independently undertook to remove the word “lynching” from its booking sheets. We also appreciate this prompt action taken by the Sheriff’s Department.
Our next step will be to advocate that this law never be used again outside the context for which it was intended. It is a cruel irony to see it used as a tool against people struggling, however inappropriately, for civil rights. There are other statutes that could have been used; leave this one for when it is called for, in honor of the thousands of African-Americans who have suffered this horrible crime.
Francine Maxwell, President
NAACP San Diego Branch
September 23, 2020
Six months ago, a San Diego County Probation Officer’s misconduct went below the public radar.
Officer Michael Stevenson was clandestinely charged by the County DA’s office for evidence tampering, lying on court reports, preparing false reports for fraudulent reasons, and several other counts.
P.O. Michael Stevenson was entrusted to honor the oath by which he swore to uphold the United States & State of California Constitutions and the rights of its citizens. Instead of fulfilling his Peace Officer duties and sworn oath, he conducted affairs that violated public trust and compromised public safety (by providing unethical and unlawful privileges to probationers, including Shalana Pohlman and Kenneth Fishburn.)
Though formally charged by DA Stephan’s office earlier this year, it is difficult to find reassurance here due to the inner office letters sent to defense attorneys just last week. The letter depicts conflicting statements such as “it has come to the attention of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office that Mr. Stevenson may have additional exculpatory information in his personnel file. The term exculpatory leaves room for a great margin of error as it can be defined as evidence that could show the defendant is not guilty.
The public should also be aware no specific information about the charges was included in this five-page letter from the DA to defense attorneys.
Similarly, more convolution occurs as Chief of Probation, Adolfo Gonzales attempts his own appeal on the serious matter.
His letter includes:
When this matter was first brought to my attention last year, we acted decisively by notifying the District Attorney’s Office so an independent investigation could take place. In my 42 year career as a law enforcement leader, I have never wavered in the expectation that my staff’s actions must always be ethical, transparent, and in the public’s interest. I ask that you give this criminal review time to be adjudicated in a court of law.
I understand some of you or fellow community members may be discouraged by this news. I want to reassure you that it is because of existing processes like Internal Affairs and the District Attorney’s Office that we work to uphold the highest standards. Probation Officers are professionals who have been entrusted by the community to perform a difficult job. With that duty it is this Department’s obligation to hold ourselves and others accountable. The charges against this former officer are not reflective of the Probation Department’s staff or what we stand for. We protect public safety and work to increase levels of trust with the community. As the Chief Probation Officer, it is my top priority to ensure staff are supported in providing the highest quality services to the clients we serve.
These letters do not provide us with a reasonable guarantee that any outcomes will occur to adequately address this issue. It is long overdue that we examine what this leadership and their departments stand for. We demand decisive, adequate actions and responses to address officer misconduct in an intolerable fashion.
For decades, the Department of Probation and the District Attorney’s Office have served San Diego County under the guise of equity, fairness, and justice.
However, too often, an opposing identity lurks behind this mask.
Such is evident in the Michael Stevenson matter; the latest in a generational series of law enforcement inadequacies. Inadequacies that overwhelmingly adversely affect people of color on probation with constant revocation and recidivism, while catering to Whites on probation with passes and privileges as incentives. Studies have unmasked that 1 in 55 adults in America are under probation and parole supervision, these individuals appear to fare better in this system. However, 1 in 23 black people are on probation and experiencing a harsher more punitive types of probation compared to Whites.
This discriminating Judicial cycle and continued issues of misconduct are a violation of our Constitutional rights and a violation of public trust.
The communities of San Diego, California demand to know the following:
- Why is there still an influx and imbalance in the supervision, surveillance, suppression, control, revocations and arrests of people of color?
- Why are white privileged probationers and a white privileged employees receiving charges that may not stick along with an apparent get out of jail free card? This pass allowed P.O. Stevenson to collect leave pay and then resign in exchange for blatant misconduct and lack of adherence to the law.
- How will the D.A.’s office work with the Probation Dept to stream-line equity and integrity throughout the fabrics of each department?
- Why is there still an incongruence in the statement to the public and the statements to employees?
Case in point:
The Probation Dept. leadership asks the public to believe their guiding principles (published as):
- Public safety is our priority
- Maintain fiscal stability
- Promote a culture that values diversity, fairness & equity
- Conduct business with transparency and accountability
- Act with integrity
- Continually challenge ourselves to enhance our knowledge and expertise
While, the labor union, San Diego County Probation Officers Association has an opposing mission on display which states:
It shall be the mission of the San Diego County Probation Officers Association to create and maintain the resources for the protection, care, and relief of its members, as well as, promote and maintain a feeling of friendship and fraternity among its members, to promote the individual and collective welfare of the members, and to defend and preserve the rights of the members on all matters pertaining to their employment relationships with the County of San Diego and to advance their professional interests.
These two vastly different pursuits of the Probation Dept. and the labor union leave very little room for accountability and high standards in order to flourish.
Is the Probation Department and the District Attorney’s office bargaining our Constitutional rights away to the San Diego County Probation Officers Association?
Today we demand full transparency, full accountability, and full initiative in all public safety related matters. We demand the practice of masking serious misconduct issues to cease and desist.
We demand equality and fairness for all probationers.
We demand new leaders and supervisors to take on this task if for some reason this matter remains unsolved and unresolved.
The masquerade is OVER!
We earnestly await your response.
A Concerned Member of the NAACP San Diego Branch
“STAT” is a worldwide media company associated with the Boston Globe (remember the movie “Spotlight”? That’s the Boston Globe.) President Maxwell was sought for comment in the following article:
Francine Maxwell, president of the San Diego branch of the NAACP, said that politicians’ promises of an effective vaccine by the election has only made her community more suspicious. “They don’t trust the science behind it, because they feel everyone is doing it to make 45 happy,” she said, referring to President Trump.
Election, Election, Election.
6pm via Zoom: sandiegonaacp.org/zoom
At this meeting, we will receive the report of the Nominating Committee, take nominations by petition, choose our election software, and elect the Election Supervisory Committee.
NAACP President Francine Maxwell and Political Action Chair Kamaal Martin joined the food and PPE distribution run by the Friend for Friends Foundation and SD HIP HOP 5K.
Besides giving folks food and protective gear, the NAACP also registered voters!