OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — On the steps of the Alameda County courthouse in Oakland this week, protesters chanted, “Recall Price! Recall Price!”
“I don’t know how anyone could say I’ve been too lenient, I’ve only been here 75 days,” District Attorney Pamela Price told KRON4.
During her first three months in office, red flags have been raised by veteran prosecutors, crime victims’ families, and a judge over concerns that violent criminals could be let off the hook with Price in charge.
Alameda County voters elected Price, a progressive civil rights attorney, to replace longtime district attorney Nancy O’Malley last year. Price ran on a platform proclaiming “the status quo must go,” and pledged to pursue restorative justice as alternatives to lengthy prison sentences.
Price was elected just months after another champion of criminal justice reform, Chesa Boudin, was booted by voters across the Bay. San Franciscans recalled Boudin, a former public defender, for being “soft on crime” and plaguing the city with repeat offenders, according to his critics.
KRON4 asked a source who works in Price’s office if Alameda County is heading down the same road as San Francisco under Boudin’s leadership. The source, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “It’s going to be worse. At least Chesa understood the criminal justice system because he was a public defender. His views are skewed, his whole career is dedicated to making sure the defendant gets away with it. But at least he had an understanding.”
Despite spelling Price’s first name incorrectly, a Change.org petition titled “Recall Alameda County DA Pamala Price” has gathered nearly 13,000 signatures.
Kevin Nishita’s Widow Wants Price Recalled
Kevin Nishita, a KRON4 security guard and former police officer, was murdered on 14th Street in Oakland on Nov. 24, 2021. Nishita was on assignment guarding a KRON4 news reporter when a group of men shot Nishita and attempted to steal camera equipment.
Former DA O’Malley charged three men, Laron Marques Gilbert, Hershel Hale, and Shadihia Mitchell, with murder. Hale and Mitchell are in custody awaiting trial, while Gilbert is still at large.
Nishita’s widow told KRON4 Wednesday that she has no faith that Price’s office will seek a maximum punishment for the killers.
Virginia Nishita said, “Kevin is the victim. We are the survivors of Kevin and he needs justice. I have no confidence or trust in Pamela Price that (justice) will happen. So she needs to be recalled.”
Price seems to be advocating more for defendants than crime victims’ families, Virginia Nishita said. “Let’s ask Kevin what he thinks is fair. Because this is his life now. Should those three guys get 75 years to life? Yes.”
Judge Rejects Plea Deal for Logwood
An Alameda County judge recently rejected a plea deal offered from Price’s office to an Oakland triple murder suspect, Delonzo Logwood.
Price said the Logwood case was in limbo under O’Malley’s administration for over a decade. Logwood has spent years in a Santa Rita Jail cell awaiting trial with three murder charges looming over his head.
Logwood, 32, allegedly gunned down three victims in 2008, according to investigators. Price offered Logwood a 15-year prison sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to just one of the killings. Judge Mark McCannon rejected the plea deal at a March 23 hearing, and ordered the case to move forward to a jury trial.
The Logwood case is “a difficult case by any measure,” Price wrote. After the judge torpedoed the plea deal, Price wrote, “When we reviewed the case, we felt that the trauma inflicted on the survivors, the defendant and his family, the court system and my staff by my predecessor’s failure to promptly resolve the case was unacceptable. We are very disappointed that Judge McCannon did not accept the plea bargain. Now, the case will head to trial, and justice will continue to be delayed as it makes its way through the court system,” Price wrote.
Under charges previously filed by O’Malley’s administration, Logwood faces 75 years to life in prison if convicted.
Price told KRON4 that lengthy prison time does not create safer communities. “If putting people away for 75 years made our county more safe, then we’d be the safest county, and the safest country, in the world,” Price said.
Price fired back at the judge through social media. She accused him of overstepping his “boundaries,” and igniting a “firestorm of prejudicial comments.” Price now wants to prevent Judge McCannon from presiding over any criminal case. “My office will file a motion to disqualify him from hearing any criminal cases being prosecuted by our office,” she said.
The Logwood murder trial is slated to begin with jury selection later this month.
Justice for Jasper Wu
Monday’s rally outside the courthouse in Oakland was held by community members who question whether justice will be achieved for Jasper Wu. The toddler was tragically killed when rival gangs engaged in a rolling gun battle between vehicles on I-880, according to investigators. Little Jasper’s family car was caught in the crossfire on Nov. 6, 2021.
Three men, Trevor Green, Johnny Jackson, and Ivory Bivens, were arrested in connection to Jasper’s death. Jasper’s family reportedly said they do not believe in restorative justice, and if they are convicted, the toddler’s family wants the trio to be incarcerated as punishment.
Protesters held up signs outside the courthouse reading, “2 young 2 die,” and demanded maximum prison time.
Protest organizer Bob Yee said, “At the end of the day, this is all about Jasper. This is about justice for Jasper.”
Price told KRON4 that there is no truth to media reports that her office is seeking non-carceral punishment in the Jasper Wu case. “The people who we believe committed this murder are charged with very serious crimes, and we intend to prosecute them,” Price said. She declined to specify what the charges will be.
Price’s Enhancements Directive
Price issued an office-wide memo directing prosecutors to not add enhancements when charging defendants with crimes. KRON4 obtained the internal March 1 memo.
Price wrote in the memo, “This directive reduces reliance on sentencing enhancements and allegations as an effort to bring balance back to sentencing and reduce recidivism. Generally, prosecutors shall not file or require defendants plead to sentence enhancements. Exceptions may be allowed on a case-by-case basis in cases involving the most vulnerable victims and in specified extraordinary circumstances. Attorneys are expected to follow this directive.”
Criminal defense attorney Paula Canny has been keeping an eye on the controversy surrounding Price. “It certainly can have the appearance of being soft-on-crime. People are freaking out because they think that her policies are going to make their community less safe. Which is a reasonable concern, because we all want to live in a safe community,” Canny previously told KRON4.
Seven Veteran Prosecutors Out
Six of Alameda County’s most experienced criminal trial prosecutors were placed on paid administrative leave in January when their new boss took over.
District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Angela Ruggiero said, “Our office cannot discuss personnel (and) human resources matters.” Ruggiero declined to name the prosecutors.
A source who works in the DA’s office told KRON4 that the six prosecutors are: Colleen McMahon, John Mifsud, Butch Ford, John Brouhard, Brian Owens, and Connie Campbell. The six prosecutors are still currently on leave and left in the dark, the source said.
Another veteran trial attorney, Charly Weissenbach, left. In Weissenbach’s March 10 resignation later, she reportedly wrote, “I no longer feel capable of fulfilling my legal and ethical duties as a prosecutor under this administration.”
One of the prosecutors who was placed on leave, Ford, was a fiery lead prosecutor for the 2020 Nia Wilson murder trial. Wilson was murdered on a BART train in 2018 when another passenger, John Cowell, slashed her neck. Cowell pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. For the trial, Cowell testified that he saw “three black females” on the BART train in Oakland, and he believed the women were “aliens” who kidnapped his grandmother.
Evidence presented by Ford at the trial proved Cowell was not only guilty, but also sane when he murdered Nia Wilson, according to the verdicts. Cowell, 32, is currently serving a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.
KRON4 reached out to Wilson’s family asking whether they think Ford should be allowed back in the District Attorney’s Office. Wilson’s mother wrote, “He’s a really good DA. I was hoping she would have kept him or at least reconsider her decision.”
Price’s Leadership Team Applauds Accomplishments
It’s not uncommon for a new district attorney to bring in allies after winning an election and restructure leadership. San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, brought down the hammer with a major leadership shakeup when she took office. Most of the prosecutors fired by Jenkins were supporters of Boudin.
Price picked new attorneys and investigators to serve under her leadership team, including: Otis Bruce Jr., Chief Assistant District Attorney; Royl L. Roberts, Chief Assistant District Attorney, Eric D. Lewis, Chief Inspector; Cynthia Chandler, Senior Assistant District Attorney; and Simona Farrise Best, Senior Assistant District Attorney.
The leadership team held a press conference earlier this month to highlighting her accomplishments, which they described as unprecedented reforms by the county’s first Black district attorney.
Highlights listed included:
- Trauma-informed support training and information about restorative justice strategies.
- Creating an automated system to enable law enforcement, Child Protective Services, and the District Attorney’s Office to share and track reports of child abuse.
“We are here also to clarify and rebuke some of the narratives that are there that have been recently spoken about,” said Ray Bobbitt, co-chair of Alameda County District Attorney Transition Team.
“There is this narrative that she doesn’t care about victims. As an African American, born and raised in east Oakland, we’re all victims. We have people hurt. People who have died. People deeply affected. So, it’s offensive,” Bobbitt said.