Op-Ed: The Time Has Come for DAs to Create Police Crime Units

The Coalition for Justice and Accountability (CJA) came into existence in 2003 after Bich Cau Thi Tran was shot and killed by San Jose police Officer Chad Marshall.

In the 17 years since its founding, the CJA been an advocate for humane policing practices including the banning of the use of Tasers by law enforcement. Members of CJA have participated on panels, addressing police misconduct, Taser task forces, city councils and other public bodies throughout the Bay Area. CJA has conducted workshops on police misconduct and also on the inherent dangers of Tasers.

The brutal, almost 9-minutes-long public police torture and murder of George Floyd on May 25, set off, yet again, a reexamination of both the history of police violence targeted at African-Americans, and the present moment in our history of more of the same endless police murders. Nothing seems to change, except the names of the victims.

Our nation had a similar racial justice and police violence reckoning after another very public series of police murders. Eric Garner’s murder on July 17, 2014, and the murder of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014, set that spark.

Sadly but predictably, there have since been countless other extrajudicial police murders, of Black men and women. And almost without exception, charges are not brought and almost never do convictions result.

After each police murder, there are renewed calls for police reform, body-worn cameras, bans on choke holds, ban on Tasers, demilitarization of the police, better vetting in the hiring process of new police, civilian review boards with more teeth, independent police auditors, and the wholesale review of all police practices.

But nothing yet has come even close to ending the cycle of police violence.

Uninterrupted for 400 years—from the beginning of American policing with its roots deeply tied to slavery and slave patrols—law enforcement and related institutions have shown an unrelenting desire to punish, exclude, segregate and control African-American bodies and souls. Their actions perpetuate white power and white supremacy—ideologies deeply embedded in our culture and institutions.

Most certainly such ideas are embedded in our criminal injustice system, reflected not only by endless police killings of people of color, but in a system of mass incarceration—one that dwarfs that of the rest of the world and grossly, disproportionally cages African-Americans and other people of color.

To quote the late James Baldwin, whose words from a 1968 interview with Esquire were recounted in Eddie S. Glaude JR’s recently released book “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own”: “In not trying to accuse you, you know. That’s not the point. But you have a lot to face … All that can save you now is your confrontation with your own history …. which is not your past but your present. Nobody cares what happened in the past. One can’t afford to care what happened in the past. But your history has led you to this moment, and you can only begin to change yourself and save yourself by looking at what you are doing in the name of your history.”

If our country is to survive, the time is now to confront our long and unabated history of race based police violence.

Policy Recommendations

Absent a complete defunding or abolition of police departments, we must have concrete and measurable ways to hold cops accountable for their violent and racist behavior. Reform alone simply is not sufficient. History has repeatedly taught us this lesson.

Police might, however, change their behavior if they see that they will not be handled by prosecutors with kid gloves and are instead treated like any other community member by being charged, prosecuted and, if the evidence warrants as much, convicted for their violent crimes and sent to jail. If that happens, then faith in the criminal justice system may finally have a chance to develop in communities that for too long have been at odds with a system that has given them no reason to trust it.

How do we get there?

Every district attorney in this country must develop a robust police crimes team. This team must be fully independent of law enforcement and be given the sole ability to prosecute without political pressure from police unions or elected officials. 

The police crimes team would be a multidisciplinary unit made up of retired police officers, former prosecutors, experienced investigators, former criminal defense attorneys, former victims of violent police crimes and academics whose specialty is the history and practice of policing. Each member would be trained in the nuance of appropriate police practices and conduct that crosses the line from good policing.

This unit would also be tasked with the duty of taking to jury trial each of the cases that the police crime team files. This would avoid the “trial for optics only syndrome.”

In the few deadly force cases that are actually taken to trial, it is often a mismatch by design. District attorneys, with no special unit trained to take on defense attorneys representing police are often outgunned in court.

No surprise, then, that—more often than not—police who engage in deadly force and are actually charged still manage to walk free after a jury trial. The establishment of a robust police crimes team will finally even the odds for conviction. 

Aram James is a retired Santa Clara County deputy public defender, a member of CJA and a co-founder of the Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project (ACJP), a grassroots legal advocacy organization located in San Jose. You can reach him at [email protected]. 

Richard Konda is an attorney and executive director of the Asian Law Alliance and the chairperson of the Coalition for Justice Accountability (CJA). Konda and James have challenged the Use of Tasers, and other forms of police misconduct by law enforcement for more than a decade. You can reach him at [email protected]

Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

33 Comments

  1. “murder of Michael Brown”

    Michael Brown was murdered by who exactly?

    “murder of George Floyd”

    George Floyd was murdered by who exactly?

    Before you answer, dust of your class notes from the day they taught libel.

  2. I cannot believe that “educated” people wrote this openly racist, incredibly ignorant, clap trap B.S. Our country is doomed.

  3. You spelled “Michael Brown attempted to murder a cop who acted in self defense to stop the threat” wrong

  4. Here again, we have attorneys preaching to us about justice while demonstrating absolutely zero commitment to the American system of jurisprudence. One would have to be blind not to see what it is they really want from judicial reform: to obtain omnipotent authority for their vigilante form of “justice.”

    “The brutal, almost 9-minutes-long public police torture and murder of George Floyd…”

    George Floyd, a rotten criminal who was behaving very much as does a wild animal fighting restraint, was treated to the same restraining techniques employed by humane zookeepers when administering medical treatment to their charges. Admittedly, Mr. Floyd was a human not a zoo animal, however two key distinguishing differences between the two, reasoning ability and civility, was not in evidence. To call his treatment at the hands of police torture or murder requires one to abandon both personal honor and all respect for the truth.
    Eric Garner died in custody, primarily because he was an obese, dangerously unhealthy hysteric who chose not to cooperate with police enforcing, for the ninth time against him, laws authored by others (legislators). If the State of New York didn’t want cops to arrest misdemeanor offenders too fat to safely take into custody it should’ve put that directive in its penal code.
    Michael Brown was a giant thug, intercepted by police as he fled the scene of a strong-arm robbery, and he died while physically overpowering a lone officer who, thankfully, was able to use his pistol to save his own life (and prevent this oversized predator from harming innocent others).
    Nice list of black martyrs, you two distinguished members of the bar have got there. I know of no one, of any color, who’d want any of these three alive and well and bringing lawlessness to their community. Of course, I can’t say I know anyone who’d like either of you two cop-hating zealots living too close to them.

  5. > “murder of Michael Brown”
    > “murder of George Floyd”

    Malicious and libelous statements against a non-public person which, beyond any shadow of a doubt, has harmed people economically and psychologically.

    Line ’em up for harvesting by L. Lin Wood (http://www.linwoodlaw.com/):

    – Aram James
    – Richard Konda
    – Dan Pulcrano

    Gentlemen, start going through all the pockets of the trousers hanging in your closets. Check the sofas in your studio apartments for loose change. Look under the vending machines at the bus station for dimes and quarters.

  6. Aram and Richard, OMG!!! You guys are so out of touch on this. The time has not come; THE TIME IS OVER DUE! I can tell you guys belong to the “progressives” minimizing the knowledge, experience, and advocacy of centrics who have fought for fairness and justice in this county for the last ten years. This police crime unit is not going to happen as long as Jeff Rosen is the head of the DAs office. He is the top criminal in this county. He has always protected privileged public officials and law enforcement. He, Nancy Chavez, and Ash Kalra, have promoted a monopoly with local agencies. The results has been privileged criminals receiving passes for their crimes and this includes law enforcement. Non privileged criminals receiving most severe sentences, and victims of Domestic Violence and sexual crimes denied access to justice! It is popular now to go against police, so the “progressives” are first to promote this trend. Access to justice is not a trend but a social need and right! Not all law enforcement are criminals. Those who are need to be treated as such. No police crime units are needed; we need DAs to simply do the job there are being paid to do! Congrats to the best known cop of United States of America: Kamala Harris! Go Kamala…be ambitious, tough on crime, and compassionate! 👩🏽‍✈️

  7. FEXXI

    Can you have ‘Yes We Kam’ Harris send over some cheap prison labor, my trees need trimming, and the quotes Im getting are outrageous! Its like they think Im made of money…

    cheers

  8. I find it interesting that the first paragraph mentions the Bich Tran incident but then goes on to say Tasers are bad. Had Officer Marshall used a Taser she might be alive today. How many are alive today because of a Taser?

    Furthermore these local authors talk about the injustice but list all these other incidents in the USA.

    Is SJPD perfect. Nope. But I would imagine they have progressed and continue to move forward.

    Lastly if this Police Crime Team could kindly sit in the dispatch center 24 hrs a day and direct resources for every call that comes in. That would be great.

    Stop thinking you know what the citizens (the silent majority) want.

  9. The Ca. Bar Association should come out with ethical rules prohibiting donations by any groups that the DA is in charge of investigating–that would include police officers. The fact Rosen accepts campaign donations from police officers as well as police unions is the very definition of “appearance of impropriety” even if not improper legally. If the DA were a lawyer and accepted payment from opposing sides in a legal dispute it would be a Ca Bar ethical rules violation.

  10. Try logic, totally agree on that. Unfortunately that is the law enforcement and political culture in Santa Clara County. This is what the so called “progressive” Democrats have done in this county. They care more about the political ladder than serving the people. The same is true for some local non-profits who have become the financial contributors to local politicians. Then these local politicians advocate for tax payers financing the high salaries of these local nonprofits’ directors and executives. This while the people they supposedly support continue to be homeless, unemployed…Victims of domestic violence and sexual crimes continue to be victimized by perpetrators and the systems. DA Jeff Rosen and his monkeys and other professionals only care about ethics while preparing to take the CA BAR and other licensing. Then they jus get cozy and ready to get a big chunk of Santa Clara County’s tax payers’ money after being blessed by Cindy Chavez, Dave Cortese, Ash Kalra, and rest of the so called “progressives.” The justice system is a total web of corruption in this county particularly the family court. Who is the big spider at the center of this large web of corruption? JEFF ROSEN! F🤬🤬🤬U DA Jeff Rosen! El que esté limpio, límpiese más y el sucio, empuerquese más; EL LLORO Y EL CRUJIR DE DIENTES LLEGÓ! 2020 👁

  11. @TRY LOGIC

    “Try” as you might, you failed to exhibit the least bit of logic in your post. First of all, the DA is “in charge of investigating” every person or group suspected of a crime within the boundaries of the county, and since every person or group is capable of committing a crime (and thus subject to the DA’s investigative authority) the fruit of your logic would deprive every candidate for the office of all campaign contributions (with the exception of donations from outside the county — like those from Soros The Destructor). Second, upon what legal basis would you deprive police officers, individually or collectively, of their rights to free speech? Third, I am aware of no justification (other than political) for the sudden interest/obsession progressives have taken in the political activities of police groups, which, especially in California, are far less consequential than are those of race-based activist groups, whose expertise seems confined to extortion and sidestepping accountability for their own failures.

    Personally, other than judicial candidates, the DA’s is the only elected office in which I place any stock in police association (or union) recommendations, in recognition of their expertise and well-reasoned attitudes regarding crime and punishment. And with that in mind, perhaps it’s time to mail them a donation.

  12. It is statements like “the MURDER (my emphasis) of Michael Brown” which strips people like you of all credibility. Michael Brown was a thug, the scourge of the town, who had just committed one of his many crimes when he walked up to officer Wilson in the street. Brown was 6’4”, weighed 292 pounds. He was pummeling Officer Wilson and trying to steal his service weapon, which he would have undoubtedly used to kill Officer Wilson. In the rural South there is an exoression: “he needed killin’”. It applies perfectly to Michael Brown. It is especially reprehensible for two lawyers who SHOULD know better to call that murder. Oh, and the jury agreed with me on that call.

  13. I do not base my opinion on “logic” but evidence. I enjoy reading news daily, ( local, national, global), and have very sharp memory. The public have exposed significant local politicians both online and in person for years. I did not say all politicians, attorneys… I personally know some of their dirty stories. If you search the facebook pages of non-profits organizations, Community Solutions, YWCA, Gardner, AACI…you will find years of close relationships with these corrupted local officials and politicians. You will see how these organizations support what is popular and what local politicians support. Three people have constantly stand to this corruption for the last ten years gaining friends and enemies. Santa Clara County is a pilot of what this country would have become if Bernie was president, lot of greediness, power and control, snobs, and more. Thanks God majority of democrats prefer the moderates not the “progressives.” Are you just someone trying to take Rosen’s place? If that is the case, I prefer Rosen. He is authentic on corruption.

  14. Aram and Konda these are my recommendation to you: 1. Keep your [email protected] far left policies for yourselves. The majority of democrats gave you guys the middle finger when we elected Biden over Sanders. 2. Police and judicial systems will be reformed not defunded. This is where Kamala comes to make it happen as Senator, VP, or president. Bad apples must be kicked out of the systems. Physical and emotional safety are basic needs in all developing humans. For this, money will be invested into crime prevention, education and training for law enforcement, rehabilitation for qualifying criminals, BUT NO SOFT GLOVES ON VIOLENT CRIMINALS, access to justice and due process for all ( already the law), affordable and accessible medical and mental health treatment. 3. Let,s get rid of DA Jeff Rosen. Focus your energy on that! Judicial systems must be victim centered not a net that promotes criminal behavior and lack of justice.

  15. OMG, I am amazed by my ability to detect “progressive” rats! I just searched these guys’ names; they are the corrupted Dbug or something mierda! 💩

  16. The killing of George Floyd does seem to constitute first-degree murder. A jury will decide.

    The killing of Eric Garner may have constituted involuntary manslaughter or, possibly, implied malice murder, if New York law includes that legal theory. A jury should decide.

    The killing of Michael Brown was a justifiable homicide and not unlawful. Even the Obama Justice Department failed to find otherwise.

    To conflate these killings and others as “police murders” is to instantly lose much of your audience, along with all of your credibility.

    Which is unfortunate, because policing does need reform. The last people to help achieve such reform, however, will be social-justice warriors.

  17. Not Afraid

    perhaps you made a typo, but if not, you may want to dust of the definition of first degree murder. Premeditation would be a challenge and no evidence that we have been given access to suggests that. The charges as the stand are second degree and there is wide legal opinion they are inflated. Third degree has its challenges as Ellison note early on. Even Zimmerman’s prosecutors were begging the jury to convict on lessor charges by the end of that trail.

    Do not be surprised on a guilty verdict on the second degree charges and then that conviction be overturned on appeal. There is much evidence that the officer was following procedure much of the time and Mr Floyd had underlying conditions coupled with a drug cocktail that could easily explain his death. The officer ignoring the junior officers suggestion to put him on his side looks to me the only opening for malicious intent. I believe the junior officer even mentioned Excited Delirium Syndrome, but most people that enter that state end up dead because of the difficulty in diagnosis. If the jury chooses to ignore exculpatory evidence in the record, I would not be shocked if its not overturned, which is what I believed was one of the functions of the appeals court.

    Some lawyer on here can correct me if I am wrong.

  18. In regards the in-custody death of George Floyd there is widespread acceptance of two factors that simply cannot pass objective analysis.

    The first is that race played any part in the behavior of the officers. Where is the evidence to even suggest it? Did the officers target Floyd because of his race or his criminal behavior? The evidence on that point is clear: they were called to the scene after Floyd had committed a crime, and any refusal on their part to take enforcement action would’ve qualified as a dereliction of duty. Is there any evidence that the officers involved hold any particular prejudice against African-Americans? None whatsoever.

    The second factor, one so illogical as to constitute an indictment of the common sense of the American public, is that by virtue of his restraining tactic (knee against neck) the senior officer at the scene revealed he intended to kill Floyd. Really? To believe this requires one to believe this is the first chance the officer, who has worked two decades in a diverse metropolitan city, has had to fulfill his supposed desire to kill a black man. To quote the Democrats’ demented candidate for president, “C’mon, Man!” Chances for a street cop to do such a thing in a big city are likely to occur annually, if not more frequently. How many times has this officer taken down an armed black thug without resorting to deadly force? Probably dozens. And yet seemingly every public voice has opined that he chose this incident, in the worst possible set of circumstances (crowds, cameras, and cohorts), to get his kill. Ridiculous. Deaths like these are a cop’s worst nightmare, exposing even the most diligent officer to the full-range of partisan rabble-rousing and media hype.

    It is a sad reality that in this high-tech, nuclear armed nation the natives are still capable of losing their senses to the point where tossing a demonized other into the tribal kettle for a quick boil has mass appeal. True, missionaries aren’t on our national menu, but thanks to the steady, brainless chants of the media, academia, and society’s bottom-feeders, cops are now the soup-of-the-day, every day.

  19. Zero point made, no logic at all.

    Please argue my logic based on the law, which is the subject at hand.

    You want to change policy that is a different conversation, you don’t like the facts tough, if my logic wrong, enlighten me.

  20. Phu: I’m ok with public funding of DA races. I’m also ok with specifically prohibiting police unions. Sorry if you don’t like it. All I can say is tough. It’s about the same logical disconnect that you likely have in supporting the laws referred to as “The Peace Officers Bill of Rights” which offers police officer rights not offered to others. So much for equality before the law…. That set of laws also needs to be repealed.

  21. Mr. Try Log-ick,
    Police officers DON’T have the same equality under the law, in many ways, they have less. A police officer has limited freedom of speech. As long as he works for an agency, even off-duty speech can get an officer in trouble, even if he posts something under an alias, if it can reasonably (or even sometimes, unreasonably) be recognized or traced back to him as a member of his or her agency, and he or she says anything that someone, anyone, might find offensive.

    Police officers don’t necessarily have the same rights against self-incrimination. A police officer being interrogated regarding misconduct can invoke his 5th amendment rights but then can be ordered to talk or be fired. That coerced statement can then, under certain defined circumstances, be used against the officer if any criminal proceedings, often not initially apparent at the start of an investigation, should result.

    If you don’t understand what qualified immunity is and why it is necessary in law enforcement, I can’t help you. It doesn’t mean an officer can’t be sued. It means, roughly, that an officer can’t be sued, for personal assets, if he acted reasonably in the course and scope of duty.

  22. I don’t know where you studied law, but me? Santa Clara University. So, save the insults or up their effectiveness. For example, your ignorance is only exceeded by your arrogance.

    Your understanding of First Amendment rights vs. equality before the law is again a topic you are conflating. Even if the police have less rights equality is still denied and should be eliminated.

    Qualified immunity is a body of law fabricated by the courts and almost completely removed from a statutory basis. If I’m wrong, cite the applicable statutes. The concept of “clearly defined rights” is the legal fabrication that needs to be eliminated. I understand completely what impact it will have in removing the ability of police officers to violate civil rights with impunity, and I’m am all for it.

  23. @TRY LOGIC

    Thank you for providing us a glimpse of the kinds of minds Santa Clara University now produces. Let’s see if I can grasp the brilliance hidden in your response to JSR.

    JSR asserts that officers have, in certain areas, fewer rights than others. He then went on two offer two examples in support of his argument. Your response to that was to unzip and expose your credentials and, to the university’s discredit, offer a stubby and limp rebuttal, asserting (without illumination) that JSR had conflated the two issues despite his having addressed them separately.

    JSR then suggested that your understanding of qualified immunity might be lacking, and graciously went on to give a brief and accurate description of its meaning. To this you responded with a generalized (and abstruse) objection to its existence, and challenged (i.e. assigned homework to) JSR to provide the evidence contradicting your unsupported assertion.

    Hmm, where have I seen your debate strategy before? Oh yes, I’ve heard it shouted and screamed by immature and uncivilized mobs when engaging in public temper tantrums. Like them, you know things, feel things, hate things, and demand things, but you are woefully short on supporting reason, credible evidence, relevant experience, or even a hint of brilliance.

  24. Mr. Try Log-ick

    If you graduated from Santa Clara University Law School, congratulations. Perhaps you might consider suing them for a partial refund since there seems to be some things you weren’t taught. As well, just because someone has a degree in kinesiology doesn’t mean they know how to box or take a punch in the face. Go get that degree and I’ll be happy to demonstrate.

    Let’s not turn this into some sort of he-man (unverifiable) resume food fight but have you had any formal instruction in police Internal Affairs investigations? Ever been involved in any? Have you received any training in Gov. Code 3300, the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights? Have you testified in any police disciplinary proceedings? Have you ever defended an officer in any disciplinary proceedings and actually scrutinized the application of Gov. Code 3300? Have you even read Gov. Code 3300?

    As far as a police officer and limited free speech, you’re the one with the law degree, you should know already, and the cases are far too numerous to list here but start with Garcetti v. Ceballos, and Rankin v. McPherson, and look no further than all the local uproar over Facebook posts that included comments made even by some supposedly retired police officers.

    As for qualified immunity, again, the gaps in your knowledge base seem too wide to close here but maybe you can go to this link.( http://www.scopo.org/legal-issues-archive/the-case-for-qualified-immunity) Perhaps even an intellectual Colossus with a law degree from Santa Clara University might find something of interest..

    I can only conclude that as a graduate of Santa Clara Law school, you must have made your comments in jest so I won’t insult you by pretending to take you seriously.

  25. JS: You cite a piece from a trade group– “Celebrating 36 Years as the Voice of Probation Peace Officer” as if it is an authoritative source? Why don’t you try something that is authoritative……
    https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1287_09m1.pdf

    The Supreme Court refused its chance to repeal this abomination but did not do so.

    (PS: Your insults are the wailing of the impotent. They reveal more about you than me).

    “The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.
    JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.
    Petitioner Alexander Baxter was caught in the act of burgling a house. It is undisputed that police officers released
    a dog to apprehend him and that the dog bit him. Petitioner
    alleged that he had already surrendered when the dog was
    released. He sought damages from two officers under Rev.
    Stat. §1979, 42 U. S. C. §1983, alleging excessive force and
    failure to intervene, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
    Applying our qualified immunity precedents, the Sixth Circuit held that even if the officers’ conduct violated the Constitution, they were not liable because their conduct did not
    violate a clearly established right. Petitioner asked this
    Court to reconsider the precedents that the Sixth Circuit
    applied.
    I have previously expressed my doubts about our qualified immunity jurisprudence. See Ziglar v. Abbasi, 582
    U. S. ___, ___–___ (2017) (THOMAS, J., concurring in part
    and concurring in judgment) (slip op., at 2–6). Because our
    §1983 qualified immunity doctrine appears to stray from
    the statutory text, I would grant this petition.”

  26. JS, don’t argue with Idiots. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. Though I think you know this already, just a reminder.

  27. Re: George Floyd Death, Toxicology. (Testing performed on antemortem blood specimens collected 5/25/20 at 9:00 p.m. at HHC and on postmortem urine)

    A. Blood drug and novel psychoactive substances screens:

    1. Fentanyl 11 ng/mL
    2. Norfentanyl 5.6 ng/mL
    3. 4-ANPP 0.65 ng/mL
    4. Methamphetamine 19 ng/mL
    5. 11-Hydroxy Delta-9 THC 1.2 ng/mL;
    Delta-9 Carboxy THC 42 ng/mL; Delta-9 THC 2.9 ng/mL
    6. Cotinine positive
    7. Caffeine positive

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