Observer: Sheriff cleaning up evidence room

Frank Gayaldo writes:

“I learned today that numerous sheriff employees are working on cleaning up the evidence room.

The door to the evidence room on the Sheriff's Office complex.

“Other than addressing blatant safety issues, I doubt this clean-up effort can do much to address the conversion of evidence guns and most likely other things of value into the personal property of the sheriff and others.

“Furthermore a defensible chain of custody is something that cannot have any lapses in it.”

The “conversion” of “things of value” to Sheriff’s Office employees is an unproven allegation. One I hope is being investigated, though the carefully worded statement from the District Attorney’s Office did not explicitly commit.

But at least the story spurred the organization of the long-mismanaged evidence room. Sheriff Steve Moore said he learned of the problems from the story and once informed apparently ordered a clean-up. Good. Not that I have any expertise whatsoever in this field, but I’m sure Gayaldo is right about the importance to the criminal justice system of a clear chain of custody of evidence used to convict (or exonerate) defendants. Also to ensure nobody is making free with items of value.

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The Pension Hogzilla: worse than imagined?

Dan Walters has a terrifying column to the effect that California’s unfunded pension liabilities may be far worse than the dire debt generally acknowledged.

“(The) unfunded pension liabilities– the gap between what the funds expect to have and what retirees will be owed – are roughly $450 billion,” Walters writes.

But that’s assuming CalPERS, the state pension system, makes 75. percent on its investments. We’ve written here for years that this number amounts to a rosy assumption. CalPERS hasn’t made anywhere near that return on investment for a couple years, and some experts are warning of a new normal of reduced returns, especially since CalPERS is changing its portfolio towards less volatile, but also lower-return, investments.

Walters: “Were pension fund overseers to drop their discount rates to the 4 percent range, roughly the rate private corporate systems use, California’s unfunded liabilities would probably surpass $1 trillion (italics mine).

If that happens, Stockton is toast. No amount of fiscal prudence or chain-saw cuts will keep the city out of Chapter 18. And it’ll be cold comfort that many other cities go bankrupt, too.

“If pension debt is $1 trillion or more, as the new actuarial study suggests, it threatens to overwhelm state and local governments, crowding out vital public services,” Walters writes. “And without being addressed, it grows by millions of dollars a day.”

There’s a solution, Walters writes. “If elected officials and pension fund overseers don’t do something about it, voters will someday have the last word via a ballot measure.”

And public employees will fight tooth and nail to preserve their unsustainable pensions.

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Great idea: a “Preservation of Life” medal

The Los Angeles Police Department has started handing out a“Preservation of Life” medal honoring “officers who go above and beyond normal police work to avoid using deadly force during dangerous encounters.”

That is a great idea.

Some other departments do this, too, the Times reports. Philadelphia’s Police Department has a “Medal of Tactical De-escalation” — clunky name, but again, great idea.

Because sometimes it takes more courage not to fire a gun. Yet is such restraint really recognized for the finest professional conduct that it is? If we don’t honor it, how justified are we to expect it?


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Mayor Silva’s police review proposal: Splat

Mayor Silva at the defense table.

Mayor Anthony Silva has never been serious about policy. He has never come to the table with a single policy of his own creation devised after consulting stakeholders and worked out in detail.

Had he ever done so, his proposal for a Citizens Review Commission might have been taken more seriously. But 3.5 years into his tenure, the jig is up. Silva is seen as an entirely political (party) animal who’s got nothing by way of real governance.

Take his suggestion for a Citizens Police Review Board. A People’s Mayor would have brought that to the table years ago.

“The mayor said Friday he intended to follow through in early 2016 but the climate was not right because of public uproar at the time over several high-profile police killings in other parts of the United States,” the story said.

So … high-profile police abuses and a public climate shifting in favor of greater police accountability was not the right time to advance a Citizens Police Review Board? But the right time is after the police union calls for his resignation?

Give me a break. Silva’s name is mud around the police department, making virtually any policy change that involves the police department a complete non-starter.

The Stockton Police Officer’s Association made that brutally clear. A written SPOA statement said, “We will not support the self-serving political whims of a mayoral candidate.”

And, “We cannot help but wonder if this sudden scrutiny of Stockton Police Officers is political payback, which also serves to deflect the attention from his own personal troubles and legal issues.”

When a city’s police department strikes that tone with a mayor, it’s over. Silva would do better to just keep his head down for the rest of his time in office. Unless he enjoys getting it chopped off.

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Stick to the law, Mr. Reichel

Mark Reichel, left, Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva and N. Allen Sawyer, during a press conference in Stockotn.

Asked if Mayor Anthony Silva will drop out of the mayor’s race, his attorney Mark Reichel replied:

“That would never happen, for a really good reason. He is the People’s Mayor. He works very hard for the people of Stockton. I don’t think anyone would dispute that he gives every part of himself to being the mayor of Stockton. He should be re-elected based on the merit that he gives the city.”

And yet people disparage attorneys.

Seriously, you might expect Silva’s defense attorney to say Silva will not resign because he is innocent. For him to say Silva should be re-elected because of his political virtues is absurd. Anthony Silva “gives every part of himself” only when seeking office. The actual duties of office beyond constituent service have clearly been of little interest to him. We’re talking about a mayor who left a council meeting early to attend a Carrie Underwood concert. A mayor who disappears for days at a time. A mayor with virtually no policy accomplishments.

A mayor with two criminal defense attorneys. Saying this bring “merit” to Stockton is risible, a knee-slapper. Silva brings News at 11 from the Amador courthouse.

Perhaps since Silva’s co-counsel, N. Allen Sawyer, has withdrawn as Silva’s political consultant, Reichel fancy’s he’ll step into the role. Limelight can go to peoples’ head.

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The psychodrama in Silva’s trial


He's been there: N. Allen Sawyer, attorney for Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva.

Silva’s lawyer, N. Allen Sawyer, may have withdrawn as Silva’s political consultant, but he is using his experience as a political operative skillfully in his defense of the mayor.

The very next day after Silva’s arrest, Sawyer saw to it that the mayor held a press conference. That was so Silva’s accusers did not command the news cycle for days on end. A media-savvy move.

Now, as Silva’s next court date approaches, Sawyer has gotten out front with his rhetoric about “outrageous government conduct.” Expect Sawyer to keep an aggressive media posture through out the trial.

The irony is that Silva is probably finished politically, and denouncing the justice system wins defendants no points in court. So one wonders how much of Sawyer’s public themes come from his own experience. I want to take the high road with Sawyer and  not gratuitously rehash his imprisonment on federal corruption charges. But the fact that he was prosecuted by Uncle Sam on charges the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled (in another case) were applied unconstitutionally undoubtedly had a huge impact on his life and jaundiced his view of prosecutions.

The co-defendants in Sawyer’s case expressed the belief that the feds’ investigation was politically motivated. That politically powerful Stockton bigwigs — developers — pulled strings to take down a slow-growth bloc on the county Board of Supervisors.

Now look at Silva’s rhetoric: He has accused the district attorney of a “calculated and politically motivated” prosecution.

“For those of you that have been missing your episodes of ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Scandal’ or ‘Game of Thrones,’ then I’m sure you’ve been following Stockton politics the last week, and it’s also been equally as entertaining,” he added.

So one wonders how much N. Allen Sawyer is defending Anthony Silva and how much he is still vindicating himself. An element of psychodrama—or maybe jut payback—in the mayor of Stockton’s trial.


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The Bee opposes “No Blank Checks”


That dog won't hunt: Cortopassi and Proposition 53.

Stockton-area farmer Dino Corotpassi’s measure to require voters to approve any state project funded by $2 billion or more in revenue bonds gets the thumbs-down from the Sacramento Bee, in a well-thought-out editorial.

First the obvious argument: California regions can be parochial. “The Bay Bridge is a vital link in the transportation system,” the editorialists write. “But if it had been put to a statewide vote, Southern California voters would have had little reason to approve it; few use it on a regular basis.”

Second, further into the weeds: “Legislators likely could get around restrictions by entering into partnerships with private companies, which would sell bonds to fund projects, at a mark-up. But any private company would pay higher interest rates than the state, and pass those added costs to state taxpayers, the analyst (Legislative Analyst’s Office) noted.”

Third, everybody but me doubts Cortopassi’s real target is state debt. They all think he’s mounting a disingenuous assault on the Twin Tunnels project. “Cortopassi, who opposes the tunnels, should have proposed an initiative specifically to block them.”

Though I take Cortopassi’s measure at face value — when I interviewed him, he seemed genuinely concerned with mounting state debt — I agree with the Bee’s conclusion: “Proposition 53 could increase construction costs and add unnecessary layers of complexity and uncertainty to an already unwieldy state government.”

I admire Cortopassi. He saw genuine a problem and put his money where his mouth is to address it. Essentially, though, what he aspires to do is transform a liberal, big-government state to one more fiscally conservative. If voters wanted that, they’d vote Republicans into the majority.

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The D.A.’s Office revises its statement

Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau.

Regarding the allegations that the Sheriff’s Office has lost 10,000 pieces of evidence, D.A. spokesman Robert Himelblau revised his statement.

“We are making preliminary inquiries to determine our next course of action. A point of action might entail conducting our own internal investigation, or referring the case to outside agencies.

“Normally, the District Attorney receives complaints through either law enforcement, grand juries, or, sometimes, direct citizen complaints. Once we receive such a complaint, we determine whether a crime has been committed in our jurisdiction and by who, and, if both those things have been determined, whether there is a “reasonable likelihood of conviction.”

“In addition, there are, at times, complaints that affect the administration of justice.  When this occurs, a similar analysis is undertaken. The ultimate goal of our Office is to ensure the ultimate integrity and fairness of the entire criminal justice system. When such a complaint to brought to us, we take such a complaint seriously and investigate it appropriately.”

Big difference. The last statement — which I took down after Himelblau persuaded me my criticism was unfair — seemed to say the D.A’s Office was disinclined to do anything until handed evidence. But not from this newspaper. Which, after all, was reporting allegations from the very same software vendor the D.A. uses; presumably a trusted source! The revised approach, though no more committal, says analysis will determine whether to proceed and what to do. That’s all one can ask.

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Department of Awful Mayors

Farmersville Mayor Greg Gomez has resigned as mayor, following his arrest on “suspicion of domestic battery” and his booking into  the Tulare County Pretrial Facility.

To be fair to Gomez, “The case is being reviewed by the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, which has yet to determine if the case warrants charges.”

The Visalia Times-Delta has it here.

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The Gateway McDonald’s tenacious loiterers

I happened to commute past the Gateway McDonald’s this morning just as three street people had a fight.

First, a lone woman shouted at me as I idled at a red light. She appeared to be pointing something out on the corner.

Then, she stomped down to the corner to two people, one of whom threw a large cup of coffee in her face. The coffee completely drenched her.

The light turned green. I drove off to the sound of the three people shouting at each other.

A man was stabbed outside that McDonald’s on Wednesday.  ”The victim told police his assailant approached him and stabbed him for unknown reasons,” the police blotter reported.

And so it goes at the Gateway McDonald’s, where Mexican workers stand around hoping for day labor and street people hang out, hustling drivers for spare change, passing out, socializing, leaving trash all over the place, and fussing and fighting.

It’s a disgrace — not the honest day laborers, but the way the owners fail to control their property. Especially when you recall the city chipped in $2 million for this project, which was supposed to make a good impression on visitors entering the “gateway” of the downtown Stockton offramp.

Now that police are staffing up, I hope they find the time to roust the street people from this place. Especially since the owners apparently feel no civic obligation to police their own property despite the taxpayer subsidy.

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    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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