District Attorney Mark Peterson: Resign!
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Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson has admitted to embezzlement and perjury. He used more than $66,000 from his campaign donations as a personal slush fund and lied about the use of those monies. Peterson's actions have earned him a $45,000 fine from the California Fair Political Practices Commission. More importantly, Peterson has also repeatedly betrayed the public trust by failing to prosecute government corruption by "white collar elites" while aggressively prosecuting the less privileged members of our community, including particularly minorities and poor people. In the interest of transparency, ensuring justice, and restoring public trust, Peterson must resign, and his actions should be investigated and prosecuted by the California Attorney General’s office.
In 2014, Peterson ran unopposed for a new term as District Attorney. The campaign contributions that he collected were not needed, so he illegally used the money to treat himself to dinners out, airplane tickets, movies, new clothes and other personal expenses unrelated to his campaign. As the District Attorney, Peterson knew that this was expressly prohibited by law. He still proceeded to violate the law time and time again by using campaign donations for personal expenses. A random state audit revealed that he embezzled $66,000 from his campaigns over a five-year period.
The California Fair Political Practices Commission fined Peterson $45,000 for the violations, an indication of the egregiousness of his actions. In response, Peterson claimed that he was "embarrassed and humiliated" -- as if that is sufficient to make the issue go away and end the matter. Of course, the hundreds if not thousands of people he prosecutes as District Attorney would get no breaks from his office for being "embarrassed and humiliated" about their alleged crimes, even when involving a fraction of $66,000. This is truly a gross double standard.
The East Bay Times published a powerful editorial demanding Peterson's resignation based on the hypocrisy of his actions:
If the District Attorney had any integrity, his own illegal actions on campaign expenditures should be sufficient to resign. But District Attorney Peterson has also repeatedly demonstrated that he will protect corrupt "elites" in government or the rich and powerful, while targeting the little guy. The following are examples:
In 2016, DA Peterson refused to bring any charges against 19 Richmond police officers, including police officers with a rank as high as a lieutenant, for sexual exploitation of a child, formerly known as Celeste Guap, sharing privileged information about sting operations, and/or providing confidential information to Celeste Guap. The Richmond Police Department sent Guap to a rehab facility in Florida to prevent her from testifying, an obvious obstruction of justice. Finally, there were rumors and allegations that Richmond Police Officers involved with Guap participated in cocaine parties with her. The Alameda County District Attorney even stated that her office found that crimes were committed in Contra Costa County, but that those crimes were outside of her jurisdiction to prosecute.
The results? After the DA Peterson-led investigation, Contra Costa County issued one minor misdemeanor charge against a retired Oakland police officer. Peterson concluded that although the young victim who had been sexually commercially exploited by numerous police officers for years had engaged in sexual activity with numerous Contra Costa County law enforcement officers (both police and deputies), there was no unlawful sexual exploitation because “none of the sexual activity was in exchange for money or anything else of value.”See editorial: http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2016/11/04/contra-costa-district-attorney-declines-to-charge-nineteen-cops-in-celeste-guap-sex-exploitation-scandal
DA Peterson’s conclusion belies the fact that this young woman was a victim of child sex exploitation who was manipulated and taken advantage of by adult law enforcement officers. Peterson’s conclusion that these officers engaged in sexual activity with a self-proclaimed sex worker on multiple occasions but gave her nothing “of value” in exchange for having sex with her is both illogical and demeaning to women. If she is in fact “working” as a sex worker, how can one reasonably conclude that she regularly engages in sexual activity with police officers for free?
In 2013, DA Peterson refused to bring any charges against Richmond's Assistant City Manager Leslie Knight. Ms. Knight, also a longtime County administrator, required city staff on city time to work on her private trinket business, embezzled money from the City, and retaliated against employees. The City’s own outside investigators found Ms. Knight guilty of misappropriation of City funds and using City offices, phones and workers for her private business. Ms. Knight's base salary in 2011 was $220,000, with total compensation (including benefits) of $281,507. Despite the public outcry by Richmond city workers and community members and their demand for an end to the corruption and bullying of city employees, DA Peterson took no action against Knight.
DA Peterson and Knight worked closely together during the time that Knight served as the County’s Human Resources Director. Knight retired from the County to go work at the City of Richmond. DA Peterson also gave the Richmond City Manager, Bill Lindsay, a pass for his role in covering up Knight’s theft of public resources. The City of Richmond ultimately had to pay for retaliating against Stacie Plummer, a courageous Finance Manager who blew the whistle on Knight’s illegal activities. In 2015, Plummer received the prestigious James Madison Freedom Of Information Whistleblower Award from the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists.
In 2014, DA Peterson refused to prosecute Richmond Police Officer Wally Jensen for the murder of Richard “Pedie” Perez, III. Perez was intoxicated and unarmed when he was attacked by Officer Jensen on the morning of September 14, 2014. Officer Jensen shot Pedie after he was attempting to arrest Pedie for either being drunk in public or resisting arrest. Video footage of the confrontation also allegedly shows that Jensen had backed away from Pedie up to five to six feet before he pulled his gun and shot Pedie. Jensen admits that he was standing away from Pedie when he shot him three times.
Jensen also admits that he initiated the physical confrontation by repeatedly tackling an intoxicated and unsteady man.
Eyewitnesses disputed the officer’s claim that Pedie was trying to take his gun and that the officer “feared for his life.”
DA Peterson’s office conducted an investigation that was questioned by many as unfair and appeared designed to “cover up” Pedie’s murder. Pedie’s only crime appeared to be that he tried to walk away from the officer after he was detained. The City of Richmond settled with a payment of $850,000 to Pedie’s family in February 2016.
DA Peterson refused to hold Richmond Housing Director Tim Jones and his staff accountable for the disappearance of thousands of dollars in appliances from housing facilities. Additionally, a HUD audit of Richmond's housing program showed that approximately $2 million was wrongly charged to the federal government that the City would have to repay. Combine these facts with the fact that low income-residents at the Richmond's public housing at HUD-supported Hacienda Apartments were living in slum conditions and had to be relocated at significant expense to other housing, leaving the City of Richmond as a slumlord.
Peterson's office has refused to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse in a massive Contra Costa school construction program. The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) underwent a million dollar independent forensic audit regarding its $1.6 billion school construction program. The audit revealed numerous significant problems and suggested that law enforcement should be contacted over several potentially illegal matters. Despite concerned citizens urging that his office investigate the matter, Peterson demonstrated absolutely no interest in making any attempt to protect public funds.
To the public's knowledge absolutely no action has been taken in an apparent effort to protect "the elite". Remarkably, state and federal law enforcement agencies have shown greater interest than the District Attorney's office, where this matter should be handled.
In 2015, DA Peterson rehired Deputy DA Michael Gressett, a sex crimes prosecutor charged with sodomy by use of force and falsely imprisoning a female District attorney at gunpoint. Gressett was unsuccessfully prosecuted by the California Attorney General’s office. His case was dismissed on technical grounds without a finding of guilt or innocence. The County settled the victim’s claim in a civil lawsuit. She testified before the grand jury that in a sexual encounter with Gressett, he wielded ice cubes, an ice pick, handcuffs and a gun in a brutal rape that stained the sheets with blood. A search of his home found 200 tablets of Viagra and some marijuana, along with an ice pick, a gun and handcuffs in his night stand drawer.
Testimony and court records in the criminal case portrayed the Contra Costa DA’s sex crimes unit as a freewheeling fraternity whose members engaged in crude sexual banter and boasted about belonging to a sex club. Sexual jargon, some of it obscure, all of it graphic, littered the court documents. After-work socializing among prosecutors included a coed "slumber party," according to court records. A party photograph of two prosecutors in a sexually suggestive pose later made the rounds of the prosecutors' office. Some prosecutors bragged that they belonged to an informal sex club that included men and women who discussed their sexual activities over lunch and drinks, according to grand jury testimony.
In March 2015, federal judge Edward Chen dismissed Gressett’s malicious prosecution lawsuit. In his ruling, Chen wrote that testimony in the criminal case showed Gressett may have been re-enacting a violent rape case he had been assigned to prosecute, along with other disturbing allegations.
There is no evidence that DA Peterson has taken any steps to address a sexually-charged environment in his office. Michael Gressett’s admitted sexually inappropriate conduct clearly violates the public’s trust in the District Attorney’s fair and ethical prosecution of crimes. Gressett’s return to work under DA Peterson (and with Peterson’s apparent support) is a slap in the face to all female County employees, the sex crimes victims whom he previously represented and any future sex crime victims who look to the DA’s office for help.
According to Transparent California, District Attorney Mark Peterson received over $372,000 in total annual pay and benefits from Contra Costa County for the year 2015, the most recent data published.
Yet, even with that kingly salary, he felt entitled to illegally supplement it with another $66,000 in campaign contributions. His office has a budget of more than $30 million dollars. How can we trust that he is not siphoning funds from public funds for his personal expenses?
While Peterson earns an exorbitant salary and still illegally supplements it with his donor’s campaign contributions, he prosecutes single mothers with no criminal record who are struggling to make ends meet for their children. While he charges poor mothers with felonies for welfare fraud, he expects Contra Costa residents to give him a pass on his blatantly illegal activities involving much greater sums of money.
Contra Costa County residents deserve a District Attorney who will uphold the law and use prosecutorial discretion for justice - not someone who willfully violates the law and betrays the public trust and not someone who uses his power as an elected official for his own personal purposes and political self-aggrandizement. DA Peterson’s actions demonstrate a morally bankrupt District Attorney, who is greedy, hypocritical and grossly overpaid. While going after the little guy is easy, he leaves the illegal and corrupt actions by the elite, powerful, and well-connected unchecked. He prosecutes poor and working people aggressively. When government or law enforcement officials violate the law, DA Peterson is MIA - missing in action. When he violates the law, he expects the people to be MIA. We intend to disappoint him.
We also call upon the California Attorney General to investigate and to prosecute DA Peterson for violating campaign finance laws and other laws in the State of California. Furthermore, we the demand the appointment of a new DA who will discharge the DA's duties fairly and equitably, truly acting in the interest of the people.
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