S. E. Williams

“Integrity is usually defined as doing the right thing when no one is watching. A person who lacks integrity will make decisions based on how it will make them look rather than how it will benefit others. They look at their actions as a performance to be rated for approval rather than a step toward doing the right thing for the community.”

–          LaRae Quy

The purpose of this two-part commentary was to weigh in on the failures of Riverside County’s criminal justice leaders, Sheriff Chad Bianco, and District Attorney Mike Hestrin.

Last week I commented on what may prove to be a gross misappropriation of COVID-19 funding intended to benefit the community that Chad Bianco instead used to spruce up his fiefdom including the installation of bullet proof glass and security locks to protect the sheriff department from those it is supposed to protect and serve.

This week, I turn my attention to Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin who will need to do his own tap dance around another breaking hot button issue—allegations from former Deputy District Attorney Christopher Ross that he was told by his superiors to withhold evidence pointing to a murder suspect’s innocence.

I’m sure some of you will argue with me stating, ‘The case occurred in 2014 and though Hestrin was  elected in June 2014, he did not take office until January 2015, so how can you criticize him for something that occurred before he took charge?’

Is it a case of willful ignorance?

To that I say, you are right, all of this happened before he took the mantle of leadership in the Riverside County District Attorney’s (DA) office. However, I would quickly add that for someone like Hestrin, who was considered a shining star in the district attorney’s office where he served for 20 years before his election, I personally find it hard to believe that a case that bounced around the DA’s office for four years and was so muddled and questionable that it was removed from the stewardship of one deputy DA—who allegedly felt the suspect was innocent– and given to another deputy DA—who felt the same—and which ultimately resulted in the suspect’s release after four years in custody and may have played a role in the termination of the second deputy DA assigned to the case, that Hestrin was unaware of the it at the time and now that it has come to light he has managed to keep a social distance as if it were a virus.  

If he was aware, however, then the burning question is, why did he not speak out against those who appear to have played a part in what may have been a scheme to withhold evidence of the suspect’s innocence during his 2014 campaign, especially since at the time he headed the Riverside County District Attorney’s Association?

On any other issue where Hestrin has an opportunity to opine with righteous indignation, he is like a movie star in “Ground Hog” day where he recites the same tirades ad nauseum, whether it is railing  against any efforts toward criminal justice reform, against any actions by the governor to reduce the spread of COVID-19, any movement to end the death penalty, as well as his relentless efforts subsequent to the 2016 election and again in the wake of the 2020 election to perpetuate the big lie regarding voter fraud regardless of clear evidence to the contrary.

Where is the Investigation into Alleged Wrongdoing by these Officials?  

But, when it comes to raising his voice against any former teammates in the District Attorney’s office who may have played a role in the alleged travesty, it is as if the Screen Actors Guild took Hestrin’s SAG card and he lost his public platform.  

Parker spent four years in a Riverside County jail on suspicion of murder due to possible misdeeds in the DAs office and now works as a dishwasher because it was difficult for him to find a job, with an arrest background for murder. In the meantime, those in the DA’s office have gone on with their lives apparently unphased by time stolen from Parker’s life. 

It is frightening the power these individuals wield despite the possibility or should I say, strong probability, they themselves have violated the law. Just for clarity, though previously a misdemeanor, in 2016 California made it a felony for prosecutors to withhold or alter exculpatory evidence.

In the meantime, Hestrin must own a cat, because it appears to have gotten his tongue on this issue.

While Hestrin Ignores this Issue, He is Extremely Vocal on Others

Though, Hestrin’s silence is no surprise. He chooses to ignore this issue just as he has ignored reality that since the death penalty was reinstated in the U.S. in 1973, 156 death row inmates have been exonerated (an average of more than three per year) while he continues to bask in his earned reputation as the champion of the death penalty sentences in California and across the country.

(source: deathpenaltyinformation.org)

In many ways choosing to ignore the purported bad acts of former peers relative to the withholding of exculpatory information in a murder case, kind of fits Hestrin’s modus operandi. I would also note that again and again across the country death row inmates continue to be exonerated because prosecutors have withheld exculpatory evidence.  

When the Parker case was bouncing around the district attorney’s office between 2010 and 2014, Hestrin either operated in a bubble, was willfully ignorant of the concerns surrounding this case or, more likely since it was brought to closure in 2014, hoped it would never resurface and if it did, people would glance over it and blame his predecessor.

But, what about his responsibility since he’s taken office? As far as I am concerned, Hestrin has failed in his due diligence to the people of this county, regarding the inappropriate handling of the Parker case and the responsibility and/or accountability of those involved especially since they both hold high office within his jurisdiction.

Judging From Hestrin’s Own Record, No Wonder He Ignores Alleged Wrongdoings by Former Peers

According to Hestrin’s mission as the public prosecutor acting on behalf of the people of Riverside County he is pledged to, “vigorously enforce the law, pursue the truth, and safeguard the rights of all to ensure that justice is done on behalf of our community.”

Well, that may be his mission, but it does not appear to be his goal. Hestrin has one goal—to stay in office and as it appears, by any means necessary. Regarding his failure to speak out in response to accusations related to the Parker case, maybe he just does not want to ruffle the wrong feathers. 

Hestrin and the  boys (and girls) in blue may be tough on crime,  but it appears, only certain crimes. There is a brotherhood among all agencies in this nation’s criminal justice enterprise that  undergirds questionable behaviors like what is alleged in this case. Afterall, one of the issues raised regarding the handling of the case  involved questions over the quality of work by officers involved.  

(Source: UNC School of Law)

Hestrin appears to keep a sharp eye on his re-election potential and works overtime to keep his chief patrons – police unions – happy. Even the gross amount they have spent to support him over the years appears not enough to satiate his political aspirations or were deemed enough to fill his coffers during the 2018 election cycle. 

Hestrin grabs campaign contributions regardless of its source. For example, after accusing an engineering company, Urban Logic, doing business with the City of Beaumont of embezzlement, Hestrin claimed he “unknowingly” took $2,500 for his 2018 re-election campaign from Webb and Assoc., the engineering company awarded a $2.3 million dollar “no bid” contract selected to replace Urban Logic. Only after it was reported in the press did Hestrin claim “no knowledge” of the donation (it was funneled through a PAC) and agree to return it.

However, this restitution rang hollow for many who recalled a similar event that played out previously,  subsequent to his 2014  campaign, where he accepted donations from Jeffrey Darrow, owner of Certified Tire & Service Centers, who paid more than half a million dollars in civil penalties plus restitution for cheating hundreds of customers by performing unnecessary repair work on their cars. Of course, Hestrin claimed no knowledge then also  and pledged, “I hold myself and this office to the highest standard of ethics. I think it’s the right decision to return the contributions in full.”  It took nearly two years for that mea culpa, and I guess since it worked out so well for him, it was no wonder he tried again in 2018.  

Journalist H. L. Mencken once wrote, “The difference between a moral man and a man of honor is that the latter regrets a discreditable act even when it has worked, and he has not been caught.”

There is little doubt the actions of those who were involved in the Roger Wayne Parker case in the Riverside County District Attorney’s office should be investigated to determine the validity of the complaint levied by the ex-deputy district attorney against them–the residents of Riverside County should demand it.  

In conclusion

The residents of Riverside County  deserve far better than the criminal justice imposters, Hestrin and Bianco, who currently hold such key positions in this county.

Elected officials are supposed to be held to a higher standard yet here in Riverside County Hestrin and Bianco fail to rise to the minimal baseline in terms of ethics and integrity owed to the taxpayers who employ them.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and social justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Over the years Stephanie has reported for other publications in the inland region and Los Angeles and received awards from the California News Publishers Association for her investigative reporting and Ethnic Media Services for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. She also served as a Health Journalism Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.