Last Updated on June 6, 2022 by BVN
Karrie Schaaf |
On May 6th, the Desert Sun editorial board endorsed incumbent Riverside County District Attorney (DA) Mike Hestrin, “given his steady leadership, qualifications and knowledge of the issues.”
A spurious leader
As impacted community members who have paid close attention to Hestrin’s tenure as DA, we agree that he has demonstrated leadership: leading the state in bloodthirsty prosecutions, secrecy, and political gameplay. These failures have real impacts on Riverside County residents who deserve better.
Overzealous prosecutions that impact minorities
Mike Hestrin’s leadership is characterized by overzealous prosecutions, especially use of the death penalty. According to a recent ACLU report, nearly 60% of all charges filed by the department between 2017-2020 were for low-level offenses that could have safely gone unprosecuted or diverted to alternative courts.
Unsurprisingly, people of color are disproportionately impacted; Black individuals make up a total of 14% of all criminal cases in Riverside County, but only 7% of the total County population. Between 2015 and 2019, Riverside County accounted for 6% of California’s population, but imposed 37% of the state’s death judgments.
In 2015 alone, Hestrin’s office sentenced eight people to death, the highest number of any county in the state. However, his aggressive sentencing practices don’t apply to cases of police brutality; since 2015, Riverside law enforcement personnel have murdered over 60 community members, yet only one officer has been criminally prosecuted.
Systemic failure of transparency
The DA’s Office has also struggled to meet basic standards for transparency. 43% of criminal records held by the office from 2019-2020 are incomplete. Maintaining an accurate database of criminal cases is crucial, especially as a new California law AB 2542 requires such information to be published to show racial disparities in prosecutions.
Questions of malfeasance
Hestrin has also received statewide attention as co-chair of the environmental subcommittee for the California District Attorneys Association; a recent audit revealed that the prosecutor advocacy group misused $3 million allocated for environmental advocacy litigation for other training and lobbying.
A clear partisan who is supposed to be non partisan
While the position of District Attorney is technically non-partisan, DA Hestrin has continuously pushed the boundaries of his non-political post. Amidst claims of election fraud ahead of the November 2020 election, Hestrin and Supervisor Karen Spiegel allegedly pressured the registrar of voters to remove a ballot dropbox that had been available to voters for over 20 years, threatening to sue if she didn’t. The registrar argues that their request was intended to suppress voters.
Hestrin has also made appearances in the Townhall Central series frequented by Republican elected officials, using the platform to campaign to conservative voters.
A purveyor of stale and racist political tactics
Recently, Hestrin’s office attacked his primary opponent, Judge Strunsky, over a plea deal for Jawhon Burts, a defendant who is now accused of killing his son. Hestrin is publicizing a child’s death for political gain, despite other attorneys defending Strunsky’s decision as standard given the information provided by the DA’s office itself. Hestrin is framing Jawhon Burts as the Willie Horton of Riverside County, employing the same racist scare tactics used by conservative tough-on-crime candidates in the 1980s to discourage criminal justice reform.
The DA’s office claims 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.” As residents in search of these realities – of truth, safety, and justice – we ask that Riverside County voters refuse to grant DA Hestrin another opportunity to disappoint us on June 7th.
Karrie Schaaf is a resident of Riverside County.