Why I Don’t Trust Prosecutors
(Part 1 of 4)*
Who Am I?
I am Black.
I am a Man.
I am also a Prosecutor.
I work for one of the largest and most powerful prosecutorial agencies in the United States — the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. With over 1000 attorneys and 300 investigators, my office exercises jurisdiction over 10 million people in 88 cities within the County of Los Angeles. That includes the well-known cities of Beverly Hills, Compton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Pasadena.
We decide who gets charged with a crime, whether that charge is a misdemeanor or felony, and how much time will be served. We decide who goes to state prison, who goes to local county jail, and who gets probation.
We also decide who gets to live and who, via the death penalty, gets to die.
As a line prosecutor, I’m required to follow the decisions that my supervisors make about people who are charged with crimes. Most of the time, my supervisors have been white, and the people charged have been Black and Brown. While some of those decisions have been right, too many of them have been wrong — dead wrong.
I’m going to talk about some of the wrong ones.
Why? Because they reveal just how fucked up the criminal justice system is. They reveal how racist and oppressive many of our decisions are. They reveal how much we abuse our power, knowing that the people we fuck over are unlikely to fight back.
The stories I’m about to share here are based on shit that actually happened.
First Felony Case for a “Baby” Prosecutor
“Hey. Don’t fuck up this trial.”
I was sitting at my desk preparing for a suspended driver’s license jury trial when my white supervisor said those words to me. He had a deadpan look when he handed me the case file but left with a grin.
This was my first felony jury trial. As a new “baby” prosecutor, getting a felony trial meant someone believed I was ready for the big leagues. I was being called up from the minor leagues of low-level misdemeanors and moved up to handling cases that “mattered.”
I opened the case file and read the summary of facts:
- “Byron,” a 21-year-old Black man, was pulled over by two Hispanic police officers after failing to signal when making a right turn.
- He became upset after the officers ordered him out of his vehicle.
- When he refused, the police forcefully removed him from his car.
- A physical fight with one of the officers ensued.
- After he was arrested, the officers discovered that he was on felony probation, and thus subject to police searches at any time and place.
- As a result, the officers took him to his home where he lived with his mother.
- While searching the home, the officers found a gun underneath a couch where he regularly slept.
- As a felon, he wasn’t legally allowed to own guns.
- He was charged with felony resisting arrest and illegal possession of a firearm.
Because of his prior strike conviction, Byron faced a maximum of seven years in state prison. He rejected the previous offer of six years. Since Byron fought a policeman, the offer was way higher than the norm. He would’ve received no further time if he hadn’t.
If you fuck with the cops, the District Attorney will fuck with you. That was the unwritten rule.
After reading through the police reports, I was very concerned about the initial traffic stop because I knew the drill: I’d been unjustly pulled over by police officers several times, even as a prosecutor. Still, I felt a little more comfortable going forward because a judge had previously ruled that the stop was justified, denying Byron’s legal challenge.
I was ready to dig in and prepare for trial, especially since it was set to start in less than 48 hours.
*The opinions here do not reflect the official views of the L.A. District Attorney’s Office, my current employer. To avoid fierce harassment and oppressive retaliation, I’ve decided to conceal my identity, for now.