top of page

Newsom: State 'transforming notorious

San Quentin'

san quentin newsom.jpg

Gov. Gavin Newsom personally greets inmates at San Quentin State Prison. Courtesy Office of the Governor

By PAT PEMBERTON, Contributing Writer 

 

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (CN)—As this writer entered the visitation room at San Quentin’s death row, I gazed at the condemned inmates there and thought about all the awful things these men had done.

California’s death row prisoners include serial killers, child abductors, White supremacists and gang members. Some of them had tortured their victims, others had dismembered corpses. Several had burned people alive.

As if to prove how truly bad it was there, when the inmate I had arranged to visit appeared, he looked like he had been hit by a car: His right arm was in a brace, as were both thighs. He had a noticeable lump on his head, and he moved his jaw awkwardly, the legacy of having it previously wired shut.

"What happened to you?" was my first obvious interview question. Michael Whisenhunt nodded toward the wounded arm.

"This is how it is here," he said, matter-of-factly. 'These are the consequences of my actions."

 

In 2001, more than two decades before Gov. Gavin Newsom decided to shut down death row and transform San Quentin State Prison into a rehabilitation facility, this writer covered the capital murder trial of Rex Krebs, a convicted rapist who was charged with abducting, raping and murdering two female college students in San Luis Obispo County.

 

Sensing that Krebs would be condemned to death, I wanted to offer a look into his future, so I arranged to visit Whisenhunt—the most recent man sentenced to death from the same county—on two occasions when the Krebs trial was not in session.

Whisenhunt, who was polite and well spoken, said death row reeked of stale sweat, echoed with constant yelling and swarmed with anger.

"This is a madhouse," Whisenhunt told me, gesturing to the visitation room, where several other condemned inmates met with visitors in separate metal cages. "This is insane. There is no warmth, and there's no emotion—except hatred."

The state’s oldest prison, San Quentin opened in 1852. While inmates were executed at Folsom State Prison in the early days, San Quentin has been the only place male inmates have been executed since 1937, when the gas chamber replaced hanging. In total, over 400 executions have been carried out at San Quentin.

However, the state has not executed an inmate in 17 years. And in 2019, Newsom signed an executive order declaring a moratorium on the death sentence, which he said was morally wrong and unfairly administered.

In January, 2020, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation began relocating the state’s nearly 700 condemned inmates, public information officer Tessa Outhyse wrote in an email. That two-year pilot program eventually became permanent.

"As of April 28, 101 death-sentenced men housed at San Quentin have been transferred to other institutions," Outhyse wrote.

In March, Newsom announced new plans for San Quentin.

"California is transforming San Quentin—the state’s most notorious prison with a dark past—into the nation’s most innovative rehabilitation facility focused on building a brighter and safer future," he said in a statement. "Today, we take the next step in our pursuit of true rehabilitation, justice, and safer communities through this evidenced-backed investment, creating a new model for safety and justice—the California Model—that will lead the nation."

The move has been predictably controversial.

 

"I think the whole thing is a sick joke," said Mike Rushford, president and CEO of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for tough-on-crime laws. Death row inmates, he said, represent special security risks and should not be housed with other inmates.

"These are the worst murderers in the country," Rushford said [—] the worst of the worst.”

We-Too-are-America.jpg

‘We Are Hitting a Crescendo’

According to the California Department of Justice, hate crimes in the state have doubled over the last decade. Photo Courtesy Ethnic Media Services

Forum focuses on rising hate crimes

By PETER SCHURMANN, Contributing Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (EMS)—Hate crimes and hate-related incidents are on the rise nationwide and they are growing more violent, though prosecutions remain stubbornly low. That was one of the messages delivered during a public forum May 24 hosted by the California Commission on the State of Hate.

California is no outlier, with data from the Department of Justice showing a near doubling of hate crimes across the state over the last decade.

"Behind each data point is a person who has been targeted for hate and chosen to share their story," said Candice Cho, managing director of Policy and Counsel with the AAPI Equity Alliance, and co-founder of the group Stop AAPI Hate.

Cho noted that many of the more than 11,000 reports collected by Stop AAPI Hate since its launch in 2020 happened in public to people "just going about their daily lives" walking the streets, on public transit or at work.

"He spat on my face as he got off the bus, but I was scared and couldn’t do anything," read one report submitted to Stop AAPI Hate and shared by Cho. "On the packed bus, no one helped me."

According to Cho, many of the cases her organization has tracked involve non-criminal acts, like verbal abuse, bullying at school or micro-aggressions in the workplace. But Cho stressed that violent or otherwise, "discrimina- tion is hate," and that such acts can have severe negative side effects for both the victims and the wider community.

Victims often report feeling depression, fear, and losing a sense of belonging in society, at times shifting work, school, or neighborhoods in response.

"Even if they did nothing wrong, they had to make adjustments in their life," noted Stop AAPI Hate Co-Founder Annie Lee, adding that more than a quarter of respondents said these encounters had negatively impacted their personal relationships, suggesting wider societal impacts of hate and discrimination.

Lee, managing director of Policy with Chinese for Affirmative Action, shared results from a 2022 survey that found half of all Asian American and Pacific Islanders nationwide have experienced discrimination in one form or another but that just 15 percent reported their encounters. A majority (52 percent) said they felt it would make no difference, while 4 in 10 said they did not know where to go to file a report. More than a third reported fearing unwanted attention, while a quarter said they feared reprisals from their attackers.

Of note, 60 percent of respondents said they wanted to learn more about what their civil rights are and about available resources, many pointing to social media and the ethnic press as their preferred channels. Two thirds also favored new civil rights legislation.

In 2021 California passed the API Equity Budget, funneling $166.5 million into community and frontline groups working to stem the rise in ant-Asian hate. Last year the state passed two bills—AB 1664 and AB 2282—which aim to better protect religious minorities while toughening penalties for cross burnings or the use of swastikas or nooses as overt hate symbols.

This year Stop AAPI Hate is co-sponsoring the "Public Transit for All" bill (SB 434), which would require public transit agencies across the state to collect survey data as a first step toward ensuring ridership safety.

Together, says Lee, these laws "shift the burden of being safe away from individuals and onto public agencies."

The Commission on the State of Hate, part of California’s Civil Rights Department, was created to strengthen the state’s efforts to combat the surge in hate crimes and hate incidents and to foster improved relations across its diverse communities.

The May 24 public forum was the commission’s first, the intent being to solicit input on recommendations for how to achieve its aims. "The goal of the forum today is to listen,” said Commissioner Cece Feiler, who noted that she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and immigrants to the US.

Brian Levin directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State-San Bernadino and is a veteran when it comes to tracking hate, with close to four decades including playing a key role in the first Supreme Court case to affirm the constitutionality of hate crimes laws in 1993.

"We are hitting this crescendo," said Levin, as data show the number of hate crimes reaching new records even as they grow more violent.

Pointing to FBI data, which Levin stressed is inherently flawed given the lack of reporting across law enforce- ment agencies, he noted in 2020 there were 8,263 reported hate crimes—defined as crimes motivated by prejudice on the basis of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or similar grounds—with cases of aggravated assault trending upward.

 

There was a 12 percent increase in reported hate crimes in 2021, according to FBI numbers. Data for 2022 is currently unavailable. States, meanwhile, continue to prosecute barely a fraction of reported hate crimes cases, with Texas prosecuting just five of the "hundreds and hundreds" brought before courts there. California, Levin added, is "pretty decent… and even we’re low."

Anti-Black, anti-gay and anti-Jewish attacks were among the highest recorded, though Levin says targeted groups vary by city, with Los Angeles seeing more anti-Black attacks and San Francisco, with a larger Asian population, seeing more attacks targeting the API community.

And while Levin notes there have been more attacks between and among minority groups the overwhelming majority are fueled by right-wing extremists and White supremacists. With PRIDE month here, Levin called the "demonization and genocidal language" now being aimed at the LGBTQ+ community a "warning sign" and he urged greater vigilance and reporting in the runup to PRIDE related events.

"When we see residents of our state being maligned," he said, "I don’t care what their faith or identity is. The laws of California mandate that we have to protect our civil rights."

FOUR COPS THAT KILLED

BREONNA TAYLOR INDICTED

breonnat2.jpg

Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her apartment on March 13, 2020, after police executed a no-knock warrant and opened fire on Taylor and her boyfriend, who had a weapon and shot at police, whom he mistook for intruders when they entered the residence. Screenshot

Louisville cops snagged for criminal conspiracy executing no-knock warrant

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (CN)—U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Thursday the indictment of four Louisville police officers on federal criminal charges related to the shooting of Breonna Taylor, including cons- piracy charges stemming from an allegedly false affidavit used to secure a search warrant.

Garland told reporters two federal grand jury indictments had been unsealed, while another charging document was also filed.

Former Louisville Metro Police Department detective Joshua Jaynes and current LMPD sergeant Kyle Meany were named in the first indictment, which lists civil rights and obstruction charges related to "preparing and approving a false search warrant affidavit" that led to the raid of Taylor's apartment and, ultimately, her death.

The second indictment names a single defendant, former LMPD detective Brett Hankison, and charges him with civil rights violations and the use of excessive force during the execution of the search warrant. Current LMPD detective Kelly Goodlett is charged with conspiring to falsify the search warrant affidavit in the third charging document.

"Among other things," Garland said at a press conference, "the federal charges announced today allege that members of LMPD's place-based investigations unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Ms. Taylor's home, that this act violated federal civil rights laws, and that those violations resulted in Ms. Taylor's death.

"Breonna Taylor should be alive today," he added. "The Justice Department is committed to defending and protecting the civil rights of every person in this country.  That was this department’s founding purpose, and it remains our urgent mission.”

Taylor was shot and killed in her apartment on March 13, 2020, after police executed a no-knock warrant and opened fire on Taylor and her boyfriend, who had a weapon and said he returned fire because he thought raiding police were burglars entering the residence.

A 26-year-old emergency room technician at the time of her death, Taylor became a nationwide symbol of the struggle against systemic racism and police brutality.

Her estate sued the city of Louisville and won a record-breaking settlement of $12 million—and a bevy of police reforms—less than five months after the lawsuit was filed.

Detective Myles Cosgrove, who fired the fatal shot, and Jaynes were fired by the city in January 2021, while Hankison was the only officer criminally charged by Kentucky in the wake of the shooting. Hankison was charged with three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment but was acquitted by a jury in March 2022.

The press release from the Department of Justice says Jaynes and Meany knew information used to obtain the search warrant for Taylor's apartment was false, and that the execution of the warrant would likely create a dangerous situation for Taylor and the officers involved.

Jaynes is also charged with attempting to cover up the false affidavit by lying to criminal investigators and drafting a "false investigative letter" in the aftermath of the shooting. The excessive force claims against Hankison stem from shots fired through a covered glass door, a covered window, and a bedroom window that was covered with blinds and a blackout curtain.

None of the shots fired by Hankison struck Taylor or any of her neighbors, but his charges include language that his conduct involved an "attempt to kill," which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Goodlett faces several conspiracy charges for her role in the false warrant and the subsequent coverup. The

obstruction charges in the indictments carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison, while the conspiracy and false-statement charges have maximum sentences of five years in prison.

"On March 13, 2020, Breonna Taylor should have awakened in her home as usual, but tragically she did not," said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke. "Since the founding of our nation, the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution has guaranteed that all people have a right to be secure in their homes, free from false warrants, unreasonable searches and the use of unjustifiable and excessive force by the police.

 

"These indictments reflect the Justice Department’s commitment to preserving the integrity of the criminal justice system and to protecting the constitutional rights of every American," Clarke said.

The attorneys representing Taylor's family—Ben Crump, Lonita Baker and Sam Aguiar—said in a joint state- ment that the charges are "a huge step toward justice."

"We are grateful for the diligence and dedication of the FBI and the DOJ as they investigated what led to Breonna's murder and what transpired afterwards," they said. "The justice that Breonna received would not have been possible without the efforts of Attorney General Merrick Garland or Assistant AG Kristen Clarke.

bottom of page