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Saturday, January 16, 2021
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News + Politics A terrible crime leads to terrible politics and reporting

A terrible crime leads to terrible politics and reporting

The real story behind the release from jail of a drug addict who went on to kill two in a hit-and-run.

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People who have criminal records are released from jail, prison, or other forms of detention almost every day. Some of them go on to commit other crimes, even terrible crimes.

Chesa Boudin campaigned as a reformer, and keeps getting attacked for his agenda.

There’s no question that Troy McAlister is charged today with a terrible crime. The District Attorney’s Office alleges that he killed two people in a hit-and-run. He is in jail, and will very likely not get out of a long, long time. (He’s also, according to news reports, a meth addict and an alcoholic.)

But the political statements and the news reports on the case – like so many political statements and news reports on DA Chesa Boudin – have been fundamentally inaccurate.

I don’t think a law-and-order DA in the same situation (and there are and have been plenty) would be facing this same type of attacks.

Let’s review the history: McAlister was arrested in 2015 on charges of armed robbery. He was sent to jail, and five years later, was released on parole.

Under the state’s widely discredited “three strikes” law, he could have been in prison for 40 years on a robbery charge (nobody was hurt in the incident). But Boudin, like a growing number of prosecutors in the state, isn’t using that law any more (former SF DA George Gascon, who handled the McAlister case in 2015 and now has the job in LA, has announced he will no longer use “strikes” to push for lengthy prison sentences.) Three-strikes was a racist failure. Anyone with any sense now agrees on that.

Five years is not an unusual sentence for a crime where nobody was hurt.

When people are out on parole, they have to abide by strict rules and can be sent back to jail pretty much immediately if they violate those rules. Their parole officers are responsible for making sure they check in regularly and follow procedures.

McAlister was arrested twice this fall on burglary and drug charges – all nonviolent offenses. If Boudin had filed charges against him in those cases, the odds are very good he would have been released from jail while awaiting trial. He would have had, like any criminal defendant, the presumption of innocence, and the city doesn’t tend to lock up nonviolent offenders awaiting trial these days.

On the other hand, his parole officer could have locked him up or sent him into drug rehab immediately. That’s why DAs commonly in these situations refer violators to their parole officers, who have much more authority to act quickly.

In other words, what Boudin’s office did here was pretty routine. (Except that somehow the cops, parole, and the DA didn’t communicate properly, which is the main reason the guy was still on the streets.)

Now that McAlister is charged with vehicular manslaugter, the San Francisco Police Officers Association is putting out the message that Boudin had a conflict of interest because he represented McAlister when he was a public defender.

Here’s what KPIX put out on Twitter:

Actually, no.

Boudin never was the attorney of record for McAlister. I have read the court transcript in the case, and what happened was very simple: McAlister’s public defender was in trial when a judge needed to do a minor procedural matter (setting a trial date). The prosecutor handling the case was also in trial.

So, as is very common, another DA and another PD showed up for about five minutes as substitutes so the judge could on the record set a date for trial.

Ellen Chaitin, a retired Superior Court judge, told me that this happens all the time, and that the substitute lawyers (whoever in those offices happens to be free for five minutes that day) are not the attorneys of record for the case or the client.

Here’s the entire transcript of what Boudin did:

THE COURT: The Court is calling Line 14.
Do we have the D.A. here?
MS. MORRIS: I will stand in.
THE COURT: Court is calling Line 14, People v. McAllister.
Appearances, please.

MS. MORRIS: Lailah Morris, specially appearing on behalf of Michael Nguyen, for the People.

MR. BOUDIN: Chesa Boudin, Deputy Public Defender, specially appearing for attorney of record Crystal Lamb, on behalf of Mr. Mc Allister, who is present in custody before the Court.

THE COURT: In this matter I received the 1050. I understand Ms. Lamb is in trial.

MR. BOUDIN: That’s correct, Your Honor.

And Mr. Nguyen is unavailable on the date that Ms. Lamb requested. We’re requesting a date as soon as available. I believe Mr. Nguyen discussed it with the Clerk of the Court and it was indicated to him that July 16th was available.

THE COURT: Let’s go off the record while we confer on dates.

THE COURT: Back on the record.

Having conferred with the parties, this matter is placed in this department for preliminary hearing on July 16th, 2018, at 9:00 a.m.

Mr. Mc Allister is ordered present. There is also a motion to suppress? 

MR. BOUDIN: I believe so, Your Honor. 

THE COURT: Okay. And the Court finds good cause in light of Miss Lamb’s unavailability.

MR. BOUDIN: Thank you, Your Honor. 

THE COURT: Thanks.

That’s it.

Here’s what Public Defender Mano Raju says:

We have learned from decades of failed “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies that focusing primarily on whether the system could have incarcerated someone longer, more often, or more severely is how we find ourselves in the current scenario. We cannot let opponents of a more fair and just criminal legal system exploit this loss-of-life to convince others that the system we’ve long relied upon is the best we can do. 

I also want to make clear that Chesa Boudin never represented Troy McAlister.  Some are misinterpreting court minutes that show Mr. Boudin as “special[ly] . . . appearing for the attorney of record” on a “motion to continue,” but this was strictly an administrative appearance that lawyers routinely make when a colleague is unavailable on an uncontested matter. On the date at issue here, Mr. McAlister’s lawyer was in trial in another case and she filed the motion to continue as a result. It is common for attorneys to make “stand-in” appearances on behalf of an unavailable colleague. Mr. Boudin was apparently such a “stand-in” on an uncontested postponement of the case to a new date. He would not have had any confidential information nor presented any arguments on Mr. McAlister’s behalf. Our overburdened courts could scarcely function without such courtesies. 

Of much greater importance is the recognition that we have a collective responsibility – as justice partners in the legal system locally and statewide – to redirect our efforts and resources. We must rethink our current responses to harm by centering people who have been harmed, ensuring they are cared for, and working to understand why the harm happened. We must commit to trying to prevent harm, not by attempting to mercilessly punish it away, but by disrupting the pathway to harm and violence through systems of support and care. This is what is actually needed for our communities to be safe. We as a society must delve into understanding how our systems fail people in ways that lead to tragedy and how we can learn from these mistakes to promote more healing, rather than more misery. That is what my office has begun to do and what every agency that has an opportunity to intervene should do, not just with more punishment but with more support, in order to prevent these kinds of tragedies.

Now: If Boudin had actually represented McAlister, he would not be able to prosecute him. That also happens on occasion – the DA has a conflict of interest in a case. And like every DA’s office in the state, San Francisco has a clear policy on that.

David Campos, who is Boudin’s chief of staff, told me that “we have a policy that if there is any potential conflict, we reach out to the Attorney General’s Office, which can take over a prosecution. And even if they don’t find a conflict, we can set up an ethical wall where the prosecuting DA would not report to Boudin.”

Again: Very common practice in public law offices. In fact, it’s not only good local policy; the state Bar Association requires it.

So what’s really going on here? The POA is furious at Boudin for charging officers who killed people. The old-school establishment is unhappy that the voters chose a DA who is pushing for radical criminal-justice reform.

And his opponents are using a terrible tragedy leading to a horrible loss of life as political fodder for their attacks.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Here is the thing, the institutions are broken and the only thing that is going to change them is a take down of the old system. However, public safety and equal justice across the board should be number one. I am appalled at some of the things I’ve seen and read about since Chesa took office. A man and wife took their children and flew to CHINA because they had not just killed, but dismembered their 80 year old father! His head was found in freezer. The husband got six years of which he’ll probably serve 4 1/2. The wife is out of jail and free after a year! They decapitated an elderly man! https://www.newsweek.com/woman-dismember-father-spared-jail-san-francisco-1540906. . I believe that we need to change some of the things in the system but things like these two crimes don’t make sense to me. Chesa- you can’t fight the power, when you are the power! For the sake of the city do what you do best and publicly defend these people… Don’t set them free.

  2. Boudin should not be DA. In his heart, he is a public defender an acts like one even though his job is to protect the public, not the criminals. It was only a matter of time until something went wrong and somebody was hurt by Troy McAlister, a carrier criminal.

  3. There’s certainly a lot of blame to go around – btw City & State. However, seems to me that the burden falls on the local. Isn’t the DA responsible for keeping dangerous people under control? Ddin’t Boudin promise to keep us safe?

    ARRESTED 5 times since release? Are we to believe those are ALL the crimes he committed?!? Yes, revoke his parole! But in the mean time, can’t we keep him locked up? Seems to me a walking (or is it driving) crime wave is enuf to merit prosecution for whatever he’s been currently arrested for. And it seems to me that a DA who has promised to keep citizens safe while also pursuing social justice goals, would want to exert themselves when they have the chance and not pass the buck to someone else.

    Parole Office… DMV… EDD… Vaccine rollout … I”m a Dem, but am increasingly concerned about this One Party state which seems to be asleep at the switch.

    GG – your continued (unhinged?) harping on the ‘political football’ … wouldn’t that work better on a Qanon board?

  4. In the Haight where burglaries are up 120% YoY for 2020 what we see is repeat offenders facing no consequences from the DA’s office. My perception is that Chesa sees burglaries as non-violent petty crimes. His lack of even a shred of concern for the victims and the neighborhoods that are under assault is stomach churning. When a burglar steals the tools you need for making a living during pandemic where it is tough to pay your bills the theft is devastating. You don’t only lose the tools you and your family lose having your home and community feel like a safe place. The tragedy of those women dying was completely predictable. Chesa’s policies have allowed criminals to break into garages, homes, restaurants and retail stores with impunity. Being arrested has become a minor inconvenience, a bureaucratic revolving door, where only the most violent crimes seem to manner. Someone needs to tell Chesa to the children who’s bikes were stolen, who’s parent’s tools were taken these crimes are traumatizing. Chesa told us his reforms would make us safe, he lied. The only people who feel safer are criminals.

  5. KPIX 5 has reported that McAlister was actually arrested five times in San Francisco in the space of seven months after he was let out on parole in April of last year. He was arrested in June for burglary and possession of burglary tools; again in August for stealing a car and possession of stolen property; October 15th, also stealing a car and possession of meth; November 6th, he was arrested for auto burglary; December 20th, possession of a stolen car, stolen property and burglary tools.

    How does Boudin let the State Parole Board drop the ball 5 times, and not take press charges against this repeat criminal? Oh right, he’s a criminal sympathizer. So, Jail is out, god forbid a criminal gets covid. But could he not have requested the judge order pre-trial home detention or electronic monitoring?

  6. Boudin’s adversity to incarceration, the general dysfunctional the SF criminal justice system and the state-wide move to reduce jail and prison population all are contributing factors to this tragedy. At one time parole holds meant something but a look into the current system would show that state parole frequently does not hold parolees on violations at all or for only a short time (Boudin should know this). Certainly within State Parole there is a push to not add to the prison population.

    The DA does not file cases or does not protest frequent pre-trial releases. Judges assent to inappropriate releases, continuances and plea deals. The public hears about cases like this but does not get the compressive picture . Boudin gets on KQED and says he prosecutes 80% of the cases brought to him but does not explain what “prosecutes” means. Short story: the revolving door spins very fast – burglars, robbers, drug dealers, and a wide variety of dangerous subjects who might have been incapacitated by being behind bars are out there victimizing.

  7. No, Richmondman, he is a journalist who defends the facts from liars like you. Boudin has thrown the book at McAlister, who is going away for a long time. If his parole officer had done his job, McAlister would have been in jail. But, those are facts, and don’t fit your agenda, so you lie.

  8. Gorn, you jump in with an ignorant comment, ignoring and glossing over the fact that the DA’s office is totally separate from the Division of Adult Parole Operations which is part of the state government. DAPO should have revoked his parole and returned him to custody. But DAPO is not of value as a target for you. Why can’t your wonderful mayor pull a drug treatment program, fully function and ready to go, out of her ass? Oh wait, that along with anything else that might take away from her political football is verboten. There is “no urgency” because the meth users in question are poor and homeless, and potentially useful for the mayor’s agenda.

    I find your taste in friends rather curious. I doubt most meth heads own cars. The suspect here had to steal one. And he was DUI apparently. This tragedy is being co-opted and distorted for political purposes. And you are a part of that.

    At least you do, somewhat grudgingly admit that DAPO dropped the ball. Boudin did the right thing, and expected them to do their job. But, DAPO is not viewed as an enemy, and a useful tool, by the mayor. Boudin did his job. The police did what the always do…nothing of value. A loser stole a car, and ran down two people while DUI, and the mayor rejoices that she can spin it all like crazy. And you report for duty.

  9. “McAlister was arrested twice this fall on burglary and drug charges – all nonviolent offenses.”

    So parolees are allowed to commit more crimes while out on parole, so long as those new crimes are nonviolent?

    I would note that there is some $400m in Prop C money sitting in the bank, some of which is earmarked for substance treatment yet there are no plans on how to spin up substance treatment so that were a meth addiction a major contributor to this tragedy, that could have been prevented on the front end. Advocates had a year to draft their proposed plan. The committee is just getting down to organizing. Because there is no urgency.

    I’ve known many people who’ve danced with crystal meth over the years. None of them killed people with their cars, hit and run.

    I’ve known many father-absent men. None of them have killed people with their cars, hit and run.

    The suspect’ status in that regard is irrelevant.

    Yes, the SFPOA are scumbags, the rising Karens who are channeling their frustration at pandemic restrictions into a call for the revival of the carcareal state and war on drugs need to be contested.

    But your progressive Board of Supervisors sidled up to the SFPOA and re-upped an even more favorable MOU. The Board’s appointees have not been up to the task of organizing the community to beat the POA. The SFPD budget increased, was not cut. When your allies have power to move the needle on solving a problem, and they leave that power on the table, then their plaintive cries about that problem become less credible.

    The system failed here. Traffic enforcement failed. Boudin admits his office could have done better and has committed to work with other responsible parties to improve the process.

    The SFPD whines that they can’t enforce public health orders for face coverings because “that’s not the law.” But where is the SFPD when it comes time to enforcing the California Vehicle Code against the road users whose violations are in most years the exclusive cause of deaths of cyclists and peds–cars?

    How did the parole officers make their calls? What were their criteria? Do they need to be revisited to catch cases similar to this without casting too wide a net?

    We can use this tragedy to find out if there is room for improvement and give some positive meaning to these deaths.

  10. Tim is official apologist for the DA’s office.

    But this will give Campos something to do for his $200K per year, since he doesn’t work as an attorney anyway.

    Again – no charges filed against a career criminal, just the old revolving door. How about an article about the two dead, innocent people killed needlessly?

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