By Investigator Tom Dominguez and Mayor Joe Vinatieri
This summer, a documented gang member went on a violent stabbing spree — fatally attacking four people and wounding two others. One victim was so badly slashed that his nose was nearly severed.
The crime itself was horrific — terrorizing eight crime scenes across two cities using machete knives. But what makes it even more outrageous is that the suspect should not have been on the street.
Under AB 109 — which claimed to apply only to “non-violent, non-serious” offenders — felons with violent histories are being released to minimal supervision based on their current offense alone, with no consideration for past criminal conduct, even when violent or sexual.
The suspect in this case, Zachery Castaneda, had a decade-long rap sheet — boasting convictions for child abuse, battery, domestic violence, and more. And although he violated his probation eight times, he was still on Orange County streets. This tragedy clearly exposes the dangerous problems surrounding AB 109. And there are more.
Two years ago, a felon released from jail after his fifth probation violation shot two of our Whittier Police Officers, killing one of them, Officer Keith Boyer.
Just a few months later, another AB 109 felon with a lengthy criminal history shot and killed 21-year Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy veteran Robert French and wounded two other officers.
These are just a few examples of the unintended consequences of a series of public safety “reforms” founded on wishful thinking and empty promises. It started with the passage of Assembly Bill 109, but continued with Propositions 47 and 57, changing sentencing and parole polices, and launching massive early releases.
Less incarceration and more treatment. Safer streets and schools. A fairer and more efficient justice system. And the promise that early release would never apply to violent or sexual offenders. In the face of the growing evidence to the contrary, these words ring hollow.
The shocking truth is that the list of crimes considered violent under California law is remarkably short. Rape of an unconscious person is not a “violent” crime in California. Nor is pimping a child for sex. If an abuser beats a spouse or domestic partner with enough force to cause injury, that’s also not a violent crime. Clearly, very few voters knew this when they voted for these laws.
Nor did voters expect an explosion of property crimes as a result of Prop. 47’s reducing felony theft offenses to misdemeanors. Yet, the FBI reported that 49 California cities saw overall increases and 24 suffered double-digit increases after its passage.
Fortunately, there’s hope for fixing some of the most egregious flaws in these laws — through the “Reducing Crime and Keeping California Safe Act of 2020.”
Above all, this initiative expands the state’s list of violent crimes to include those that are clearly violent — like human trafficking and domestic violence. Other crimes include felony hate crimes, assault with a deadly weapon and drive-by shootings, none of which are currently “violent” under California law.
Moreover, the initiative strengthens parole violations and gives voters more authority over early release decisions, which are now made by an unelected body with little if any input from victims, prosecutors or the public.
The Keep California Safe initiative would also reform theft laws to restore accountability for serial thieves and expand the crimes for which DNA can be collected — previously narrowed by Prop. 47 — to help solve rape, murder and other violent crimes, and to exonerate those wrongly accused.
While we recognize that the only way to stop crime completely is for people to choose to abide by the law, the Keep California Safe initiative helps solve four critical public safety concerns facing Californians right now. And perhaps just as important, come November 2020, it allows Californians to have a clear choice in their public safety future. Without this initiative, neither law enforcement nor law abiding citizens will be as safe as we should be.
Whittier Mayor and attorney Joe Vinatieri is among the founding members of the Keep California Safe coalition. Investigator Tom Dominguez is President of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, representing nearly 4,000 sworn peace officers.