Honor the Selma police officer with real reform of criminal justice, not a blame game | Opinion
The death of Selma police officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. is a senseless tragedy that left our region shocked and outraged.
But rather than mourn Carrasco’s death and have a constructive discussion over what occurred and how future tragedies can be avoided, the situation quickly dissolved into political grandstanding and finger-pointing.
How sadly predictable.
As is her nature, Lisa Smittcamp cast the first stone. The Fresno County district attorney couldn’t even wait until Carrasco was laid to rest before accusing Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic legislators with having “the blood of this officer on their hands.”
The following day, during a press conference touting his gun control bill, Newsom shot back by saying he was “sick and tired of being lectured by (Smittcamp) on public safety” and suggested she “look in the mirror.”
By having her staff work overtime, Smittcamp managed to get in the last word. Wednesday evening at 7:08 p.m., the DA’s office issued another press release belittling Newsom’s lack of knowledge about the legal system and calling his response “arrogant and defensive.”
Arrogant and defensive? Probably so. Then again, Smittcamp would know all about those qualities.
Rather than pick sides, there’s much to pick apart. Starting with the obvious: The only person in this situation with “blood on his hands” is the human pond scum who allegedly pulled the trigger: Nathaniel Dixon, a 23-year-old felon released from prison on probation now charged with Carrasco’s murder.
Don’t ever lose sight of that.
Second, let’s not pretend Newsom is the person responsible for early releases. Those decisions are made by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which is subject to a 2011 Supreme Court decision ordering California to reduce prison overcrowding.
Assembly Bill 109, known as “realignment,” was signed into law by former Gov. Jerry Brown — not Newsom — in response to the Supreme Court ruling. It allows defendants convicted of less serious felonies to serve time at county jails rather than state prisons.
Smittcamp, Newsom both mislead
Problem is, county jails are just as overcrowded. Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni is also under court order to regularly release low-level offenders.
In Smittcamp’s initial press release, she claims Dixon was sentenced to a five-year, four-month prison sentence in March 2022 (as a result of his no-contest plea to being a felon in possession of a firearm) but was released after “a mere 5 months.”
This is both misleading and false. Dixon, in fact, was jailed for 563 days as his case made its way through the legal system. Which also counts. Meaning he was behind bars for just shy of two years.
Did Dixon deserve a longer stay? That’s not for me to say. But it definitely wasn’t five months.
Likewise, Newsom and his people aren’t exactly being truthful, either. A spokesman for the governor blamed Smittcamp for failing to charge Dixon to the full extent of the law, ensuring that he would’ve spent “decades in prison.”
Even though court records indicate that three felonies originally charged to Dixon in 2020 — possession of a controlled substance while armed, carrying a loaded firearm in public and carrying a concealed firearm — were dropped by Smittcamp’s office, the matter isn’t that simple.
Three Fresno attorneys consulted for this column (including both prosecutors and defense attorneys) said such arrangements are exceedingly common. Furthermore, they told me — based on their own experiences — that even if Dixon were convicted on those three extra felonies his sentence wouldn’t have been appreciably longer.
Certainly not “decades,” as Newsom’s office claimed.
“In this case the system worked as it was supposed to work,” said an uninvolved Fresno defense attorney. “Sometimes bad people do bad things.”
Three years probation, zero meetings
Nonetheless, Smittcamp makes a good point when she states criminals are being released early without “rehabilitation programming or educational opportunities.”
As an example, the same defense attorney quoted above told me about a client who has been on probation for three years. During that time his client has never met with his probation officer.
“The only time you see (probation officers) is when you screw up,” the attorney said.
Yes, I know that the solution for many central San Joaquin Valley residents — shout out to bloodthirsty KMJ callers — would be to lock up all felons and throw away the keys.
This is Ground Zero for California’s flawed “three strikes law,” lest anyone forget.
However, this ignores certain realities. Foremost among them is that the majority of voters (and the politicians they elect) are weary of the prison industrial complex. California isn’t going to keep building prisons in order to continue the never-ending cycle of incarceration.
That doesn’t mean violent criminals like Dixon should be allowed to roam free and do as they please. Felons granted early release due to overcrowding need stricter monitoring in addition to rehabilitation and education.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be at a point where we can have that sort of constructive conversation.
Not when politicians like Smittcamp and Newsom are so eager to cover their backsides and cast blame.