Judge issues landmark ruling against Contra Costa County D.A.'s office over racial bias

One attorney says Black people were up to 44% more likely to be charged with special enhancements compared to others.

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Sunday, May 21, 2023
Judge issues landmark ruling against Contra Costa Co. DA's office
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A Superior Court judge issued a landmark ruling against the Contra Costa District Attorney's office after finding proof of racial bias.

MARTINEZ, Calif. (KGO) -- As protesters rallied for police accountability in the Antioch Police Department's texting scandal on the steps on the Contra Costa County Superior Court on Friday, earlier that morning a Superior Court judge issued a landmark ruling against the Contra Costa District Attorney's office.

The judge found proof of racial bias and racism in the charging decisions by the D.A.'s office.

"Our clients were not only subjected to racist policing, but when they were brought into the criminal justice system in Contra Costa County, the ruling was that they were subjected to racist charging decisions," explains attorney Carmela Caramagno, representing Terryon Pugh, one of the four men involved in the case.

Caramango says Black people were up to 44% more likely to be charged with special enhancements compared to others.

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"And that's significant. When you charge somebody with a special circumstance, you are asking the court to impose a mandatory of life without any possibility of parole. Ever," says Caramango.

The ruling does not affect the attempted murder and conspiracy charges the defendants face.

MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Antioch police chief calls texting scandal 'hate speech;' open to federal oversight

Two of the men are named in the Antioch police texting scandal. But this case is not about the texts, nor policing. Just the D.A.'s filing practices.

"And we showed that the difference, the disparity in those charging decisions was 92% based on race, rather than any other factor. And the D.A. failed to present evidence of race neutral basis for those decisions," she says.

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In a statement to ABC7 news, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton writes:

"The District Attorney's Office recognizes that today's ruling is one of significance for offsetting systemic racial disparities within the criminal justice system. The court's ruling provides direction and my office will review similarly charged cases to promote fair and equitable prosecution."

"This is a landmark ruling, again, that it is the first ruling of its kind statewide. And it's actually the second ruling under the Racial Justice Act involving the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office," says Ellen McDonnell, Chief Public Defender for Contra Costa County.

RELATED: 40% of Antioch police force likely involved in alleged racist texting scandal, public defender says

California's Racial Justice Act was passed in 2020. It allows legal challenges to charges, convictions and sentencing that may be influenced by systemic bias.

"And that's it really critical that we continue litigation and that we continue looking at each phase of the criminal legal system to ensure that we can uncover whether in racism in policing, racism in charging decisions, or racism in any other part of our criminal legal system," she says.

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