Candidates hoping to be elected as Del Norte County’s district attorney were quizzed on their views during a forum put on by the Smith River Neighborhood Watch on Wednesday.
Former Del Norte district attorney and 20-year prosecutor Bob Drossel says that his qualifications would make him a competitive DA candidate in any county in California. Why not elect him to serve here in Del Norte?, he said.
Current Del Norte County public defender and 11-year criminal defense attorney Dale Trigg argues that as a newcomer he has no favors owed or axes to grind and he’ll bring a fresh perspective to the DA’s office.
Drossel has spent significantly more time working in a DA’s office than Trigg, building experience with budgets, grants, and personnel issues, which Trigg does not have, Drossel said. Trigg’s prosecuting attorney experience consists of a 1½-year job in Missouri, but he also served as a judge in Montana for two years, has won the endorsements of local law enforcement and is more up to date than Drossel on criminal justice issues in Del Norte since he has served as a local public defender since 2012, he has said.
This was not the first forum for the candidates, and although they faced new questions, many of their answers were similar.
Forum host Juanita Henson asked the DA candidates if they, considering nationwide trends, would support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.
‘No’ was the sure answer of both candidates, with Drossel saying that pot is a gateway drug and that recreational use would fill roadways with intoxicated drivers, making them more dangerous. Drossel said Prop 215 was “nightmare legislation,” although he said that medical marijuana is beneficial for some patients.
Trigg agreed on the problems with 215 and highway concerns, adding that it’s harder to prove that a driver is stoned than drunk.
Bail for flight risk offenders
“Recently a 72-year-old woman found a ski-masked, hooded intruder in her home in the middle of the night. He ran when she produced a handgun but was later apprehended. He was back on our streets within days,” said the forum host, setting up a question on how the candidates would ensure appropriate bail.
Trigg said he would encourage local law enforcement to work with and notify the DA’s office when there are offenders with long rap sheets or flight risks so the DA can urge the judge to set a high bail.
Drossel said his stance of being “aggressive” and “timely” with prosecuting cases will also include convincing judges to set high bail when appropriate.
When asked what alternatives to incarceration the DA candidates might pursue for offenders who clearly suffer from mental health issues, Drossel and Trigg both said they would be committed to partnering with local organizations to create more places and services that can accommodate mental health patients.
“Oftentimes these people are amiable to treatment but services aren’t here,” Trigg said.
Both candidates clarified that just because the offenders suffer from mental health issues doesn’t mean they’ll be protected if they continue to do crimes.
“We need justice for victims, and that’s my first goal,” Drossel said.
Soft plea bargains
When asked how the candidates would reverse a perceived trend of soft plea bargains, particularly for narcotics and domestic violence, both Drossel and Trigg said that plea bargains are not going to disappear, but that they should be scrutinized closely on a case-by-case basis.
Drossel said there are clear scenarios when plea bargaining is appropriate, such as if the witness has moved away and no longer wants to prosecute or the material witness has a lengthy rap sheet that might make a jury question their credibility.
“Plea bargaining will hopefully be an exception, but it is going to happen because that’s the way it is,” Drossel said.
Trigg said he believes “plea bargaining has gotten out of hand and out of control” and that he has seen domestic violence offenders that were handed plead-down misdemeanor charges come back in court within 48 hours after assaulting the same victim.
Reviewing Riese’s DUI
An interesting question was prefaced with the story of how a special prosecutor resigned in protest last year after he was asked to stand down while in the middle of investigating the arrest of former Del Norte DA Mike Riese for driving under the influence. Would the candidates be open to calling for an internal affairs investigation by an independent law enforcement agency or the Grand Jury?
Drossel said that he would be “open, and I’m big on input to review difficult cases like that and see what the evidence is.”
Trigg said, “I would support investigating and looking into the facts and circumstances that led to that dismissal. If the case was dismissed when the evidence was there, I would absolutely want to know why.”
Candidates were presented with a scenario involving police responding to a domestic violence call and finding a woman with a cut over her eye, a golf-ball sized lump on the back of her head and bruises on her throat. The hypothetical victim tells police that her boyfriend, who has a prior record of domestic violence, was drunk and beat her up again.
After charges are filed, the victim tells the deputy DA that she actually slipped and fell and now wants to dismiss the charges. Out of concerns about the victim will testify at trial, the supervising assistant district attorney is leaning towards allowing dismissal.
“If you have a victim with visible signs of injury that has made statements to an officer on how they got those injuries, there is no reason for that case to be dismissed just because the victim has been pressured into recanting,” Trigg said, adding that California has laws that aid a prosecutor when a victim is recanting.
Drossel said that he has considerable experience in that arena and that his wife was previously a shelter manager of a domestic violence program. He would certainly take that type of case to trial and to strengthen his case he would obtain the 911 tape and the video that officers took when first appearing on the scene.
Judge forum coming Tues.
Candidates for Del Norte Superior Court Judge also attended the Smith River Neighborhood Watch Forum, and an article on their responses will be in Tuesday’s Triplicate.