Goes Down for the Count
every day they're dyin' in the county jail
Listen to ‘em people you can hear them wail.
Beggin' for a medic, ‘stead they're treated with scorn
While the guards are watchin' internet porn."
"Bullshit!" Original song by Dakota Sid
Lyrics by Tanya Brannan & Annie Haught
Bastille Day,* 1998, four Purple Berets supporters took over the
Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting, demanding that our
elected officials act in the wake of the deaths of five county
jail inmates in just nine months. This emergency action was sparked
by the revelation that Sheriff Jim Piccinini had suppressed the
California Board of Corrections report of their investigation
into the inmate deaths. When finally released, the report showed
serious misconduct, negligence and mishandling of medical and
mental health care at the jail -- misconduct that no doubt contributed
to the five deaths.
that day for disrupting a public meeting and other misdemeanors
called attention to the damning report and refocused public attention
on the complicity and inaction of our public officials, both sheriff
and supervisors, in the face of these needless deaths.
Holmes was the first to die a year ago
But the dyin' didn't stop until Carolyn Telzrow.
Five lay dead. How many more to go
‘Til the Board of Supes will finally say no."
is another county official who escaped public notice, despite
his direct responsibility for the sheriff being able to conduct
business as usual, even as the bodies piled up at the jailhouse
door. District Attorney Mike Mullins found no negligence or other
criminal conduct in any of those five or any of the subsequent
Make no mistake
about it: it is the district attorney who sets the standard for
the local criminal justice system. With his "unfettered discretion"
to prosecute or not, he alone decides what will be considered
a crime and what, with only a wink and a nod in the direction
of the penal code, will be ignored. Far more powerful than the
assembly representatives who make the laws or the cops sent out
to enforce them, in the final analysis the district attorney is
one year after our arrest, the Purple Berets struck a mighty blow
against the awesome power of prosecutorial impunity. In court
hearings on the civil disobedience case against us, Judge Gayle
Guynup did what every judge in town would love to do: she ruled
against Mike Mullins.
us, Guynup granted our motion to recuse, thus removing Mullins
and his entire office from our case. Her ruling reasoned that
the D.A.'s prejudice against the Purple Berets made it "unlikely
the defendants would receive a fair trial."
her decision on the deft legal arguments of our lawyer, Sandy
Feinland, and on nearly an hour of testimony. Our time on the
stand was spent detailing eight years of Purple Beret actions
exposing the district attorney, mostly targeting his handling
of violence against women .
This is a
stunning victory; you NEVER get to win recusal motions against
prosecutors. As attorney Feinland put it, "In any criminal practice
guide, in the section under recusing the district attorney's office,
they basically tell you don't bother." We bothered. And we won!
With the D.A. removed, the California Attorney General's office
would take over the prosecution.
Note: Unfortunately, the case still wasn't over. D.A. Mullins
then appealed Judge Guynup's recusal ruling, still wanting to
get his chance at us in court. Unfortunately, appellate hearings
on misdemeanor cases don't go up to an outside court, so the appellate
panel was made up of three local judges: Arnie Rosenfeld, Robert
Dale and Elaine Waters. (Originally Pat Gray was to be on the
panel but she stepped down due to her own documented bias. [See
Standing Together.]) Shockingly, Judge Guynup's ruling was overturned
and our case was sent back to superior court with an even MORE
biased Mike Mullins heading up the prosecution. Finally, the county's
most expensive misdemeanor prosecution ever ended in December,
2000 when the Purple Beret defendants completed 25 hours of community
service. (I know, I know -- we thought that was what we did when
we got arrested!) (See Standing
* On July
14, 1789, Parisian revolutionaries stormed the Bastille (Paris's
version of San Quentin), freeing the prisoners. Bastille Day has
become a symbol of the triumph of popular insurrection over the
arbitrary power of the state.