Prosecutors disagree about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement

Tianna Arata standing on a highway barrier

By KAREN VELIE

In line with the community, employees of the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office have conflicting views on law enforcement, racism and the BLM protests, according to an email string released by District Attorney Dan Dow on Friday.

On Aug. 6, the district attorney’s office held an employee Zoom meeting that included discussions about BLM and the protests. While the specific topic of the meeting has not been divulged to the public, two emails showing conflicting views were produced in response to a public records request for the emails from the Tribune.

“There is diversity of perspective in our Office,” Dow said about the meeting. “We all care about our community and we are having ongoing discussions about how we can best serve all people in a manner that builds stronger trust with the community.”

The day after the Zoom meeting, Deputy District Attorney Delaney Henretty said he was “saddened by the division that has come to the office and amongst colleagues,” in an email to his coworkers.

While Henretty agrees that they can all “do a better job as prosecutors in the pursuit of truth and justice,” and that people should be judged on their character and not the color of their skin, he was not in agreement with some of the sentiments expressed during the Zoom meeting.

“I do not believe there is anything brave or courageous in leading a large group of people, with the protection of law enforcement officers, onto the highway to hold hostage men and women and their children on the highway,”Henretty says in his email. “I do not think there is anything praiseworthy in jumping on the hood of a car of a man trying to drive around the blockade and smashing the rear view window of his car with a skateboard shattering glass into the rear seat.

“I do not think there is anything noble or heroic in yelling ‘fuck your comfort’ to families trying to eat in the local restaurants, or calling officers fucking pigs, and worse. Or gyrating and twerking in short shorts in the street.”

District Attorney Dan Dow and Deputy District Attorney Delaney Henretty

Henretty also voiced concerns over disparaging comments aimed at law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigations.

“One of the things that has arisen out of the BLM movement is an overt hatred and denigration of those who wear blue, and the advocation and perpetration of violence to those who serve based solely on their profession,” Henretty wrote.

Approximately an hour after receiving Henretty’s email, Deputy District Attorney Kelly Manderino responded in an email asking “what was said during the Zoom meeting that was offensive to the investigators.” While she claims to respect law enforcement, she questions their respect for the public.

Manderino said that her eyes have been opened to racial injustices by law enforcement and society, and that she has a strong desire for reform. Going on ride-a-longs both here and in Los Angeles instilled in her a respect for law enforcement, “who sometimes, frankly, do not show very much respect in return,” Manderino wrote.

“As a prosecutor who is part of a system that has had a history of racial biases, l feel it is my duty to ask questions and to seek solutions,” Manderino wrote. “l think a conversation can be had and changes can be made with all sides listening. It will be messy, it will be uncomfortable for every one, but l trust that we can just try to hear each other and all of those in our community to make our office a better place.”

The District Attorney’s Office is currently reviewing processes, including how the office reviews cases to reduce the potential for unintended biases impacting decisions, Dow said. Supervisors and managers recently attended a training on tolerance for law enforcement and criminal justice.

“This was geared to help us better understand how implicit bias occurs and to prepare us as leaders to review our internal processes seeking specific areas where we can make improvements,” Dow said.

 

Deputy District Attorney Delaney Henretty’s Aug. 7 email:

I lay awake last night thinking about our meeting yesterday and the comments that were made, and I was saddened by the division that has come to the office and amongst my colleagues. I firmly believe we all came to this profession to do what was right, to seek the truth, to do justice for the victims of crime, to protect our community, to make it safe to raise a family and enjoy the liberties guaranteed by our State and Federal Constitutions.

I care for you and I support each and every one of you in this pursuit. I hope I have been a friend. I hope I have been of assistance when you needed it. I know I have my faults, and I apologize for them. I want to share a little personal background so you know my heart.

I grew up in rural Michigan, the son of two teachers. My parents were big supporters of the Civil Rights Movement as expressed by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. They believed in his vision as expressed in his I Have a Dream speech.That everyone should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

My father was a special education teacher who specialized in emotionally impaired youth, and worked with juvenile delinquents to help give them the skills to integrate and become productive members of society.

I was named after a young black youth who used to hang around the juvenile facility set up by Robert (Bob) Little, Malcolm X’s brother where my father volunteered in the inner city of Lansing, Michigan. Two of my father’s life long best friends were black men, and I grew up playing with their children. They were not black to me, they were my friends. Unique, as every human is unique. Some of my life-long friends are also black, and I have come to the firm belief that they are just people, unique, with their special strengths and faults like any other human being. They are special to me because they are my friends.

So, I come into agreement with the truth that every human life is sacred. That every human being deserves the equal protection and application of the law. I come into agreement that we can always do abetter job, that we can grow as human beings and educate ourselves to the special needs of the members of our community. That we can do a better job as prosecutors in the pursuit of truth and justice.

However, I have to express my disagreement with some of the sentiments that were expressed.

I do not believe there is anything brave or courageous in leading a large group of people, with the protection of law enforcement officers, onto the highway to hold hostage men and women and their children on the highway. I do not think there is anything praiseworthy in jumping on the hood of a car of a man trying to drive around the blockade and smashing the rear view window of his car with a skateboard shattering glass into the rear seat.

I do not think there is anything noble or heroic in yelling “fuck your comfort” to families trying to eat in the local restaurants, or calling officers fucking pigs, and worse. Or gyrating and twerking in short shorts in the street. Or stomping and spitting on the flag (although protected by free speech). I will always personally see my dead friends who served in the Marine Corps – who gave their lives to defend the freedoms expressed by our Constitution. Their coffins were decorated by the same flag that they burn and spit on.

I had a chance to see a real hero this week when Deputy Nick Dreyfus came to a men’s group I attend in Paso Robles at 6 am. Who responded to a call of an active shooter at the Paso Robles Police Department in the early morning hours… Who was shot in the face and still carries the bullet in his neck because the surgeons have not been able to safely remove it. Members of our Investigative Bureau went out to try to apprehend the man who committed these crimes, and at least one was in the line of fire. He has a family who loves him and they all deserve our respect.

My time as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps has taught me that real courage is born out of love. A man fights for the man on his left and the man on his right. I firmly believe that there is no greater love than a person’s willingness to lay their life down for their friends. My heart goes out to the brave men and women of our law enforcement community who go out every day not knowing where their pursuit of the duty to serve and protect us will take them, and their willingness to give their lives to protect ours.

The only thing necessary for the success of evil men is for good men and women to do nothing.I also think the manner in which many of the comments were expressed showed disrespect for the members of our Bureau of Investigation. Many of them served in the various law enforcement agencies in this County before distinguishing themselves and joining our office.I want to personally thank all the members of our Bureau for the job they do, and the professionalism that I have observed.

I have worked in four different counties as a Deputy District Attorney, and I truly believe we have the best Bureau of Investigations of any of those counties.

One of the things that has arisen out of the BLM movement is an overt hatred and denigration of those who wear blue, and the advocation and perpetration of violence to those who serve based solely on their profession.

We ask our jurors to be a fair and impartial judge of the facts, to do so without prejudice, bias, or public sentiment. We ask them to apply the law as the judge instructs them using their common sense, and to judge all witnesses by the same standard.

Our job as prosecutors is very much the same. In every case I review for filing as the CAPO prosecutor I ask if the officer had a lawful purpose, if they had a lawful right to do what they are doing and a lawful right to be where they were. Was there reasonable suspicion to detain? Was there probable cause to arrest? Did they use reasonable force from the point of view of the objectively reasonable officer knowing what they knew? If the facts support a conclusion that the officer acted out of racial animus, I have a duty to report it as Brady.

The vast majority of cases I have reviewed show the professionalism and good faith and restraint of the law enforcement officers in our community. We have had cases where we decided not to file because the officers made a mistake in good faith or the elements described above were not met. There are cases that resulted in internal investigations.

I have no reservations about doing what is right.I look forward to participating in the group discussions, as I have always believed you can’t teach a man that which he thinks he already knows.

I am willing to listen and learn, but our decision should always be made fairly and impartially and without regard to public opinion or political affiliation.

 

Deputy District Attorney Kelly Manderino’s Aug. 7 email response:

Thank you for your letter to all of us. I very much value your opinion and your role in this office, as well as your friendship and kindness. I am truly asking, because I want to know, what was said that was offensive to the investigators. I, too, spent a sleepless night wondering what the impact of what was said as I care very much about everyone I work with.

My background is different than yours. I grew up in another country where policing is not the same as it is here. I have shared this perspective with investigators in this office I have been lucky enough to have had thoughtful conversations with in the wake of George Floyd.

I also grew up on an Air Force base where love of our country and respect for order were paramount. My term in the Army instilled in me a deep respect for those who serve. But.. I was not taught most of what I came to know about growing up black in the United States until my cousin moved her boyfriend and later husband into the apartment that she and l were sharing. I was 22 years old. Lee, Jennifer and I had many many long and deep conversations about what it is like to grow up black in Compton, California. His father was murdered when he was a child, his brother (whom l knew) got caught up in “the life” and was also killed.

Lee’s descriptions of getting pulled over by the police and his treatment by potential employers was deeply troubling to me. My eyes were opened and there started my desire to read, have conversations, watch documentaries, take classes, and listen. Since that very first conversation with Lee, I have also wished that others could understand what his walk has been like. I strongly believe that I have done the work that I have described above while maintaining deep respect for the law enforcement officers that I work with. I have been on ride-a-longs both here and in Los Angeles that instilled in me nothing short of awe for the men and women who serve communities that sometimes, frankly, do not show very much respect in return. I and have attended police trainings from police veterans that opened my eyes to the horrors that officers experience and the trauma that they endure. I have officer friends who have had to quit the profession after particularly traumatic events.

In light of recent events, especially, l do believe that having a desire for reform is a natural and appropriate response. As a prosecutor who is part of a system that has had a history of racial biases, l feel it is my duty to ask questions and to seek solutions. I think a conversation can be had and changes can be made with all sides listening. It will be messy, it will be uncomfortable for every one, but I trust that we can just try to hear each other and all of those in our community to make our office abetter place.

Please, be respectful of others. Attack ideas, not users. Personal insults, shill or troll accusations, hate speech, and other uncivil comments will be removed. The comments posted represent the opinion of the writer and do not represent the views or policies of the website.

Leave a Reply