Joe Biden’s choice of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate sent a shiver Tuesday through some police reformers in Orange County and throughout the Golden State.
During her tenure as California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, Harris turned a blind eye to potentially dirty Orange County cops and refused to order DNA testing that might exonerate a condemned man. In a scandal that rocked the foundation of justice in Orange County, Harris slow-walked an investigation into corruption among sheriff’s deputies, basically doing nothing.
“It’s a horrible decision,” Paul Wilson said of Harris’ selection by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Wilson’s wife was among eight killed by tugboat operator Scott Dekraai during a shooting spree at a Seal Beach hair salon in 2011. Dekraai’s case revealed that deputies and prosecutors misused jailhouse informants to extract confessions, which came to be known as the snitch scandal.
Harris initiated an investigation into the scandal and three deputies accused by a judge of not being truthful. But she left the case unfinished when she became senator in 2017. While she was at the helm, her investigators had done little on the case.
‘Soft on law enforcement’
“At a time like this, the country needs solid leadership. Her past history is being soft on law enforcement,” Wilson said. “It’s a very bad decision.”
In 2015, an Orange County Superior Court judge took the Dekraai case — the largest mass killing in Orange County history — away from the District Attorney’s Office and handed it to Harris’ prosecutors. Harris then launched an investigation into whether the deputies committed perjury, this at the same time that her prosecutors were defending the county’s misuse of informants in court. Dekraai eventually was given life in prison instead of the death penalty by a judge frustrated by the lack of cooperation by prosecutors and sheriff’s officials.
As the months crawled by, a staffer for Harris complained in an interview that the state probe was slowed by the release of hundreds of pages of sheriff’s logs describing how informants were managed. Harris turned the job over in 2017 to her successor, Xavier Becerra, who quietly let the investigation die in 2019 without any action and without a report.
In published interviews, Harris has said she figured the Orange County debacle was being handled by local authorities.
Scott Sanders, Dekraai’s attorney, called the investigation by Harris’ office “a complete and utter sham.”
“It was never a sincere effort to get to the truth,” Sanders said. “They let the world believe they were investigating when they weren’t.”
Shunned DNA request by condemned killer
Harris also frustrated reformers with her handling of a request by condemned inmate Kevin Cooper, who sought DNA testing that he said might clear him of the murders of four people in 1983 in Chino Hills. Harris did not move on the request, which was later granted by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Later, as a senator, Harris supported the DNA request. The results are pending.
Harris also was a target of criticism for her decision as attorney general in a 2012 police shooting in Anaheim. The fatal shooting of Manuel Diaz triggered rioting, forcing the evacuation of City Hall. The New York Times interviewed then Mayor Tom Tait, who remembers asking Harris to conduct an outside investigation into the death of Diaz, who was shot in the back by Anaheim officers.
Harris declined, deferring to the District Attorney’s Office, which almost never charges officers in on-duty shootings. That seemed to be her mode of operation with police shootings, the Times noted.
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