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When Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced July 13 that he’d be heading up the statewide campaign to oppose Proposition 57, it took some folks by surprise.
The measure would grant early parole consideration to certain offenders, allow inmates who engage in educational and vocational programs to earn good-time credits and give judges discretion over whether juveniles should be tried as adults (right now, district attorneys make that call).
Faulconer’s move pit him against District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, usually a Faulconer ally, who in January announced her support for the measure.
There was speculation Faulconer joined the campaign to boost his statewide profile for a 2018 bid for governor — though he’s repeatedly denied any plans to run. Since his July announcement, though, he’s been relatively quiet about Prop. 57.
Faulconer’s most significant contribution has been monetary: According to campaign finance reports, his 2016 mayoral campaign has given more than $6,700 to No on 57. And in an interview with Voice of San Diego earlier this month, Faulconer said he was responsible for securing $10,000 each from developer Tom Sudberry and financier David Malcolm, both of whom supported Faulconer’s mayoral bid.
But Faulconer was less successful in rallying support from a constituency that’s arguably the most impacted by the over-incarceration that Prop. 57 seeks to address: the black community.
On July 19, Darnisha Hunter, Faulconer’s community representative to City Council District 4, sent an email from her personal account, with the subject line “Prop 57 Materials,” to several prominent black religious leaders.
“Here are two documents that might be useful,” she wrote. “The first one succinctly explains the major problems with Prop 57. The second document is flyer that serves as an example of the type of person that would be eligible for early released [sic].”
The flier featured a photo of 77-year-old Arthur Eugene Lindsey, a repeat offender who was recently sentenced to 102 years in prison for drugging and raping a woman and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Above Lindsey’s photo it says, “Meet your new neighbor” and, below it, “Under PROP. 57 murderer-rapist Arthur Eugene Lindsey would be eligible for a reduced prison sentence and early parole … into your neighborhood.”
Lindsey has become a poster boy – literally – for No on 57. While the measure says only nonviolent offenders would be eligible for early parole consideration, under California penal code, drugging and raping a woman is technically a nonviolent offense. The flier clearly implies someone like Lindsey could be paroled early under Prop. 57.
But that’s not accurate, said Frankie Guzman, an attorney with the National Center for Youth Law, who helped draft Prop. 57. Current parole rules bar anyone required to register as a sex offender from being eligible for early parole. Rape of an unconscious person, as well as sex trafficking — another crime No on 57 claims could mean early parole — both require registration.
Prop. 57 supporters also emphasize that being granted a parole hearing is far from the guaranteed early release opponents are suggesting. Parole is denied far more often than it’s granted. According to the Board of Parole Hearings, out of 5,300 inmates up for parole in 2015, only 902, or 17 percent, were released.
The Lindsey flier made news in late August when Gov. Jerry Brown, who sponsored Prop. 57, took to task Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, a co-chair for No on 57 who’d sent out a mailer featuring Lindsey. In a voicemail message Brown left for Mims, obtained by The Sacramento Bee, the governor described the mailer as “extremely false, and I would even say malicious.”
Brown went on to accuse Mims of using “scare tactics that I think are unbecoming of a public official, and certainly will not build the kind of mutual respect and trust that we all need to do our jobs.”
Bishop Roy Dixon, who’s one of several black community leaders who periodically meets with Faulconer, said the email from Hunter containing the flier and anti-Prop. 57 talking points was in response to questions that came up during a July meeting with the mayor. Faulconer’s opposition to Prop. 57 was a focus of the meeting, Dixon said. Some attendees asked the mayor if he could send them additional information.
“I did notice a few preachers besides myself who spoke their mind very well and did not agree with the mayor,” Dixon said.
City ethics rules bar employees from engaging in campaign activities during work hours or using city resources, such as an email account, for campaigning purposes. Hunter sent the email from a private account at 12:34 p.m., presumably her lunch hour. Faulconer told Voice of San Diego he had no knowledge of the email. A mayoral spokesman asked to see a copy and, in a response several days later, said Hunter sent it on her own time and own accord. He confirmed that Faulconer met with a group of black pastors on July 15.
Bishop Cornelius Bowser, who presides over Charity Apostolic Church in Santee, didn’t receive Hunter’s email but heard about it. He said he doesn’t think it had much impact.
“We have been educating those black pastors on Prop. 57, and to my understanding, many of them are supporting Prop. 57,” he said.
In a brief interview, Faulconer dodged a question about the veracity of No on 57’s claims about early parole for sex offenders, instead reiterating that he believes Prop. 57 “is taking the state backwards in terms of public safety.”
“I think the victims’ rights laws we have passed that give victims the absolute certainty of how long somebody’s going to stay in prison are important,” he said. “Going back to the days of indeterminate sentencing is the wrong thing for this state to do.”
Recent polls show that roughly 70 percent of voters say they’d vote in favor of the measure. And campaign committees supporting Prop. 57 have raised about $8 million more than the one committee opposing the measure.
“[Faulconer] is going to be on the wrong side of history,” Guzman said. “He doesn’t have facts on his side. He doesn’t have the public on his side.”
If Prop. 57 passes, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will be responsible for drafting regulations that spell out who’s eligible for early parole consideration, Guzman said. The measure also requires CDCR to certify that the regulations are designed to enhance public safety.
“The regulation process is a public process,” Guzman said. “The statute requires public input. Victims, the community, law enforcement, will have a role to play in regulations that are adopted.”
In a statement issued shortly after Faulconer announced his opposition to Prop. 57, Dumanis said she’d chosen to support Prop. 57 — she’s the only DA in California doing so — in order “to have a seat at the table” when CDCR drafts guidelines.
“I’ll leverage that access to address law enforcement’s concerns,” she said.