Thursday, June 9, 2016

That wasn't his record

Guest Column: Story was too sympathetic to violent felon
by Joshua Marquis
Published on June 8, 2016 9:30AM
Last changed on June 8, 2016 12:02PM

A front-page story in The Daily Astorian ("A life in free fall," by Erick Bengel) on May 30 told the account of a local man, Vincent Davidson-Gilbert, who sounded like he couldn’t catch a break.

This highly sympathetic story claimed that Davidson-Gilbert had somehow gotten a 65-month prison sentence from Judge Cindee Matyas because of “misdeeds” somehow caused by his heroin addiction.

Readers should know that his defense lawyer’s claim that the “criminal justice system has criminalized the mental health disease of addiction” is flatly untrue. Davidson-Gilbert didn’t receive a five-year prison sentence for using heroin. He earned that sentence because in the course of two months earlier this year he armed himself with a gun and then burst into one home, threatened the people who lived there and then, two months later, broke into his ex-wife’s home and assaulted two people.

A home-invasion burglary is one of the most dangerous crimes. The writer attempted to wring sympathy for Davidson-Gilbert by claiming, “It didn’t matter that Vincent’s first felony occurred almost a decade ago. It didn’t matter that he had volunteered for a local food bank ….”

What mattered is that he had a gun and broke into two homes and terrified the occupants. The District Attorney’s Office does look at all factors of a defendant’s crimes, including his life and various second, third and fourth chances.

A reader of this story would assume Davidson-Gilbert got himself sent to prison for joy riding nine years ago, then held down a supervisor’s job at a local big box store. Except that wasn’t his record. The reporter just took the word of the defendant, his mom, and his lawyer and only did a cursory review of the record. The reporter also attended the sentencing on the two home-invasion burglaries yet never mentioned the tearful statement by one of the victims.

In Oregon, less than 7 percent of prison inmates are doing time for drugs. Davidson is part of the 70 percent who are in for violent felonies. Back in 2007, at age 18, he racked up eight felony convictions and three misdemeanors. The crimes for which he went to prison included another home invasion burglary and a felony assault. Although the article implied he had straightened out between 2008 and 2011, he had in fact spent most of that time in prison.

Despite Davidson-Gilbert’s appalling record, a local company took a chance on him and gave him a good job. By all accounts he had a supportive family. His mother is quoted throughout the article, blaming drugs and a less-than-perfect mental health system for her son’s failures.

Davidson repaid the fresh start that was offered him by racking up a second, then a third drunken-driving charge before arming himself (illegal for a violent felon) and breaking into two homes earlier this year.

Those of us in law enforcement don’t get rewarded for sending people to prison. We have plenty of customers and would much rather help those willing to show responsibility for their own addictions. Our drug courts reward participation in treatment and staying clean by erasing a felony conviction. Davidson-Gilbert was far beyond that. His drug of choice was heroin.

Prison is all that’s left for someone who has now reached double digits in felony convictions — half of them for violent crimes (DUIIs aren’t considered violent crimes).

There are participants in Judge Philip Nelson’s drug court who have inspirational stories of redemption. It’s an insult to their accomplishments when we continue to offer multiple chances to a man like Davidson-Gilbert.

Readers deserve to know what he did to earn his lifetime achievement award for crime. This is why his mom won’t get what she wants — her son released after a year or two. Still, Davidson-Gilbert may only serve 47 months of his 65-month sentence. His lawyer, Ms. Inhofe, got him a pretty good deal considering that if convicted of just the two new burglaries, sentencing guidelines could have meant a 130-month sentence.

As the district attorney for more than 22 years, I often see people who really screw up but deserve a second or third chance. Vincent Davidson-Gilbert isn’t one of them after 10 felonies and six misdemeanors.

Joshua Marquis has served as the district attorney of Clatsop County since 1994.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

White privilege and prison reform

Chandra Bozelko, left (photo:

"Diary of a Prison Princess: Connecticut It Girl shares reality of life behind bars." July 24, 2015

Really incredible. This is an Aussie newspaper story about the white, privileged face of those seeking "prison reform," meaning "don't send ME or my friends to prison."

Chandra Bozelko, a Princeton graduate from Connecticut's upper crust, brags in her blog about her dozen-plus felony convictions and a smaller number of misdemeanors.

Obviously well-educated, she deflects any real discussion on how she got six years in prison in a state with one of the lower incarceration rates in the nation.

But she does blame ALL the lawyers her parents hired and were provided for her. She informs us she's suing them. Sounds like she hasn't forgotten how entitled she is.

Somehow SODDI (Some Other Dude Did It) on case after case of credit card fraud, theft, and most astounding, an incredibly ballsy attempt to intimidate jurors and then claim somehow the jurors called HER! Much of this can be verified by reading the numerous online appellate court decisions.…/Court-Upholds-Conviction-of-D…

Apparently this runs in the family. Her lawyer, once a respected attorney, was disbarred for stealing half a million dollars from the trust fund for a mentally handicapped son of a dead client. Chandra issued a "news release" claiming her father...was the real victim.…/0607080146_1_law-license-trus…

There are pics of her with US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, former USDOJ big shot, apparently promoting "Second Chance" programs. But wait, she says they don't go far enough! Repeat and violent felons should be easily able to wipe their records.…/some-opposition-to-the-second-ch…/

Having watched the devastation of embezzlers draining family businesses for their gambling or just to buy a new car every year to sociopaths who just like hurting people (and animals) this "author" represents the "not my fault" excuse for ANYTHING.

You gotta read it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

"A chill wind blowing"

Over the last year there have been some major, and disturbing, changes in what passes for discussion of "criminal justice reform." Most recently it has come from the United States Congress, where both well- and ill-intentioned Senators and Congresspeople have little to no understanding of how the justice system works on the ground.

One of the tropes of popular culture is that people seek election to the office of District Attorney (although called a variety of titles, about 95% of chief local prosecutors in America are elected) so that they may vault to higher office. My story is pretty typical. Having spent almost all my 34 years as a lawyer as a prosecutor, the last 22 as an elected DA, I have never sought other political office. Of the 535 members in Congress, less than 10 ever held office as chief state prosecutors. In Oregon, NO district attorney has ever been elected Attorney General, Governor, or to Congress, and of the current 20 appellate and Supreme Court justices, none were ever District Attorneys. The last elected DA on the U.S. Supreme Court was Earl Warren, 50 years ago.

So why are members of the farther left joining with the far right to demand that we stop what they call "mass incarceration"? In no small part most of them have no clue what they are talking about, but receive their talking points and big bags of money from either left-wing oligarchs like George Soros (usually laundered through his Open Society Institute), or right-wing oligarchs like the Koch Brothers (laundered through their Freedom Forum).

It used to be a joke that a conservative was a liberal who had been mugged. The more recent line is that a conservative is a liberal whose friend did time for some white-collar crime. But both miss (and myth) the point.

The discussion over fair and effective criminal justice is not a classic "liberal/conservative" or Democratic/Republican issue. Most crime victims tend to be poor and disenfranchised. What goes unsaid is the wistful nostalgia for days when judges were free to grant probation to young men convicted of grave crimes because "They just made this one mistake" or "They come from a family that has done so much for our community."

But it's not fair to lay unfairly lenient sentencing on judges. In Oregon, like most states, there has been a 30-year turn away from "indeterminate" sentences that often told criminals (and victims, and the community) that the sentence was "5 years to life." Or the sentences were just a sham. In Oregon, prior to the voter passed Measure 11 in 1995, the average time spent serving "life" for murder was 8 years. Now it's 25. Still NOT a life sentence for the most dangerous demographic, males of all ethnicities ages 18 to 25.

Unfortunately, calls for "Why wasn't this guy in jail or prison?!" have taken on special poignancy here in Clatsop County. On February 5, an outstanding police officer and decent man, Seaside Police Sgt. Jason Goodding, was shot and murdered on duty by a man with 17 felony and 21 misdemeanor convictions.

In Oregon, the District Attorney is in charge of all death investigations. Here is the news conference I gave the morning of February 6, in Seaside:

And since the man who killed Sgt. Goodding was immediately thereafter shot and killed by a police officer, that investigation is particularly charged to the DA. With assistance from many outside Oregon State Police officers, we made sure there was a thorough investigation of the shooting death of Phillip Ferry. After about 10 days and aided by body cams worn by both the officer who died and the one who shot his killer, I "called" the shooting as justifiable on February 16. Here is a clip of that, followed by a KOIN6 news report.

In between my only two public discussions, the community laid Jason Goodding to rest. In my 22 years as DA, thankfully no other police officer in Clatsop County has been killed in the line of duty. There have been two other police shootings, both over 10 years ago. One was a tragic error by an out-of-county SWAT team training at Camp Rilea. The second was the shooting of a man who attacked police with a metal bat after Tasers and  bean bag rounds failed to slow him down.

Police shootings have been a major topic of discussion, not only by both Democratic candidates for president, but now also Republican candidates. More significantly, the President and his U.S. Attorney General for most of his two terms, Eric Holder, were extremely critical of police shootings. While some of those shootings were wrong, even criminal, both local and federal investigators found the most well-publicized, the one in Ferguson, Missouri, to be justified. But the automatic reaction from most politicians is to demonize police and accuse (as one major newspaper did) that "DAs and police were each other's secret Santas."

In the week preceding Sgt. Goodding's murder, more U.S. police officers were murdered in the line of duty than during any recent, similar time period. Yet neither the President, the U.S. Attorney General or the Oregon Attorney General thought this recent bloodbath needed mentioning.

Obama appointee James Comey, Director of the FBI, famously - and courageously - noted that, “The question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country,” Comey said during a speech at the University of Chicago Law School. “And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”

The memorial for Sgt. Goodding drew over 1,000 police officers from as far away as New York. Over 600 non-uniformed people also packed the Seaside Convention Center. The memorial was live-streamed to several other venues and over the air. The speakers were all chosen by Sgt. Goodding's widow. One of the last speakers was our own beloved State Senator Betsy Johnson, who gave this remarkable eulogy, with the Governor and the Oregon AG sitting 15 feet away. By Oregon political standards this video has gone viral with almost 8,000 views. It's 6 minutes is well worth watching.

Phillip Ferry had THREE Assaulting Police Officer convictions and many other felonies, yet he still had an illegal gun; and in his 30-year felony career he spent less than 5 years in prison. But after reviewing all 8 of the convictions my office obtained on Ferry in the 3 years before his death, even the felonies were ineligible for judges to send him to prison, even with his record.

The reality in Oregon is that prison growth is a fraction of what was projected in the wake of Measure 11 or even 10 years ago. More than 75% of felons never go to prison. Seventy percent of those who do earn their way to prison are violent felons. Fewer than 7% are there for drug felonies; even selling heroin or meth rarely gets much, if any, prison time.
Nobody in my line of work believes you can "imprison your way out" of drug addiction. But when the values, particularly in the State Legislature are to financially reward local governments that DO NOT send felons to prison, something is very wrong.