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.