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Radley Balko (reason.com): Kern County's Monstrous D.A.


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http://reason.com/archives/2009/12/21/kern-countys-monstrous-da

On his official government web page, Ed Jagels boasts that "During Jagels’ tenure as District Attorney, Kern County has had the highest per capita prison commitment rate of any major California County." Note that the D.A. makes no claim about the New Jersey-sized county of farms and oil fields being any safer through his efforts. Instead, he gloats about how many of his constituents he's put behind bars. It's a telling bit of braggadocio.

In October, Jagels told the Bakersfield Californian that after 26 years in office, he won't be running for reelection in 2010. Good riddance to him. You'd be hard pressed to find a law enforcement official anywhere in the country who better embodies the worst excesses of America's sharp turn toward law-and-order crime policy over last 30 years. From expanding the death penalty to eroding the rights of the accused to jacking up prison populations to formulating crime policy around sports metaphors, Jagels created a high-profile position by backing just about every bad crime policy in a generation.

But if history dispenses justice more honorably than Ed Jagels ever did, the boyish-looking D.A. will be most remembered for his role ruining countless lives in perhaps the most shameful of the Reagan-era "tough on crime" debacles: the coast-to-coast sex abuse panic of the 1980s.

THIS is REALLY, REALLY infuriating:
Many of Jagels' victims are profiled in the moving 2008 documentary Witch Hunt. They aren't limited to the people he put in prison. Particularly wrenching are the interviews with children who made the false accusations. They're now adults, and have carried unfathomable guilt and remorse. Some of these children put their parents in prison for a decade or more. In one scene, a man who falsely accused his neighbor of molesting him as a child breaks down in tears as he explains how due to fear and guilt, he's never been able to bathe his own son.

But when some of these child accusers came forward as adults to recant their testimony and demand the release of the people they helped wrongly put in prison, Jagels and his deputies called them liars in court.

May Jagels die a very painful death, preferable behind bars.

Oh, and:

Perhaps the most troubling thing about Ed Jagels' career is that not only have the legal and political systems in California never sanctioned him for his monstrous behavior, he's been regularly rewarded for it. He has served as both president and director of the powerful California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), and on a number of blue ribbon panels charged with advising state officials on crime policy. Upon Jagels' retirement announcement, Scott Thorpe, the current head of the CDAA, told the Associated Press that Jagels is a "prosecutor's prosecutor," a remarkable and revealing statement of that organization's commitment to justice. Jagels is also listed as a crime policy advisor to Meg Whitman, a leading candidate for the California GOP's 2010 gubernatorial nomination.

Given his history, the obituary for Jagels' career ought to describe a rogue, renegade prosecutor long ago shunted to the fringe by colleagues embarrassed by his continuing reelection. Instead, as a former subordinate recently told the Bakersfield Californian, "Prosecutors from around the state seek and respect his advice on almost every issue of public safety."

And that's the problem. Bad actors like Jagels aren't shunned. They're venerated. Peers seek their counsel. And the same justice system so eager to mete out accountability to the accused continues to fail to hold accountable the people we entrust to run it.

:doh:
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Deciding that your post would have been more significant if it has listed an example of the guy doing something wrong, rather than a columnist calling him a bunch of names, I read this passage.

Instead, Jagels set his sights on Kern County's lower middle class. Relying on suggestive police and social worker interrogations of children, Jagels' office put 26 people behind bars on felony child sex abuse charges in the 1980s and ‘90s. Of those 26 convictions, 25 have since been overturned.

The details were lurid, and bore striking similarity to the fantastical stories that were springing from similar cases all over the country, from Florida to Massachusetts to Washington State. Parents were accused of having sex with their own children, of forcing young siblings to have sex with each other, of inviting neighbors over for adult-child orgies. When the national panic began to include stories of cult activity and Satan worship, Jagels' and the Kern County Sheriff's Department managed to locate that sordid activity in Bakersfield, too. Now children began telling investigators they had been forced to drink blood; they were hung from ceilings naked and beaten; infants were sodomized, murdered, and cannibalized. There was never any physical evidence to back the accusations. The photos the children alleged the accused to have taken during the acts never surfaced. The bodies of the murdered babies were never found. In one case a child alleged to have been murdered was found alive and healthy, living with her parents.

Many of Jagels' victims are profiled in the moving 2008 documentary Witch Hunt. They aren't limited to the people he put in prison. Particularly wrenching are the interviews with children who made the false accusations. They're now adults, and have carried unfathomable guilt and remorse. Some of these children put their parents in prison for a decade or more. In one scene, a man who falsely accused his neighbor of molesting him as a child breaks down in tears as he explains how due to fear and guilt, he's never been able to bathe his own son.

But when some of these child accusers came forward as adults to recant their testimony and demand the release of the people they helped wrongly put in prison, Jagels and his deputies called them liars in court.

Witch Hunt includes footage of Jagels stating with isn't-it-obvious mockery that children simply don't lie about these sorts of things. Except that they do, especially when they're led and guilted into lying by adult authority figures. Jagels' victim Jeff Modahl was released in 1999 after serving 15 years for molesting his own daughters. One piece of evidence key to his release was an audio tape that surfaced in the late 1990s of a police interview with one of the girls. In it, the interviewers clearly lead the girl, drop in suggestions, and repeat questions until they get affirmative answers. Modahl's lawyers also found a medical exam performed on Modahl's daughter showing none of the physical evidence that should have been present if the allegations had been true. Neither the report nor the tape were turned over to Modahl's lawyers for his trial. His daughter has since recanted her testimony and helped win her father's release. She says in the movie that she's battled addiction problems her entire life to bury the guilt she feels for putting him in prison.

In 1986, a grand jury released a blistering report on the sex abuse prosecutions, accusing Kern County officials of fostering a "presumption of guilt" and bringing charges on little more than hunches. California Attorney General John Van de Kamp released a report in September of the same year reaching the same conclusions. But no Kern County official was ever fired or disciplined, and the prosecutions continued. Jagels continued to get elected. So far, Kern County has paid out more than $9 million in wrongful conviction settlements.

Had I been making this post, that's the part I would have quoted.

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This country deserves people like Jagels. Americans love to put people behind bars for as long as possible. They love to increase mandatory minimum prison terms and taking reason out of the court room. They are happy to promote and elect DA's based on their conviction rate and their perceived "tough on crime persona".

For a long time this country has shifted from "Better to let a guilty man go free than let an innocent man be found guilty" to the opposite, decidedly unjust, side of the spectrum. It's not slowing down but instead getting worse and gaining momentum. The latest war on terror has taken it to a new extreme, suddenly a fair trial is viewed as a perk for special people and not as the only acceptable way of establishing guilt. Guilt is now established by accusation alone. We see it from the federal government, we see it when children make accusations, we see it when women claim domestic violence, etc etc etc.

Long live Jagels and his ilk. A society that values punishment more than justice deserves enforcers that do as well.

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This country deserves people like Jagels. Americans love to put people behind bars for as long as possible. They love to increase mandatory minimum prison terms and taking reason out of the court room. They are happy to promote and elect DA's based on their conviction rate and their perceived "tough on crime persona".

For a long time this country has shifted from "Better to let a guilty man go free than let an innocent man be found guilty" to the opposite, decidedly unjust, side of the spectrum. It's not slowing down but instead getting worse and gaining momentum. The latest war on terror has taken it to a new extreme, suddenly a fair trial is viewed as a perk for special people and not as the only acceptable way of establishing guilt. Guilt is now established by accusation alone. We see it from the federal government, we see it when children make accusations, we see it when women claim domestic violence, etc etc etc.

Long live Jagels and his ilk. A society that values punishment more than justice deserves enforcers that do as well.

:paranoid:

Rough sleep last night?

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This guy is a disgrace, but Kern County is the most conservative county in California. The people there love their tough on crime D.A.

Actually, that title falls on Modoc county. But with only 9-10k people in the entire county, they don't have much impact - other than sucking more state cash in per capita than any other county in the State.

The conservative anti-tax rhetoric of the people who live up there makes the need for state support ever stronger. I mean, who is going to pay for their health care and education when they don't raise much money at the county level....

now..back to our regularly scheduled program

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