Jerry Enomoto, a former World War II internee who became the first Asian American to run the State Department of Corrections and the first to be appointed U.S. marshal, died Sunday of natural causes at age 89, said longtime family friend Barbara Lehman.
Enomoto, who with his wife, Dorothy, played a big part in organizing local Martin Luther King Jr. Day events, was a lifelong champion of equal rights. Several years ago, the Enomotos moved from Sacramento’s Greenhaven neighborhood to Fontana.
Jerry Enomoto was raised in San Francisco and attended Lowell College Preparatory High School when President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan and sent more than 100,000 Japanese Americans in California to remote incarceration camps.
Enomoto wound up at Tule Lake, where he managed to complete his studies and graduate as valedictorian of his class. After the war, he joined the California Department of Corrections, where he served for 28 years.
Then Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed him the first Asian American prison warden. He went on to serve as director of the Department of Corrections for six years, and in 1994 received a presidential appointment as U.S. marshal of the Eastern District of California.
In that role, he championed the rights of juvenile offenders, writing California State Sen. Leland Yee in 2009 that they should not be sentenced to life without parole, regardless of the crime:
“There is considerable evidence that juveniles under the age of 18 have the capacity for change, given the necessary help,” Enomoto said then.
State and local officials are discussing a joint memorial for Enomoto, Lehman said.