Local Elections

After Stephon Clark shooting, candidate challenging incumbent DA says he'd address racial inequality

Sacramento County district attorney candidate Noah Phillips rebuked incumbent Anne Marie Schubert at a candidates forum Saturday, saying law enforcement practices under her leadership have perpetuated public mistrust in the wake of the Stephon Clark shooting.

The Sacramento County prosecutor also suggested Schubert has not adequately addressed racial bias in criminal sentencing and how cases are pursued.

"The reality is the way that we have been doing our business has resulted in a lot of problems, including mass incarceration and failed drug wars and the school-to-prison pipeline," said Phillips, a Democrat.

Schubert, a Republican and career prosecutor, defended her record, and without prompting, suggested Phillips is politicizing the death of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was shot and killed in March by Sacramento police.

She said Sacramento "deserves" a district attorney with ethics, "not an individual who manipulates a tragedy in our community for the purposes of political gain."

Schubert stood by her practices in the death investigation and said Sacramento County should have a prosecutor who doesn't "prosecute police officers when they don't have any facts." She said last month that the investigation could take many months.

Phillips shot back, slowly turning his head to look at Schubert.

"There's an old saying, 'Have you no decency left,'" Phillips said. Schubert didn't return his look, nor did the two exchange glances or shake hands during the entirety of the forum. Phillips didn't respond directly to Schubert's accusation.

"There's a huge fence that certainly encompasses the district attorney's office right now in Sacramento County, a huge fence around a public agency," Phillips said. "That fence exists because unfortunately, there has been a failure in leadership from the district attorney's office, both before and after the Stephon Clark killing."

If elected, Phillips said, he would undertake an independent review of how the district attorney's office pursues and pleads out cases, as well as criminal sentencing practices.

"I think the reality is, is that when we do that kind of data-driven analysis we will find out that our office, like many offices across California and the nation, have a problem with race and how cases are filed and resolved," Phillips said. "I would seek to resolve that problem by identifying and moving forward with solution."

He said he'd address racial inequality.

"It is incomprehensible to suggest, at this point in time, that there are not racial disparities in how people are treated in the criminal justice system," Phillips said. He noted that after the Clark shooting, people are demanding "change" and "justice."

Schubert acknowledged that racial disparities have persisted historically, but said "we've seen ... reforms being made."

"People deserve to be treated across all races the same," Schubert said. "That's what we do in our office when we get cases. We do not look at their race, demographics, anything of that nature — ZIP codes. It doesn't matter to us, so in terms of that, I think there absolutely have been reforms so that people are treated fairly across all spectrums."

Schubert said she doesn't support current state legislative proposals to end the money bail system, and criticized Proposition 47, supported by Gov. Jerry Brown, which passed in 2014 and reduced some nonviolent crimes to misdemeanors.

She said she believes in the theory of releasing some low-level offenders, but said in reality, the law hasn't worked. She mentioned lack of funding for community rehabilitation programs and said crime, including theft, has risen.

Phillips said he supports the law and believes it's working. He also said California should end the money bail system.

"You should not have to stay in jail simply because you cannot afford to get out," he said.

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