By PAUL YOUNG
Sources inside the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office contend that under the leadership of Paul Zellerbach, the agency is compromising domestic violence victims in a drive to slash caseloads, limit jury trials and chalk up easy wins.
But Zellerbach fired back that such allegations are “politically motivated.”
He told City News Service his office is meeting its public safety obligations and doing so more efficiently than under his predecessor.
The ramifications of the district attorney’s approach to case management has come into focus in the aftermath of the slaying of Kathryn Rose Sanchez, a 34-year-old mother of three killed in her Riverside apartment on June 15, 2012.
Sanchez was stabbed and strangled by 36-year-old Antonio Carreon Jr., who immediately took his own life by lying in front of an approaching train, according to police.
Carreon had a history of domestic violence and was alleged to have assaulted Sanchez on multiple occasions, spawning a police investigation that ended without any charges being filed.
Some career agency employees wonder why.
Sources who have served under three — and in a few cases, four –district attorneys contend that the way the Sanchez case was handled reflects a top-down change in values at the D.A.’s office that has resulted in a dismissive attitude toward domestic violence cases.
“Our district attorney has established a culture where victims of domestic violence are not important,” according to a veteran Riverside County prosecutor, who spoke to City News Service on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.
“That’s clear in the statistics and in the filing decision in this case,” the prosecutor said. “There have been orders, straight from the top, to maximize conviction rates regardless of the effect on victims of crime.”
The prosecutor maintained that the order of the day in the D.A.’s Office is to dispose of cases with an eye to attaining easy wins, even if it means giving defendants “sweetheart deals,” or rejecting — on dubious grounds — cases submitted by law enforcement.
“And you end up with tragic situations like this, where the woman is dead, and her children have been orphaned,” he said.
A Riverside Police Department investigation into Sanchez’s domestic violence allegations was completed before the murder-suicide. But the case was closed and no charges were filed in what remains a murky decision-making process. Police say the D.A.’s Riverside domestic violence unit decided not to proceed; the D.A.’s Office maintains that investigators never submitted the Carreon case for formal review.
Two former Los Angeles County prosecutors consulted by CNS for their assessment of the handling of the case said that, based on the police report alone, there appeared to have been sufficient grounds to file felony charges against Carreon in December 2011.
“Under Rod Pacheco and my first boss, Grover Trask, we had a deep commitment to victims of domestic violence,” according to the deputy district attorney who spoke anonymously. “We knew they were the toughest cases. But we were OK with that because we understood that it’s the tough ones where you prove you’re a real prosecutor. Grover and Rod expected us to fight hard for victims. That standard doesn’t exist under Paul Zellerbach.”
Zellerbach said any suggestion he would seek to curtail the prosecution of domestic violence cases or other crimes to lengthen his office’s win column is “personally offensive” and “makes absolutely no sense.”
“The emphasis here is on trying to achieve justice and fairness and at the same time protect the public,” he told CNS. “To say I’m soft on a particular kind of crime — what’s the basis for that?
“If the facts are there and we can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, then I want that case prosecuted. That’s the standard. The standard doesn’t change.”