IN THE NEWS: San Bernardino County wins $2 million legal award from BP Oil

This result should send a strong message to would-be environmental violators: If you don’t follow the laws and rules designed to protect our natural resources, you will be prosecuted.
— Mike Ramos

By Richard Brooks, The Press-Enterprise

SAN BERNARDINO >> San Bernardino County will receive $2 million of a $14 million legal award to settle allegations that underground fuel tanks belonging to BP and its subsidiary Arco leaked.

San Bernardino County officials said BP failed to maintain and monitor tanks at gas stations around the state to ensure they didn’t leak fuel into the groundwater. Sixty-seven of those stations were in San Bernardino County.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos announced the settlement. He was joined in the lawsuit against BP West Coast Products LLC, BP Products North America and Atlantic Richfield Company — Arco by counterparts at Alameda, Glen, Merced, Nevada, Placer, San Diego, Stanislaus and Yuba counties.

“This result should send a strong message to would-be environmental violators: If you don’t follow the laws and rules designed to protect our natural resources, you will be prosecuted,” Ramos said in a statement.

The violations, a BP spokesman said in a written statement, “did not result in any harm” to public health or the environment.

“We believe settling these claims … is in the best interest of all of our stakeholders,” BP’s Geoff Morrell said. “BP is and remains committed to safe and compliant operations.”

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San Diego Tribune: Death penalty measure a 'huge victory' for crime victims, major backer say

by Dana Littlefield

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos is relieved. 

After the votes were counted, the ballot measure to streamline the decades-long appellate process for death penalty cases passed by a narrow margin in Tuesday’s election.

Ramos, who helped lead the campaign for Proposition 66, said Wednesday that its approval — along with the defeat of a competing initiative aimed at repealing the death penalty — shows that most Californians believe the ultimate punishment is warranted in certain cases.

“They still believe in capital punishment for the worst of the worst,” he said. Included in that category, Ramos said, were serial killers, child murderers and those who kill police officers in the line of duty. 

“This is a huge victory for the victims,” Ramos said.

Proposition 66, which passed with 51 percent of the vote, promises to speed up the time between when a defendant is sentenced to death and when he or she is executed, which now can take 20 years or longer. It changes some procedures for legal challenges, for example by widening the pool of lawyers available to handle appeals.

Previously, it could take five to six years for an appellate lawyer to be appointed in a death penalty case, Ramos said. With more eligible attorneys, appellate lawyers could be appointed at or close to the time of sentencing.

One of the first steps now will be to find and train lawyers to take the cases, Ramos said. The timeline for hearings on administrative issues, such as ineffective assistance of counsel and improper jury selection, will be scheduled more quickly in both the state and federal courts.

But supporters of Proposition 62, which would have repealed the death penalty, are not convinced.

“I don’t believe that the vote that happened last night truly reflects what Californians believe about the death penalty,” Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project, said Wednesday.

Brooks said he believes voters were confused by the competing ballot measures and that most people in the state would support getting rid of the death penalty if they knew the offenders would never be released from prison. Only 46 percent of California voters supported the repeal.

He also said the measure Ramos backed isn’t likely to speed up executions because state law can’t control what happens with the federal appeals process. 

“It was a false promise and it’s going to prove to be a false promise,” he said, adding that the changes imposed by Proposition 66 may increase the possibility of innocent people being put to death.

Ramos disagreed.

“We intentionally did not set a time limit on those who have facts or factors that prove that they are innocent,” he said.

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29 San Bernardino County Residents Arrested in Welfare Fraud Sweep

Last week we conducted another welfare sweep in San Bernardino County. We will hold those who cheat the system accountable for their actions and make sure that welfare funds remain available to those who are truly struggling and legitimately need public assistance.
— District Attorney Mike Ramos

Twenty-nine people were arrested last week on outstanding warrants as part of a week-long welfare fraud sweep conducted in San Bernardino County.

The alleged total of public assistance illegally obtained by the twenty-nine defendants was $245,269.00.

IN THE NEWS: County, DA step up welfare fraud enforcement

By Daily Press Editorial Board

Daily Press reporter Shea Johnson's January investigation on welfare fraud found the number of cases referred by San Bernardino County's Human Services Department to the District Attorney's Office had dropped 70 percent since 2013.

But since that Special Report, changes have been made in the county.

We're happy to see the District Attorney's office has implemented nine protocols since May that should put a dent in what had become a "rampant" and multi-million dollar problem, according to county officials.

And First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood has met with the DA's office 10 times since March to develop and improve policies.

The result?

• A suspect's criminal history is now factored in when determining whether or not to refer a case to the DA.

• Human Services automatically sends cases to the DA when it is determined "intent to defraud" exists.

• Welfare fraud sweeps are increasing, especially here in the High Desert.

• The relationship between Human Services, which oversees the investigative unit that tackles welfare fraud, and the DA's office is improving.

These are essential steps in tackling a crime that was made easier by California voters' approval of Proposition 47 in 2014. Prop 47 reduced the severity of welfare fraud from a felony to petty theft. That made it tougher for prosecutors to get meaningful sentences and led to an increase to administrative hearings rather than prosecutions.

The tide is now turning on that trend, it appears, thanks to the desire by Lovingood and District Attorney Mike Ramos to prosecute those who are stealing from the county's taxpayers.

"When we see intentional fraud and criminal actions, we want that action prosecuted," Lovingood said.

We think San Bernardino County taxpayers wholeheartedly agree.

There seems nothing as galling as defrauding a program meant to help those in society least able to help themselves.

Yet every time someone commits welfare fraud, it jeopardizes the willingness of the taxpaying public to continue to fund these social programs.

We commend Lovingood and Ramos for turning up the heat on welfare cheats and those who would steal from the taxpayer. We also commend the Human Services Department for working with prosecutors to ensure the worst of the worst are targeted and brought to justice.

 

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Will end of death penalty bring campaign against life imprisonment?

It is time to fix the Death Penalty in California and shift the focus to victims’ rights. I am urging voters to vote No On Prop 62 and Yes On Prop 66
— Mike Ramos

Scott Peterson, center, convicted of killing his wife Laci Peterson and his unborn child, faces away from the camera during exercise time at the North Segregation Unit, San Quentin State Prison’s oldest death row facility, on Dec. 29, 2015. Randy Pench The Sacramento Bee file

 

By Alexei Koseff

If California voters abolish the death penalty this fall, its foes will go after life imprisonment next, proponents of a measure to speed up the capital punishment process warned Wednesday.

“Once all those attorneys who have been trying to prevent the death penalty from being enforced have nothing better to do, they’re going to turn to life without parole,” Dane Gillette, former chief assistant attorney general of California, told The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board on Tuesday. It’s “the next step to get rid of what they consider to be too much incarceration.”

Voters face two contrasting death penalty initiatives this November: Proposition 62, which would replace it with life without parole, and Proposition 66, which aims to expedite the appeals process by expanding the pool of lawyers eligible to take on capital cases and instituting shorter timelines for legal challenges.

Gillette said Proposition 62 supporters overstate the promised savings on litigation and incarceration, because inmates will simply bring the same sort of petitions against their life sentences that they currently bring against their death sentences – a phenomenon that he said can be seen in states where there is no longer capital punishment.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, pointed out that California has already reversed course on life imprisonment for minors. After the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 limited the use of life terms for murderers under the age of 18, California passed a law allowing those in its prisons to be resentenced.

“If the death penalty is abolished on Tuesday, the drive to abolish life without parole begins on Wednesday,” Scheidegger said.

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Another positive step for victims' rights: Governor Brown Signs “Justice for Victims Act”

SACRAMENTO – After earning unanimous bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly, Governor Jerry Brown today signed SB 813 authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that will eliminate the statute of limitations for rape and related crimes in California. 

Co-sponsored by San Bernardino County District Attorney Michael Ramos and the California Women’s Law Center (CWLC), SB 813 will ensure justice for victims and survivors of felony sexual offenses by allowing the indefinite criminal prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration.  Existing California law presently generally limits the prosecution of a felony sexual offense to only 10 years after the offense is committed, unless DNA evidence is found which then offers a victim additional time.  According to the United States Department of Justice, only two in 100 rapists will be convicted of a felony and spend any time in prison.  The other 98 percent will never be punished for their crime.

Click here to read the full press release.

Governor, you and I have spoken many times in the past on these kinds of issues, including AB 109, the ramifications of Prop 47. While we may have disagreed on some of these matters, you and I have always agreed that the most serious sex offenders and child molesters should be held responsible at the highest level.
— Mike Ramos (in a letter to Gov. Brown urging him to sign SB 813)

Click here to download the entire letter.

IN THE NEWS: And everyone saw it (Washington Post)

You’re dealing with young teens, people who don’t have criminal intent. Believe me, they’re making some huge mistakes, ethical mistakes, but you have to come up with other solutions.
— Mike Ramos

Story by Jessica Contrera

She crunched the cookies in her mouth, carefully mashing them into chunks. She spit. They made a plunk sound as they hit the toilet water. The worst, the absolute worst thing had happened, and now, Maureen was sure, this was her only option.

“Moommm,” she called down the stairs. “I puked!”

She could not show her face in the seventh grade. She had to play sick. All day she lay crumpled on the couch, replaying what he’d said to convince her.

You’re so beautiful.

Don’t be ashamed of your body.

I won’t show anyone.

Then, last night, when he admitted he’d shown the photo to a few people:

“Don’t even come to my funeral,” she texted him.

I’ll piss on your grave, b—-.

At least she had been wearing a bra and underwear. The camera flash reflected in the mirror had hidden her face, hadn’t it?

But he knew. And by the end of the day, everyone else would too.

It would be months before Maureen would learn she wasn’t the only girl who had fallen for his promises, who had trusted him.

She heard her dad come in from work. She heard the phone ring.

Then he was barreling out of the kitchen, the phone still in his hand. He stopped in the doorway to the living room. A sign above his head read, “Yesterday’s Memories Are Tomorrow’s Treasures.”

“Your principal called,” he said. “What pictures is he talking about?”

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PREVENTION AND INTERVENTION... Finding Fairways: Camp Good Grief and Beyond

If you really want to do something about prevention and intervention we really need that partnership with the health community and we have the model here that we would be more than willing to share with anyone.
— Mike Ramos

Camp Good Grief is a three-day grief camp for children and teens whose lives have been shattered due to an act of murder or suicide.

My office, in partnership with the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital, offers this unique camp that provides a relaxed, supportive and safe environment for children to enjoy the typical activities of a summer camp, as well as to have opportunities to work with professionals to share their feelings related to their loss, learn new ways to cope, and interact with other children and teens in an atmosphere of love and acceptance. Next spring, we are going to offer campers the chance to use the sport of golf as a means to not only have fun but as a metaphor to getting their lives back on track. 

Camp is free of charge to all campers and camperships are funded by unclaimed victim restitution. Therapists and interns from Loma Linda Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic, Loma Linda Child Life Specialists and District Attorney's Office Victim Advocates donate their time to the camp.

This is a model that I believe can be used statewide and across the United States of America.

IN THE NEWS: Inland DAs take sides in death penalty measures


BY MICHAEL J. WILLIAMS / STAFF WRITER

Proponents of the Nov. 8 ballot propositions 62 and 66 agree on one thing -- California’s death penalty system is an unequivocal mess.

They completely disagree on what to do about it.

Prop. 62 would get rid of the death penalty altogether while making life in prison without parole the state’s maximum penalty.

Prop. 66 would reform the criminal justice system’s handling of death penalty cases with the goal of speeding them up.

“(Prop. 66) is going to create a better system, a system of due process that is going to fix the broken appellate system,” said San Bernardino District Attorney Mike Ramos, co-chairman of the Yes on 66 campaign, at a press conference in Murrieta on Friday.

If passed, the measure would designate Superior Court for initial death penalty appeal petitions, limit successive petitions, establish a time frame for court reviews, require appointed attorneys who take noncapital punishment appeals to accept death penalty cases and authorize the transfers of death row inmates to other California prisons.

Spokesman Jacob Hay for the Yes on 62 campaign said passage of Prop. 66 is not the antidote.

“Both sides agree the death penalty is failing,” Hay said. “The system has grounded to a halt and is not a deterrent to crime.

“(Prop. 66) takes all the problems with the death penalty and makes them worse. In an effort to fix the system, which hasn’t been able to be fixed in 40 years, Prop. 66 tries to rush justice, moves death penalty cases to local courts and puts taxpayers on the hook for attorneys.”

In replacing the death penalty with life without parole, Prop. 62 would apply retroactively to those now sentenced to death and require inmates sentenced to life without parole to work with the state correction system’s program.

Clarence Ray Allen was the last California inmate to be executed on Jan. 17, 2006, after spending 23 years and one month on Death Row in San Quentin prison.

According to an Aug. 5 corrections department report, there are now 746 inmates who could be executed if their cases ever cleared the prerequisite appeals. Among counties, Riverside, with 89, is second to Los Angeles with the most inmates on Death Row. San Bernardino County has 40.

Both measures would increase maximum-sentenced inmates’ pay to be applied to victim restitution. Proponents of both say their solution would save millions of dollars.

 

Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, who is the campaign’s regional chairman, said he has faith in voters.

“I believe the people of California are going to do the right thing and pass this initiative,” he said.

Hestrin, Ramos and other Prop 66 supporters at the Murrieta function were accompanied by Mary Ann and Bill Hughes. Their 11-year-old son Christopher Hughes was murdered in 1983 at a neighbor’s house along with the father, mother and 10-year-old daughter of the Chino Hills household.

The man convicted of the murders, Kevin Cooper, remains on Death Row.

“Since then, our family has been put through our own special hell,” Mary Ann Hughes said.



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OpEd: Don’t abolish death penalty, make the system work

In this Oct. 30, 2015 file photo, Marc Klaas, far left at podium, father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped and slain in 1993; Scott Jones, Sacramento County sheriff; L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Sheriff Jim McDonnel join other victims' rights advocates, community leaders, and elected officials to announce efforts to place an initiative on the 2016 ballot to streamline the death penalty in California. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

In this Oct. 30, 2015 file photo, Marc Klaas, far left at podium, father of Polly Klaas, who was kidnapped and slain in 1993; Scott Jones, Sacramento County sheriff; L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Sheriff Jim McDonnel join other victims' rights advocates, community leaders, and elected officials to announce efforts to place an initiative on the 2016 ballot to streamline the death penalty in California. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Seven hundred forty-three criminals sit on California’s death row. Prisoners like Randy Kraft who sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered 16 young men between 1972-1983 or Dennis Stanworth, who was convicted of raping and murdering two girls and was sentenced to death in 1966 for the heinous crimes he committed.

California’s Supreme Court set aside Stanworth’s death sentence in 1972 after the California Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was unconstitutional. So, instead they gave this brutal killer life in prison with the possibility of parole. In 1990, he was paroled and by 2013 he killed again — this time his elderly mother.

And who could forget Richard Allen Davis? A career criminal who was three months out of prison and “rehabilitated” only to end up raping and killing 12-year-old Polly Klaas. Davis has now been sitting on death row for 17 years — at taxpayer’s expense.

Inmates on California’s death row include notorious serial killers, cop killers, child killers and rape/torture murderers. Many of these individuals have been on death row since the 1980s and have used endless appeals, spread out over years and years to delay justice. Families of murder victims should not have to wait decades for justice. Hundreds of killers have sat on death row for more than 20 years forcing taxpayers to fund their meals, clothing, housing and health care. This is unacceptable.

Proposition 62 will abolish the death penalty altogether and instead give killers already on death row, and future killers, a life sentence. This is the wrong tact to take. Prop 62 means these murderers will live the rest of their lives at taxpayers’ expense, long after their victims are gone. Instead, a more prudent move is to reform the death penalty by mending what’s broken. The current system is out of balance, we need to restore the balance between the rights of defendants and the need to provide justice and closure for the families of victims and protect society. Voting no on Prop. 62 and voting Yes on Proposition 66 is the answer. Prop. 66 speeds up the appeals process by eliminating legal and procedural delaying tactics while assuring due process protections for those sentenced to death.

Death penalty opponents like to point out the possibility of persons wrongly convicted of capital offenses and sentenced to death being executed. The fact is there is not a single documented case of this ever taking place in California due to the expertise and painstaking quality of investigation and prosecutorial work that has gone into death penalty cases. Prop. 66 ensures that all appeals are heard within five years and no innocent person is executed. In addition, convicts on death row would lose various special privileges they enjoy and will be required to pay restitution to victims’ families out of their prison work pay.No on Prop. 62 and yes on Prop. 66 is supported by hundreds of district attorneys, sheriffs, law enforcement organizations, elected officials and victims’ right advocates and community leaders. They all joined forces to ensure that the worst of the worst killers receive the strongest sentence to help bring closure to families while saving California taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

California’s death row inmates have murdered more than a thousand victims, including 226 children and 43 police officers; 294 victims were raped and/or tortured. It’s time California reformed our death penalty process so it works.

We urge a no vote on Proposition 62 and yes on Proposition 66.

Michael A. Ramos is San Bernardino County district attorney.

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