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Several months ago, near the beginning of Christopher Woodard‘s long hellish incarceration at LA Central, we reprinted here what looked to me like an important screed from attorney/supporter Matthew Pappas, detailing the catalogue of injustices thus far (as of April) and urging readers to contact LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey. That piece is still worth the read – go ahead, click on it, I’ll wait.
Then one afternoon last week, after I’d forgotten all about Mr. Woodard and the Pappas essay, I got a phone call from the Deputy DA who prosecuted the case, a Mr. Patrick O’Crowley, whose alleged abuses of power were detailed in the piece. He asked me politely if I could either take the piece down or at least make some major changes in it, because it was inaccurate and unfair to him. (And that it was all water under the bridge now as Woodard had confessed and been released – after six months in Central.)
Well, that was a first, a call from a Deputy DA to change one of my stories. I’m not complaining, mind you, and I didn’t feel intimidated. Anybody, beggar or king, can contact me if you think I’ve written something wrong or unfair and I’ll hear you out. But it was unusual. Was the piece causing him professional embarrassment or difficulties? It IS the second thing that pops up when you google “District Attorney Patrick O’Crowley.”
So I asked him to e-mail me a letter detailing the alleged inaccuracies, and four days later I got it, in PDF form, which you could read here – it’s not long. And it really doesn’t say much. It doesn’t deny what seemed to me to be the more outrageous allegations against him, but only contends that everything he did during the case was “truthful, ethical and fair,” and “adhered strictly to the requirements of the law.”
Well, perhaps everything O’Crowley did WAS within the law (perhaps not) but “truthful” and “fair” is really pushing it. Beyond that, were the things he did, the tricks he pulled, standard policy in Jackie Lacey’s office, or has he been behaving as a rogue anti-MMJ inquisitor? Inquiring minds want to know!
Let’s go back to Pappas’ narrative, but let’s fast-forward through all the initial injustices which didn’t yet involve O’Crowley but set the stage for the travesty of a trial: the hastily enacted “emergency legislation” against Long Beach’s law-abiding dispensaries, and the subsequent brutal militarized raids against Woodard’s business and home.
And let’s also fast-forward through Woodard’s civil rights lawsuit against the Long Beach police detective responsible, David Strohman; and we’ll fast-forward through the unbelievable outrage of that same cop coming and arresting him six weeks before trial date, for alleged “crimes” of two years earlier, after Chris had long given up on the medical marijuana trade and had been raising his family in Corona and working as a lineman for Edison.
Yes, let’s fast forward, for now, to the first outrage we can lay at the feet of Deputy DA O’Crowley:
The 1275 Motion
What is a 1275 motion? Sergio Sandoval, Pappas’ long-suffering paralegal who was in town trying to arrange bail for Woodard AND find him a pro-bono criminal attorney, didn’t know what a 1275 motion was. Most people he asked didn’t. Even O’Crowley, who quickly slapped the 1275 on Woodard, admitted it was new territory for him. It’s a procedure created for DRUG KINGPINS, so they can’t use their drug money to post bail and skip town. In this case, it was a desperate (but successful) ploy to keep poor Woodard in jail, because O’Crowley knew that was the only way to force a confession out of him.
Drug kingpin? Drug money? Chris needed $2500 to get back to his work and kids, and didn’t have it himself. His collective had been destroyed two years earlier; his house was underwater, he worked for Edison. Between a brother and an uncle he rustled up that cash – does that sound like drug kingpin money?
But the bondsman still wanted one more co-signer, so Sergio selflessly added his signature to the bottom of the form. To Sergio’s surprise the next day, HE then became the issue: O’Crowley (and his doppelganger Detective Strohman whispering in his ear) declared that Sergio himself – the co-signer – was tainted, because he worked for the Pappas Law Firm (not even his main job; he’s a graphic designer) AND the Pappas Law Firm may or may not at some point in the past have received money from a collective, even though most of their work is pro bono.
“The Pappas Law Firm is under investigation!” O’Crowley declared to an incredulous Judge James Otto and Sergio Sandoval. Was the Pappas Law Firm under investigation? Why yes, they were, because O’Crowley and Strohman had just decided to investigate them. How do you like that – “You are under investigation because we just decided to investigate you!” Judge Otto laughed that argument off and ordered Woodard released on bail. [See Pappas' outraged letter to O'Crowley and DA Lacey, who eventually called off the phony "investigation" at least.]
But let’s pause here. Do you think any of O’Crowley’s behavior above was truthful? Ethical? Fair? Well, he’s just getting warmed up…
“Lost” in Jail; and the Secret Mulligan!
Last we left our hero a couple seconds ago, he’d been ordered released on bail by Judge Otto. Needless to say, O’Crowley and Strohman were not happy with that turn of events. So, miraculously, three days went by with nobody being able to find Chris Woodard in LA County Jail, as the Draconian Duo plotted how to change Judge Otto’s mind.
So that Monday, after the lost-in-jail weekend, telling nobody on the defense side, they hastily convened an emergency re-hearing on the 1275 motion. Woodard wasn’t present, nor was Pappas, Sandoval, or even Woodard’s public defender – instead, O’Crowley went and fetched some empty suit from the Public Defender’s office who knew nothing about the case to sit there and pretend he was defending Woodard. And who knows WHAT new arguments they made, but they got Judge Otto to reverse himself and re-instate the 1275, meaning Woodard could NOT go free on bail because … what was it again … the guy who CO-SIGNED on his bail gets a fraction of his income from a law firm that the prosecutors had just decided to “investigate” for maybe at some point in history having got money from a dispensary.
Sorry but let’s pause again. THIS was truthful, ethical, FAIR? Was this even “adhering to the requirements of the law?” To defy a Judge’s order to free a man, and conveniently “lose” him in jail while you go and plot how to change his mind? And give the prisoner no notice or representation through all this? Is this standard practice in your department, Jackie Lacey? Can you condone this?
That was pretty much the end; it was impossible to bail Chris out; he languished in jail another 5 months or so, and finally missed his kids and job so much that he copped to two bullshit charges: Possession of an “assault weapon” (which actually belonged to his sister and was kept in a gun locker but Strohman claimed it wasn’t locked properly and was hence “endangering” his kids); and a failure to file state income taxes on his dispensary income one year (probably explainable due to the crazy legal patchwork of California marijuana law.) And now he’s free at last. *sigh*
Wrapping up – FOR TODAY
Deputy DA Patrick O’Crowley ended his letter to me with this unimpeachable sentiment:
“It is important for the public to have accurate information about what is done by their government officials, so I appreciate this opportunity to respond.”
Well, yeah, sure. I’d add that it’s also important for the public to feel sure that the government official who may someday prosecute them for something they may or may not have done is not going to use every dirty trick in the book to keep them incarcerated unjustly. That he won’t use arcane procedures to keep them from getting bailed out, up to and including inventing phony investigations and drug connections. That he won’t conveniently lose them in jail when they are ordered released. That he won’t run behind your back and get the judge to reverse himself while you have no representation.
There will be more to this, soon: I will hopefully be interviewing Chris Woodard himself; as well as Jim Allard, an investigator who has filed a formal complaint on O’Crowley for remarkably similar behavior – O’Crowley improvising lies about Allard on the stand to discredit him, this time with notably less success. A modus operandi? But I did want to get this piece out quickly, because Mr. O’Crowley was so eager to get his side of the story heard! [Oh right, again, that's here.]