Sunday, October 4, 2009

Dealing with the DA

Now, I know that he is an elected official and that his office is suppose to be out there advocating us and that I always try to remain positive but I have a hard time remaining positive when I think of Mike Dugan and his associates down at the district attorney's office. In the past few years, I have had three dealings with his office. In fact, they are the only dealings that I have had with them and all three have left a bad taste in my mouth. I guess the best way for me to explain myself is to go over the three events and leave the determinations up to all of you.

My first goes back to our first year in our new location. I had not even had the chance to have all of my fencing up when the first burglary happened. I had a very heavy old safe in my office. I did not imagine anyone attempting to steal it or I would have surely done something to secure it better. It was extremely heavy taking three to four of us to put it into place. I kept the back up money for the tills along with some money of my own in it. I remember well being called that morning and the sinking feeling that it gave me to know that someone had broken in and stole it.

The burglars had left quite a mess but had left my computers in place and it was obvious that they knew exactly what and where they were going which told me that there was some inside information which bothered me even more. They obviously had some problems loading the safe up as they left behind a lot of shattered glass that seemed to be from their getaway vehicle. The burglars were soon apprehended due to their own stupidity when they tried to get a friend to fix their glass on the sly after they told him they had broken it on a safe that they had stole. The safe was found out on the Alfalfa road and although the back up money was gone, my small bag of cash was still sitting inside of it as they seemingly overlooked it. The team of robbers ended up being three ex employees along with one of their spouses. The inside informer was never caught.

Mike Dugan himself decided to take on the case and called me to inform me of this. I told him that I appreciated his personal attention to it. And indeed when he decided to plea bargain with the spouse who was merely a look out for the other three, he called me to see how I felt about the deal. I agreed that a deal of getting merely theft instead of burglary in exchange for giving up against the other three was a good deal.

At the plea for one of the principals, Mike met with me out in the lobby of the courthouse and again acknowledged his personal handling of the case. I thanked him for his personal attention and, to be honest, was very impressed with it. But that was my last impressed dealing with his office that I have had.

Mike went on vacation and left the case with one of his associates. I was informed by mail that the case and sentencing for two of the defendants had been put up on the docket without anyone calling me and that one of the burglarers had been given the same plea bargain as the spouse. The associate had read the notes from Mike wrong and had asked for merely theft on both of them and their lawyers had gleefully accepted.

I called the DA's office in anger asking how something like this could have happened. I was called with an explanation and an apology from one of the DA assistants. I was also informed that because that other man had received the lesser charge that the court would have no alternative but to give that same charge to all. After all, that was the only fair thing that the court could do. I was incensed and wrote the DA and the judge. The judge asked the DA to call me and indeed Mike did with an "I'm sorry" but there is really nothing that can be done at this stage. One of the other two remaining was underage and would not be dealt with leaving the last defendant who was glad to receive that same theft charge. I was informed of her sentencing and was called and allowed to not only confront her and her friends in the courtroom but to also challenge the court with my thoughts and feelings. The judge seemed concerned as to what had happened to me but as I already was warned felt that it was only fair that the court give this defendant the same deal. Only fair! Where was the fairness in what had happened to us?

I let this go and left it behind me. A couple of years later, Judy's car was sideswiped by a woman who lived just up the street from us. I was turning into our street just after it happened and actually saw her vear away from the car and almost hit mine. I did not at first think that it was her as her car was green and the paint on the side of Judy's car was white and primer. Then I noticed that on the back side of her car was paint the same color and scrapes that were the exact height as the molding on the side of Judy's car. The police came and interviewed her getting conflicting stories that led them to arresting her for hit and run.

The case was one day away from court when the DA's office called me to inform me that they were throwing the case out. The assistant who had the case had left the DA's office and the new assistant who was calling me on the phone was informing me that he could not see any chance of winning the case and that he was throwing it out rather than waste tax payers money since I had not actually seen her hit Judy's car. The paint and scrapes seemed to not mean anything at all to him and I was left with not even an apology.

Now, two more years later, a high well published case, and we once again must deal with that office again. My first frustration was not of their doing when one of the two burglars was let go at the jail with no bail. He was arrested a couple of days on a lesser charge and was given a pittance bail on that charge of which he paid and then quickly left town before the grand jury convened two days later.

I met the DA assistant, Jonathan Char, in charge of my case at that grand jury hearing. I sat across from him and looked him in the eye as I told him of my lack of confidence in the office that he worked for and why I felt that way. He had no explanation why the other burglar had been released but assured me that there would be an arrest warrant put out for him To this date, the other man has not been picked up although he has been back in town. We will have to wait for him to be arrested for some other reason and hope that those authorities see the arrest warrant out for him on this charge.

Mr. Char gave me papers to fill out regarding how much I wanted to be involved in the case. I checked all of the boxes in the papers including, if I remember right, the opportunity to confront them in court when and if they are sentenced. He assured me that I would be kept appraised at every thing that happened in the case and that I would be informed of every court date so that I could be there.

I went to the first court only to have it be put off. Just before the next court date, Mr. Char called me to let me know that the case would probably just be put off again due to the fact that their lawyer was asking for copies of some of the surveillance cameras at the other site that they had burglarized. Off of his suggestion, I did not go to that courtroom only to discover that they had asked to have the case go to trial. I called Mr. Char and was told the defendant had that right to have the trial done in a certain time frame and that it was probably done to keep them from gaining more evidence against him.

Just before that date, I received a call from the DA's office of a plea agreement made to the man who was still in jail. I was angry over not being informed when Mr. Char had promised to keep me appraised of every change in the case. Mr. Char called me with the explanation. He said that their were two reasons for the expediency of the decision. First, he was going away on vacation and did not want to have any confusion regarding it with another assistant taking the case and that he had not asked for my opinion on the plea because it was just what he had gone over with me at the grand jury as to all that he hoped to get the man for. I asked him why the man who agree to something like that and he said it was because they had found evidence of him in another burglary and so he agreed to plea before getting hit with yet a higher sentence.

I was assured by Mr. Char that although he did not have a date for sentencing that his office would inform me probably in writing well before that date so that I would have the opportunity to be there and to have my say in court. I informed him then that I wanted that opportunity and he once again promised me that I would have that.

On Friday, I received a message from Mike Dugan himself that I still have on my phone. He was calling me at 9:15 to inform me that at 9:30, that man was going to be sentenced and that if I wanted to say anything that I needed to come right down. I got that message at 10:00. I called Mr. Char's office to only get his voice mail. So, I called victim's assistance. I was called by a lady who had taken the case who first left me a message telling me that I was not called because only the victims were given that information. She then called leaving me a message apologizing as she did not realize that I was the victim.

I called her back and vented to her all that I have written in this post. She apologized for the misinformation that Mr. Char had left her with regarding my status and desires. She informed me of the sentence and once again apologized that I was not afforded my rights laid out to me. She seemed to be surprised when I informed her of Mr. Dugan's call and agreed that he must have seen something in the file that lead him to believe that I wanted to be there and was not informed. I asked her to relay my disappointment to him and she agreed to do so.

She was very gracious and I assured her that I had nothing personally against her but was very disappointed with the over all dealing of the case by her office and she said that I certainly had the right to be angry.

So, there is my case to you and I hope that I have shown why I have no confidence in the office of an important supposed advocate for the state and the victim I actually don't see much assistance to the victim at all here, do you?


Anonymous said...

Lyle- -

I too spent the better part of a year in communication with the DA's office while waiting for the bad guy to be prosecuted. I learned very clearly in almost time at all that victims have no rights, that the judicial system doesn't care about the victim at all, it only cares to use the victim as an example but the feelings, trauma, protections that should be afforded to them are completely ignored. The DA cares about one thing and one thing only, successful convictions. They have no desire to see any justice served -- only the desire to see positive numbers in their tally column -- even if that means lesser charges, disrupting the victims attempts and healing and closure, coercing the victims . . oh you name it, they'll do it . . and it's legal! The victim has no rights.

I don't believe in our judicial system anymore.

Keeneye said...

Oh Lyle - I can't believe what you've gone through! I mean, I can, but I'm shocked. Burglarizing your restaurant while filmed ON CAMERA and these guys are free to go and commit more crimes! Justice? For who? The criminal.

If anything, I would wonder why the media hasn't followed up on this case. Everyone knows about the robbery, but no one ever hears about the sentencing, especially in situations like this. We do, however, read about severe punishments (ie: the article about the kid who was sentenced to 6 years for drag racing).

I'm so sorry that you're going through this.