Roundtable: Mayoral Debate, Border Death Video, Krusan Reversal
April 20, 2012 2:20 p.m.
Guests: Craig Gustafson, UT-San Diego
Amita Sharma, KPBS News
John Carlos Frey, Freelance Journalist
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It's Friday, April 20th. Each Friday on Midday Edition, we have the Roundtable. We discuss the top San Diego stories of the week. Joining me today, Craig Gustafson of UT San Diego. Welcome back.
GUSTAFSON: Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: John Carlos Frey is journalist for the gatekeeper foundation of the away back to you.
FREY: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Amita Sharma is here. Hi, Amita.
SHARMA: Hi, Maureen.
CAVANAUGH: We start out with the San Diego mayoral debate. Candidates Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis, Bob Filner, and Nathan Fletcher met on a KPBS broadcast yesterday. A theme of the debate was their efforts to make their differences clear to voters. Craig, you were on the panel. Are those differences clear to you now?
GUSTAFSON: Well, they were before the debate.
[ LAUGHTER ]
GUSTAFSON: But this is the first televised debate. It was a chance to show their stuff to a broader audience rather than just a small forum or community debate. And the two things that I took out as far as compelling messages is Dumanis for one stepped out and really kind of made her best pitch yet as to why she should be the next mayor. You may not agree with it, but I think she articulated it better than she has in the past. And that's she can make tough decisions, she was a prosecutor, and a judge, and she's gone after corrupt politicians and put murderers in jail for life, and she can make those tough decisions, and none of the other people that are running for mayor have made those decisions in their careers. And that's why she is the best fit. On the other hand, Filner clearly went out of his way to different him from the other three by -- he's supported by labor unions and the two issues that he's specifically identified was the Convention Center, opposing how the expansion is being done, allowing hoteliers to vote for a public tax. And the other three candidates support it. And then he also as he has throughout the campaign opposes precipitation B, which is the pension reform initiative on the ballot, and he has offered an alternative. He is trying to put himself as the liberal Democrat pro-labor guy to differentiate himself.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Craig, DeMaio is, I believe, still running first in the polls. But not by very much. Is this still anybody's race to win?
GUSTAFSON: Well, I think you got to take polls -- they're polls. They're a snapshot in time. So I would say any of the four has a legitimate shot of winning. Yes, Fletcher has surged in the latest survey USA poll. That's one poll that was taken after he switched and left the Republican party and became independent. He was in the news a lot. So you wonder how much of that bump is going to be sustained. And you just have four legitimate candidates, and I think they're all polls, you know -- they all have at least 13% in the latest poll.
CAVANAUGH: Now, to what happened in the debate specifically, you mentioned Nathan and his decision not to run as a Republican. And to give him a boost in the polls, but the other candidates in yesterday's debate didn't seem to make too much of an issue of his switch to independent. In fact there was a theme, we're all independent, right?
GUSTAFSON: Yeah, well, they all to a certain extent want to say that they're not beholden to anyone when probably the record would indicate otherwise for a few of them. But I think the most interesting thing is Fletcher, even before he switched to independent, he has been attacking DeMaio pretty relentless he and criticizing him. And so at yesterday's debate, DeMaio was the recipient of more negative stuff from Fletcher. And he responded by when they had an opportunity to ask each other question, DeMaio stepped up and asked Fletcher if he was under an ethics -- investigation for an ethics violation. And Fletcher responded that no, he wasn't. And it backfired on DeMaio because yes, there was a complaint that was filed against Fletcher that DeMaio passed around after the debate was over. But just the day before the debate, the ethics commission had dismissed will complaint, saying it didn't have sufficient evidence. So Fletcher really came out looking better in that situation.
SHARMA: Is there any possibility that DeMaio didn't know that the conclusion had been reached?
GUSTAFSON: I can guarantee you he didn't know, otherwise I don't think he would have brought it up.
CAVANAUGH: In the first place. We do have a clip of another sort of heated exchange between Nathan Fletcher and Carl DeMaio.
GUSTAFSON: And back to yes or no on transparency, have you met with those lobbyists funding your campaign behind closed doors? Direct answer.
FREY: I will meet with anyone who has ideas on cutting costs at city government.
SHARMA: I'm sorry I have to interrupt you want
CAVANAUGH: And that of course is Amita who was moderator during that debate. There was a lot of question and answers between the candidates, and I'm wondering, during the time Bonnie Dumanis joined in, and she was challenging Bob Filner a number of times to put his pension reform proposals in writing. Generally speaking, Craig, are Filner's proposals about what he'd do as mayor unclear?
GUSTAFSON: Absolutely it's unclear. If you look at his website, there really is -- there are no plans. And that was one of the questions that I asked at the debate. All the other candidates have released policy initiatives with details about what they're going to do in their first one hundred days or what they're going to do about education. Bob hasn't done anything. He's talked about a pension plan. And that pension plan has three tiers, and he's discussed them at length. And he says there's a fiscal analysis that he's done, that an actuary has done. And he won't release it. Yet he's more than willing to go out and criticize proposition B, which is the pension reform initiative on the ballot because of its fiscal analysis, yet he won't show the one he's done on his own. And that's the question that Bonnie had asked him, why don't you release that fiscal analysis so we can all see if your plan is better? And he still hasn't done that, and hasn't released any plan on anything.
CAVANAUGH: One of the things that got some people talking about this debate was DeMaio's claim that a transient occupancy tax, that money which may pay for the Convention Center expansion, is not public money.
GUSTAFSON: Yeah, well, and that's -- when you're a Republican and you support a tax increase, you sometimes jump through hoops and hurdles to explain why it's not really a tax. But the city attorney has come out and said absolutely, this is a tax. It's a public tax. It's the hoteliers voting on it. And that's part of the angst over this, the way they're financing this plan. The public is not going to get a chance to vote on it like they did on the first two expansions of the Convention Center. So it's going to be a tax on tourists that hotel owners are going to be able to vote.
SHARMA: Where do the other two candidates fall on this? We know what Filner's position is. Do Fletcher and Dumanis see this as a tax?
GUSTAFSON: They both support it.
GUSTAFSON: And I guess --
SHARMA: What do they call it?
[ LAUGHTER ]
GUSTAFSON: I think they do the same thing. I don't think they've ever specifically called it a tax. They think it's important, and that this is the right thing to do. But they have not really been too firm as DeMaio has been. DeMaio is the one who had the vote on it when he was on the City Council. The other two support the expansion, and then they've also said, we need to do it the right way.
CAVANAUGH: We are getting down to the wire in this campaign. We have less than two months to go to the primary. We're going to be seeing more televised debates between those candidates. What is your sense sitting in that debate? Are all of the candidates really beginning to understand that they are in a really fight right now?
GUSTAFSON: I don't think that some of them realize that. Going back to Filner, he hasn't released any plans. He's running in a race as if he's running for Congress, and there's no real competition. There's real competition in this race. And that has some people, Democrats who support him are even, they won't say it in public, but they're like, Bob, you need to start campaigning harder and do something. But you also have the -- obviously Carl DeMaio and Nathan Fletcher are campaigning the hardest. And they are -- especially Fletcher is attacking DeMaio pretty hard. And so I think they do realize that this is going to be a close race. You got four legitimate candidates, and any of the four could end up in the runoff. I don't think anybody is going to win the majority. But anybody can make the runoff. And they always realize that at this point.
CAVANAUGH: And we have a few interesting weeks to go in this mayor's race. Thank you everyone
FREY: The bush administration in 2007 had a mandate to double the size of the Border Patrol from 11,000 to 21,000 where it stands today. And they relaxed some of their requirements for Border Patrol agents. Training was relaxed. Oversight was relaxed. Of lie detector tests were omitted in some cases. Even the Border Patrol's own statements on the subject say we might have gotten some officers in our ranks that should not be Border Patrol officers.
CAVANAUGH: And who holds Border Patrol agents accountable if indeed these deaths are questionable?
FREY: Nobody. Except the Border Patrol. The Border Patrol investigate themselves or there's no FBI, there's no outside federal agency that investigates. In this particular case, the San Diego police department was charged with the investigation because it happened within city limits. They turned their findings over to the feds. Other than that, be there's no citizen group that can scrutinize the Border Patrol, and the information was not forthcoming. We don't know what happened.
GUSTAFSON: In the video, can you make out the face of the of the Border Patrol agents? How far away are we talking? Is there anything there that somebody could be charged?
FREY: I don't know. Of maybe with some kind of professional enhancement, you might be able to ID a face. You can tell they're Border Patrol agents, you can tell the color of their uniforms. You can see badges. Maybe if you recognize the person or you knew the person. Certainly cord proceedings know, and the San Diego police department investigation, they already know who was there.
SHARMA: You said that no one's been held accountable for these eight deaths. Have before been any inquiries by the feds?
FREY: My understanding is the way that the federal government responds is that all of these cases are still under investigation, and some of these cases are two years old, and still there is no evidence in, in the case of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas, there have been no criminal proceedings. Of the officers involved have not been reprimanded, and nobody has been brought to trial. We don't know if there even will be criminal proceedings in this case.
SHARMA: If there was any kind of internal punishment within the Border Patrol, would it have been made public?
FREY: It's my understanding that the department of homeland security that oversees the Border Patrol, this is a matter of national security, and we're not privy to that information. They don't have to provide the information like a San Diego police officer may have to. So everybody's been in the dark. The victims' family members, as well as other law enforcement, any of the citizenry, you can call the Border Patrol, they will give you no information. We actually told them we had this videotape. They're not interested. They did not want to comment.
CAVANAUGH: I want everyone to know the PBS documentary on this case will be aired tonight. It's called first look, crossing the line. It's on KPBS television at 8:30 tonight. Thank you very much, everyone.
FREY: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: My guests at the Roundtable are Craig Gustafson of the UT San Diego, John Carlos FREY, and Amita Sharma. There was a major development this week in the case of a Riverside woman who was trying to have her conviction for murdering her pimp overturned. It's the case of Sarah cru-San. Amita, you've been following this story for a while. This week's news involved attorney general Kamala Harris. What does she have to do with this?
SHARMA: Let me rewind a bit. Last month, the California Supreme Court asked Harris whether she thought Sarah Kruzan had been a victim of domestic violence. And you need to understand that Sarah's lawyers are asking the California Supreme Court to either grant Sarah a new trial or to just give her clemency. So they asked the Supreme Court -- or actually the Supreme Court asked the attorney general last month to basically figure out whether they thought Sarah cru-San had been a victim of domestic violence.
CAVANAUGH: So the Court was asking the attorney general for some guidance on how to proceed on the request by Sarah Kruzan for either a new trial or clemency.
CAVANAUGH: And the first letter that Harris's office sent the Supreme Court said what?
SHARMA: Well, she concluded that Sarah Kruzan had not been a victim of domestic violence. In fact, she characterized the relationship between shara Kruzan and her pimp, as at best a professional and financial one and at worst a criminal one between child rapist and child victim.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this week's big news was a reversal in that assessment of the relationship between Sarah Kruzan and the person that she killed in a letter by Kamala Harris. Tell us about this reversal.
SHARMA: That's right. This week, Harris did an aboutface. She with drew her earlier position that Sarah was not a victim of domestic violence. However she didn't concede anything either. What she did say was she thought it would be perverse to suggest that a minor who had been abused and exploited since the age of 11 was not entitled to the same kind of defense that an adult who had been involved in an abusive relationship would not be entitled to.
CAVANAUGH: But that's exactly what her first letter implied. So why this change?
SHARMA: You know, that is not clear. I talked to some lawyers, and they're all similarly befuddled by all this. It's very, very rare for the attorney general to make a reversal like this, any attorney general. What they think happened is a deputy attorney general, obviously, wrote the opinion. But it hadn't been fully vetted through the chain of command, and that perhaps somebody who was a higher up in the office heard the story, read the story, and thought wait a minute, we didn't sign off on this. And we need to change this. And so there's actually an apology in that letter as well. There's an apology for the reversal.
CAVANAUGH: Give us a very brief idea of the kind of sexual abuse and exploitation the attorney general is referencing about Sarah Kruzan's case.
SHARMA: Well, Sarah Kruzan met her pimp who was 20 years older than her when she was 11, and he almost immediately molested her. And then continued to groom her until the age of 13. When she was 13, herained her and then forced her into prostitution. Once she became his sex worker, his prostitute, she began referring to him as her man. And he actually referred to his quote unquote stable of prostitutes as his wives. So there was that -- I don't know if it fits the statutory definition here, but there was that sort of dating relationship between them. There was that sort of romantic relationship between them.
CAVANAUGH: And she ended up killing this particular man and was convicted of it in 1994. And has been sitting in prison since that time for that murder. Now, she's asking the state Supreme Court to either give her a new trial or grant her clemency on this particular case. But didn't she already get a commutation from --
SHARMA: She did get a commutation. In 1995, she was sentenced to prison for life without the possibility of parole. When former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger left office, he commuted her sentence to 25 years to life with the possibility of parole. And I do feel compelled to mention the circumstances of her trial back in 1994 and 1995. She there was very little mention made of the fact that she had been abused by her mother, that she had been abused in foster care, and her own mother actually put her in situations where she was molested from the age of 5 by her mother's boyfriends. The prosecution in this case put on the stand I think something like seven witnesses. Her defense put no witnesses to talk about her horrific childhood on the stand. In fact, the only witness they put on the stand was Sarah Kruzan herself. And at the time she committed this murder, she was depressed, she was medicated, and her attorneys say that she simply was not skilled enough to joust with these highly skilled prosecutors.
FREY: What does Kamala Harris's reversal do hear fercase?
SHARMA: You know, that is not clear. What will happen now, what the attorney general is asking for is further development of the facts in the case, which is kind of interesting. Because this has been before the Court now for several months. And if there are further facts to be developed, that opportunity was there for quite a while. What is likely to happen now, there will be an evidentiary hearing not before the Supreme Court, in either court where they will flesh out the case even more. And then whoever oversees that hearing will make a recommendation to the California Supreme Court.
FREY: Do you know on what grounds she gets a new trial if possible? It's my understanding that the facts of the case is that she went to him, tried to rob him with a gun, and ended up killing him in some form of premedication. On what grounds does she get a new trial?
SHARMA: Well, the grounds that the abuse that she suffered as a child wasn't introduced. And also the fact at the sentencing that there were laws on the books at the time that would have entitled her to a lesser sentence than life without parole. And that did not come up.
GUSTAFSON: Is part of it the defense that obviously that was put on her -- the defense that was put on for her, and the lawyer that represented her in 1994 and 1995 is now a judge. And I guess that to me is the most interesting aspect, as far as, you know, now you have this lawyer who apparently didn't do a very good job defending his client is a judge now.
SHARMA: It does stand out in this case. However, I believe that he has also filed something for Sarah's lawyers that says that he actually did make a mistake, and he didn't know about the new sentencing changes that again would have entitled Sarah to something less than life in prison without the possibility of parole.
CAVANAUGH: The fact that Sarah has already received a commutation, which is a rare thing from governor Schwarzenegger and has had her life without the possibility of parole knocked down to 25 to life, the idea that she will now be able to get a commutation, clemency or a new trial, I mean, is the kind of thing that just has lawyers shaking their heads and saying this kind of thing just does not happen.
SHARMA: Correct, yeah. I've heard that said. It's quite an uphill battle because she's had the sentence commuted to some extent already. However, it's also quite rare for an attorney general to reverse her or himself in this way. So you just do not know what may happen.
CAVANAUGH: As the Kruzan case now become something of a cause celebre for people who work against sex trafficking?
SHARMA: I think she's a bit of a poster child for what can happen in a system that probably doesn't give equal weight all the time or didn't at least in the past to victims of sex trafficking. If that trial, which occurred in the mid-90s had occurred today, I it probably would it probably would have had a different outcome.
FREY: And she's almost become a spokes person for her own background.
SHARMA: And she'd like to do even more, she says, if she were to be freed, she thinks she could help victims of sex trafficking a great deal.
CAVANAUGH: I'd like to thank my guests. Thank you all very much.
GUSTAFSON: Thank you.
FREY: Thank you.
SHARMA: Thank you.