Fact Check: DA Candidate's Campaign Claims Supporting Opponent A 'Threat' To Public Safety
UPDATE: 5:03 p.m., June 7, 2018
Content on the website threattosandiego.com has been removed. A version of the website is captured here.
Threattosandiego.com — that’s the website from the campaign for candidate and interim San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan. It says "San Diego’s public safety is under attack" and points to a billionaire-backed committee’s large financial support for Stephan’s opponent: Deputy Public Defender Geneviéve Jones-Wright.
The website calls Jones-Wright the “anti-law enforcement candidate” and lists six specific claims against her. KPBS reviewed them to bring you this fact check.
The first claims Jones-Wright “wants to end enforcement of sex crimes.” It points to her statement: “You can’t legislate morality.”
Jones-Wright made the statement in an April 2 Facebook video. She was responding to Stephan’s comments from more than a week earlier that nearly all sex workers are victims:
“There is a limited number of people that can say that they are choosing this as a way to make a living and that they don’t have a pimp or a trafficker that’s deriving their money from that person,” Stephan told the Voice of San Diego podcast in March.
In her Facebook video, Jones-Wright criticized Stephan for citing anecdotal evidence over hard numbers to support her statement that there’s a “limited number” of voluntary sex workers.
“It is very, very disturbing that she says they can't be quantified, but she takes the strong line and puts everyone into human trafficking. I'll tell you the problem that I have with that, the problem that I have with that is that you can't legislate morality. Some people voluntarily want to be sex workers and you can't tell them that they didn't make a choice based on your own morals,” she said.
At a candidate forum later in April, Voice of San Diego’s Scott Lewis asked Jones-Wright whether she felt "any form of sex work should be legalized."
“I believe that (Stephan)’s wrong on this and that there is such thing as voluntary sex work. And I believe that when we cast a net that purports to go after human trafficking, we are actually diverting much-needed resources from real people who are human trafficking when we are catching people in the net who are voluntary sex workers and that is why it is dangerous to conflate the issues,” the Democrat said.
She continued: “I’m not going to give my opinion on whether sex work should be legal or not. As of this moment, prostitution is against the law in the state of California, and I’ll leave it at that.”
During its March podcast, Voice asked Stephan if she thought there was “ever a time to prosecute mostly the women involved in this situation.”
“Very rarely, and that has been my policy,” Stephan said.
The ThreatToSanDiego.com website also claims Jones-Wright “wants to let human traffickers, pimps, and pedophiles recruit online.”
A federal law recently gave authorities more power to prosecute websites such as Backpage.com, which featured listings that were connected to sex trafficking (The FBI shut down Backpage.com in April).
Stephan supports the law and told Voice of San Diego that sites like Backpage embolden people who pay for sex.
“Men who would normally not buy sex feel a little bit of protection by not having to be out on the street picking up somebody on El Cajon Boulevard. They feel the anonymity of just going online and ordering a person like you’re ordering pizza,” Stephan told Voice.
“So how much harder will it be for law enforcement to actually investigate and know who these people are if they’re now not in the open?” Jones-Wright said in the April Facebook video, not to the San Diego Union-Tribune, as ThreatToSanDiego.com states. “I would prefer for them to be on Backpage and Craigslist because we need to know who they are if they are selling our children, if they are selling people who are not willing to be trafficked and that they are coerced into these things.”
The website also claims Jones-Wright “wants to close our prisons and let dangerous criminals walk our streets,” citing her statements at a candidate forum: “We should be closing a prison a year in California… by closing prisons, we will not have to incarcerate people.”
KPBS emailed Stephan’s campaign six times to identify the specific candidate forum where Jones-Wright reportedly made the quoted statement. The campaign did not provide a date and location of the forum, but instead pointed KPBS to an episode of the Millennial Politics Podcast dated Dec. 26, 2017.
Host Jordan Valerie asked Jones-Wright whether she supports “prison abolition” and if not, how she would “reform prisons to make them effective.”
Jones-Wright responded, “I absolutely support prison abolition, on a certain level.”
“There’s a place and a purpose for separating some people from the community; when you’re talking about serial killers and child molesters, rapists, murderers, folks do need some time to be set out, right? So there’s a need for prisons. But I am also of the thought, that especially in states like California, we have way too many prisons.” Jones-Wright said.
She added that more money is spent on “our prison-industrial complex industry than our schools,” and told the host the state should shut down one prison a year.
The website next claims Stephan’s opponent wants to "end bail and let dangerous criminals out of jail,” referencing a Jones-Wright interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board.
In the interview, Jones-Wright said too many people who are awaiting court appearances but have not yet been convicted of a crime are sitting in jail because they lack money for bail.
“We don’t need cash bail,” she told the newspaper’s editorial board. “We have other things that we can use to ensure, one, that they’ll come back to court and, two, that they’re not being dangerous on our streets.”
Those options include “their promise to appear,” electronic monitoring or a supervised release program, a campaign representative said in an email to KPBS.
"I don’t want to cast a wide net and say what I would never do, but I will say that cash bail should not be the first answer in a lot of cases,” Jones-Wright further explained in the Union-Tribune interview.
Jones-Wright also supports SB 10. Under the bill, low-risk defendants wouldn’t have to pay cash to be released before trial, but judges would still get to weigh in on people accused of domestic battery and other serious crimes. Judges would still have the discretion over bail for high-risk defendants.
Stephan’s campaign representative told KPBS the candidate believes SB 10 “has some good elements, as well as some flaws that leave out victim rights,” and also supports “using enhanced, risk-based data instead of financial ability” when determining bail.
ThreatToSanDiego.com says Jones-Wright would "only enforce laws she agrees with,” and again referenced a statement from her interview with the Union-Tribune’s editorial board: “I just wouldn’t enforce what we call the quality of life offenses.”
In an email last week to KPBS, a campaign representative said, “These offenses include sleeping in parks and cars, illegal lodging, encroachment and trespass (as used against homeless people), and public intoxication.”
Jones-Wright further clarified in a phone call with KPBS that she defines quality of life offenses as those charges only when they are brought against a person who is homeless.
“If someone urinates in public and they’re not homeless, that is not a quality of life offense, so I’ve always said quality of life offenses as they’re prosecuted against homeless people. I’m not going to enforce those things. I’m not going to prosecute homeless people because they have nowhere else to be. That’s what we’re doing when we prosecute people for encroachment, illegal lodging, trespass, urinating in public or even public intoxication. Where else can a homeless person drink but outside? If you are a frat boy and you are in public and you are intoxicated and you cannot care for yourself, you will be prosecuted for public intoxication,” Jones-Wright said.
The last claim on the ThreatToSanDiego.com website says Jones-Wright lied about her title on the ballot and was forced by a judge to change it.
The website says she wanted to be listed as “San Diego’s Public Defender.”
When Jones-Wright initially submitted her title to the San Diego County Registrar of Voters, she called herself “Public Defender/Commissioner,” referencing her voluntary role on San Diego’s gang commission.
But a petitioner argued election code requires candidates to list their principal occupations, and that commissioner wasn’t Jones-Wright’s main profession. A judge then ordered the title changed, which County Registrar of Voters, Michael Vu, confirmed in an email to KPBS.
Jones-Wright is now identified on the ballot as deputy public defender.
Court documents show she was not ordered to change her ballot statement, which identifies her as “Deputy Public Defender/Commissioner, Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention.”