“None of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms impacted when this individual was released from state prison”
Spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
There is little doubt about who killed Whittier Police Officer Keith Boyer in late winter, or how he died: Authorities quickly identified ex-convict Michael Christopher Mejia as the culprit, also suspected of killing his cousin and stealing the cousin’s car.
But there is plenty of debate over who and/or what is responsible for Boyer’s death.
“There’s blood on the hands of Gov. Brown,” trumpeted Republican state Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford in a press release two days after the incident. He blames Brown and other Democrats for “early-release laws that ended in the…preventable death of Officer Boyer.”
But the main law in question, the 2014 Proposition 47, wasn’t simply the work of Brown and his Democratic cohorts in the Legislature. Voters are ultimately responsible for its consequences – they passed the measure by a 59-41 percent margin, a landslide by anyone’s definition.
This law significantly reduced the penalties for many non-violent crimes, reducing all thefts to misdemeanors if they involve $950 or less worth of cash or goods.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was among those blaming 47 and other prison reform and realignment measures, including last year’s Proposition 57, which accelerates releases for convicts with “non-violent” offenses. Because of these measures, he said, “People who were previously in county jail are now out on the streets.”
But Mejia was anything but a non-violent offender. Most recently, he spent two years in prison for grand theft auto and attempting to steal a vehicle; his latest incarceration was in the infamous Pelican Bay prison near the Oregon state line. Earlier he did three years time for a robbery. The difference in his treatment after the new laws and what it might have been before is that his most recent parole was supervised by county officers rather than the state prison system. State officials said Mejia’s prison time was not shortened by any recent laws.
“None of the state’s recent criminal justice reforms impacted when this individual was released from state prison,” said a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
That didn’t assuage Boyer’s boss, Whittier Police Chief Jeff Piper. “We need to wake up,” he said. “You’re passing these propositions…It’s not good for your community; it’s not good for our officers.”
Mejia had been held for brief periods before Boyer’s death for parole violations like a Feb. 2 incident where he ran from police responding to an anonymous 911 call.
Some critics of the prison system maintain the recent initiatives worsen the aggressiveness of convicts rather than leading them to reform.
By doing as much time as he would have before the reforms and going through brief revolving-door county jail stints for relatively minor parole violations, Mejia was a fairly typical denizen of the criminal justice system.
Knowing this, but wishing to assign blame somehow, politicians like Los Angeles County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Kathryn Barger – one a Democrat, the other a Republican – asked both the state and federal attorneys general to assess the case and review the effects of both 47 and 57 on crime. So far, state officials say there is no evidence of any crime increase due to either measure. Which could mean that Mejia’s alleged crime was simply a matter of chance: Some such episodes will occur every year no matter what the laws say.
This may be correct, but it’s a conclusion that won’t satisfy any crime victims, and especially not anyone who knew the 27-year-old Boyer.
There are, of course, other ways besides crime statistics to measure the impact of the new prison-emptying laws. For example, Prop. 47 earmarks much of the money it saves prisons and jails for mental health and drug treatment programs, a plan intended to cushion the effects of making most drug possessions into mere minor offenses.
But enrollment in drug treatment programs has been down across the state since 2014, a sign many addicts no longer feel pressure to escape their habit because they know they’ll never do significant time for using or for most crimes they employ to support their addictions. Mejia, for one, was caught with a small amount of methamphetamine in one of his parole violations.
So it’s apparent at least some provisions of the new laws are not working. But it remains highly debatable whether that means Boyer’s slaying and other recent cop-killings can be blamed on those measures.
Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org