L.A. Focus: Ethics Complaint Filed Against Bernard Parks Over Letter Recommending Harsh Sentencing of Mark Ridley-Thomas

L.A. Focus: Ethics Complaint Filed Against Bernard Parks Over Letter Recommending Harsh Sentencing of Mark Ridley-Thomas

An ethics complaint was filed this week against Former City Councilmember/Police Chief Bernard Parks alleging illegal use of the City of L.A. official seal and LAPD badge in a letter received by United States Attorney Martin Estrada regarding the sentencing of Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“The United States Attorney for the Central District of California, E. Martin Estrada and Assistant U.S. attorneys Lindsey Greer Dotson, Thomas F. Rybarczyk and Michael J. Morse formally submitted this filing to the U.S. District Court with the illegal use of the two seals,” community activist Bev Rowe asserted in her complaint which characterized the move as nothing more than a politically motivated, last minute publicity stunt.

“In my opinion, the prosecutor’s recommendation of a six-year prison sentence is too lenient,” Parks wrote in the letter that was introduced to Judge Dale Fischer for consideration in sentencing. “In fact,” Parks continued, “their sentencing recommendation is the only aspect of this trial, where they [the U.S. Attorneys] have fallen short.”

The letter went on to accuse Ridley-Thomas of “attempting to use his race to undermine the public’s faith in the judicial process” and to lead his colleagues on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to the “brink of corruption.”

“I ask that you consider sentencing Mr. Ridley-Thomas to the highest penalty that his crimes allow,” he continued. “This would be both fair and just as he abused the powers of his office and would serve as an example to those in office as well as those considering running for office.”

In the ethics complaint, Rowe noted that Parks had lost a hotly contested 2008 election bid for county supervisor.

“During the campaign, the violator’s [Parks] role in the Rampart scandal and opposition to a federal consent decree overseen by the Department of Justice were issues.” Rowe added. “The omission of this information erodes public confidence in the prosecution. Both the violator (Parks) and United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) appear to have mutual and unseemly political motivations that undermine public confidence, the credibility of their sentence recommendations, the objectivity of the USAO and the office’s adherence to and application of ethical standards of professional conduct.”

The wording of the letter itself raised issues for some, including attorneys following the case.

“Governments are generally expected to uphold the principles of justice, fairness, and respect for human rights,” stated Mansfield Collins, who has served as a legal commentator on KBLA’s Areva Martin Show which is covering the case. “Soliciting or promoting exhibits filled with hate and hostility goes against these principles and can be seen as a violation of ethical and legal standards. Encouraging hate and hostility undermines the goal of maintaining a just and impartial legal system.      “Submitting an exhibit from a person who has a clear bias or hatred towards the defendant, especially if that bias is unrelated to the case, may be seen as an attempt to manipulate the sentencing process in an unfair or impartial sentencing hearing.”

Collins wasn’t alone in raising questions about the filing as an exhibit.      Did the assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA) know that the use of city letterhead by a retired employee is unlawful? Did the AUSA ask Parks to use city letterhead?  Did the AUSA solicit the Parks letter? Did the AUSA help Parks compose the letter? Did the AUSA intentionally conceal and fail to disclose to the judge that it was written by a political rival of MRT still upset and hostile that MRT beat him badly in a race for Supervisor in 2008? These were just some of the questions discussed by attorneys during Martin’s most recent KBLA broadcast.      

“Maybe the prosecution wanted to counter the more than 130 positive letters received by the judge or the probation department’s recommendation of 12-18 months and not the six years the AUSAs are asking for,” said civil rights attorney and CNN legal commentator Areva Martin.      

“The government’s sentencing papers fail to mention any of MRT’s decades’ long contributions that have improved the quality of life for Angelenos,” added attorney Dion Raymond. “A career politician and the government found not one positive thing worth saying about MRT. Instead, they want to punish him for maintaining his innocence and going to trial. MRT was found not guilty on 64% of the charges filed. This sends a message with a chilling effect to innocent Black defendants who would otherwise exercise their constitutional right—to be presumed innocent until proven guilty—and that the government will penalize you for not taking a plea deal instead of having your day in court. There’s really no disincentive to overcharging—which increases the likelihood of prevailing at trial—and then exacting a penalty for going to trial.”  

“What’s scary,” said one former constituent, “is that if they can do this to someone as powerful as Mark Ridley-Thomas, I can only imagine what they can do to me.”

Rowe’s complaint is now in the hands of the City Ethics Commission and their review of the document will determine next steps.

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