Local law enforcement frustrated with criminal justice system in wake of violent crimes
FRESNO, Calif. – Recent high-profile crimes in the San Joaquin Valley have local law enforcement sounding off about the state's criminal justice system.
At a Friday news conference, Fresno County Sheriff John Zanoni used words like “broken” and “failing” to describe policies law enforcement officials say don’t allow them to fully deal with crime in the area.
“This experiment of our criminal justice reform in California is not working,” Zanoni said.
If people want to try to accuse us of politicizing this and taking advantage of it or exploiting the death of Officer Carrasco, they can do it all day long because that's not the truth.Lisa Smittcamp, Fresno County District Attorney
The concerns about state criminal policies have grown after the shooting deaths of a Selma police officer and a family in Goshen in January.
Authorities believe two men arrested on suspicion of killing the family in Goshen are members of the “Norteño” gang, and at least two victims were members of the “Sureño” gang. Both are two large prison gangs.
Investigators also said the man accused of killing the Selma officer, Nathaniel Dixon, was armed with a ghost gun during his deadly confrontation with officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr.
Officials say Carrasco was shot as he tried to approach Nathaniel Dixon. The alleged weapon and other possessions were found near an area where Dixon was later arrested.
“There was nothing officer Carrasco could have done. He was essentially executed,” Zanoni said.
Dixon appeared in court Friday morning to face charges of first degree murder and possession of a firearm, but his arraignment was continued to Feb. 23.
Local law enforcement across the Central Valley have expressed frustration over a lack of jail space and time credits that allow for criminals to serve shorter sentences.
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp criticized the state’s prison realignment law that prioritizes reducing prison populations, which she says led to the Selma shooting suspect to serve a lesser sentence.
“People listen when there's a police officer killed,” Smittcamp said. “If people want to try to accuse us of politicizing this and taking advantage of it or exploiting the death of Officer Carrasco, they can do it all day long because that's not the truth.”
Smittcamp’s criticisms, though, were met by criticisms of their own by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Earlier this week a spokesman said the shooter wasn’t prosecuted locally to the full extent of the law.
Still, police chiefs, sheriffs and district attorneys in the San Joaquin Valley have joined in a chorus calling for reforms. They say gang and criminal activity in the region is high, but their resources to fight it are low.
Selma Police Chief Rudy Alcaraz hoped his officer’s death would spark some change.
“I think this is a wake-up call for everybody. This isn't downtown Los Angeles [or] Echo Park. This is America, USA. Small town,” he said.