Two prosecutors resign from Contra Costa DA’s team that investigates police shootings

MARTINEZ — Two Contra Costa prosecutors have resigned from a District Attorney’s team that investigates new police shootings and other law enforcement-involved fatalities, the latest sign of turmoil in that office since the recent decision to charge a deputy in a 2018 fatal shooting.

The letter to DA Diana Becton, signed by deputy district attorneys Chad Mahalich and Rachel Piersig, claims that there “was not unanimous agreement” in the meeting where Becton and other senior DA officials agreed to file voluntary manslaughter charges against Contra Costa Sheriff’s Dep. Andrew Hall in the November 2018 shooting of Laudemer Arboleda. Mahalich and Piersig were two of four attorneys who signed a previous protest letter about the Hall decision, which questioned why it took two and a half years after the shooting to charge Hall.

The new letter doesn’t take a position on whether Hall should have been charged, but says that in light of Becton’s public statements after the decision, the two attorneys no longer want to be part of the so-called Law Enforcement Involved Fatal Incident response team, also known as LEIFI.

“As Deputy District Attorneys we have an ethical obligation to pursue truth, justice, and fairness; to be guided by the facts of a given case and the laws and procedures which bear out these principles in a meaningful way,” the letter says. “In its current configuration, the LEIFI protocol process does not instill confidence that truth, justice, and fairness are the objectives. For these reasons we respectfully withdraw from the LEIFI protocol team.”

A spokesman for the DA’s office declined to comment on the letter Monday, citing a prohibition on publicly addressing personnel issues.

During the two-and-a-half year period, Hall shot and killed a second man, Tyrell Wilson, in an incident in March. In that shooting, which remains under investigation, video shows Wilson pull a knife on Hall, who draws his gun and shoots Wilson from several feet away. Becton has previously attributed the delay to her desire to switch to a “team” approach to investigating police shootings from the old system, where a single prosecutor was tasked with it.

In an interview about the protest letter earlier this month, Becton said she assigned a number of unnamed personnel to investigating a backlog of police shootings dating back to 2018, and another team of attorneys and inspectors to investigate police killings as they happen. An office spokesman refused to say who was involved in the decision to charge Hall, other than Becton, though the charging records identify at least one other person: the office’s third-in-command, Chris Walpole.

The new letter says the forming of a new team and a backlog team “creates confusion” in the process and adds, “by refusing to identify who/what this separate group is, it still leaves the misimpression that attorneys on the LEIFI team were involved in the decision to charge Officer Hall.”

Hall, the first policeman to be charged in a shooting in Contra Costa since two corrupt Pittsburg officers shot and killed a woman during an attempted robbery in the 1990s, posted $200,000 bail the same day he turned himself in for arrest. His first court date has been set for June.

The sheriff’s office had previously cleared Hall of wrongdoing in the shooting of Arboleda, whom investigators estimate was driving between 5 and 10 miles per hour during a police chase when Hall fired 10 times into his car. Danville police were attempting to pull Arboleda over after a suspicious-persons call. Arboleda, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, led the police on a brief chase through town.

In a July 2019 coroner’s inquest hearing, Hall testified that he fired at Arboleda because he felt “my life was in danger.” He also appeared to acknowledge signs that Arboleda was mentally ill.

“In my experience, suspects in pursuits are very nervous and anxious and have a very panicked, fleeting look,” Hall testified. “He was very calm … looked right through me, which led me to believe he may be under the influence or may not be understanding what was occurring.”

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Author: Nate Gartrell