Letter to the Editor: Former prosocutor takes issue with current District Attorney

I was the first of at least seven upper-level felony prosecutors at the Kings County District Attorney’s Office to leave the office under the current Strickland administration. In a small office of about 15 non-management prosecutors, that should say a lot.

Mr. Strickland spoke to the Hanford Sentinel about me in a February 8, 2012, story in which he claimed that I had left the office “because of pay." This statement was hurtful to me and my family because, to those who knew us, it implied that I had left my wife -- who at the time was still also a prosecutor in Strickland’s office – and my infant son alone, and moved out of Kings County because of money (my wife has since also left). This statement troubled me greatly because I told Mr. Strickland privately exactly why I was leaving on my last day: the intolerable working environment.

The office politics of the District Attorney’s office is not unlike anyone else’s workplace, replete with certain personalities hungry for power and others set on exacting petty revenge. Unfortunately, those few individuals were the ones who were rewarded, promoted, and given power by Mr. Strickland. Cronyism and sycophancy should have no place in criminal justice.

I rarely saw or had contact with Mr. Strickland unless he wanted information for a press release after I had prosecuted a case to a guilty verdict. Before leaving, I handled all sex crime cases, the first murder case to go to trial during Strickland’s term, and was lead prosecutor on the 2009 Valentine’s Day murder of Eric Gomez, a case still awaiting trial. Keith Fagundes was my co-counsel on that case until Keith was removed in what was undeniably an act of personal revenge, because Keith was perceived to be a political enemy of Mr. Strickland the moment he took office in 2011.

This is but one of many examples of the types of vengeance wrought against not just Mr. Fagundes but anyone the Strickland administration believed to be associated with him. Disfavored prosecutors had their positions and cases taken away and reassigned to the favored. 

Mr. Strickland has spoken often about “creating” his so-called “Violent Crimes Unit.” That phrase is yet another distortion for publicity. Violent crime isn’t prosecuted any better or any differently than it was before. The “Violent Crimes Unit” is actually just an illusory title Mr. Strickland created to bestow upon a single prosecutor and allow that most-favored person to have the first choice of high-profile cases.

Mr. Strickland knows that Mr. Fagundes didn’t leave his administration because “he would rather fight for the criminals,” as quoted in a recent Hanford Sentinel story. The toxicity of the Strickland administration drove out many experienced, talented, and passionate prosecutors, including Mr. Fagundes.

It is no surprise that the Strickland administration’s fears of Mr. Fagundes as a political threat have come to fruition. Mr. Fagundes has received the endorsement of every police officer association that has endorsed any candidate for District Attorney, including Hanford, Lemoore, Corcoran, Avenal, and the Correctional Peace Officers. On the other hand, Mr. Strickland has the endorsement of his own current employees -- that is, the ones who haven’t left, and the replacements of those who did, hired by the Strickland administration. But who can blame them, given they have witnessed what happens to anyone perceived as a political enemy at their workplace?

I first moved to Kings County when I was active-duty military at NAS Lemoore and stayed for nearly ten years because I cared about the community and its values. I loved working as a prosecutor for the People and law enforcement officers of Kings County. If not for the election of 2010, I would have perhaps stayed in Kings County for the rest of my life.

It is my sincere belief that the voters of Kings County made a grave mistake in 2010. If those same voters care about making their community safe and seeing that justice is done when offenders violate the law, this year’s election is an imperative choice between an administration fueled by personal vendettas and ruthless ambition, and the promise of one that will restore true leadership, public integrity, and the respect of law enforcement to the prosecution of criminals. I hope the voters won’t make the same mistake twice.

Ty A. Ford

Los Angeles

Comments powered by Disqus