Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims was taken to task by Gov. Jerry Brown this week in a voice mail over a campaign mailer against his Proposition 57.
She fired back at Brown that he was mistaken about the measure’s potential impact, and on Thursday she cited the background of a particular California prison inmate as proof.
The governor spoke Thursday at the quarterly meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association in Mount Shasta.
He made little mention of the message he left, except to say he was sure everyone had heard about the mailer by now, Mims said.
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She said the association is taking a neutral position on Proposition 57, but individual sheriffs can participate in the campaign if they wish.
Mims joined several other sheriffs in signing a mailer that features a prisoner who they said would be released under Proposition 57. That prisoner was Arthur Lindsey, a 77-year-old two-striker from Los Angeles County who was convicted of numerous sexual assault and weapons charges. He was sentenced to more than 100 years, she said.
Lindsey, an inmate at Wasco State Prison, was convicted on 10 charges, including rape of an unconscious person, rape by use of drugs, sexual penetration by a foreign object, oral copulation of an unconscious person, possessing a gun as a felon, and using an intoxicating substance to commit the sex crimes.
“The first thing I did was find out if this guy was eligible (for release) under Proposition 57, and he was in fact,” Mims said.
After serving eight years in prison, Mims said, Lindsey would qualify for release under Proposition 57, which is on the November ballot.
“I think the voters should know this is not about public safety,” Mims said. “The governor spent no time talking about this in reference to public safety.”
The governor’s main concern, she said, is to reduce capacity in state prisons to remain in compliance with the federal court decree ordering California to reduce its number of inmates and have more humane prison conditions.
But Mims said Proposition 47 and the jail realignment programs that have lowered prison capacity have led to higher crime rates.
This year, she said, sheriffs who opposed Proposition 47 before it passed in 2014 will be more aggressive in opposing Proposition 57.
While the governor worries about prison capacity, “the concern of individual sheriffs is, how does this make my community safer,” she said.
Chiding in voice mail
In his effort to pass the ballot measure, Brown scolded Mims in the voice mail for what he called the “malicious” mailer.
“Hey Margaret, I got that mailing on Prop. 57 that you signed,” Brown said in a message to Mims that was obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
In the message, Brown objected to the campaign’s distribution of the card featuring Lindsey, who “you said would be released under my proposition.”
“I just want you to know that’s completely false, and that makes that mailer extremely false, and I would even say malicious,” Brown, a Democrat, told Mims, a Republican.
He accused Mims of employing “scare tactics that I think are unbecoming of a public official, and certainly will not build the kind of mutual respect and trust that we all need to do our jobs.”
Opponents of Brown’s measure have been distributing sportslike trading cards with photographs of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes under the headline, “Meet your new neighbor.” Proposition 57 does not define what constitutes a “nonviolent” crime, and opponents of the measure have sought to highlight criminals convicted of such “nonviolent” crimes as certain kinds of rape.
The Brown administration has said it anticipates implementing regulations to carry out Proposition 57 that would disqualify from early release inmates who must register as sex offenders, though that language is not written into his measure.
Brown told Mims, “This guy was sentenced to 100 years, and he’s a registered sex offender, and on both accounts would not be getting out.”
Referring to the Thursday meeting of the sheriffs, Brown told Mims, “So, that’s all I can say. Maybe I’ll see you up at the sheriffs’ meeting. Thanks.”
Asked about the voice mail on Wednesday, Brown said, “Very thoughtful, I thought.”
In a subsequent phone call, Mims said, she told Brown he was wrong about Lindsey.
“This guy is the poster child for why Proposition 57 shouldn’t pass,” she said.
The governor told Mims there would be regulations to keep convicts such as Lindsey from leaving prison early.
Mims said law enforcement officials are growing increasingly weary of reduced sentences for felons, and Proposition 57’s passage could further endanger Californians.
“It’s too bad the governor doesn’t even know the details of what his initiative would do,” she said.
Mims said Brown expressed concern about rising crime rates and “lifers getting out of prison.”
She added: “We’re going to have to work together. He’s concerned about the same things I am, but this is not the fix.”
Mims said she doesn’t know how the governor’s voice mail was obtained by The Sacramento Bee.
After the governor’s voice mail, she sent it to several people to ensure that she had signed on to a mailer that was truthful. She confirmed it was correct and later called the governor to tell him.
“He has my cell number, and I have his, and we have had conversations in the past,” she said. “I guess he saw my signature (on the mailer) and he hit the dial button.”
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchins also signed the mailer. The governor didn’t call her, Mims said.
Brown’s office didn’t comment, deferring questions to the campaign supporting Proposition 57.