Kamala Harris may style herself a “progressive prosecutor,” but critics on the Democrat’s left say her record is riddled with civil rights abuses and wrongful convictions.
Harris has suffered a steep slump in the polls since getting attacked by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) in the July debates for blocking exculpatory DNA evidence for a man on death row. But the case was part of a wider pattern of upholding wrongful convictions, according to a report from The Washington Examiner that lays out numerous instances of misconduct.
As she seeks the Democrat nomination, Harris has to contend with a history of cases that involved evidence tampering, false witness, and the withholding of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors. For her part, Gabbard pointed to the case of Kevin Cooper, a murder convict on death row for homicides in the Chino Hills in the 1980s.
Cooper, who is black, has long maintained that DNA testing would prove his innocence, and his supporters say that he was framed by racist policing methods. Harris blocked further DNA testing as attorney general of California, and only reversed her position last year.
The Cooper case is not an isolated one. When Harris was attorney general, she fought to uphold a sexual assault conviction for 79-year-old George Gage for sexually abusing his stepdaughter.
Gage appealed his case and a judge found that prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence, including the accuser’s medical records, which showed that the accuser lied to police, and a statement from her mother describing her as a “pathological liar.” Harris fought to bury the appeal, and Gage is still serving his 70-year sentence in prison, where he will likely die.
Moreover, according to the Examiner‘s Alana Goodman, Harris oversaw in 2010 the tainted murder prosecution of 29-year-old reality TV star Jamal Trulove, who spent seven years in prison before his acquittal in a 2015 retrial for the killing of his 28-year-old friend Seu Kuka. This year, San Francisco reached a $13 million settlement with Trulove after he was found to have been framed for the killing by police.
Harris praised the solitary “brave eyewitness” in the case at the time, who was later found to have been manipulated by police, Goodman noted. The eyewitness was paid some $60,000 by the prosecution and received new housing under the witness protection program.
Additionally, as attorney general, Harris denied a request for compensation for the wrongful conviction of a gang member, Rafael Madrigal, who was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for an attempted drive-by killing. His conviction was overturned in 2009 after a federal judge found his defense attorney was incompetent and failed to introduce exculpatory information, including alibis proving that he was not at the scene of the shooting.
And in 2010, Harris sought to retry a gang member, Caramad Conley, who served 18 years in prison for a 1994 double murder conviction. A judge vacated the verdict later that year, citing “voluminous” evidence that the key witness lied.
The witness denied on the stand that he had been paid in the case, but it was later found that he was in the witness protection program and had been given housing by the prosecution. Harris sought to retry the case before she moved on to the attorney general’s office, and Conley later received a $3.5 million settlement, according to SFGATE.
Pattern of abuse
Harris also fought to uphold the wrongful conviction of Neo-Nazi Daniel Larsen, who was sentenced in 1999 to 27 years to life in prison for possession of a concealed weapon. Larsen’s conviction was overturned in 2010 when a judge found that his lawyer was incompetent and failed to introduce exculpatory evidence.
Witnesses eventually came forward and said that Larsen was not, as he was accused, the man who held a knife in a fight outside an L.A. bar, but Harris fought to keep him locked up for another two years on a technicality, arguing that he didn’t appeal his conviction in a timely manner. Harris continued to fight Larsen’s release even after he was let out.
Harris’ record isn’t totally black and white. She often mentions that she made the unpopular decision to not seek the death penalty in a cop-killing case in 2004, when she was newly elected to the DA’s office. But with Harris, who has often been criticized for flip-flopping, the “woke” parts of her record seldom come without qualification. She later fought a federal ruling that declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 2014.
The Democrat has also come under fire for her tough pursuit of the poor parents of truant children, as well as a crime lab scandal in which Harris was found to have withheld information about a lab technician who botched evidence, earning a rebuke from a judge for neglecting the rights of defendants. Hundreds of tainted cases were dismissed as a result of the scandal.
After Harris’ dismal debate performance in July, it was clear that Gabbard had touched a nerve when Harris tried to smear her competitor as a Russian asset. While Harris may think she is entitled to the presidency, her baggage on criminal justice is a clear obstacle that undercuts much of her rhetoric and public image. But whether it will be insurmountable remains to be seen.