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For Immediate Release: April 22, 2024

Color Of Change Statement on Alameda County’s Racist and Anti-semitic Death Penalty Scandal

OAKLAND – Today, a federal judge directed the Alameda County District Attorney to investigate and review all pending death penalty cases based on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in excluding Jewish and Black people from death penalty juries. 

U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria for the Northern District of California issued his order after Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price informed him that she had evidence that the office, which she took over in January 2022, had for decades engaged in a practice of excluding Black and Jewish jurors in death penalty cases. The office has identified 35 people in prison whose trials were implicated by this practice. There are likely to be more impacted cases, with some people having died in prison and some people potentially executed. 

DA Price brought this to the attention of Judge Chhabria after she had assigned a staffer to oversee death penalty appellate proceedings and the staffer found a note detailing the strategy of excluding Black and Jewish people in the case of Ernest Dykes, who was sentenced to death in 1995. Further documentation has been discovered and handed over to Judge Chhabria. Today, the judge issued an order stating that the initial 35 cases identified will be reassigned to him for settlement. The judge directed DA Price to investigate and review all pending death penalty cases based on evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in excluding Jewish and Black people from death penalty juries. 

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom, California has had a moratorium on the use of the death penalty since 2019, but hundreds of people remain on death row. In 2006, a whistleblower prosecutor from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office told courts that a judge had advised him to remove a Jewish person from a death penalty jury. The prosecutor testified under oath of the practice of removing Black and Jewish people from juries, but the California Supreme Court ultimately found insufficient evidence of misconduct in a case that could have overturned dozens of death sentences.

In response to today’s breaking news, Color Of Change released the following statement from Michael Collins, COC’s Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs:

“This is horrifying. We have known for a long time that prosecutors often engage in unethical practices, but this scandal, uncovered by DA Pamela Price, is unparalleled. The prosecutors and judges implicated in this scandal engaged in racist and antisemitic practices and sent people to their deaths. For too long, prosecutors have sought to win at all costs, even if it means engaging in constitutional violations, civil rights violations and antisemitic and racially disparate practices that result in people sentenced to death. We know of 35 people who will have their cases reviewed, and hopefully overturned, but there are likely many more. 

“Color Of Change applauds District Attorney Price for uncovering and publicizing these issues. We know that DA Price is one of the country’s most reform-minded district attorneys and also the first Black woman to serve as Alameda County’s lead prosecutor. Her conduct also underscores what is sorely lacking in so many prosecutor offices — strong ethics and morals.

“Finally, we call on U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to open a civil rights investigation into this scandal. The judges and prosecutors who perpetrated these harms must be held accountable.”


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