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County DA election: Incumbent Becton, challenger Knox debate issues ahead of primary

Organized theft rings, Hall verdict, fentanyl among hot topics of discussion

Candidates for Contra Costa County district attorney debate during a public forum on May 3. (Video by Diablo Valley College)

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton and challenger Mary Knox, a longtime prosecutor in the DA's office, addressed voters on a range of topics during a public forum last week at Diablo Valley College.

The opponents answered questions about organized property theft rings, the conviction of a now-former Danville sheriff's deputy, fentanyl crimes and more at the event last Tuesday evening that also included a separate debate between county sheriff candidates. The event was moderated by DanvilleSanRamon publisher Gina Channell Wilcox and editor Jeremy Walsh.

Diana Becton.

In the first topic of the night, involving the role of the DA's office in addressing property crime, both candidates discussed current efforts and accomplishments on this end -- with Knox highlighting her work on a new organized retail theft task force and Becton explaining the DA's office process in the wake of a high-profile mass robbery at Nordstrom in Walnut Creek last year.

Mary Knox.

"I will continue to work as I am right now with all other counties and investigators to actively and proactively identify and prosecute these organized retail theft crews in our county," said Knox, who has worked as a deputy DA in Contra Costa County for the past 37 years.

While Knox focused on her current role as a prosecutor, Becton, as incumbent, sought to highlight actions she had already taken as district attorney to address high profile retail organized crime.

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"We all know that Contra Costa County certainly made history in 2021 when we had 90 individuals storm into the Nordstrom simultaneously and then exiting the same way with merchandise and then also harming people within the store," said Becton, a retired Contra Costa County Superior Court judge who is running for her second full term as DA after first being appointed to the role in 2017.

Becton noted that the suspects apprehended in the Walnut Creek incident so far have been charged with "serious crimes, including organized retail theft and robbery," in cases that she said are currently making their way through the justice system.

Becton also discussed catalytic converter thefts, which she said are the product of organized crime groups as well, and are on the minds of county voters as more and more residents are impacted by the string of thefts, pointing to work toward establishing a dedicated unit focused solely on catalytic converter and vehicle thefts.

"This has certainly been an area where we know that residents are very frustrated, and therefore I have been working with our task force and our investigative unit as we are exploring the resources that will be necessary to stand up a unit that will specialize solely on automobile and catalytic converter thefts, and also focus our attention on where those catalytic converters are being sold," Becton said.

Although the first question of the night didn't spark a particularly contentious debate, the second question -- on the two candidates' positions on pretrial incarceration -- saw more divided views expressed.

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Becton highlighted her support for restorative justice programs, in particular those aimed at offering alternatives to the criminal justice system to vulnerable populations such as youth, and those with mental health and addiction issues, in non-violent cases with a low likelihood of reoffense.

Becton also emphasized diversion programs for low-level juvenile and adult offenders both as ways of minimizing the "footprint" of the criminal justice system on people's lives, and seeking to prevent patterns of re-offense.

"I have established diversion programs, including a drug diversion program so we can get people into treatment and reduce our footprint there, and then we also have just launched our neighborhood restorative partnership, so that a number of the low level nonviolent offenses can be heard by people in our community," Becton said.

Knox, however, contended that pretrial incarceration has many functions, and did not indicate seeing a need to reduce current levels.

"I believe that pretrial incarceration is appropriate especially with recidivist offenders, and this has been particularly important with the property crimes and the organized retail theft," Knox said. "While I was doing felony filing I would have people with arrests on their rap sheets from literally eight to 10 different counties, and this recycling -- this catch and release of criminals who then just continue to commit crimes -- that needs to stop."

The two candidates also butted heads over the charges brought by Becton's office against now-former Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy Andrew Hall, for the 2018 on-duty shooting death of Laudemer Arboleda in Danville. Knox pointed to the delay in filing charges, which came approximately 2-1/2 years after the 2018 incident, and shortly after a second fatal shooting by Hall while on patrol in Danville in March 2021. A jury ultimately convicted Hall of felony assault for Arboleda's death.

"The extensive delay in the filing of charges prohibited the public and all the involved parties from having decisions made at a point in time that were effective, and also it denied all of these parties the opportunity to have transparency," Knox said." These investigations have to be done swiftly, and they have to be transparent, and the use of our coroner's inquest alone allows the public to have access to information in a timely fashion, since those inquests are open to the public."

Becton contended that Hall had ultimately been held accountable, and that the charges and sentencing came on the heels of extensive efforts on her part to increase oversight and accountability in police shootings, which said were implemented with transparency in mind.

"We've actually done a tremendous amount of work, and I would say a 360 degree turnaround in the district attorney's office to investigate these cases," Becton said.

"We have a protocol in Contra Costa County that all of the law enforcement agencies have signed on to, which requires the District Attorney's Office when there's an officer-involved shooting, especially those resulting in fatalities, to investigate those cases," the incumbent added. "We are doing co-investigations along with the agencies, but we are coming to our own independent conclusions with respect to criminality."

Becton also contended that despite Knox declining to publicly comment on the Hall case, saying it would be inappropriate as a prosecutor who was not assigned to that case, the challenger had done so by saying she wouldn't have filed charges against Hall.

Knox clarified that this exchange had occurred during an endorsement interview that Becton was also present for, in which she was asked if she would have brought charges against Hall based on what she did know about the shooting.

"Based on the fact that I do know all nine shots fired in two seconds ... I questioned whether it would be physically possible for Officer Hall to take his finger off the trigger," Knox said during Tuesday's forum. "So based on those facts I did know, the filing did not seem appropriate, but I have never taken a stance that I did not approve of the filing."

Another high-profile topic of discussion centered around the role of the DA's office in deterring and punishing those behind the rise of fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Becton pointed to the need to hold those behind the supply and distribution of the dangerous drug accountable to the fullest extent of the law, while Knox highlighted her experience with the issue as a prosecutor and decried what she called "the dismantling of drug enforcement teams."

"If we find that there is clearly a connection between the sale of drugs and a person and then that sale of drugs results in a death, then we certainly have the capability, and we would pursue murder charges against that person who sold drugs to the person who then odd, assuming we could make that logical connection," Becton said.

Knox attributed the issue to what she said was an influx of drugs from Mexico, and the county's position in the crosshairs of cartel activity.

"Not only is fentanyl being sold as pills, but also being used to lace drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine, so that unexpecting drug users are actually ingesting fentanyl in amounts they can't even control," Knox said. "So there has to be a refocus on the cartel and the organized crime drug activity in the state, and begin to address this massive volume of drugs coming into California from Mexico."

The May 3 forum was sponsored by the San Ramon, Danville Area, Brentwood, Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Concord chambers of commerce, as well as DVC. See the full video here.

The two candidates will continue to discuss their platforms and campaign over the next several weeks ahead of the upcoming June 6 primary election.

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Jeanita Lyman joined the Pleasanton Weekly in September 2020 and covers the Danville and San Ramon beat. She studied journalism at Skyline College and Mills College while covering the Peninsula for the San Mateo Daily Journal, after moving back to the area in 2013. Read more >>

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County DA election: Incumbent Becton, challenger Knox debate issues ahead of primary

Organized theft rings, Hall verdict, fentanyl among hot topics of discussion

by / Danville San Ramon

Uploaded: Mon, May 9, 2022, 2:46 am

Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton and challenger Mary Knox, a longtime prosecutor in the DA's office, addressed voters on a range of topics during a public forum last week at Diablo Valley College.

The opponents answered questions about organized property theft rings, the conviction of a now-former Danville sheriff's deputy, fentanyl crimes and more at the event last Tuesday evening that also included a separate debate between county sheriff candidates. The event was moderated by DanvilleSanRamon publisher Gina Channell Wilcox and editor Jeremy Walsh.

In the first topic of the night, involving the role of the DA's office in addressing property crime, both candidates discussed current efforts and accomplishments on this end -- with Knox highlighting her work on a new organized retail theft task force and Becton explaining the DA's office process in the wake of a high-profile mass robbery at Nordstrom in Walnut Creek last year.

"I will continue to work as I am right now with all other counties and investigators to actively and proactively identify and prosecute these organized retail theft crews in our county," said Knox, who has worked as a deputy DA in Contra Costa County for the past 37 years.

While Knox focused on her current role as a prosecutor, Becton, as incumbent, sought to highlight actions she had already taken as district attorney to address high profile retail organized crime.

"We all know that Contra Costa County certainly made history in 2021 when we had 90 individuals storm into the Nordstrom simultaneously and then exiting the same way with merchandise and then also harming people within the store," said Becton, a retired Contra Costa County Superior Court judge who is running for her second full term as DA after first being appointed to the role in 2017.

Becton noted that the suspects apprehended in the Walnut Creek incident so far have been charged with "serious crimes, including organized retail theft and robbery," in cases that she said are currently making their way through the justice system.

Becton also discussed catalytic converter thefts, which she said are the product of organized crime groups as well, and are on the minds of county voters as more and more residents are impacted by the string of thefts, pointing to work toward establishing a dedicated unit focused solely on catalytic converter and vehicle thefts.

"This has certainly been an area where we know that residents are very frustrated, and therefore I have been working with our task force and our investigative unit as we are exploring the resources that will be necessary to stand up a unit that will specialize solely on automobile and catalytic converter thefts, and also focus our attention on where those catalytic converters are being sold," Becton said.

Although the first question of the night didn't spark a particularly contentious debate, the second question -- on the two candidates' positions on pretrial incarceration -- saw more divided views expressed.

Becton highlighted her support for restorative justice programs, in particular those aimed at offering alternatives to the criminal justice system to vulnerable populations such as youth, and those with mental health and addiction issues, in non-violent cases with a low likelihood of reoffense.

Becton also emphasized diversion programs for low-level juvenile and adult offenders both as ways of minimizing the "footprint" of the criminal justice system on people's lives, and seeking to prevent patterns of re-offense.

"I have established diversion programs, including a drug diversion program so we can get people into treatment and reduce our footprint there, and then we also have just launched our neighborhood restorative partnership, so that a number of the low level nonviolent offenses can be heard by people in our community," Becton said.

Knox, however, contended that pretrial incarceration has many functions, and did not indicate seeing a need to reduce current levels.

"I believe that pretrial incarceration is appropriate especially with recidivist offenders, and this has been particularly important with the property crimes and the organized retail theft," Knox said. "While I was doing felony filing I would have people with arrests on their rap sheets from literally eight to 10 different counties, and this recycling -- this catch and release of criminals who then just continue to commit crimes -- that needs to stop."

The two candidates also butted heads over the charges brought by Becton's office against now-former Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy Andrew Hall, for the 2018 on-duty shooting death of Laudemer Arboleda in Danville. Knox pointed to the delay in filing charges, which came approximately 2-1/2 years after the 2018 incident, and shortly after a second fatal shooting by Hall while on patrol in Danville in March 2021. A jury ultimately convicted Hall of felony assault for Arboleda's death.

"The extensive delay in the filing of charges prohibited the public and all the involved parties from having decisions made at a point in time that were effective, and also it denied all of these parties the opportunity to have transparency," Knox said." These investigations have to be done swiftly, and they have to be transparent, and the use of our coroner's inquest alone allows the public to have access to information in a timely fashion, since those inquests are open to the public."

Becton contended that Hall had ultimately been held accountable, and that the charges and sentencing came on the heels of extensive efforts on her part to increase oversight and accountability in police shootings, which said were implemented with transparency in mind.

"We've actually done a tremendous amount of work, and I would say a 360 degree turnaround in the district attorney's office to investigate these cases," Becton said.

"We have a protocol in Contra Costa County that all of the law enforcement agencies have signed on to, which requires the District Attorney's Office when there's an officer-involved shooting, especially those resulting in fatalities, to investigate those cases," the incumbent added. "We are doing co-investigations along with the agencies, but we are coming to our own independent conclusions with respect to criminality."

Becton also contended that despite Knox declining to publicly comment on the Hall case, saying it would be inappropriate as a prosecutor who was not assigned to that case, the challenger had done so by saying she wouldn't have filed charges against Hall.

Knox clarified that this exchange had occurred during an endorsement interview that Becton was also present for, in which she was asked if she would have brought charges against Hall based on what she did know about the shooting.

"Based on the fact that I do know all nine shots fired in two seconds ... I questioned whether it would be physically possible for Officer Hall to take his finger off the trigger," Knox said during Tuesday's forum. "So based on those facts I did know, the filing did not seem appropriate, but I have never taken a stance that I did not approve of the filing."

Another high-profile topic of discussion centered around the role of the DA's office in deterring and punishing those behind the rise of fentanyl-related overdose deaths.

Becton pointed to the need to hold those behind the supply and distribution of the dangerous drug accountable to the fullest extent of the law, while Knox highlighted her experience with the issue as a prosecutor and decried what she called "the dismantling of drug enforcement teams."

"If we find that there is clearly a connection between the sale of drugs and a person and then that sale of drugs results in a death, then we certainly have the capability, and we would pursue murder charges against that person who sold drugs to the person who then odd, assuming we could make that logical connection," Becton said.

Knox attributed the issue to what she said was an influx of drugs from Mexico, and the county's position in the crosshairs of cartel activity.

"Not only is fentanyl being sold as pills, but also being used to lace drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine, so that unexpecting drug users are actually ingesting fentanyl in amounts they can't even control," Knox said. "So there has to be a refocus on the cartel and the organized crime drug activity in the state, and begin to address this massive volume of drugs coming into California from Mexico."

The May 3 forum was sponsored by the San Ramon, Danville Area, Brentwood, Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Concord chambers of commerce, as well as DVC. See the full video here.

The two candidates will continue to discuss their platforms and campaign over the next several weeks ahead of the upcoming June 6 primary election.

Comments

D
Registered user
Danville
on May 9, 2022 at 6:34 am
D, Danville
Registered user
on May 9, 2022 at 6:34 am

DA Becton got caught plagiarizing her application for DA, and has no credibility. She never worked in the DA's office before becoming DA, and still has never personally prosecuted a single case. She took this job to further her extreme liberal political views, and during her reign she has released violent offenders and her office has a significant drop in conviction rates. Her soft on crime policies led to the national news coverage of violent gangs taking over downtown Walnut Creek stores.

Danville Mayor Newell Arneich, and all of the members of the Danville Town Council have endorsed Becton's opponent, long time prosecutor Mary Knox, who unlike Becton has decades of experience prosecuting criminals, and will stand up for victims of crime, not for criminals. If you value law and order, and do not want to turn the rest of Contra Costa into Richmond, please vote for long time prosecutor Mary Knox for DA.


Parent and Voter
Registered user
Danville
on May 9, 2022 at 7:19 am
Parent and Voter, Danville
Registered user
on May 9, 2022 at 7:19 am

Change often is a good thing and replacing the current County DA with the challenger, Mary Knox, would be a step in the right direction.
Danville is know as the safest city in the County, State, and perhaps the Nation, but locals know that does not mean crime and illegal activities do not occur here too. A strong County DA like Mary Knox would make our communities safer.


The Dude
Registered user
San Ramon
on May 10, 2022 at 7:47 pm
The Dude, San Ramon
Registered user
on May 10, 2022 at 7:47 pm

Becton has absolutely no business in her current position. She is completely unqualified and poses a threat to public safety.


Jennifer
Registered user
Danville
on May 13, 2022 at 8:58 am
Jennifer, Danville
Registered user
on May 13, 2022 at 8:58 am

Mary Knox would make a great DA. I hope she wins.


David Cook sr
Registered user
another community
on May 17, 2022 at 10:28 am
David Cook sr, another community
Registered user
on May 17, 2022 at 10:28 am

Ns. Becton should remain as District Attorney for Contra Costa County. Ms. Becton decision to stop the mass incarceration of people of color was needed. I myself was constantly being recycled through the Penal System for the mostly violations that kept me on Parole for 15 yrs Diane Becton policy gave me a Fresh Start. Im a registered Voter now, i drive a new vehicle 2022. I have a great job in Private Security. Mary Knox things to return to how it use to be. Ms. Becton was responsible for changing the toxic culture of the Antioch, Pittsburg Police Department, Officers in these Departments were dealing drugs, firearms, stealing evidence drugs and money. I from Antioch my dad who was the Minister at Church of Christ in Pittsburg.Our family was in Antioch in 1973 the only African American in Antioch at that time. So ive seen the change in our communities. I believe that leadership such as District Attorney must make decisions that are not popular but are necessary. Ms. Knox is not the right choice for District Attorney She will only reverse the progress that Ms. Becton has made.Ms. knox will arrest the Civil Liberties of Contra Costa County residence she will implement policies that will allow the Police to do as they please. Vote Becton for Progress.


The Dude
Registered user
San Ramon
on May 17, 2022 at 3:37 pm
The Dude, San Ramon
Registered user
on May 17, 2022 at 3:37 pm

A convicted felon working in the security industry. Amazing.


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