Category Archives: prosecutorial misconduct
Yesterday was a full, very long day for me. I was at the Kern County Courthouse steps 90 minutes before the rally began and didn’t get home until after 9 pm. It was organized by the folks that directed and produced Witch Hunt. Seems the local News organizations beat me there.
The directors are Don Hardy and Dana Nachman. Sean Penn was the Executive Producer, KTF Films was the company that produced the movie.
There were old, young and every age in-between there. The crowd slowly started assembling. Signs began to be made. I ran into Jeff and Cozmo, two friends I see at many of the rallies and protests. Jeff is a Vet that lives in an airplane hanger here in Bako. Sweet man and a wonderful little Conure Parrot he calls Cozmo.
When the rally began, there was a decent crowd in attendance. I am short so I made my way to the stage to get some photos from that angle as well.
What was emotional for me was seeing the victims of this prosecutorial misconduct up close and personal. They are all so old now. My age and older. The children are now grown and some have kids of their own. Most if not all of the victims showed up from where they now live around the US. They have all moved out of California, some of their children still live in Bakersfield.
Who can blame them for leaving this place? A place that took away the best part of their lives, that took them away from their children who ranged in age from 6 to 12. The place that took them in their prime and slammed them into prison for anywhere from 6 to 20 years. Look at the photo of John Stoll when he was given his sentence of over 100 years for molesting his own son. Then look at the photo of him now. John spent the longest time in jail..20-fucking-years.
Sean Penn spoke at the end of the rally. It was a call to hold our elected officials, including our bastard DA, Ed Jagels accountable for their actions. It was a call to know who your voting for and what they stand for. The message of the rally was this:
It can happen to anyone. Any of us can have our entire lives ruined and turned upside down by over zealous District Attorneys, Sherriff deputies and fucked up Judges in the pockets of law enforcement. Social Workers that have no idea what went down (if anything), they just prompt the kids and threaten the kids and maintain the status quo. Any of us can spend the best years of our lives in prison and be innocent of the charges. Anyone…
The Fox Theatre was packed. There were many many of us in attendance. Although I had seen the movie already, I went to see it without commercials and uncut for television. It was horrifying to see and hear what went down in the mid-80’s here in Bakersfield. It was hard to hold back the tears when Jeff Modahl, John Stoll and all the other good folks caught up in this disgusting witchhunt told their nightmare stories to the camera.
I had to leave shortly before the end. I couldn’t take anymore of it. My emotions ran the gamut, from anger to sadness to empathy and beyond. Seeing the victims sitting around me and then seeing them in their younger years on the screen, totally terrified, just choked me up. The footage of the trials was gut-wrenching. Watching Brenda Kniffen being sentenced, waving to her family and being taken away, only to faint tore me up.
The film goer’s were caught up in the moment as well, booing when the bullshit DA Ed Jagels was on the screen, when his clone Lisa Green badgered the children during the appeals when they actually told the truth and admitted they had never been touched much less abused by their parents and their parents friends. The film also tells the stories of the children that were used to indict and convict their own parents. How some of them tried to commit suicide in later years because of the guilt. How they tried to soothe their emotional pain with drugs. How they are afraid to bathe their own children because they know what can happen when bullshit is slung from the highest law enforcement officials in town.
These victims were working class people. Not middle class, working class. The film covers all the participants in this decade’s long nightmare. As the film’s website states:
This film shows viewers what the real crime in this case is, not molestation, but the crime of coercion. Viewers hear from the child witnesses who were forced to lie on the witness stand as they describe scary sessions with sheriff’s deputies in which they were told — not asked — about sexual experiences that happened to them. Their coerced testimony led to dozens of convictions. Many times their own parents were the ones they put behind bars.
It will rock you, but not in a good way. It will challenge you to think about what can be done to any of us under the cover of law enforcement and justice. It’s about civil rights being violated by all segments of law enforcement, elected officials, judges and the like. It’s about hiding evidence that would of proven innocence for years if not decades. . Rent it, buy it, just see the 91 minutes of real Americana.
See how easy it was to ruin the lives of innocent, hard-working people. People like you…and me.
Thank you to the victims that allowed their nightmares to be told:
Jack and Jackie Cummings
Rick and Marcella Pitts
Brenda and Scott Kniffen
May the rest of your lives be free of fear and full of happiness.
Here is a trailer of the documentary. My post on this documentary is here. Tickets available at Vallitix.com
“There is no crueler tyranny than that which is exercised under cover of law, and with the colors of justice …” – U.S. v. Jannotti, 673 F.2d 578, 614 (3d Cir. 1982)
Penn’s newest documentary is based on the District Attorney’s office here in Kern County.What it’s really about are the individuals that were arrested, tried and convicted on charges of child molestation. It’s about how it ruined their lives and those of their families, children, friends and neighbors.
All the molestation cases were overturned by the State Supreme Court. All of them. What really makes this a gross miscarriage of justice and prosecutorial misconduct is that it took up to 20 years to overturn them all.
The documentary was recently shown on MSNBC. MSNBC has an excellent section up on the cases and the documentary. Let me tell you just a little about Ed Jagels and these cases, from a post I wrote in 2006. There is another post I wrote specifically about the child molestation cases here. :
Kern County has had prosecutorial misconduct raised as an issue 108 times over the past quarter-century..about twice the rate of similarly sized counties. That ain’t good sportsfans. Eddie has been in office for 23 of those years…since 1983.
Ed Jagels office prosecuted a series of Child Molestation cases in the 1980’s..29 defendants went to jail for terms upwards of 400 years..Sounds like a lot for this small town with a population of 271,000 doesn’t it? So far, the State Supreme Court has overturned..and I quote from a website for Edward Hume, who wrote a book about Eddie entitled “Mean Justice”: The worse case of prosecutorial misconduct in California history, People vs. Pitts, occurred on Jagels watch, in which seven men and women served more than six years in prison: the appeals court that reversed the convictions spent more than 100 pages detailing the examples of prosecutorial misconduct in the case.”
These are the most heinous cases to date, but there are others. But I digress..the website for the documentary gives you a concise view of the carnage:
Executive Producer Sean Penn proudly presents “Witch Hunt,” a gripping indictment of the United States justice system told through the lens of one small town. It’s John Stoll’s story, but it’s also the story of dozens of other men and women who found themselves ensnared in a spiral of fear, ignorance and hysteria. These people are Americans, working class moms and dads, who were rounded up with little or no evidence, charged and convicted of almost unimaginable crimes. All sexual. All crimes against children. Years, sometimes decades later, they would find freedom again, but their lives and the lives of their children would be changed forever. This film shows viewers what the real crime in this case is, not molestation, but the crime of coercion. Viewers hear from the child witnesses who were forced to lie on the witness stand as they describe scary sessions with sheriff’s deputies in which they were told — not asked — about sexual experiences that happened to them. Their coerced testimony led to dozens of convictions. Many times their own parents were the ones they put behind bars.
Soon after the trials, the children started to crack. They told adults of the lies they’d been forced to tell on the stand and hoped it would make a difference. It didn’t and the convicted continued to sit in prison. As the allegations grew more outlandish, California’s Attorney General wrote a scathing report on the court misconduct, but instead of being buried by criticism, Kern County District Attorney Ed Jagels thrived, doing what he did best– putting people away. He boasted one of the highest conviction rates in the country. This strategy served him well. Jagels is still in office today. Through new interviews, archival footage, and unflinching narration by Mr. Penn, the filmmakers construct an intimate film that illustrates a universal point; when power is allowed to exist without oversight from the press, the community or law enforcement, the rights of everyday citizens can be lost for decades. National film critic Marshall Fine says, “This is a chilling story about American law-enforcement run amok and untethered. It’s particularly timely in the wake of revelations about the way the Bush administration has trampled American civil rights. A movie that can’t help but move you – to tears and to action.”
This happened in my town, where I live and have resided for over seven years. It happened before I moved here, but it should stand as an embarrassment to everyone that calls Bakersfield their home.
Tomorrow night there will be a showing of this documentary here in Bakersfield at the Fox Theatre (tickets available here). Sean Penn will be in attendance I have been told. The money raised will go to a good cause I hope..as I will plunk down my $30 bucks to attend.
Update: The money goes to The Innocence Project. They are the folks that took up the cause of some of the wrongfully convicted individuals.
Do you think Ed Jagels will be there? Highly unlikely..but it would be interesting if the scumbag did show up. For more information on this miscarriage of justice..here are some links to news items.
Photos from the documentary Witch Hunt, the press package from the film’s website.