The Contra Costa DA race has fought amid stark political contrasts, lawsuits and office drama

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MARTINEZ — Four years after Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton withstood a challenge from her political right, she appears to have another viable opponent standing against the recent wave of progressive justice reform prosecutors across California.

Longtime prosecutor and former senior assistant district attorney Mary Knox — until she was demoted by Becton — has hit the campaign trail hard, with regular appearances at farmers’ markets, rallies and fundraising efforts. of funds sometimes linked to County Sheriff David Livingston, one of several law enforcement officials supporting Knox’s candidacy. As other DA candidates in the Bay Area vie to present themselves as the most progressive candidate in their respective races, Knox is banking on that outrage for high-profile crimes — like a series of televised retail robberies in Walnut Creek. – will rally voter support for his promises to impose tougher sentences and “work hand in hand” with local police.

Becton – appointed in 2017 after a campaign embezzlement scandal saw the county’s former DA resign and plead no contest for felony perjury – ran on her policy brief to make the justice system fairer for everyone. She prioritized diversion for lower-level offenses, like drug possession, called for the juvenile hall to be closed, allowed the Vera Institute, a progressive research group, to essentially verify the his agency’s charging decisions for racial disparities and implemented a pilot program designed to reduce “excessive sentences.”

Before becoming the county’s first black woman to serve as senior prosecutor, Becton served as a judge for 22 years, following a career as a private attorney. She grew up in Richmond, enrolled in law school while pregnant with her first child, and served as a presiding judge at Contra Costa.

She also aligned herself with fellow progressive prosecutors Chesa Boudin, George Gascon and Tori Verber Salazar to form an “Alliance of Prosecutors”, but unlike her counterparts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Becton refrained from abolishing the use of gang enhancements and other charges that add jail time to a defendant’s sentence.

Still, Knox has attempted to paint Becton as soft on crime and coming down on criminals as she touts her own 37-year career as a gang prosecutor with a reputation among defense attorneys as someone who will pursue relatively long prison terms in plea bargains.

Serving as the backdrop to the DA race is the recent prosecution of former Contra Costa Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Hall, the first law enforcement officer ever prosecuted for an on-duty shooting in county history. Becton brought manslaughter charges against Hall two and a half years after he shot and killed Laudemer Arboleda during a 2018 slow-speed chase in Danville, and a month after Hall shot and killed a second man while that he was on duty. At trial, jurors were unable to rule on manslaughter but found Hall guilty of assault and he was sentenced to six years in prison.

Knox was one of four county prosecutors who signed a letter criticizing Becton’s handling of the Hall investigation — including the delay — but avoided saying whether Hall should have been charged until she says he was “justified to use lethal force” in an interview with the editorial board.

But there’s more to the race between Becton and Knox than politics; while she campaigns against Becton, Knox also fights her in federal court. In 2020, Knox and three other women in the office sued Becton, alleging she favored inexperienced men for promotions. Knox also appealed Becton’s decision to demote her and filed complaints with the county merit board, which last year sided with Knox and doubted Becton’s sworn testimony that Knox was demoted because she brought the “hand of fear” to her colleagues.

by Knox political reprisal complaint against Becton pointed out that she demoted her opponent in the June 2018 election, Paul Graves, who also ran against Becton’s record of political justice reform. In the three-candidate race, Graves won 42% of the vote while Becton secured about 1,000 votes past the 50% mark, enough to avoid a head-to-head with Graves in November.

Knox has a significant fundraising edge of more than $100,000, as well as endorsements from every police union in the county. Becton, meanwhile, is backed by the all-powerful California Democratic Party, as well as numerous state and local elected officials.

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