Diana Becton

Diana Becton

Overview

* Became Contra Costa County interim District Attorney in 2017
* Was charged with plagiarism upon her appointment as interim D.A.
* Was elected Contra Costa County D.A. with enormous financial support from George Soros
* Claims that racism thoroughly pervades the U.S. and its criminal-justice system


Diana Becton was born on August 16, 1951 and grew up in East Oakland, California. She graduated from San Francisco State University in 1974 and received a J.D. degree from Golden Gate University School of Law in 1985. Three decades later, in 2015, Becton obtained a Masters of Theological Studies from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.

After finishing law school, Becton worked as a private-practice attorney until California Republican Governor Pete Wilson appointed her as a judge to Contra Costa County’s Superior Court in 1995. In 2011, Becton was elected to become the county’s presiding judge, a post she held for the next six years.

In September 2017, three of the five members of Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors selected Becton, a Democrat who had never before been a prosecutor, to become the county’s interim District Attorney and serve out the existing term of former Contra Costa D.A. Mark Peterson. The latter had resigned in June 2017 after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office charged him with 13 felonies related to Peterson’s admitted use of $66,000 in campaign funds for personal expenditures.

Becton’s appointment as interim District Attorney was tinged with controversy, given the fact that she had plagiarized the writings of several other people on her own D.A. application questionnaire. Eight separate times in that document, Becton had copied and pasted, without providing attribution, such things as: (a) a section from Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech; (b) excerpts from the Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Francisco District Attorney websites; (c) excerpts from two separate published works; and (d) opinions expressed in a widely publicized open letter co-written by U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul regarding criminal-justice reform. For example, Becton interspersed throughout her application more than 100 words taken from the Harris-Paul letter, including the following text that appeared verbatim in both works: “Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail. Whether someone stays in jail or not is far too often determined by wealth or social connections, even though just a few days behind bars can cost people their job, home, or custody of their children.”

Prior to the Contra Costa County supervisors’ official vote, Becton informed them that she wished “to hold our [D.A.] office to a high standard so that everyone is accountable for bad behavior.” “When we have a culture where people get away with little things,” she added, “it lowers the standard for everyone.”

In October 2017, Becton participated in a panel discussion titled “Reimagining the 21st Century Prosecutor.” The event was co-sponsored by Fair and Just Prosecution, a leftwing organization dedicated to “enabling a new generation of leaders to move beyond incarceration-driven approaches and develop policies that promote a smarter and more equitable justice system.”

In 2018, Becton ran in the regularly scheduled election for Contra Costa County D.A.  Her campaign gained the support of the leftist multi-billionaire mega-donor George Soros, who contributed approximately $275,000 to Becton’s candidacy. Moreover, Soros donated an additional $100,000 in campaign funds to Becton through his California Justice & Public Safety PAC.

Becton also received the endorsement of another Soros-linked organization, Real Justice, which “works to elect reform-minded prosecutors at the county and municipal level who are committed to using the powers of their office to fight structural racism and defend our communities from abuse by state power.” RealJustice co-founder Shaun King praised Becton, stating that “[i]f elected she will make history as the prosecutor who took on mass incarceration by pushing through much needed bail reform, restorative justice programs, and an end to racial disparities in charging and sentencing.”

Other notable endorsers of Becton’s candidacy included Kamala Harris, Eric Swalwell, Jerry Brown, Democracy for America, MoveOn, EMILY’s List, and Indivisible CA-11.

In June 2018, Becton won the election for Contra Costa County D.A. in a tight race.

Upon taking over as D.A., Becton encouraged the prosecutors in her office to deprioritize cases involving low-level offenders, especially those guilty of participating in drug crimes. Indeed, she advocated the use of treatment programs as an alternative to prison sentences for such offenses. In response to pushback and criticism from some of her own prosecutors who objected to her soft approach to drug crimes, Becton said: “We have to come in and literally and really change a prosecutorial culture…. Part of it is education, putting in place new measures of success. Doing what is fair and what is just. What we have at this time is really an exposure of inequities of the criminal justice system on a national scale.”

In July 2019, Contra Costa County’s Chief Deputy District Attorney, Phyllis Redmond, joined approximately a dozen other employees who had recently departed from Becton’s D.A. office because they objected to her policies. The proverbial “final straw” that resulted in Redmond’s exit from the D.A. office in Contra Costa County, where she had served for 30 years, centered around the case of a violent black felon named Freddie Lee Taylor. After an appeals court had overturned Taylor’s conviction for the 1985 rape and murder of an 84-year-old woman in her own home, the perpetrator pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter in February 2019 and was promptly set free that same day. A spokesman for Becton’s D.A. office explained that the decision to release Taylor was made after “extensive” deliberation that gave strong consideration to a 2016 federal appeals court decision that had called into question whether Taylor, who had suffered from mental illness throughout his life, was mentally competent to stand trial when he was first convicted. Upon leaving her job as Deputy D.A., Redmond wrote that the new culture in Becton’s office “undermines my ability to support the hard-working employees of this office, to seek justice and to serve victims of crime.”

In June 2020, Becton enacted a new policy that called upon her Deputy District Attorneys to refrain from filing any criminal charges until they had first considered the possible reasons why certain offenders may have felt compelled to engage in violent behaviors such as looting, rioting, assault, robbery, or arson. As the publication American Thinker explained: “New guidance from Diana Becton … states that law-enforcement officers must consider if looters ‘needed’ the merchandise they stole before charging them. And whether a shop is open or closed when the thievery takes place matters, and whether the looting was done because of a ‘state of emergency’ or ‘just because’ makes a difference in who gets charged, too.”

Becton’s new standards had an immediate effect on the criminal-justice process in Contra Costa County. For instance, they enabled three people to escape criminal charges after they had stolen $20,000 in merchandise from a local liquor store during one of the many violent riots that swept across America’s cities after the infamous death of George Floyd in May 2020. Similarly, a woman who tried to steal cash from a local ATM (automatic teller machine) was not formally charged either. In response to these two cases, Sean Wright — the mayor of Antioch, the county’s second-largest city — stated: “According to our D.A., if the looters ‘need’ an item in a retail shop, for example, it is OK for them to take that item without being charged. I don’t agree with this approach.”

In the summer of 2020, Steve Aiello, president of the Antioch Police Officers Association, described Becton’s guidelines as “reckless” affronts to the “community, local business, and business owners.” “It shows the District Attorney’s Office is picking and choosing the types of crimes it will prosecute versus just following the laws on the books,” he added. “At what point does our District Attorney’s Office advocate for the victims? If it’s not the District Attorney’s Office, who then becomes the advocate and safety net for the victims and ensuring restitution is made.”

In a separate directive, Becton decided that she would no longer dispatch a Deputy D.A. to the scene of any officer-involved shooting, a practice that had theretofore been customary as a means of protecting the officers’ interests.

Becton’s politics are thoroughly steeped in racial obsession. In July 2020, for instance, she filed hate-crime charges against two white people — 53-year-old David Nelson and 42-year-old Nicole Anderson — as punishment for their having painted over a street mural that read, “Black Lives Matter.” “We must address the root and byproduct of systemic racism in our country,” Becton said in a press release. “The Black Lives Matter movement is an important civil-rights cause that deserves all of our attention.”

Becton has long maintained close personal ties to Kamala Harris, the former San Francisco D.A. and former California Attorney General who became U.S. Vice President in 2021. In December 2019, Becton hired Larry Wallace, a longtime aide to Harris, to become a corruption investigator in Becton’s D.A. office. She hired Wallace even though in 2018, then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had charged him with having sexually harassed a female assistant while employed in Harris’s D.A. office a few years earlier — a charge that Wallace ultimately settled for $400,000 and a non-disclosure agreement. That agreement allowed Wallace to temporarily continue to work with Harris while preventing Wallace’s accuser from further embarrassing Harris and her allies by going public at the time.

On August 25, 2020, Becton co-authored a Politico piece entitled “Prosecutors Are Not Exempt from Criticism,” along with fellow leftist prosecutors Satana Deberry, Kim Gardner, Kim Foxx, and Rachael Rollins. Characterizing the American justice system as an institution rife with racism, the article began with the following words: “Our criminal legal system was constructed to control Black people and people of color. Its injustices are not new but are deeply rooted in our country’s shameful history of slavery and legacy of racial violence. The system is acting exactly as it was intended to, and that is the problem.”

Articulating a shared desire to “transform the broader criminal legal system,” Becton and her Politico co-authors urged fellow prosecutors to adhere to the following “commitments”:

  1. Do not prosecute peaceful protesters. Citizens have a right to protest, and prosecutions can antagonize marginalized communities.
  2. Do not accept any funding from police unions. This will ensure our offices’ independence, and the ability to hold police accountable for injustice and misconduct.
  3. Require the review of all available evidence — including body-worn camera and other video footage — in cases that rest solely on the testimony of an officer.
  4. Ban “No Knock” warrants and reexamine our policies for issuing warrants. “No Knock” warrants are a violation of individual rights and represent an overreach of police power.
  5. Hold police accountable by pursuing criminal charges against officers unlawfully using excessive force and other forms of state-sanctioned violence.
  6. By increasing our efforts to decline to prosecute certain low-level offenses, we can work to reverse the disproportionate impact the legal system has on Black people and low-income communities.
  7. Financially support and advocate for increases in funding to community-led and community-defined responses, restorative justice and violence prevention programs. Investing in community-led programs is crucial to addressing the racist origins of our legal system.
  8. Commit to using our office’s power and platform to advance discussions of divestment from the criminal legal system and toward community-led and community-defined responses to harm. Strong community support, restorative justice practices and diversion practices are key to dismantling the current legal system and shifting its focus from punishment toward justice.
  9. Develop grant-based community reinvestment programs to be administered in partnership with community-based partners.
  10. Solicit feedback from Black and brown community groups we were elected to serve through public, virtual forums…. Only by listening to the most impacted communities and advocates and bringing them to the table, will we truly understand their greatest needs and biggest challenges.

In February 2021, news reports revealed that Becton had violated her state and county’s strict COVID-19 policies when hosting a wedding reception in August 2020. Becton, who was responsible for enforcing those very guidelines in Contra Costa County, defended her actions by saying: “I had a wedding in my yard that was really based upon the love that we shared…. I hope that I did not do anything that was in violation of any rules. If I did, it certainly was not my intent.”

On April 21, 2021 — the day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd — Becton charged Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy Andrew Hall for his fatal 2018 shooting of a 33-year-old black man named Laudemer Arboleda, who had led the deputy on a protracted traffic pursuit.

In December 2021, Becton joined nearly 70 other leftwing prosecutors in filing an amicus brief supporting the Soros-backed D.A. of Los Angeles, George Gascón, for his “implementation of criminal justice reforms [such as increased latitude for prosecutorial discretion] that are rooted in research and align with his commitment to the community to bring change to the Los Angeles criminal legal system.” “As an elected prosecutor,” Becton said in Gascón’s defense, “I make difficult decisions every day about which cases to prosecute and how to best use limited resources to promote justice and public safety. Prosecutorial discretion is constitutionally enshrined in California and cannot be usurped simply because someone disagrees with the elected district attorney’s approach.”

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