UPDATE, NOV. 10, 10:31 A.M.: I did not read the joint release from the Santa Ana Police Officers Association and Orange County Deputy Sheriffs Association regarding Prop 47 and the arrest of Jimmy Hoang Truong until late last night, prompting the patchwork known as the "Original Post" on the next page. But as my head hit the pillow, I wondered if the cop unions, Santa Ana Police Department and Orange County District Attorney's office would also send me statements if a low-level offender released early ran into a burning building and saved a baby who would have otherwise been dead if the hero was still locked up. Speaking of now for something completely different, let us turn to retired San Diego police chief William Lansdowne.
"Prop. 47 did not decriminalize misdemeanor offenses, nor did it take away the ability of law enforcement to hold low-level offenders accountable," Lansdowne says. "Law enforcement can still arrest, detain until their trial and jail for up to a year someone convicted of a misdemeanor offense. If someone breaks the law more than once, that person can be sentenced to multiple years in jail." The retired top cop continued, "If Mr. Hoang wasn't arrested after committing a series of misdemeanor offenses, that's because of a choice made by local law enforcement and has nothing to do with Prop 47. The public rightly expects criminal justice officials to use their authority to adapt and ensure that people who pose a risk to public safety will be held accountable." Lansdowne's remarks come a day before the American Civil Liberties Union holds a news conference on how well communities are implementing Prop 47 a year after its passage by 60 percent of California voters. One line of reasoning you will no doubt hear is it is not in the interest of justice that Orange County law enforcement types are crapping on Prop 47. It is in the interest of money. Think about it: Someone repeatedly popped for misdemeanors costs the local system money when it comes to policing, prosecuting and locking up in local jails. But sending that person away to a state prison removes the local financial burden. Of course, Prop 47 was aimed at re-directing many of these people to drug or mental health treatment (including Mr. Troung, who if you'll notice has been arrested repeatedly for drug possession). But who the hell in Orange County wants to do anything about that? Mr. DA? Mr. Police Chief? Mr. Cop Union President? Mr. Board of Supervisors Chairman Eying the DA's Office? ... Hello?
ORIGINAL POST, NOV. 10, 6:02 A.M.: For an idea of how angry Orange County law enforcement was with California voters approving a referendum to knock some felonies down to misdemeanors as a way to reduce chronic prison overcrowding, you simply had to hear District Attorney Tony Rackauckas warn an audience Jan. 20 that passage meant "many dangerous felons will be let back into the community early." Nearly 10 months after T-Rack's remarks--and a year after Proposition 47 became state law--local cops and prosecutors finally have their poster boy for the evils of the voter initiative: Jimmy Hoang Truong.
Troung led Santa Ana Police on a two-hour chase Saturday night, fired bullets at pursuing officers who did not fire back and, after having his sedan finally stopped, the 28-year-old kept cops and negotiators at bay for three more hours before finally surrendering early Sunday. But here's the kicker, Orange County law enforcement is quick to point out: the Santa Ana resident would have still been behind bars were we still living in that perfect, pre-Prop 47 world.
"An individual who the court determined should be held only accountable for misdemeanor crimes held the city of Santa Ana and nearby neighborhoods hostage for more than five hours," says John Franks, president of the Santa Ana Police Officers Association, in a joint statement with the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
"This is not the kind of person we want roaming our neighborhoods unsupervised," Franks continued. "It is only through tremendous police work and the grace of God that my police officers and everyone in the vicinity of this crime spree escaped unharmed."
"Prop 47 is a failure," added Tom Dominguez, the deputy union president. "Prop 47 has failed our neighborhoods, failed our criminal justice system, and failed our police officers. Luckily no one was hurt in this incident, but with Prop 47 flooding our communities with dangerous felons released with little or no consequences for the crimes they commit, we might not be so lucky next time."
Truong was charged Monday with two felony counts of attempted murder on peace officers, two felony counts of assault with a semiautomatic firearm on peace officers, one felony count of being a felon in possession of a firearm, one felony count of evading peace officers while driving recklessly and sentencing enhancements for the use of a firearm. Scheduled to be arraigned at 10 a.m. in Central Jail in Santa Ana, Truong could get life in state prison if he is convicted, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office.
As the cop unions indicate, Troung is quite used to darkening the halls of local courthouses. On Sept. 20, 2012, he was convicted of felony drug possession. Exactly a year and five days later, he was found guilty of the same offense.
On Nov. 4, 2014, California voters approved the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act or Prop 47, which reduced some drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. The law's aim was to reduce prison overcrowding and redirect the funds saved from incarceration to school truancy, dropout prevention, victim services, mental health, drug abuse treatment and other programs meant to reduce the number of people behind bars.
And so, on Dec. 2, 2014, Troung's felony convictions were reduced to misdemeanors under the initiative, and he was not placed on parole, probation or post-release community supervision.
Five months later, on this past April 3, Troung was arrested for carrying a switch blade knife on his person. Three days later, he got popped for being in possession of a controlled substance again, according to the OCDA, which notes he was later charged with misdemeanors.
Then came this past Saturday night. Around 9:30 p.m., Santa Ana police officers tried to pull over a sedan near Euclid and McFadden streets, but the driver took off to start a chase through the area, according to a police statement.
After two hours on the streets that included the driver firing at cops (but the cops not firing back), spike strips were deployed to stop the sedan, according to police.
The driver kept riding on the car's rims for quite some distance, and because of this and fluids leaking from the vehicle, firefighters were called in once the sedan finally came to a stop at Euclid and 5th Street, according to Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
"The fear was that the vehicle may start a fire which it did," the police spokesman told the Weekly. "So instead of risking having the suspect exit the vehicle or having to have our officers rush in to help him, we elected to put water on the part of the vehicle that was on fire. There was never any gas deployed during the incident as some have stated."
The driver refused to exit his car, so the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and Hostage Negotiating teams were called in. First, SWAT vehicles blocked the car from moving in either direction.
The driver waved a gun at officers and threatened to kill himself, according to police.
After three hours of refusing to cooperate or surrender, an man later identified as Troung got out of the sedan and was arrested around 2:40 a.m. Sunday, police say.
Santa Ana Police Chief Carlos Rojas notes the handgun Truong allegedly waved at officers was stolen--and Rojas called it "concerning" that while Truong is now facing numerous felony charges, his alleged possession of a stolen handgun "that he used to shoot at our officers is likely a misdemeanor, in accordance with Proposition 47, due its value being under $950."
The chief is obviously seething as much as his rank and file officers and their colleagues in the sheriff's department.
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"Mr. Troung's actions endangered the community and our officers," says Rojas in a statement. "Our officers did an outstanding job in bringing this incident to a successful conclusion with the surrender and arrest of Mr. Troung."
"The Santa Ana Police Department should be commended for resolving this extremely dangerous situation without a civilian or police officer getting shot," says Rackauckas in a statement from his office detailing the charges against Truong.
The OCDA also used the release to point to the remarks Rackauckas made on Jan. 20, when he also said, "I fear that this law will result in the increase of crime."