Last year, Nancy O’Malley announced she would retire, making the June 7 primary election the first time in decades that an incumbent DA, or a person appointed by a retiring DA, is not running for reelection.
The position of DA holds great power. As the county’s top prosecutor, the DA is responsible for representing the people of California in criminal, civil, and juvenile cases and decides whether or not a person should face criminal charges following an arrest by police.
They oversee an office of hundreds of lawyers who have the authority to set policies like whether or not to seek prison or jail sentences for people convicted of drug offenses or theft or to divert these people into treatment programs or other alternatives.
Four candidates are running for the job. Two are members of the DA’s office. One is a civil rights attorney. And one is a former prosecutor who has worked in San Francisco and Oakland politics.
The way the June 7 primary election works: if none of the candidates receives 50% or more of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held during the November general election.
We interviewed each of the candidates about their priorities and where they stand on key issues, and we reviewed their records to gauge their experience and readiness for the job. We have listed the four hopefuls in alphabetical order.
Price, a graduate of Yale and UC Berkeley’s Law School, has decades of experience as a criminal defense attorney, beginning at the Bayview Hunters’ Point Community Defenders’ office in San Francisco. In 1991, she started her own firm and is perhaps best-known as a civil rights attorney.
Over the years, she has represented people in cases of wrongful termination, retaliation, and discrimination. With this background, she views the role of the District Attorney as a “minister of justice.”
“That’s the best way for me to describe it to people,” she told The Oaklandside. “To administer justice in a way that is fair and appropriate for the community.”
Price has been here before. In 2018, she took on O’Malley as the longstanding DA’s first opponent, picking up an impressive 122,850 votes, or 42%. While Price won nearly every precinct in Oakland and Berkeley, except for some in the hills, O’Malley won the primary by carrying most of the suburban parts of the county. That was enough votes to win without needing a runoff that November.
The election results revealed a stark divide. Communities of color most impacted by crime and mass incarceration chose reform candidate Price, while more affluent suburban areas in the Tri-Valley and southern Alameda County voted for O’Malley.
Price was one of multiple progressive candidates dissatisfied with how justice was being administered by District Attorneys. She viewed O’Malley’s office as being out of touch with values shared by many county residents to end mass incarceration and racial disparities in the county’s criminal justice system. Studies have shown Black and Latino people in Alameda County are incarcerated at far higher rates than white residents, and the same disparities are found in the state prison system.
Four years after her first campaign, Price doesn’t believe much has changed.
“In fact, it’s been tolerated. The theme of the system has been that if you are poor or Black or brown and you don’t have connections, you are prey to the criminal justice system of Alameda County,” Price said. “We are going to respect the community we serve.”
She has the backing of families of people killed by police, from the mother and uncle of Oscar Grant to the parents of Jacob Bauer, who died in a hospital in 2018 less than two hours after being restrained by Pleasanton police.
Bauer’s father is by far the largest single contributor backing Price’s candidacy. Records show he’s donated $100,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting Price, and another $40,000 directly to her campaign.
“I understand the trauma they have experienced and how the injustice has impacted them,” Price said. O’Malley’s office declined to press charges against the officers. Bauer’s family sued Pleasanton and won a $5.9 million settlement from the city.. “What has happened in Alameda County is our DA’s office basically gives the police a pass, does not hold them accountable and families have had to turn to civil rights lawyers to get justice, to get accountability.”
The seasoned civil rights attorney wants a more public-facing office, starting with various internal audits, and publishing quarterly reports on future charging decisions that would include a look at racial disparities. Currently, the DA’s office doesn’t share this kind of data. Price also suggested creating an online database that would allow the public to track and understand what charges a person was facing, what charges if any were ultimately filed, and the reasons behind those decisions.
For years, the District Attorney’s Office has faced criticism over how long it takes for decisions on fatal officer-involved shootings, which the DA investigates to determine if the use of force by police was criminal or justified. A recent decision exonerating California Highway Patrol officers for the fatal shooting of Erik Salgado in East Oakland brought the issues back to light, but other controversial cases have sat on the shelf for much longer. Some have viewed this practice as politically motivated at the expense of victim families and police officers waiting for answers.
“We will not take months or years to provide reports to the public,” Price told The Oaklandside.
She plans to examine if any DA members’ relationships with police officers present conflicts of interest. For decades, many of the DA’s inspectors responsible for investigating police shootings and other criminal wrongdoing by officers tend to be ex-police who are friends with officers in the departments they’re supposed to scrutinize. There has been a historic pipeline from the Oakland Police Department to that branch of the DA’s office
And Price hasn’t ruled out looking back at previous controversial shootings to figure out any missteps. She has called for better screening of DA inspectors, who assist prosecutors in investigating police shootings and other crimes.
“We have to have some better screening and different standards about what type of investigators we are looking for,” Price said. “I imagine there will be some reassignments within that unit because I am not going to tolerate the cozy relationship that has existed and has not served this community. My standards are going to be different.”
Her other priorities include expanding the office’s integrity unit so it has the capacity to examine allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and instances where someone was later exonerated for charges filed by the office. Like some of her opponents, she wants to expand court diversion programs but with a focus on how charging decisions at the prosecutor level are driving racial disparities.
“If you make a mistake and you don’t acknowledge it, you don’t recognize it, you don’t look at how it happened, you can’t fix it. In Alameda County, we have made so many mistakes and we are not about fixing them. In order for us to move forward, we have to look back and see where we failed families and where we failed the public.”
Price’s endorsements includes scholar and activist Angela Davis, actor Danny Glover, civil rights attorney Carl E. Douglas, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, Anti-Police Terror Project co-founder Cat Brooks and other Oakland police reform advocates, and former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
Steward holds a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Occidental College, a masters in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School, and is a graduate of George Washington University Law School.
Currently, he serves as chief of staff to Oakland Councilmember Dan Kalb. But Steward has a background as a prosecutor serving in various roles in San Francisco. He told The Oaklandside he sees the role of DA as keeping the community and families safe, building trust in the office, and restoring fairness in the criminal justice system.
“I think the DA can do all of those things in Alameda County,” Steward said.
Like Price, providing the public with more data about the DA’s office is one of his priorities. Steward said recent studies of the DA’s office have indicated that data is limited due to how the office tracks—or doesn’t track—case information. He pointed to Multnomah County in Oregon as an example of a public-facing data dashboard that should be replicated here. The dashboard can show case outcomes, demographic and bias information, location of incidents, and breakdowns of why prosecutors decided to charge or not charge cases, ranging from incidents involving gun violence, protests, and bias-motivated crimes.
“This is the kind of stuff that would be super helpful. You could do this for every single type of case so we know what’s happening,” he said. “It just takes investment and the courage to show the people who live and work in Alameda County what the DA office does.”
One troubling statistic he’d like to see better explained to the public is the number of misdemeanor cases that do not end up in alternative or diversion courts. A 2021 study by Urban Peace Movement and the ACLU of Northern California showed that 71% of misdemeanors charged between 2017-2018 were considered “low-level offenses that should not have been charged at all, or should have been directed to pre-plea division.”
However, ACDA data, which was described as unlikely to be comprehensive, showed that fewer than 2,000 people participated in diversion programs during that period. That’s about 5.4% of all cases. In a number of misdemeanor cases, Steward said diversion programs should be where the cases end up because they result in lower recidivism rates, and because traditional court system proceedings take longer and cost more.
“We know crime goes down if people [go into diversion programs]. So basically we are creating more crime. That’s one of the big takeaways,” he said. “If we could reroute a chunk of that money to these different programs we are going to have more people be successful, less people committing crime, which means less victims of crime.”
Steward said his background as a prosecutor, educator, and working on policies and budgets in local politics sets him apart from his opponents. He joined the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney in 2008, tried more than 70 jury trials, and worked in units including misdemeanor crimes, felony hate crimes, domestic violence, and behavioral health court.
He later enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, something he said was inspired by a desire to serve his country after witnessing the Boston Marathon bombing. Steward has flown in combat search and rescue helicopter missions in Iraq and Kenya and was part of the flight team that delivered COVID-19 test kits to passengers of the Grand Princess ship idling off the California coast in early March 2020.
In 2019, he joined Councilmember Kalb’s District 1 staff and around the same time began teaching a criminal law course at Oakland Technical High School through Merritt College.
As a member of Kalb’s staff, Steward drafted legislation that led to the city banning OPD from using chokeholds and carotid restraints. The policy passed by the Oakland Police Commission and City Council in 2020 came in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Steward said he was also instrumental in helping Kalb pass a ban on ghost guns—firearms without serial numbers which can be built from mailorder kits at home and have been attributed to an increasing number of crimes in Oakland. One of his priorities as DA would be to reduce gun violence and focus on violent crime.
“We should treat gun violence as a public health crisis,” Steward said.
When it comes to the DA’s office investigating law enforcement, he said Alameda should create a firewall in the office between prosecutors who do the investigations and the rest of the office, a structure similar to what exists in San Francisco. He’d like to work with law enforcement agencies around de-escalation training but doesn’t think officers should be above the law.
His platform includes establishing guidelines and practices to disclose to defense attorneys a police officer’s history of misconduct, if applicable to a case they’re working on. “The thing I would do is to have conversations with the people who are doing the work. It’s critical to understand from their perspective what’s working and what’s not.”
For victims, he is calling for the establishment of a crime victim advisory board reflecting the county’s diversity—including women, seniors, LGBTQ residents, communities of color, and disabled people.
Steward’s endorsements include state Assemblymember Mia Bonta, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson, BART Director Bevan Dufty, Berkeley Councilmember Terry Taplin, and Emeryville Councilmember Courtney Welch.
Wiley, a graduate of UC Berkeley and the University of San Diego School of Law, is a 32-year veteran of the Alameda DA’s office and currently the third-highest ranking member of the office as a chief deputy district attorney.
He has touted his experience working 21 different assignments within the DA’s office and said it would be difficult for anyone without knowledge of the DA administration to step in and manage what he called a complex agency with a nearly $100 million budget.
“When you look at the candidates in this race, all have their platforms and policies. You do have to look at experience. We all have ideas, but I’ve actually been doing it,” Wiley told The Oaklandside.
Joining as a deputy district attorney in 1992, Wiley spent the 90s and 2000s trying complex felony cases, including murders and gang-related crimes. He was the prosecutor in the second trial of the Riders, a group of Oakland police officers charged for allegedly planting drugs and brutalizing West Oakland residents while on duty. Both trials against the Riders ended in acquittals on some charges while jurors deadlocked on others.
Wiley said the courtroom experiences in the 90s left a mark on him, especially the defendants sent to state prison for marijuana crimes.
That is one reason why he and the NAACP began holding expungement clinics a few years ago at the Hayward Public Library. Wiley said they were able to expunge records for hundreds of individuals.
“We are more enlightened now in terms of understanding that we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of all the problems we have,” Wiley told The Oaklandside. “If you’ve been in the system for as long as I have, it’s incumbent on us to correct some of the damage that was done.”
Wiley pushed back on claims that the county’s diversion and collaborative courts are being underused. The issue is more complex, he said, because those alternative courts are voluntary and sometimes the conditions set by the state court can be longer than probation so some people choose to take a deal through traditional courts instead.
The 17 various alternative courts, among the highest number for a county in the state, have served as a national model, he said. In 2013, Wiley was the head of the juvenile division, when the innovative restorative justice program was established. He said the success of the behavioral health and drug alternative courts at the juvenile level paved the way for expanding them to adult court.
“Alameda County is one of the places that many people across the country come to find out what we are doing at diversion and collaborative courts,” he said.
Wiley said he has been involved in problem-solving at the highest levels. In 2020, during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, the Judicial Council adopted an emergency bail schedule that set bail at $0 for most people. Local police agencies said this led to people who were booked into jail on firearms and other serious charges being released instead of detained until trial. Wiley said he wrote a memo to the Superior Court that successfully argued for returning to the pre-pandemic bail schedule for firearms-related crimes.
He also assisted the local business community in petitioning to end zero bail for offenses shop owners said were hurting them, such as grand theft and vandalism. “I think this is an example of what you can do as the DA of Alameda County,” Wiley said.
Over the course of the pandemic, he said there was “absolutely too much violence in the city of Oakland.” Oakland had 134 homicides in 2021, the highest number in a decade, and far more than neighboring cities. Wiley said the role of the DA is to work with law enforcement and community organizations to lower the murder rate and he plans to do so by focusing on gangs he said are committing one out of every two murders and the vast majority of robberies, carjacking, and other serious crimes.
The pandemic shutdown, he said, created a worse situation for Oakland students that led to an uptick in crimes involving juveniles. He said more needs to be done to provide resources and help to youth before they fall behind in school. He recently met with Oakland Unified School District officials, the presiding judge of the juvenile court, and probation department officials to create a system where community organizations can be brought in to help students before they fall behind in school.
As a high-ranking member of the DA’s office, Wiley has overseen investigations of police officers involved in killings. For instance, Wiley led a team investigating BART Officer Anthony Pirone’s role in the death of Oscar Grant in 2009. BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed Grant, was charged and ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter but Grant’s family believed Pirone had instigated the situation and should have been charged.
Wiley defended the DA’s decision to not charge Pirone and said he was upfront with the Grant family from the start. “I told the Grant family we would conduct a full investigation but do not get your hopes up and I will be completely transparent with you throughout the process. I am not going to B.S. you.”
He said how the office handles such cases is worthy of review, as well as how long it takes to release DA findings on whether officers used excessive force.
“As DA, you have to keep arms distance from everybody. You can’t be influenced by the police, you can’t be influenced by the community. I’ve had everyone upset with me,” he said. “That’s the heat you have to take as the DA of Alameda County. You have to make principled decisions on those cases.”
Wiley’s endorsements include Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, civil rights attorneys including John Burris, Congressman Eric Swalwell, several labor unions including the Alameda County Prosecutors’ Association, and many county elected officials.
Wilson, a graduate of UC Berkeley and UC Hastings College of Law, got into the legal profession later in life. He says politics were never in his plans. Growing up in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, he became a union plumber after a football injury while playing for San Jose State University.
Another injury ended his 16 years as a plumber so at the age of 40 he enrolled at UC Berkeley. He told The Oaklandside that his experience sitting on five criminal juries influenced his decision to study law. He joined the Alameda DA’s office as a deputy district attorney upon his graduation in 2004.
His background and 18 years in a variety of prosecutor roles, he said, gives him a unique perspective.
“I’ve seen it from the outside. I’ve analyzed my office from a different place. I’ve seen what we are doing right and what we weren’t doing right. The things we stopped doing that I want to get back to doing,” Wilson said.
One of those things is the DA’s gang unit, which he prefers to call the crime suppression unit. Wilson worked in both the north and south county units before it was disbanded. He said he saw value in the unit’s ability to work closely with the Oakland Police Department’s Ceasefire program and share intel with other agencies to prevent gang violence before it happened.
He has called for the return of the unit, a countywide violence reduction task force, and a sharper focus on the prosecution of people who commit violent crimes.
“We knew about the beefs and proactively worked to get them to put their guns down,” Wilson said of the gang unit. “When you stop doing that you can’t suppress crime. You surely can’t suppress gun violence.
“We got rid of our gang unit and did not replace it. It was predictable that violence and shootings in our community went up—and they did,” he said.
Over the years in the DA’s office, he’s tried a multitude of cases, handling complex homicides, gang crimes, and sexual assaults as part of felony trial teams. Wilson also worked on the team investigating police officers for fatal shootings of citizens.
Along with NAACP activists, Wilson has led state-certified cultural diversity and bias training with local police agencies and would continue leading those training courses as the elected DA, alongside setting up and attending community forums about gun violence and violent crime.
Wilson is also worried about diversity within his own office. Too many deputy district attorneys do not reflect the diversity of the communities they work for and live outside Alameda County, he said. Because of high turnover, the DA’s office is down about 30 prosecutors, Wilson added.
“We live in a wonderful, diverse community. We need to hire people who are representative of the community, not just in the way they look but the way they think,” he told us.
Wilson wants to collect crime and prosecution data to publicly present information on plea deals and charging decisions. While he prioritizes prosecuting violent crimes, he wants to expand the office’s diversion and alternative court programs.
“First we stabilize our community, then we establish ways to get people away from crime,” he said.
As a trial lawyer working out of the Oakland, Dublin, and south county courthouses, Wilson has supporters and endorsements from throughout the county. His supporters include current and former prosecutors, several criminal defense attorneys, members of the local NAACP, and several local elected leaders.
He has also picked up the endorsement of police officer unions representing officers in Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Hayward, San Leandro, Union City, Newark, and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. Wilson has not taken money from the police unions, saying that would create a conflict, but he welcomes their support.
“You need to support police officers. We need to help them become better,” said Wilson, who promises to help departments increase staffing levels. “In Oakland, we are down officers. One of the reasons why is there is no support within not just our political community but within my office.”