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Priorities

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My puny hamster-that’s-fallen-off-its-wheel brain can’t handle moral ambiguity, which pretty much makes me Hollywood’s target audience. When I see a woman in a movie, I know she’s going to be the sexy sidekick who will eventually hook up with our macho hero, after showing him what she’s made of in a lazy nod toward feminism. The guy with the Russian accent, heavy features, “Dr.” in his name, or fluffy white cat on his lap is obviously the villain. Heroes are brash, good-looking, all-American womanizers with perfectly symmetrical features and murky pasts.

In short, some people were born to be criminals and commit heinous crimes, and the rest of us were born to mow our lawns and go to church on Sunday. There’s no point in trying to stick a lawn-mowing, churchgoing man with a crime—not when there are pot-smokers and barflies and transients to harass and harangue.

The SLO County District Attorney clearly understands this principle. For more than a year, the District Attorney poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into pursuing charges against 12 employees and owners of local medical marijuana dispensaries. They didn’t secure a single conviction—in fact, none of the cases even made it to trial—but they sure did send a message to the community about their stance on medical marijuana.

And the DA was only too happy to pursue an assault with a deadly weapon conviction against a man who intervened when he saw half a dozen drunks beating the crap out of a stranger. (No charges for the guys who started the attack against their outnumbered opponent. They must be the god-fearing, lawn-mowin’ sort mentioned earlier.)

And, of course, who could forget the bizarre case of the Morro Bay man drinking peacefully in a bar until an officer tazed and dragged him outside because he allegedly said “I smell like money.” The DA’s pursuing charges of resisting arrest and drunk in public—which, I suppose he did and was after the cops dragged him out of the bar.

So there you have it: Proprietors of medical marijuana, Good Samaritans, and drunk people who might or might not smell like money in bars, you’d better look out. Because the DA is on to you and isn’t going to look very favorably on your shenanigans.

So now that we know what kind of cases the DA chooses to pursue, let’s look at a case the department opted not to set any sights on. A 17-year-old girl claims her grandfather sexually assaulted, beat, and emotionally abused her between the ages of 9 and 15—and there are a handful of people willing to testify that they witnessed the physical abuse. You have to wonder how she endured six years of alleged abuse at the hands of her guardian without anyone questioning what was happening. As it turns out, people did.

At one point, the victim’s boyfriend claims, the girl’s step-grandfather started abusing her in front of him, and the cops were called out to the step-grandfather’s house. According to the boyfriend: The entire incident was dismissed as a case of teenagers being teenagers. You see, the man accused of leveraging his position of power over a small and helpless child into years of heinous abuse is known as a church-going man, and just seemed to know the officers who arrived at his door. And who’s going to believe the word of a teenager—those loathsome creatures with their loathsome texting and penchant for abbreviating words that don’t need it—over that of a church man?

Eventually she fled, panicked, and managed to land in alternative care.

Now, the victim lives with her other set of grandparents, and she’s managed to tell them the long, sad story of her life between the ages of 9 and 15—the claims of repeated assaults, of her grandfather turning a pressure washer on her leg, of her confinement in the house, being allowed out only for church. Unfortunately, after making the initial allegations, it took the victim weeks before she secured an interview with a detective. Because accusations of sexually assaulting a child aren’t the kind of thing you want to start investigating immediately.

   The Paso Robles Police Department did, eventually, begin an investigation. But the DA has declined to press charges against the man in question—not necessarily because they don’t believe the victim, but because it’s awfully hard securing a conviction against someone in such a case. I think they call it “sustaining their burden of proof,” which, yeah, sounds difficult, but to me it looks like they’ve gone after more with less.

    And you might think that simply being investigated for suspected child abuse would put the fear of God in the suspect, but last September he unsuccessfully petitioned for custody of her younger sister. So apparently he wasn’t all that concerned by the investigation.

And why should he be? Throughout every stage of the process, the police and eventually the DA have indicated that working to seek justice in a child abuse case isn’t their first priority. The DA, I suppose, was too busy chasing those Doobie Dozen convictions and harassing Good Samaritans. And yes, maybe this is a case that would be impossible to win. Maybe it would eat up the DA’s time and money and the odds of a conviction are so low that it doesn’t seem worthwhile. But isn’t there something to be said for making a point? For taking a stand on behalf of the county’s children, and especially this young girl whose life has been too hard for someone twice her age? If the DA can take an unpopular stand against medical marijuana—and fail in a spectacularly dramatic fashion—why can’t deputies throw their resources into something many of our local law enforcement and justice agents have said is vitally important? I’m talking, of course, about stamping out sexual assault and violence.

I know everything would probably be easier if the bad guys all had Russian accents and underground lairs—if they weren’t, in fact, the church-going, lawn-mowing Joe America types nobody wants to believe is capable of raising a hand against a kid. But when our prejudices stand in the way of protecting our children, when legally selling a joint to a cancer patient becomes a bigger deal than multiple witnesses claiming child abuse, then it’s time to reevaluate.

 

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