Summer Stephan inherited the District Attorney’s office last July from Bonnie Dumanis when she retired to run for the Board of Supervisors—and is running hard to keep it.
All the while fending off Democratic party money bundler and all around Svengali George Soros, who is injecting national politics into the race by spending $1.5 million in PAC money to promote a defense attorney, Geneviéve Jones-Wright who is committed to never seeking the death penalty and hounding the police at every turn.
This countywide election will be decided June 5.
The District Attorney dropped by our newspaper office last week for an interview. Note: We have committed this political season to interviewing any candidate for any office, local or statewide who was willing to show their respect for the communities we serve by visiting our office. We have done no telephone interviews.
Stephan said she is running for the office she holds on an interim basis, “because I’ve devoted the last 28 years in serving this community and prosecuting the worse perpetrators of violent crimes and protecting victims. I’ve combined doing the combat duty of over 100 jury trials with 15 years of management.”
She adds, “This is a call to duty for me.” Her colleagues in the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, community victim groups, and law enforcement asked her to run. “I’m not a politician,” she says. “I’m a lifelong public servant. I’ve reached the top of my game. There’s no way to promote up any further. I was deputy district attorney. I want as DA to bring that three decades of experience to move the county forward in public safety.”
Her goal is: “to start with the baseline that what we’ve built and what I’ve been part of is one of the safest urban counties in America. That’s not by accident but by professional dedicated work by the DA’s office , my office, law enforcement, and working with neighborhoods to create this atmosphere of trust and safety. Despite that, this is no time to stop. It’s time to forge forward and make sure that more members of our community are not subject to crime.”
She emphasizes the safety of children and seniors. “It comes from a firm belief that our civilization will be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable who are most often children or seniors,” she says. “I won’t forget about those in between, but they are the easier population to protect.”
During her tenure she has increased efforts to protect seniors from abuse and fraud. She says, “I created an elder protection council, a private government partnership that includes the banking industry, real estate industry, law enforcement, and aging and protective services and the medical community working together to prevent, protect and persecute perpetrators when it comes to crimes against seniors.”
Her office has handled about 700 instances of physical elder abuse. “One thing we see is that people don’t pay as much attention when they hire caretakers for seniors as they do for children. They don’t do background checks. Sometimes they hire people who are addicted to drugs and preying on seniors to get their next fix,” she says.
“We also see a very high rate of economic fraud where all sorts of scams are being pulled on our seniors,” she says. “A simple thing like making sure the senior has caller ID and isn’t picking up the phone and talking to fraudsters is a simple way to protect our seniors.”
Her office is building a website: “Choose Well San Diego,” sort of a Yelp site for senior homes so consumers can be aware of facilities that have had too many falls or other instances of negligence.
Many voters don’t know all the District Attorney’s Office does. Many assume it just prosecutes cases. In reality, the DA is the top law enforcement official in the county.
As Stephan describes it, “We are the glue for law enforcement in that all nine police departments and the sheriff all put cases through our offices. We’re the peoples’ prosecutor. That gives us the ability to really understand the public safety threat and response needed throughout the county.”
It does this with 1,055 staffers, because San Diego is California’s second largest county. Most are involved in prosecuting crime. But the office is also the county’s largest provider of victim services.
“We served over 15,000 victims of crime last year,” says Stephan. “Through this combination of prosecution and victims’ services and support, we take on more than the primary role of prosecuting the robbers, rapists and murderers, which we do very, very well. We also look at how we protect victims and prevent crime in the first place.”
A main focus for the DA is eliminating sex trafficking. “In San Diego County, the second largest criminal industry is sex trafficking. After the selling of drugs and before selling guns is selling human beings for sex,” says Stephan.
“Eighty percent of our sex trafficking victims are teenage American girls, and it’s a $850 million industry in San Diego County,” says Stephan. These girls are sold into hotels and motels to different buyers. Gangs and gang members pose as older boyfriends. They prey on young girls using social media, plying them with drugs and alcohol. They extort them with compromising photos taken when they are passed out.
“This is a real crisis!” says Stephan. “We’ve studied twenty high schools across San Diego County. Ninety percent had active cases of sex trafficking. This is a huge priority for me. I created the first human sex crimes division in the DA’s office. I chaired the human trafficking counsel. I’m also considered a national leader in the fight against human trafficking. We’ve pushed back in San Diego and we are going to keep fighting until we dismantle it.”
Social media enables the entrapment of these girls. It’s not just an epidemic in the cities or among the poor. “It is hitting all socio-economic areas,” says Stephan. “We had a victim recently who was a daughter of a nurse and niece of a police officer. After receiving four thousand messages on social media plying her to leave home, she found herself in the grasp of a gang selling her in hotel rooms.”
There are active cases in small towns, as well. “We investigated a case of a runaway from Valley Center,” says Stephan. “We found she was in the grasp of traffickers. Anywhere you have a teen girl who has a phone, she can be recruited.”
Stephan sits on the leadership of the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force (SD HTTF.) “San Diego has proven that we are able to combat this effectively,” says Stephan. “We’ve shown a twenty-seven percent dismantling or hitting back at the gangs in this area.”
The 5,000 human trafficking victims in San Diego each year create an estimated $810 million in value. The average age is 16.
Why don’t they walk away? “Once they are being prostituted they become so isolated and ashamed, abused and trapped that it’s hard for them to leave,” says Stephan. “It becomes like a Stockholm syndrome. They become isolated from families and support systems. The gangs become their controllers. It’s like a domestic violence phenomenon.”San Diego law enforcement uses reverse cyber technology to track them over social media where they are being sold. “We set up undercover cops who pose as a buyer to rescue the victims,” says Stephan. “We also get tips from the community through the National Human Trafficking Hotline and from police who are all trained in this area. We follow up on tips, we set up surveillance and other investigative techniques. That is another way we go after gangs and recover victims.”
Keeping Schools Safe
Another top priority is implementing the Safe Schools Initiative. Stephan prosecuted the last school shooting in San Diego: the Kelly Elementary School shooting, in 2010, which sent Brendan O’Rourke to 189 years to life. “From that case I learned a lot of lessons from school shooters and school threats. In 2014 I formed a safe schools task force whose goal was to track every threat to a school and make sure we treat each seriously and don’t assume it’s a hoax.”
Each potential threat is thoroughly investigated. “We follow the trail of each threat and find out the identity of the person making the threat,” she says. “We find out if they have a mental health history, prior threats, and whether they have access to bombs, guns and other weapons they might use to bring harm to a school.”
Because the DA’s office is the single prosecution agency that interacts with all 42 school districts and police agencies, her internal team is key in tracking these incidents.
Success is hard to measure. “It’s easy to measure how many we protected, hard to measure how many we prevent,” says Stephan. “We can say that in two incidents when we used this approach, we discovered that two individuals had gone into a thorough planning phase. They had access to weapons and had amassed additional weapons and they had resourced prior school shootings and developed a plan that we were able to disrupt.”
They watch very carefully for copycats. “Since the Florida shootings we’ve had a rash of school threats,” she says. Twenty-four juveniles have been investigated for making criminal threats since Florida. “Because the words alone of making a viable threat that could result in someone reasonable being in fear is a crime in itself. We take it seriously because it shuts down schools and causes students not to be able to study and teachers to not be able to teach. We look beyond the threat to see if there isn’t something further going on, to where they are closer to acting out their words.”
A key priority is carrying out a protocol that allows tracking of potential shooters or terrorist. “One of the big parts of the protocol is creating an easy way for kids to anonymously report suspicious behavior. This is important because over ninety percent of school shooters have been students at that school,” she says. “Which means that a student or teacher is going to observe something, red flags that we need to have reported. From my school shooting case I learned that shooters usually tell someone what they plan on doing but that person ignores it and thinks it’s a joke. In eighty percent of school shootings, the shooter lets someone clearly know their intent is a plan. This protocol makes it easy for people to report.”
That protocol is called Students Speaking Out, which can be reached at 888-580-8477.
DA Stephan is also working on the opioid epidemic. “We have had four hundred deaths, most of them young people under fifty,” she says. “It’s the number one cause of accidental death for people under 50. What’s shocking is that most are from overdoses of prescription pain killers, not illicit drugs. I went to work to figure out how do we stop this.”
They determined that there were two ways: 1) to be aggressive in prosecuting cartels that manufacture the fake pills and laced them with fentanyl. 2) Proper labeling. “I learned
that our consumers are being lied to; not being told that this stuff is addictive and can cause overdose death. I worked with state Senator Pat Bates [Patricia Carmody “Pat” Bates] on a bill that requires proper labeling of the risk of taking a drug. That has been successful in New York in bringing down the numbers. We are hoping for the same here.”
She was impressed by talking to parents of young men who got athletic injuries, were put on pain killers like OxyContin and Percocet and given a 30-day supply. “After five days, scientifically they will be down the line to being addicted and some will be fully addicted. They began seeking unused bottles in friends’ cabinets and overmedicating themselves. Her office has worked with the Sheriff’s Department to create easier places to dispose of prescription opiates.
Stephan’s supporters include law enforcement and victims groups and a wide coalition of political and community leaders. “They support me based on my proven track record in doing the work and bringing solutions to difficult issues. When the Union Tribune endorsed me, they noted that I was an aggressive problem solver.”
Stephan says her opponent has never prosecuted a case. “She is a junior level criminal defense attorney who has never held a leadership position in her own office. She is running as a protégé or proxy of an out-of-state billionaire George Soros. He has spent $1.5 million, an obscene number in local politics.”
Soros’s funding of Jones-Wright is one of 17 District Attorney races he is pouring funds to using his California Justice & Public Safety PAC. “He is selecting criminal defense attorneys or ACLU affiliated lawyers with the goal of decriminalizing prostitution, drugs and prosecuting law enforcement whether they did anything wrong or not. The target for Soros is the police,” says Stephan
Stephan says that Soros funded DA’s elsewhere have led to failure. “This has been a failed social experiment in Houston. The violent crime since his candidate was elected has gone up nine percent. In Florida his candidate refused to prosecute to the full extent of the law a police officer murderer who also murdered a pregnant woman. To the point that the governor has stripped her of her authority to prosecute special circumstance murders.”
Her opponent, she says, promises the same. “She has pledged to not even consider pursuing the death penalty in any serial murder case or any murder case, whether the case qualifies or not. She has also pledged in writing to not petition the court for any 17 year old—even if they have committed mass murder—to be treated as an adult. Which means they would be released at age 25 no matter what. The money infusion is intended to buy this election and to have our community replace experience and qualifications with a dangerous experiment. That is the challenge for my campaign.”
Soros has successfully funded 13 out of 17 races, says Stephan. According to iNewssource.org: “Since 2015, Soros-funded PACs have spent more than $10 million to support progressive district attorney candidates around the country. This year, the California Justice PAC has contributed to at least three other DA candidates in the state: Diana Becton in Contra Costa County, Pamela Price in Alameda County and Noah Phillips in Sacramento County.”
This is a concern, says Stephan. “This is not a normal election of the people by the people but an election of a billionaire trying to buy the election.”
With donations ranging from $5 to $800, Stephan says she has raised $550,000 compared to Soros’s $1.5 million.
Stephan sums up her message: “I’ve dedicated my life to serving victims, prosecuting the worse criminals and protecting our community. I have the experience and the vison to move San Diego County into the future and to deliver safety and justice for all in an effective manner.
Find out more about her campaign atSummerstephanforsandiegoDA.com