Labor & Politics

Opinion: “Officers Across the Country Are Paying With Their Lives for Failed Justice Policies”

Guest Contributor

February 23, 2023

This opinion piece by Bill Young originally appeared on February 17, 2023 in the Press Enterprise and is reproduced with permission of its author.

A disturbing and ugly trend has been happening with tragic frequency over the past several months: law enforcement officers are being murdered in the line of duty by career felons who should have been in custody but were instead let loose on society by a failing criminal justice system.

On December 29, 2022, Riverside County Sheriff Deputy Isaac Cordero was murdered by a lifelong felon, William Shae McKay. McKay has an extensive criminal history dating back to before 2000, with charges that included: kidnapping, robbery and multiple assaults with deadly weapons. He was on the streets only because San Bernardino County Judge Cara D. Hutson inexplicably allowed him to be free on bail following his most recent conviction at trial for a violent felony, which was also his third strike. That felon naturally failed to appear for sentencing and killed Deputy Cordero during a traffic stop.

On January 31, 2023, Selma, California Police Officer Gonzalo Carrasco, Jr. was ambushed and murdered by a career criminal, Nathaniel Dixon. After a woman flagged down Officer Carrasco and told him there was a suspicious person on her property, Officer Carrasco began to approach the location on foot and was immediately shot. The criminal had been sentenced to five years and two months in a California prison in 2022 for charges involving robbery, weapons and drugs but was released to the streets on “community supervision” only five months after arriving in prison.

On February 7, 2023, Milwaukee, Wisconsin Police Officer Peter Jerving was murdered in the line of duty while chasing a robbery suspect Terrell Thompson on foot. The day before, Thompson had been in court on two separate hit-and-run cases and was allowed to plead to one while the other was dismissed. After imposing a 120-day jail sentence, the Judge stayed the sentence and freed the suspect on one year of probation.

On February 11, 2023, Fountain, Colorado Police Officer Julian Becerra died ten days after he fell off a bridge while in a foot chase of a man who had fled from a stolen vehicle and was in the midst of a crime spree that included an attempted carjacking. That suspect, a career criminal, was free on the streets after walking away from a local community “inmate transition” program he had been placed into after serving only six months in prison on an 18-month prison sentence.

Following the murder of Officer Carrasco, Fresno County District Attorney List Smittcamp said his death shone a bright light on the reality of a political agenda that puts “closing prisons and freedom of felons over the safety of all Californians.”

Similarly, Mayor Sharon Thompson of the city of Fountain decried the leniency of our criminal justice system, which led to the death of Officer Becerra, stating the suspect in his case, “should never have been out on the street in the first place, but due to a lack of accountability in our justice system…… (was) allowed to prey on our citizens and create the circumstances that put Officer Becerra on the bridge that night.”

Their comments apply to not only the death of Officer Becerra but that of Deputy Cordero, Officer Carrasco, and Officer Jerving. These four law enforcement deaths are half of the eight law enforcement deaths since December 29, 2022, which are not the result of an accident or illness.

In each of these four cases, the criminal justice system deliberately failed to hold a career criminal accountable, and a law enforcement officer paid with their lives for that failure.

Bill Young is president of the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association.

Photo via Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times