A radical California district attorney is under fire for leniently prosecuting three gangbangers accused of shooting a 5-year-old girl through the heart and killing her earlier this month.
Pamela Price, the district attorney for Alameda County, declined to add gun and gang enhancements to the suspects’ murder charges, a “staggering” move that could significantly reduce their sentences.
“Not filing gun and gang enhancements in a case like this is an extreme departure from California criminal law practice,” veteran Los Angeles County prosecutor Jason Lustig told The New York Times. “It’s quite extreme.”
The lack of enhancements alongside basic murder charges was first reported by the Berkeley Scanner, who called it a “break in precedent” and the “first time anything like it has happened in Alameda County” in such a serious case.
Enhancements to murder charges can mean the difference between a 15 to 25-year prison sentence and life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On April 8, Eliyanah Crisostomo was in a car with several family members on a Fremont freeway when three gang members pulled up beside them. The occupants mistook the driver of Crisostomo’s car for a member of a rival gang and opened fire.
After spotting a highway patrolman further down the freeway, Crisostomo’s relatives realized she had been hit and pulled over.
The officer attempted to help the child, but she died at the scene as a result of a bullet to the heart.
The shooting sparked shock and outrage across the country, with authorities calling the murder a “heinous” and “depraved” act of violence.
According to police, Kristo Ayala, 25, of Pleasanton, fired three shots at the car, one of which pierced Crisostomo’s chest.
Humberto Anaya and Emmanuel Sarango, two other men who were in the vehicle at the time of the killing, were later arrested. Each of the three men has been charged with murder.
Price, a graduate of Yale and Berkeley’s Boalt Law School, was elected to office in November after pledging to “disrupt” Alameda County’s prosecutorial conventions.
She sent a memo to staffers instructing them not to file criminal enhancements, which significantly increase sentences, in almost all cases, including violent felonies. Price has also indicated that she prefers probation in the vast majority of cases handled by her office.
“In an effort to restore balance to sentencing and reduce recidivism, this directive reduces reliance on sentencing enhancements and allegations,” Price wrote in the memo.
She recently drew the ire of Alameda County’s Asian community for her handling of an eerily similar case involving a gang-related murder of a toddler.
Jasper Wu was hit by a stray bullet while riding in a car with his mother in Oakland in 2021, according to police. Three gang members were arrested and charged with murder in connection with the case.
Price has yet to confirm whether she will maintain a number of criminal enhancements imposed by her predecessor, Nancy O’Malley.
“The lesson is that when you show up for freedom and justice, you have to be ready for the backlash,” she told a crowd of supporters.
In her county, minorities are arrested at a much higher rate than white people, according to Price.
“Some people ask why it matters that you’re the first Black woman to serve in this seat,” she said to the audience. “They also need to understand what it’s like to be Black in Alameda County.”
“A Black person in Alameda County is 20 times more likely than a White person to be incarcerated.” We must all work together to combat racial injustice in this country.”
However, one local prosecutor, who did not want to be identified, questioned Price’s reasoning.
“Most, if not all, of the victims of serious violent crime in Alameda County are black and brown,” the source said. “That’s the cruel irony here.”
Price’s approach, according to Lustig, is similar to that of controversial Los Angeles County DA George Gascon, who recently survived a recall vote.
Lustig has endorsed colleague and current LA County Deputy DA John McKinney in his reelection bid against Gascon next year.
“It’s all coming from the same playbook,” he explained. “This is the same game. Their ultimate goal is to empty the prisons. And the consequences of these policies can be seen on the streets across the state. Zombies, drug addicts, violent crimes, and shootings are all possibilities. People are not held accountable.”
Gun and gang enhancements, according to Lustig, significantly increase potential sentences in cases like Crisostomo’s by decades.
“These enhancements are critical to curtailing actual criminal behavior,” he says. “Not enforcing them empowers the criminal element.” It sends the message that you can use guns to commit a crime and not be punished for it.”