Editorial: The Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System

The recent murders of two California peace officers could have been easily prevented if somebody had just kept their killers off the street.

Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputy Isaiah Cordero should still be alive. Selma Police Officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. should still be alive. But both California law enforcement officers were killed by men who in any sane public safety and criminal justice system would have been doing time.

On Thursday December 29 at around 2 p.m., Deputy Cordero made a traffic stop in Jurupa Valley. The 32-year-old motorcycle officer was approaching the stopped pickup truck when the driver pulled out a gun and fatally shot him. The driver was killed later that afternoon when he exchanged fire with law enforcement after a chase across two counties.

The deceased suspect was identified by authorities as 44-year-old William McKay. And if there was ever a candidate for long-term imprisonment under California’s much-maligned “three-strikes” rule, it was William McKay.

A frequent resident of jails and prison cells, McKay bore a “1%” tattoo on his torso and stomach. And his criminal history was long. In 1999, he was sentenced to three years for assault with a deadly weapon and second-degree burglary. Of course, he didn’t do three years and was out on parole in 2001. In 2006, he was sentenced to 13 years for first-degree robbery and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon. In 2016, he was paroled.

So he had two strikes in 2021 when he was once again arrested and charged, this time for kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon against a former girlfriend. During his arrest he even stabbed and seriously wounded a California Highway Patrol K-9. He was convicted and could have been sentenced to 25 years to life, but McKay wasn’t immediately shipped off to prison. In a misguided desire to reduce jail and prison populations, this violent repeat offender was released on a ridiculously low amount of bail.

What happened next in this story is all too easy to predict. The low bail was not enough of a sacrifice for McKay to return to court. He was arrested on failure to appear and then unbelievably released again. Imagine being one of the officers who arrested this three-time loser on a bench warrant, and now you know he has killed a fellow officer and could have killed you, and the judge just let him go.

Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco had some choice words for the San Bernardino County judge who released McKay when he should have been heading to state prison for a very long stay. “We would not be here today if the judge had done her job,” Bianco said.

The judge was identified by local media as Judge Cara D. Hutson, an Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee who was elected to another six years in 2022. At presstime the judge had not responded to media requests for comment. There is a movement to recall her.

Like Deputy Cordero, Selma Police Officer Gonzalo Carrasco Jr. was reportedly killed by a career criminal, just a much younger one. And in this tragedy as well, the suspect benefitted from California’s broken justice system.

Carrasco was responding to a resident’s request for help with a trespasser on Jan. 31 when he was shot and killed. Nathaniel Dixon, 23, was charged with murder and being a felon in possession of a gun.

Dixon has a history of drug, robbery (carjacking), and weapon charges dating to 2019 and probably a juvenile record, too. He reportedly has a bulldog tattoo on his face, which in the Fresno area is strong evidence of affiliation with the notorious Fresno Bulldogs gang.

In 2020 after Dixon was spared jail time because of COVID policies, he was arrested during a traffic stop in Selma. Police say he was carrying a stolen .40 caliber pistol. He pleaded no contest to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm and to a drug possession charge. He was sentenced to five years. But under California’s “coddle the criminal” laws, he didn’t serve them. In 2022, he was released on parole. A little more than a month later he violated parole by not reporting his address and was sentenced to 30 days in Fresno County Jail. He served less than 20.

Dixon fortunately has been denied bail on the charges of killing Officer Carrasco.  Which is too little and way too late for the slain officer, his friends, and family.

Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp has engaged in a war of words with Governor Gavin Newsom over the Carrasco case. “Dangerous criminals are being released from our prison system by these…numerous opportunities for early release,” she said in a statement.

Rebecca Cordero, slain Riverside County Deputy Isaiah Cordero’s mother, blames politics and anti-law enforcement sentiment for her son’s death. “The actual cause of death: disdain, disrespect, disregard, a dysfunctional system that has unfairly been politicized,” she said.

The politicians should heed Cordero’s words and end low- or no-bail laws for violent criminals, even if they aren’t currently charged with violent crimes but have violent crimes on their records. We also need to bring back strict sentencing for parolees, probationers, and convicted felons carrying weapons. This will save police lives and civilian lives.

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