OAKLAND – Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price has placed several seasoned prosecutors on administrative leave this week and fired two top inspectors, in what appears to be the start of an office shakeup by the newly-elected outsider.
Multiple sources told the Bay Area News Group that Price and her new leadership team in their first full week in office moved to place at least three deputy district attorneys, including senior prosecutors, on leave.
Deputy District Attorneys John Brouhard, Butch Ford and Colleen McMahon are among the attorneys Price placed on paid administrative leave — a status that opens the door for their termination.
Additionally, Chief of Inspectors Craig Chew and Assistant Chief of Inspectors Andrea Moreland were fired, according to multiple sources. Unlike prosecutors, inspectors are considered at-will employees and can be terminated without arbitration. The attorneys placed on leave could not be fired until after a two-pronged process, which ends with a ruling by either an administrative law judge or an arbitrator.
On Friday, the mood inside the DA’s office ranged from demoralization to panic. Multiple employees were asked to inform their colleagues, and in some cases their friends, that they were to be placed on administrative leave and other attorneys sat in their offices wondering if they would be next, according to the sources.
Matt Finnegan, an attorney with the local union representing Alameda County prosecutors, said his office is representing the attorneys and will continue to do so “as more slips come in.”
“The biggest downside is that they aren’t going to be able to handle any cases while they’re on administrative leave,” Finnegan said.
It is unclear exactly why the prosecutors were shown the door. A spokeswoman for the DA’s office declined to comment.
However, Price had criticized some of the prosecutors, including Ford, during her 2022 campaign.
Ford, a longtime prosecutor with more than 30 murder trials under his belt, prosecuted an Oakland man, Shawn Martin, who won an appeal of his murder conviction over Ford giving jurors a misleading instruction. Martin was found not guilty on retrial, and later became a volunteer for Price’s campaign.
Martin’s case became a sticking point because just before his second trial, his attorney filed a failed motion to recuse the entire Alameda County DA’s office for alleged rampant misconduct. Just days before Price’s victory in the Nov. 8 election, Martin was identified as a suspect in a nonfatal shooting outside an Oakland bar and remains at large.
The shakeup also comes just days after Price reduced charges against suspected serial killer David Misch, who was being prosecuted by McMahon. Already incarcerated at a state prison hospital for stabbing a woman to death, Misch is facing a new trial in the slayings of two Fremont women and the abduction and killing of 9-year-old Michaela Garecht in Hayward, all cold cases from the 1980s.
Price dropped special circumstances charges against Misch, stirring controversy while making good on a campaign promise to review cases where individuals face life without the possibility of parole. It is the first of many such cases Price is expected to evaluate.
The official reason for sidelining Brouhard along with McMahon would be more of a mystery, if not for a common denominator among the two veteran prosecutors. While running for DA, Price held a press conference calling out McMahon, Brouhard and other prosecutors for using their government email accounts to campaign for Nancy O’Malley in 2018. O’Malley — who defeated Price and won re-election that year — announced her retirement in May 2021, opening up the seat for the first time in decades.
Price at the time said the prosecutors used county resources “to gain an unfair advantage” against her. Price and an attorney representing her campaign filed a complaint with the Fair Political and Practices Commission alleging attorneys violated a state government code prohibiting an independent expenditure committee from coordinating with a candidate — in this case O’Malley.
The Fair Political and Practices Commission investigation of the complaint filed by Price remains open, according to the FPPC. Like Ford, McMahon and Brouhard have handled numerous felony trials and are among the office’s most seasoned prosecutors.
Other high-ranking prosecutors who worked under O’Malley have left or are rumored to be eyeing the exit.
Veteran prosecutor Terry Wiley, the O’Malley-backed candidate who ran against Price in the November 2022 election, retired from the office after the election.
One early departure, according to sources, is Assistant District Attorney L.D. Louis, a 20-plus-year prosecutor. Louis is said to have joined the County Counsel’s Office, which oversees legal matters for the civilian-side of the county. Louis was most-recently the head of the DA’s mental health unit, specializing in policy as well as collaborative courts and alternatives to incarceration.
Top-floor prosecutors and inspectors, like Wiley and Chew, are at-will employees, meaning they could be dismissed without a reason. Virtually all prosecutors, except for assistant district attorneys, are represented by the Alameda County Prosecutors Association and cannot be terminated without cause. Prosecutors began organizing in 2018 and were formalized as a union two years later.
Any prosecutor placed on leave is entitled to a Skelly hearing, which provides employees an opportunity to hear and defend themselves against the employer’s allegations.
In announcing her new leadership team last Friday, Price appointed retired Oakland police Capt. Eric Lewis as chief of inspectors and former Marin County Assistant District Attorney Otis Bruce Jr. and Royl L. Roberts, a Peralta Community College administrator who recently became the district’s general counsel after passing the state bar in July, as her two chief assistant district attorneys.