The ongoing scandal surrounding Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer’s remarks about Black men during death penalty deliberations has renewed attention on Spitzer’s approach to an ongoing attempted murder case against a Black activist from Long Beach, Tatiana “Tia” Turner.
Spitzer is prosecuting Turner for running over two opposing protesters at a rally where Black Lives Matter supporters and supporters of former President Donald Trump clashed in the parking lot of the now-closed Yorba Linda Library just before the 2020 election.
That’s prompting Turner’s supporters to point out a similar instance in Newport Beach that same year, where a mini cooper drove through a crowd of Black Lives Matter supporters but was not charged by the DA.
“There is a difference in how people of color defendants are handled versus everyone else,” said Darlene Futrel, president of the National Action Network advocacy group’s Orange County chapter who helped organize a Tuesday rally outside Spitzer’s office over his remarks.
Futrel pointed to Turner’s case, comparing hers with the Newport Beach incident where a driver “deliberately” drove into protesters but was “not charged.”
The more recent controversy surrounding Spitzer “is just another example of that,” said Karen Hernandez of Transforming Justice OC.
“It’s part of his law and order stance. I just think this highlights the racism that runs rampant in his office and that he allows it,” Hernandez said in a Tuesday phone interview. “He’s always run a pretty racist prosecutor’s office and I think this is one of the first times he’s been caught.”
Hernandez points to a recent University of California, Los Angeles report with the university-based Million Dollar Hoods organization, which showed that while Latinos and Black people comprise 34% and 1.6% of the Orange County population, respectively, the groups comprised nearly 47% and nearly 7% of people booked into the county jails. Read the report here.
A Potential Life Sentence
In 2021, Spitzer publicly announced a set of “guiding principles” for his prosecutors to fight systemic racism and mass incarceration in the county criminal justice system. Spitzer also made a public pledge to end the abuses.
Spitzer’s most recent remarks about Black men during death penalty deliberations is triggering significant public and political backlash, with several local district attorney’s already pulling their election endorsements and calls from the California and Hawaii NAACP chapters for him to resign.
The controversy comes more than a year after Spitzer’s office filed charges on more than a dozen counts – including attempted murder – against Turner.
Turner, founder of the activist group Caravan 4 Justice, awaits a pretrial hearing set for April.
Turner faces life behind bars if convicted as charged, according to her defense attorney, Senior Deputy Public Defender Alisha Montoro.
Spitzer’s office declined to speak about the case when asked about it by Voice of OC in January.
That was before this month’s controversy.
In a Tuesday statement sent by text, District Attorney spokesperson Kimberly Edds said Spitzer’s office has charged people on both sides of the Yorba Linda protest.
Those who were charged “committed crimes that we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt, including one of the victims who had her head run over.”
That head was run over by Turner’s car, and belonged to Danielle Lindgren, one counter-protester who surrounded Turner’s vehicle and survived the ordeal. Lindgren was also charged by prosecutors for the misdemeanor offense of carrying a baton during the clashes.
“Two separate judges in two separate preliminary hearings found there was sufficient evidence against Turner and ordered her to stand trial,” Edds wrote.
The first preliminary hearing under OC Superior Court Judge Beatriz M.G. Gordon was dismissed after another judge last year found Turner’s constitutional rights were violated when Gordon abruptly ended the hearing before letting the defense present their own witnesses.
Spitzer’s office then refiled the charges.
A second judge, Scott Steiner, again determined Turner’s case should go to trial during a later preliminary hearing.
The defense during the courtroom hearings last year argued Turner was in fear for her life that day.
Judge Steiner during the second preliminary hearing acknowledged that Turner immediately went to law enforcement for help but also noted that Turner, during a recorded 9-1-1 call that day, apparently said, “In case they try to come, we’ll ram their ass.”
Turner’s supporters say her prospect of life in jail is way overblown, arguing the charges are motivated by race and by Turner’s political activism.
Indeed, they point to a statement released three days after the incident where Spitzer called Turner and her side’s protesters a “professional, organized militia,” without saying anything about the counter-protesters, some of whom carried batons and wore clothes referencing anti-government militia groups.
The statement is no longer viewable on Spitzer’s office’s website – only through a cached version of the URL – and Edds, Spitzer’s spokesperson, attributed it to a website system change and said it was not deliberately taken down.
Turner’s supporters also cite a similar 2020 car attack in Newport Beach where Black Lives Matter protesters in that instance were the targets but the driver apparently went uncharged. No one was injured but some told the Orange County Register at the time they had to shove someone out of the car’s path.
“We will prosecute anyone using force or unlawful intimidation tactics against any person or group,” Spitzer said in the 2020 statement on his decision to charge Turner with attempted murder.
Spitzer’s spokesperson, Kimberly Edds, wouldn’t speak to the specifics about why the driver in the Newport Beach incident was not charged, stating in a follow-up text that “the decision whether to file charges is made based on the specific facts of that case and whether we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt a crime was committed.”
On Sept. 26, 2020, Turner and other activists met at the Yorba Linda Library for a March 4 Equality protest against systemic racism. People with American Flags and clothes supporting former U.S. President Donald Trump had meanwhile organized a counter-protest in the days preceding online and gathered across Imperial Highway during the event outside the library.
The counter-protesters crossed the road and confronted the March 4 Equality group. The two sides got into a physical struggle while Sheriff’s deputies retreated from the parking lot. During the chaos, Turner got behind the wheel of her Nissan Sentra as a group of counter-protesters surrounded the vehicle. Turner hit the gas, stopped, and then accelerated again, this time running over Lindgren’s head and another person’s leg.
Turner’s lawyer argued she was in fear for her life.
Montoro during the second preliminary hearing said video captured of the incident shows Turner’s car under “siege” by counter-protesters.
This isn’t Turner’s only pending assault charge relating to her political activism. She’s also charged in a separate instance for beating two people with a stick during a separate rally in Seal Beach.
Hernandez, of Transforming Justice OC, said the significance of Turner’s case stands regardless of her actions, saying her actions in both cases were a response to violence initiated by the other side and that the issue goes beyond Turner herself.
“It’s a systemic issue that’s been happening in Orange County and the entire U.S.,” Hernandez said in an earlier, Jan. 25 phone interview.
Futrel, on Tuesday, said “we go by the fruit that comes off your tree. And there’s no way in the world you’re going to get an apple off of an orange tree.”
“So racist is as racist does.”
In his 2020 charging statement, Spitzer questioned Turner’s activism and her motives.
“We support the right to peacefully protest, but these are not peaceful protests. These are organized protests that encourage others to engage in civil disobedience,” Spitzer said in his 2020 charging statement.
He went on to state that “when pepper spray and other displays of force failed, she (Turner) positioned her vehicle to be used as a backup weapon and she used that vehicle as a deadly weapon, willing to injure and kill those who stood in her way. She then tried to evade a pursuit until stopped.”
Yet activists who were there that day say Spitzer isn’t taking into account Turner’s perspective as a Black person surrounded on all sides by very vocal protestors from the opposing camp.
“Her choosing to defend herself is not a crime. She was mobbed by white supremacists, any person in fear during that situation would have done the same,” said Hernandez, of Transforming Justice OC.
Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy John Pritchard, who works in Yorba Linda, described the moments after Turner ran over the counter-protesters, in his testimony during the second preliminary hearing.
“The driver (Turner) stopped next to me. I was right next to the front driver window,” Pritchard said. “She had it rolled up.”
He noted Turner’s front window had been damaged – “like, cracked in the front.”
“I heard her say what sounded like ‘I’m scared,’ and then she continued driving forward.”
Staff writer Nick Gerda contributed reporting.
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