Letter from Mike Rule,
North Central Regional Vice-President
Council Executive Board
I apologize for the delay , I needed sometime to articulate my perspective of the meeting/ video conference, before I reduced it into a written summary. I want to thank Mike Meserve the Western regional RVP and Don Martin for accompanying me in the conference.
Here is my summary of the meeting:
Yesterday afternoon, I participated in a videoconference at the request of our Council President. The conference included the US Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Benjamin Wagner and the Assistant US Attorney, Duce Rice. These individuals handled the death penalty case of Jose Rivera the past 7 years. Also present in the meeting were the Local E-board from Atwater, the Warden and WR Mike Meserve. The meeting was set up at the request of the Director by the Assistant Director, Judi Garrett, who also participated in the videoconference from Washington, DC. The videoconference was approximately two-hours long. The meeting was very informative. I thought the U.S. Attorney's Office did a very thorough overview of the background of the case from start to finish. When the opportunity arose, I asked the following questions:
1. Why did it take so long (7 years) to pursue this case? And, why did your office give up the death penalty, so easily? Jose was a two-tour Iraq veteran who not only protected our country's freedom abroad, but here in America behind the prison walls and fences. He deserved the benefit of the doubt win lose or draw.
2. Can you recall anytime the pursuit of the death penalty by your office was dismissed by any particular Judge? Who were the Judges assigned in this case? What has been their stance with the death penalty in this case?
3. Why wasn't the families' interests taken into consideration before this deal was reached? Why has your office not keep in constant communications with Jose's mother - Terry Rivera? Why wasn't someone assigned to work with her and keep her up to date on matters with this case?
4. Is this decision immediate? When will this inmate be able to accept this deal in court? Will the Judge offer the family or others to speak prior to sentencing?
5. Is there a moratorium on the death penalty? Are death penalty cases being pursued by US Attorneys in the death of LEOs? Did a moratorium play into the decision of your Office not to pursue the death penalty?
6. In your infinite opinion, do you think a jury or judge would have granted the death penalty?
In my opinion, the US Attorney and AUSA answered each question and those by the parties present. They were straightforward and candid in their explanation and reasoning of the US Attorney's office and the Department's determination, in ultimately deciding to reach a plea agreement with Joseph Cabrera-Sablan. First of all, this action was initiated as a result of a retiring Judge's order for reconsideration of the death penalty. From my overview, the decision was not taken lightly by the US Attorney's office as they vigorously fought the death penalty for the past 7-years.
The U.S. Attorney expressed to us their pursuit to get a judgement for the death penalty was significantly diminished from the start. He stated the careless actions of the local administration at USP Atwater were significant and all the errors made regarding the handling of the investigation even with the written report by the Board of Inquiry played into the decision; to include documents and information contained by the agency that they were not privileged or made known to the prosecution until after it was discovered through the defense.
I expressed to the U.S. Attorney that regardless of all the factors involved that this is an unfortunate decision that will not be received well by BOP staff. They will feel like our lives don't matter to the government enough for it to fight all the way to the end for us. We pointed out that our employees would likely, even more than before, feel like an inmate already serving a life sentence would have "nothing to lose" if they decided to kill another staff.
In the end, the US Attorney did agree to have a follow-up meeting with both the Rivera family and our Council E-board. The tragic death of our brother, friend and coworker Jose Rivera will remain engrained in our hearts and mines forever. While everyone present was displeased with the nature of the decision, I believe the local parties at USP Atwater were privileged to meet with the stakeholders who prosecuted the case. Overall, I believe the conference was productive in the sense, our local colleagues who ordinarily would not have been privy to this information were present and heard all the factors surrounding the circumstances of this decision. The information provided by the U.S Attorney that presided over the case was very helpful in allowing everyone to understand the intricacies of how they reached this decision. The factors that were used by the U.S. Attorney to change their course of action in their pursuit in the prosecution of both inmates involved in Officer Rivera's death were made clear although we vehemently disagree with their decision.
Yes, it is obvious the family, staff, and our Council, all wanted the death penalty. I think everyone understands the significance of this decision. While a life sentence without parole is appropriate now, it is certainly conducive rather than having this parole-eligible inmate walking out of prison, in the years ahead. However, our fight for Jose is not over.
I already debrief Eric last night of my perspective of the meeting as well.
The message and focus of this Council should be to make it an issue of urgency in pursuing a plan of action to honor the memory of Jose Rivera, so his death will not be in vain.
I have attached two correspondences to the Attorney General. (Which you can read HERE and HERE)
Mike Rule, NCRVP