Summer Stephan could not be in a better position to win next year’s race for district attorney.
First, she is district attorney. County supervisors appointed her in June when her mentor, Bonnie Dumanis, resigned. In her campaign to win the position outright in 2018, Stephan’s received endorsements from powerful Republicans and Democrats. She has raised money and her profile in the media after a year of careful cultivation.
But one part of her biography looms large: The 1998 murder of 12-year-old Stephanie Crowe, a mystery that took down another former DA when Dumanis used it against him to win his job.
More specifically, hanging overhead is the prosecution of 14-year-old Michael Crowe and his two friends, which Stephan led before she and her office had to drop the case in disgrace.
Now the parents of Crowe have emerged as Stephan’s most passionate and compelling detractors in her bid to win a full term as district attorney.
They submitted to the County Board of Supervisors a scorching 22-page recital of ways Stephan allegedly mishandled the prosecution of their son, and they allege she’s the reason nobody stands convicted of the crime.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Pretty damning. This is not a person who should be the DA. While she certainly has focus (what successful law-school student doesn't?), her remarkable lack of judgement then is not something that 20 years can change, especially if she's been in the exact same environment since then. What evidence is there that this kind of mistaken thinking won't happen again? None.
Summer Stephan wasn't the DA when the Crowe case happened. Paul Pfingst was. Why no mention of his management of this case? How about doing a follow up article detailing Pfingst's role in the Crowe case. Or is going after Stephan a better way of ginning up headlines because she is running for office?
Stephan's attitude represents that of every San Diego prosecutor I've ever met; all the way from the law student interns to the division chiefs. Supreme arrogance, coupled with a cursory knowledge of the actual evidence but outstanding use of argumentative hyperbole.
And no conscience.
The Crowe case represents a glaring hole in the criminal justice system. People want to believe that police investigate fairly; they search for the truth and operate with well-defined rules. In fact, all too often, police merely search for a patsy, and turn to deceptive or oppressive tactics to coerce incriminating evidence. They write up the evidence, but not their tactics. And then prosecutors, who we believe actually review evidence before filing charges, simply file the charges or present the evidentiary summary to a Grand Jury. And when confronted with the contradictions in the evidence, or advised of problems with the evidence, local prosecutors actually double down before they step back and think.
I defended a man briefly for a sexual assault. It was not possible, he argued, because he was more than a block away, in the company of two other people. The investigating Sheriff's detective never bothered to interview the alibi witnesses, and the prosecutor said the alibi witnesses were lying before she even knew their names.
A guy was charged with selling marijuana at a school (an enhancement); in fact he had given away a gummy to a friend well off school property. The deputy's argument was that just because the customer didn't pay doesn't mean the gummy wasn't sold.
A guy was charged with rape at a Gaslamp restaurant. The restaurant's surveillance video showed consensual contact. When told there was surveillance (the police never even checked) the prosecutor never requested it either and in fact tried to talk us out of getting it; "You don't want to be the defense lawyer who put the nail in this predator's coffin."
The Crowe case was a warning sign, 20 years ago, that "the system" wasn't working like it should. Dumanis, who came in with a mandate to reform the system, utterly failed to do that reform. One can argue that she never even tried. Trusting Stephan to lead that reform is a mistake.
I could not read this article. I did not want to. A person whose best defense for the morality of their actions is that their actions were reviewed by XYZ and it was found that they did nothing wrong, misses the point. The point of justice is encapsulated in Lord Hewart's aphorism that justice needs to be done and must also appear to be done.
The families of these boys (at least one of them, for sure) do not believe that justice was done to them, and the appearance of injustice still shines plain, even after all these years.
An over jealous prosecutor fueled by overzealous bumbling police department was destined to yield this colossal embarrassment to SD and unnecessarily torture a family never allowed to grieve. Summer Stephan refuses to acknowledge her responsibility, this is not someone i want to as DA. One can only wonder what other deals have been crafted behind close doors in back rooms?
Well written story. Thoroughly researched. Truly fair.
My wife and I were not here when this horrific murder and its aftermath took place. We have been in San Diego since the late 1990s.
Such a horrible family tragedy made unimaginably worse by overly aggressive, closed-minded prosecution combined with terrible decision-making. Can any of us imagine how the Crowes dealt with this? A daughter's brutal death, then within hours their son being considered a prime suspect ... almost beyond credulity. Except that's exactly what happened. And, then there is the horror the other two young boys and their families went through. I cannot conceive of what the Crowe family must have endured and are still enduring.
We hope Former DA Bonnie Dumanis's attempted anointing of Summer Stephan won't work out for either Stephan or Dumanis (who plans to become a County Supe). Too much "stuff" surrounds both of these people.
Again, nice work, Ms. McGlone.
What has Stephan learned from the Crowe case, and what would she do different today if presented with a similar case as our District Attorney? We can't change the past or predict the future, but should learn from our experiences and prepare to take correct action in the now.
San Diego is managed, in significant part, by a shadow power structure. As such, facts don't matter all that much.