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The district attorney is running unopposed for a third term, but a handful of recent events has her on the outs with an influential law enforcement consortium.
In a clear sign that District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has lost the support of cops and deputies, an umbrella group for 22 San Diego County law enforcement unions overwhelmingly rejected her request for an endorsement.
The vote came Thursday night after Dumanis, who is seeking a third term and has no challenger leading up to the June primary, answered pointed questions from members of the local chapter of the Police Officers Research Association of California. In her previous re-election bid, she received the group’s unanimous endorsement without even having to be interviewed.
“What this says is you’re free to run your campaign but you’re going to do it without the support of public safety,” said Ernie Carrillo, president of the politically powerful Deputy Sheriffs Association of San Diego County, which is a member of PORAC.
Dumanis was vigorously questioned primarily about her prosecution of San Diego police officer Frank White for an off-duty road rage incident, and her dismissal of a case in which she declined to prosecute hosts of a fundraiser for congressional candidate Francine Busby, who got into a physical confrontation with a sheriff’s deputy.
“Her recent decisions in how to handle cases pertaining to law enforcement is showing a pattern that is of high concern to the rank and file,” said Jesus Montana, president of the local PORAC chapter. “Her explanations to why she’s pursuing these cases are seeming more politically motivated versus to serve justice.”
The group is hardly known outside of law enforcement and political circles. But it’s important to candidates because it’s one-stop shopping for endorsements. Once they land the PORAC endorsement, the candidates can list 22 San Diego county police organizations as supporters on websites and ballot statements.
On the list would be less prominent groups like the Oceanside, Escondido, La Mesa, San Diego City Schools and Harbor police officers associations, as well as the larger better-known ones like the Deputy Sheriffs Association.
In a statement today, Dumanis said she respects the group’s members, but stands by her actions.
“I will continue to make the decisions I believe are best for the public safety of San Diego without regard to politics, individuals or organizations who may or may not agree.”
Dumanis said those two decisions related to law enforcement, and her endorsement of Bill Gore for sheriff, are “the most critical factors impacting my relationship with some members of PORAC’s local board of directors.”
She noted that PORAC has endorsed Gore’s opponent, former Deputy Sheriffs Association President Jim Duffy, and she said in the statement that Duffy was present at Thursday’s meeting.
Dumanis has become the region’s most powerful political figure, but as a voiceofsandiego.org special report this week showed, that rise has not come without its complications.
One PORAC member who attended the meeting in a private room at a Coco’s restaurant called it a “vote of no confidence.” Another said it could open the door for a challenger. They asked not to be identified because the matter is politically sensitive.
But yet another PORAC member said the implications are not quite that serious for an incumbent who at this point is coasting to a third term with no challenger and doesn’t need the support of law enforcement. The members could have taken it a step further by voting to oppose her officially, and didn’t. Declining to endorse simply means the unions are sending Dumanis a strong message.
“We recognize she has done good things,” said a PORAC member who attended the meeting. “It’s not that she is bad or evil, but the direction she seems to be going recently is of concern. It’s not like we’ve abandoned her.”
Carrillo of the DSA fell somewhere in between: Was this vote a lack of confidence in the DA? “No, but I believe the vote last night showed concern that the unions are worried the DA’s office is too heavily involved in politics.” The White prosecution and failure to back the deputy at the Busby fundraiser are merely examples of that, Carrillo said.
Montana, the PORAC president, said Dumanis was allowed to give an opening and a closing statement, and members were free to ask questions. Emotions were high but the tone was professional, with an “agree-to-disagree” feeling in the room, a number of members said. They took a vote after Dumanis left; Montana declined to reveal the actual vote but four members said all but the District Attorney Investigators Association voted against Dumanis.
She was informed this morning.
PORAC members can make their own individual endorsements. If she wanted, Dumanis could court each association individually.
The endorsement carries heavy weight with law enforcement associations statewide, and the group can spend more money on behalf of a candidate than individual donors. It is less important to Dumanis in these circumstances, since she currently has no challenger. Its mission is to maintain professional standards in law enforcement, and take stands on police-related political issues.
The group did not endorse in Dumanis’ first race for district attorney against incumbent Paul Pfingst. The group only endorses if the vote is unanimous, and while most members backed Pfingst, one of its members at the time, the San Diego Police Officers Association, backed Dumanis.
The only law enforcement associations to endorse Dumanis so far are her own deputy district attorneys and district attorney investigators — but that’s something Pfingst didn’t have, and consultants believe that was a factor in his narrow loss.
Losing PORAC’s endorsement is a “big blow,” said political consultant John Dadian, whose client list over the years has included the Deputy Sheriffs Association and other law enforcement groups. “But a political consultant will tell you that having her own rank and file support her is absolutely crucial and she has that.”
The San Diego Police Officers Association, which is one of the few police unions in the county that no longer belongs to PORAC, appears to be the wild card. President Brian R. Marvel said Dumanis has yet to approach the union for an endorsement, but that its board would keep an open mind if she does.
“We would look at everything she has done in the law enforcement community and in her position as district attorney,” Marvel said. “We’re not going to just narrow in on, you know what, you charged Frank White. I think that’s unfair.
“There’s so much more she does as DA.”
Please contact Kelly Thornton directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.