By David Rowe, Associate Editor
April 21, 2023
Correction 5/18/2023: An earlier version of this story named Clifford Blakely as the presiding judge during the April 14 hearing. Blakely served as the judge during the initial hearing of this case on Oct. 20, 2022.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office (ACDAO) announced in a pre-trial hearing on April 14 in Oakland Superior Court that it decided not to recuse itself from a case involving Tim Thomas, the Director of Public Safety for the Peralta Community College District (PCCD). The decision followed a previous announcement at a Feb. 3 hearing, where the ACDAO said it was evaluating a potential conflict of interest in the case created by the hiring of Royl Roberts, the former PCCD general counsel, as Chief Assistant District Attorney in January.
Thomas, the Director of Public Safety for PCCD since November 2021, is charged with three misdemeanor offenses stemming from an altercation on May 6 of last year with Tom Jensen, the elderly resident of an RV that was parked near the district offices.
Angela Ruggiero, Public Information Officer for the ACDAO, issued a statement to The Citizen on Feb. 8 that stated “the District Attorney’s Office is recusing itself out of an abundance of caution.”
At the April 14 hearing, Jason Quinn, deputy district attorney at ACDAO, told Presiding Judge Armando Pastran, Jr. that his office conducted research on the conflict issue and consulted with the California Attorney General’s office before reaching the decision not to recuse itself. While not mentioning Roberts by name, Quinn told the judge that the “individual with a potential conflict” will have no contact with prosecutors handling the Thomas case and “will not be consulted.
Attorney Jason Leung from Prather Law Offices, the law firm representing Thomas, had no objection to the decision of the DA’s office not to recuse itself. The district is paying for Thomas’ legal bills in this matter, according to Mark Johnson, PCCD’s Executive Director of Marketing, Communications, and Public Relations.
Quinn asked the court to reschedule the pre-trial hearing, which will now take place on June 15, at 9am in Dept. 108 of the Wiley W. Manuel courthouse in Oakland. Leung had no objection to this request either.
Jensen, the 75-year-old RV resident involved in the altercation with Thomas, was the only one to voice concern during the hearing about the potential conflict. Jensen filed a “victim’s assertion of rights” with the court on April 12.
“The Court has not been properly informed of the full extent of the conflict of interest of the Office of the District Attorney,” Jensen claimed in the assertion.
Jensen alleged in his filing that, while employed by PCCD, Roberts “had knowledge of Thomas’ crime and the post-arrest misconduct associated with it, was deliberately indifferent to it, and is implicated in it.”
The Citizen has been unable to verify the claims made by Jensen.
The Citizen reached out to Roberts and Ruggiero for comment but neither responded in time for the publication of this article. Johnson said PCCD had no comment on the matter.
Having not seen Jensen’s statement before the hearing, the judge took several minutes to read it silently in open court.
He then asked Jensen, “What is it you are asking me to do?”
Jensen, standing at a podium facing the judge, replied that he wanted the court to find that the district attorney’s office had a conflict of interest and to remove it from the case. He also said discussion of the potential conflict should be reflected in the court records.
The judge told Jensen he was not in a position to “intercede and declare a conflict of interest,” since both the district attorney and defense counsel agreed that the issue had been adequately addressed. The judge suggested that Jensen “bring his concerns to the agency prosecuting the case” or “pursue civil remedies.”
In his filing, Jensen referenced an in-person meeting with deputy district attorney Dan Roisman on March 30 to discuss the case. In his description of Roisman, Jensen alleges that he was “argumentative and hostile.”
In an April 19 email to The Citizen, Roisman confirmed he met with Jensen on March 30, but was not able to comment on “the content or character of that meeting” due to “pending litigation.” Roisman said he is “more than happy to meet with Mr. Jensen again, and provide any information or explanation that I am able.”
Jensen has already moved forward on the “civil remedies” front. He filed a 50-page lawsuit with the US District Court of Northern California on April 5 against Thomas and a number of other PCCD employees including Johnson, Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson, and Interim Vice Chancellor of Facilities Atheria Smith.
Roberts, District Attorney Pamela Price, the members of the PCCD Board of Trustees at the time of the May 2022 incident, and Edwin Prather, owner and principal attorney of Prather Law Offices, are also named in the suit.
The suit, which alleges “threats and criminally charged battery and elder abuse” by Thomas and “joint supervisor liability” by Jackson, Smith, and Roberts, seeks statutory damages of $25,000 and punitive damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.”
The Citizen reached out to Johnson for comment on Jensen’s lawsuit. He responded with an email which said “We have no comment at this time.”
Prather was included in the suit based on comments he made to The Citizen in an email dated May 11, 2022. In that email, Prather referenced “the aggressive history of the unhoused population encroaching on campus property.” Jensen described those comments as “an appeal to class-based animus against the homeless” in his suit. The Citizen reached out to Prather for comment but did not receive a response.