And this is where Balko announces he’s found the villain in this attack. No, not the attackers. Not the SF legal system, which still seems confused about what to do about the attack. Nope, the real culprit in this case is KGO-TV reporter Dion Lim.
— C.W. Nevius, “Washington Post man-splains SF crime,” June 22 newsletter
On Dec. 31, 2020, 45-year-old Troy McAlister ran a red light in a stolen car, striking and killing 60-year-old Elizabeth Platt and 27-year-old Hanako Abe near Mission and Second Streets in San Francisco. McAlister had been arrested twice in recent months. In their report for a November car burglary, the arresting officers included a note for San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin warning him that McAlister was dangerous and “had been arrested for 73 felonies and 34 misdemeanors in San Francisco alone.” Boudin disregarded the warning and released McAlister. In December — just 11 days before the fatal hit-and-run — McAlister was arrested again, and again Boudin released him. In both cases, no new charges were filed by the D.A., despite the fact McAlister was out on parole after serving a five-year state prison sentence for robbery in a plea deal brokered by Boudin’s office. Under California’s three strikes law, McAlister was eligible for a life sentence, but Boudin instituted a policy of not charging prior strikes except in “extraordinary circumstances.” While I’ve been ringing the alarm bell on Boudin since he hit the campaign trail, the McAlister case brought attention from journalists nationwide. If a serial criminal reoffending after a five-year stint in prison doesn’t meet the definition of “extraordinary circumstances,” what does?
Boudin is not one to sit down one-on-one with the media, so it was refreshing to see him do just that with ABC7 anchor and reporter Dion Lim, an award-winning journalist named to this year’s Gold House A100 list of the most influential Asian and Pacific Islander figures for her coverage of the Stop Asian Hate movement. In the Jan. 4 interview, Boudin said he had filed charges against McAlister including vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, and felony possession of a firearm. Lim pushed Boudin on why his spokesperson, in a statement, blamed the state parole office for the New Year’s Eve incident instead of taking “direct accountability.” Boudin said Lim misunderstood — he wasn’t blaming parole — then proceeded to blame Daly City Police. Why? Because two days before the fatal crash, McAlister stole the vehicle from a woman during a date and she provided officers with his contact information. At that point, Lim interjected: “Chesa, with all due respect, it feels as though you are deflecting just a little bit . . .” That would be the last time Boudin responded to Lim’s questions.
TWITTER TROLLS AND BLOG POSTS
A few days after the interview, a Twitter account called “The Truth on Dion Lim” popped up. The profile claimed the account belonged to a high school student named Michaela Lim in Menlo Atherton, though her posts were decidedly adult. “Focus on the crimes and don’t race bait,” said the pinned Tweet. “Other reporters are tired of her racism, too. Her posts appeal to racists.” One of Michaela’s followers was none other than Chesa Boudin, on his official government Twitter account no less. He even retweeted some of her posts. After reporter Lou Barberini questioned Michaela for an article in the Westside Observer, the account went private and eventually disappeared. While it seemed suspicious (Barberini surmised the account was run by Boudin himself), it was nothing compared to the strange tale of a Tennessee blogger named Radley Balko.
On March 11, 2021, Lim covered the story of three teenaged girls who attempted to carjack a 75-year-old woman in the parking lot of a Richmond District Safeway. One girl approached the victim and asked to borrow her cell phone, at which point all three proceeded to beat, kick and drag the victim while stealing her belongings, including her keys. Once inside the victim’s car, a bystander used his fist to punch through the back window, startling the suspects, who ran to a waiting vehicle and fled the scene. According to a press release, thanks to the Good Samaritan, witness identifications, and videos of the incident, Antioch police arrested a 16-year-old suspect from San Leandro the next day. Trejor Barber, a 19-year-old from San Francisco, was also implicated after she used the victim’s stolen credit card to send money to her mother through CashApp on her cell phone. A check of Barber’s record reveals she had been arrested the month before in Alameda County for grand theft and conspiracy to commit a crime, but Boudin declined to press charges in the attempted carjacking (Barber is the suspected driver), as well as the credit card theft and fraud, citing “a lack of DNA evidence.” Less than a month later, Pittsburg police arrested Barber on new charges of false personation and resisting arrest in Contra Costa County.
In May, Lim heard from a source that the juvenile suspect had been released. She emailed Boudin’s communications director Rachel Marshall to confirm. In documents received by an anonymous records requester on Twitter who goes by @journo_anon, Marshall tells Lim, “Pursuant to the California Welfare and Institutions Code, we are legally prohibited from discussing anything related to a juvenile case, and this should not be interpreted as confirming or denying anything about the case status or the claims you made.” After several more futile email exchanges, Lim went forward with her story, interviewing the Good Samaritan and the victim. Both were understandably outraged that one of the suspects was not being held accountable.
On June 14, blogger Radley Balko penned an opinion piece for The Washington Post titled “The bogus backlash against progressive prosecutors,” which sounds like it’s about multiple progressive prosecutors, but really should have been called, “In defense of Chesa Boudin: A hit piece on Dion Lim.” Balko starts with a quote from the Good Samaritan, Harry Mulholland (who wasn’t named in Lim’s reports). “I feel like I was played for a fool,” Mulholland says. “Honestly. I felt a little violated.” Mulholland tells Balko he was “pushed” by Lim to say, “I believe in restorative justice, and I understand Chesa has a model, but his way of going about it is not working.” Mulholland said this on camera so you can judge for yourself whether he’s under duress. He looks pretty relaxed to me. Either way, Mulholland contradicts himself, opening the door for defense attorneys to point out his inconsistencies, thus compromising the case.
In what appeared to be an amazing coincidence, the victim also turned to Balko to complain, saying Lim “persisted until she reluctantly provided a quote criticizing the district attorney.” Balko goes on to report that the 16-year-old has been arrested, but the others have yet to be identified. That, of course, isn’t true — perhaps the most culpable suspect of all, Trejor Barber, was identified, and inspectors presented multiple serious charges to Boudin, who declined to sign the warrant.
I had never heard of Radley Balko, but an internet search brings up a controversial figure who critics say began his career marketing and coordinating seminars for Karl Rove’s and James O’Keefe’s college Republican recruitment. By 2001 “he was working at the Cato Institute, the billionaire Koch brothers’ flagship libertarian think-tank in Washington D.C.” as marketing manager and managing editor of cato.org. He also worked as a FoxNews.com columnist where he “churned out crude rightwing pro-corporate propaganda, attacking government regulations, praising free markets, boosting for Big Tobacco and the health insurance industry.” In 2013, after George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Balko tweeted, “Media people: Stand Your Ground was not a factor in the Zimmerman verdict. Stop perpetuating this myth.”
Then there’s the Wall Street Journal, which ran an excerpt from Balko’s book “Rise of the Warrior Cop.” When factual errors came to light, editors were forced to issue a nearly 200-word “corrections and amplifications” that included things like “the Consumer Products Safety Commission does not have a S.W.A.T team.” The website S.H.A.M.E (Shame the Hacks who Abuse Media Ethics) called it “one of the most epic reporting corrections in the annals of journalism.”
All of this led me to wonder why the witness and victim in a San Francisco carjacking decided to set the record straight with a controversial, error-prone blogger 3,000 miles away. Balko is hardly a household name, and it’s not like they didn’t have a plethora of local news outlets and journalists to choose from. To find the answer, I went back to those public records obtained by @journo_anon.
THE DION LIM MANIFESTO
At the beginning of June, Kasie Lee, an assistant San Francisco district attorney and interim chief of victim services, reached out to Balko via text: “Just checking in. Were you able to connect with the victim? Is it okay if I share your contact info with Rachel Marshall, our communications director?” Balko replies, “Please do. I spoke with [Mulholland]. I haven’t heard back from the victim.” Lee forwards to Balko communications she obtained from the victim detailing the victim’s correspondence with Lim.
Later, Balko says he still hasn’t heard from the victim. “Does she know I’m trying to get in touch? Given that the DA’s office can’t officially comment, I’m not sure I can write this unless she’s up for talking to me…” at which point Lee replies, “Right. I can call her later today.”
Lee also encourages Balko to file an “827 petition” and provides him with a PDF of form JV-570 to request disclosure of the juvenile suspect’s case file. Balko replies, “I was told that’s a pretty involved process . . . I can maybe write something based on my interview with the witness . . . But the victim would obviously be preferable. Just maybe check to see she got my email.”
In another text exchange, Rachel Marshall ignores her own advice on the illegality of discussing the case and references Barber: “… to answer your question about whether any other suspects [were] ever identified: police later requested a warrant for an adult … But there was not enough evidence to prove that the suspect was actually the driver so SFDA could not sign off on the warrant.”
Marshall then tells Balko, “I think it’s best not to quote us, but I can try to steer you towards some juvenile advocacy folks if you want a quote on the importance of juvenile confidentiality.”
In perhaps the most disturbing exchange, Marshall texts Balko, “Hi Radley, good to chat today. Here is the document you asked to see.”
She then provides Balko with a seven-page Word document titled “Dion Lim Misrepresentations” — a detailed manifesto of the cases Lim has covered with talking points and “evidence” of her bias against Boudin. “Dion Lim makes the inflammatory suggestion that DA Boudin’s comments resemble those of an Atlanta sheriff,” one entry suggests. Another states, “Ms. Lim quoted from a New York Times story in which DA Boudin described Antoine Watson’s behavior prior to the murder of Vicha Ratanapakdee. Ms. Lim falsely suggested that DA Boudin was referencing the murder itself when he used the term ‘temper tantrum.’”
After reading the manifesto, it becomes crystal clear that Boudin is obsessed with Lim’s coverage of him.
It is also clear from the text exchanges that Lee and Marshall, both attorneys who should know better, fed material to Balko, including victim and witness contact information, the Lim manifesto, and confidential details about a case involving a juvenile.
If Marshall was able to share with Balko that the juvenile was still in custody and one of the adults wasn’t charged, why couldn’t she share that information with Lim? More importantly, is it or is it not illegal to discuss a case involving a juvenile? Apparently in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, that depends on which reporter (or blogger) they’re talking to.
Equally egregious is Lee’s abuse of her position as interim chief of victim services — her job is to advocate for victims, not use them to help a blogger 3,000 miles away write a hit piece on a local reporter.
Obviously, Lee and Marshall aren’t doing this on their own, so who is behind the curtain pushing the buttons? Not the Great Oz, but Chesa Boudin himself. Sadly, while his minions are propagandizing crime victim and case information to appease his personal grudges, crime victims themselves are getting very little in return: Boudin’s staff has tried just four cases so far this year according to the district attorney’s own dataset, last updated July 1. During that same time period, however, Boudin has managed to complete six episodes of his “Chasing Justice” podcast, season 2. That’s your tax dollars at work, folks.
Read the Balko/S.F.D.A. responsive records, here
E-mail; [email protected]. Follow Susan and the Marina Times on Twitter: @SusanDReynolds and @TheMarinaTimes.