By Nate Gartrell and Aaron Davis East Bay Times

MARTINEZ, Calif. — A candidate for Contra Costa District Attorney said during a forum this week he wouldn’t seek the death penalty against defendants who’ve killed a police officer because, “it’s part of the risk they take.”

The comments by attorney Lawrence Strauss — one of three candidates in the June DA election — were promptly slammed by local police union presidents, one of whom said Strauss’ name shouldn’t be on the ballot.

Strauss was responding to a question during an April 24 forum at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, which asked Strauss, interim DA Diana Becton, and senior deputy district attorney Paul Graves if they would seek the death penalty against cop killers. Of the three, Strauss was the only one to give a direct answer.

He began his comments saying that when an officer is murdered it affects not only his family, but “a nationwide network of police officers.” He added, however, that people who kill single officers shouldn’t be death-penalty eligible. He cited the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing as an example of a death penalty case he’d support.

“I feel sorry for the officer. It’s part of the risk they take as being an officer of the law,” Strauss said. He added that he trained police officers as a prosecutor in Hawaii and always told them to approach every traffic stop with caution because someone could pull a gun out at any time.

Contra Costa Sheriff Sgt. Sean Welch, president of the agency’s officer union, called the comments “archaic” and “extremely inappropriate.”

“Law enforcement officers are hired to ensure the public’s safety and enforce the constitution and laws of the state. We are not pawns for a brutal dictator,” Welch said. “Strauss’ performance last night should have made it clear to anyone voting in the primary election that he should not even be on the ballot for district attorney.”

Officer Ben Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officer’s Association called Strauss “tone-deaf” when it came to public safety, adding that “the men and women in our profession don’t sign up to be hurt or killed or receive less justice than our fellow citizens we protect.”

The other two candidates seemed to hedge the question, with Graves saying death cases are reserved for “the most heinous crimes,” and Becton saying, “Yes, to answer your question, whenever there is a case in our system where the crime in heinous or serious, the death penalty is the law in California.” Both said they’d use an existing committee that makes decisions on each potential death case.

Strauss has operated a private practice for 23 years and spend nearly two years as a prosecuting attorney in Hawaii, according to his online biography. His priorities include ending “wealth-based disparities,” excessive sentences, and quashing the War on Drugs, increasing transparency and accountability, and promoting polices “that aid undocumented communities,” according to his response to a candidate questionnaire.

Asked to respond to Welch’s comments, Strauss put out a two-page written statement in which he says he’s seen firsthand the impact when officers are killed in the line of duty, and thanking police for their service. He said people who kill single officers should receive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

Read Strauss’ full statement here.

©2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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