By Austin Nolen
Michael Douglas’ troubles began with his job as a property manager, according to his attorney Lawrence Krasner. Douglas was charged in January for assault with a tire iron, but the District Attorney dropped the charges during a hearing yesterday after Krasner filed a motion alleging the complainants had committed perjury.
The allegations, Douglas’ attorney says, were part of an attempt by two tenants to intimidate his client, an attempt that nearly succeeded because of an unethical culture inside of the District Attorney’s Office.
Darnell Wright and Christina Johnson live in an apartment that Douglas says he had an agreement to manage. After a dispute, Wright allegedly threatened Douglas with a firearm and broke the windows at another property he managed.
In his motion, Krasner said he would question Wright about “additional criminal acts committed by him, including firearms offenses, terroristic threats, felony criminal mischief, among others” at trial.
Then Wright accused Douglas, who lived in the same neighborhood, of attacking him with a tire iron last November. Based on that allegation, police arrested Douglas. But a woman Douglas was dating at the time recorded a video of the incident, which shows a very different picture.
In the video, Wright and Johnson can be seen advancing on Douglas. Wright holds a rock and Johnson holds a police baton. Douglas backs up to the door of his car, and then briefly grabs a tire iron from his vehicle before driving away. The video does not show Douglas striking Wright.
Yet, during a preliminary hearing in the case, when Douglas’ attorney asked Wright if, “at any time” during the confrontation, he had anything in his hand “that could be used as a weapon,” Wright flatly answered “no.” He provided the same exact answer when asked whether Johnson ever held a weapon during the incident.
Johnson also denied that she or Wright had grabbed any weapons. Both Wright and Johnson also testified, despite what the video captured, that Douglas had a tire iron in his hands during the entire alleged attack.
Wright also claimed to have suffered a broken shoulder bone, a claim which Krasner says is contradicted by medical records.
Even after Krasner brought the video to the attention of the District Attorney, months passed with no action. The Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case only agreed to drop the charges over a month after Krasner filed the motion to assign lawyers to Wright and Johnson to counsel them on the risk of a perjury charge.
During yesterday’s hearing, Krasner also tried to question the Assistant District Attorney present about whether or not the office would bring criminal perjury charges, but Judge Susan Schulman said that was an issue to bring up privately with the DA.
Krasner is skeptical that charges will be brought, however. He says that the District Attorney’s Office has been evasive and that he has seen prosecutors drop other cases against his clients because of false testimony by government witnesses, but never bring perjury charges against those same witnesses.
In one case, a man involved in a labor dispute was accused of a crime, but charges were dropped after video evidence emerged contradicting a witness account. The witness was never charged. Krasner said that if no charges are filed in the Douglas case, where there are none of the political complications of a labor dispute, “there’s something seriously wrong with the system.”
The District Attorney’s Office has come under criticism for its manner of handling false prosecution witness testimony before. In 2011, narcotics officer Chris Hulmes admitted under oath to lying in search warrant applications and a preliminary hearing in the case against two alleged drug dealers. Hulmes was not charged with perjury for over three years. The eventual charges were filed only after a City Paper expose.
Coincidentally, Hulmes was officially approved for a diversion program just hours after Douglas’ charges were dropped.
It took over one year for the District Attorney to charge one corrections officer for filing a false complaint against an inmate; another prison guard who filed false reports and perjured himself in at least one and potentially two cases was apparently allowed to resign in lieu of criminal prosecution.
In an interview, Krasner blamed what he described as a “sports mentality” in the District Attorney’s Office, which he said encourages an “us against them” mindset among Assistant District Attorneys, who to try to win convictions despite serious witness credibility issues.
A spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, citing the office’s policy against commenting on internal discussions about prosecution strategies.
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