In the tumultuous wake of high-profile police killings of African Americans, calls to end structural racism in the country’s justice systems have grown louder and more frequent. But prosecutor Barry Grove, the lead investigator for officer-involved shootings at the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, has proudly demonstrated his racial bias on social media.
He is responsible for deciding whether to prosecute police officers for excessive-force violations and unlawful police shootings. But in his years as the DA’s lead investigator, Grove has only prosecuted one police officer who was African American.
Grove, a 28-year veteran of the prosecutor’s office, has served for many years as president of the Deputy District Attorney Association, and to other county prosecutors, Grove is considered a leader. The comments have cast doubt on Grove’s motives and the fairness of all his past decisions.
Grove made his comments on a Facebook post that was sympathetic to Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American who was gunned down in South Georgia while jogging. Two white men ran Arbery down with a pickup truck and then killed him with three shotgun blasts. For months After the shooting, local authorities did not arrest the killers, Travis McMichael, 34, and his father, Gregory McMichael, 64, a former police officer and DA investigator.
The initial Facebook post Grove commented on was ostensibly made by a white man describing his and his son’s “white privilege” to jog without fear of deadly violence, a statement with which Grove took issue.
“Apparently he’s not running in North Richmond…. or the Iron Triangle….or Crescent Park…..or any of the multitude of places in the USA where he would be attacked and maybe killed for being a white male,” Grove wrote.
The three Richmond neighborhoods Grove mentioned have a high percentage of African-American residents.
Former Contra Costa County deputy prosecutor David Brown, who is Black, challenged Grove.
“Have you ever heard of that happening?” Brown wrote. “If so where and when? If not, that is an extremely racist statement to make!”
Grove responded with an anecdotal example of an anonymous informant’s claim during an unspecified murder trial.
“C’mon man!” Grove wrote, “I’ll give but one example: informant testified in murder trial. Informant was a long time [sic] drug dealer/gang member in North (North Richmond). Defense Attorney, of course, wanted to go thru informants [sic] entire criminal career in detail. I will never forget when informant, who was quite articulate, testified that shooting customers was bad for business, but once in a while a white guy would come into the neighborhood looking for dope and somebody would act the fool and shoot the guy.”
Grove went on to claim there is a “massive amount of resentment” towards whites in the African American community and that resentment sometimes manifests itself in violence. He claimed that Brown possibly believed that white men killed in North Richmond deserve their fate.
It’s worth noting that white people regularly jog in all Richmond neighborhoods.
Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton, who is African American, said she has taken remedial measures against Grove that were within her scope of authority, but said the issue is now a personal matter and she could not comment further.
“I can say that there is no longer one person, a shot caller, who decides whether prosecution of law enforcement officers should or should not go forward,” she said. “Multiple people now have input.”
Some East Bay defense attorneys thought Grove’s comments were at best imprudent others thought they reflect an office-wide bias against African Americans.
“I don’t give a fuck who is in charge of the DA’s Office,” said Solano County criminal defense attorney Daniel Russo, “Racism is the mother’s milk of that office and many other DA offices in the state. Grove’s comments are emblematic of how he sees his job and who he serves and protects—white men.”
Grove did not return calls from the East Bay Express for comment.
One of Grove’s more controversial decisions was to not prosecute Richmond police officer Wallace Jensen for the police shooting death of Richard “Pedie” Perez. Jensen shot the unarmed Perez outside a Richmond convenience store in 2014. Jensen detained Perez for being intoxicated. Perez walked away saying he wanted to go home. Jensen tackled him and after a scuffle, Jensen shot Perez three times.
Jensen claimed Perez tried to grab his holstered firearm, but his story conflicted with witness accounts and the fact that Perez’s DNA was not present on Jensen’s gun or holster. In 2018, the Richmond Police Review Commission voted 7 to 1 that Jensen used unnecessary or excessive force.
Jensen took a disability with his retirement pension in 2016. He did not face any criminal charges.
Grove’s Facebook comments have also raised questions about the only police officer he did prosecute, Dedrick Riley. The black Richmond police officer was fired twice for excessive force complaints and twice was reinstated by arbitrators. After being reinstated the second time, county prosecutors considered filing charges against Riley. According to Riley, Prosecutor David Brown declined to file criminal charges. But Grove overruled Brown and charged Riley with two felonies, assault under color of law and misdemeanor battery. Riley was acquitted of both charges in 2012.
Grove is currently involved in the investigation of two Walnut Creek police officers who shot Miles Hall, 24, a black man who suffered from schizophrenia. On June 2, 2019, Hall’s mother and grandmother called police because Hall was in the midst of a psychiatric crisis and was behaving aggressively.
When police arrived, Hall was carrying a long pry bar. He attempted to run past the officers at a safe distance to get to his home. When he refused to stop, two of the five officers on scene shot Hall multiple times. The Hall’s attorney, John Burris, said the death of Miles Hall was preventable.
“Tragically, Miles Hall’s family did everything they could to protect their mentally challenged son by using all available public services including the police,” said Burris who has filed a civil action against the police department. “Yet he was shot dead by the same police they thought would protect him.”
According to a family friend, the Halls mistrust the DA’s Office and have asked for an independent investigation. They are wary of the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office and Deputy District Attorney Barry Grove’s reputation. The Walnut Creek Police union endorsed Grove in his failed 2012 bid for the Walnut Creek City Council. The Halls have asked the District Attorney for an independent investigation into the killing of their son.
Russo said an independent state investigative office should be created to review police misconduct and police shootings.
“Now the county’s system is characterized by cronyism and racism,” Russo said. “You see it top to bottom, in jury selection, how cases are charged, gang-labeling and over-charging. But there is a heightened awareness about these problems now and I am heartened by what I see happening.”