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Neighbors Fault City Prosecutor's Program

While attorney was boasting of progress, a troublesome transient had been freed from jail.

June 18, 2003|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

In March, Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo touted the success of his Neighborhood Prosecutor program by holding a Fairfax Avenue news conference to announce that his office had jailed a transient who had been terrorizing the neighborhood for months, and that it had won a court order barring him from the area.

"The residents of the Fairfax district are no longer being held hostage by fear," Delgadillo said at the time. "They now know that they can turn to their neighborhood prosecutor to help them improve their community and ensure that their quality of life will not be diminished again."

But despite Delgadillo's tough rhetoric, records show that his office repeatedly dropped serious charges against the transient, William Wray Holt, to facilitate plea bargaining or convictions on lesser counts.

As a result, Holt was out of jail at the time Delgadillo held his news conference, and police say that a month later Holt went on a rampage that culminated with his April 18 arrest on assault charges after he allegedly swung a large knife at an 11-year-old girl in Pan Pacific Park.

Residents say that Delgadillo's office exaggerated its success in protecting the neighborhood from Holt, and that the court record indicates the city failed to aggressively prosecute a man who was a clear threat.

"Here the city attorney held a news conference to promise we would be safe and the guy is right back out on the street. It's just outrageous, especially since a child was attacked," said Robert Cherno, a board member of the Fairfax Residents Assn.

"He turned his back on us as soon as the cameras were gone," Cherno said.

Similar concerns have been conveyed in letters to Delgadillo from merchants and employees of Canter's Deli, where Holt allegedly committed vandalism.

"The stay-away order that your office assured would protect us against Holt was worthless," Eric Thatcher, a bartender at Canter's deli, wrote this week.

"He was right back in the Fairfax area terrorizing us and nothing was done to enforce the restraining order."

Delgadillo declined to be interviewed for this story, but he issued a statement in which he defended his office's handling of Holt, noting that it won a court order to bar Holt from the neighborhood.

"We achieved the goal of empowering the community by arming it with a court order that prohibited the transient defendant from returning to the Fairfax business district between Beverly and Melrose, which is where the criminal activity occurred," Delgadillo said.

"The Fairfax Avenue community understood we could not put him away for a substantial period of time because he faced misdemeanor charges. The goal of the community and the neighborhood prosecutor was to prevent this individual from returning to the community."

Eric Moses, a spokesman for Delgadillo, said city prosecutors on occasion pursued probation violation charges instead of assault and other charges because the standard for conviction was lower.

Moses noted that Holt is scheduled to go to trial today on five new charges, including the alleged assault on the 11-year-old girl.

The charges also include carrying a dagger, two counts of exhibiting a deadly weapon and willful cruelty to a child. Moses said prosecutors hope Holt is sent to jail for the maximum: one year.

"It is unfortunate that after his punishment he continues to terrorize children and others in a violent manner," Moses said.

Some residents of the Fairfax district say the Holt case illustrates the city's failure to effectively deal with homelessness and neighborhood crime, but Moses said that in the first year of the Neighborhood Program, the city attorney's office filed 484 criminal cases and obtained a 94% conviction rate for crimes including illegal dumping and vandalism.

Holt, 59, has been a problem in the neighborhood since 1994, when he was first charged with making threats, residents say.

The current string of arrests started in May 2002 when Holt was charged with graffiti vandalism and possessing the tools for vandalism near Farmers Market.

As part of a plea bargain, he was allowed to plead guilty to one of the charges while the other was dismissed, and he was given six days in jail.

The alleged rampage that Delgadillo mentioned in his news conference occurred in June 2002 and involved assault and battery on a pizza deliveryman, vandalism and carrying a knife near a high school.

Holt was in jail for 30 days awaiting trial after his arrest.

The vandalism and other charges were dropped as part of a plea bargain in which Holt admitted possession of a knife and was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to stay away from Fairfax Avenue and away from weapons.

The assault charge was dropped at the request of the city attorney's office, which chose to seek a conviction for probation violation, which required a lower level of proof, Moses said.

Holt was convicted of probation violation and sentenced to 20 days in jail.

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