A group of black San Fernando Valley ministers on Monday called for the resignation of a prosecutor who recommended the unusually low bail of $20,000 for two white Northridge college students accused of murdering a black Pacoima pastor.
Although the $20,000 bail was later revoked, the ministers accused Deputy Dist. Atty. Billy Webb of racism for having initially recommended the low bail, and called for Webb to resign or be fired.
"This shows a lack of respect to the black community and the community in general," said Pastor James V. Lyles, president of the Ministers Fellowship of the Greater San Fernando Valley, an alliance of pastors from 41 churches.
"It's not a matter of looking for someone's head on the chopping block," said his colleague, the Rev. D.D. Chatman, pastor of the Greater Community Baptist Church of Pacoima. "What kind of signal is being sent to individuals when you see you can go out and commit murder and get $20,000 bail? What kind of signal is sent?"
The pastors made their comments at an informal press conference at the San Fernando Courthouse where Webb is the head prosecutor and where Philip J. Dimenno and Dana L. Singer on Monday pleaded not guilty to murder in the July 28 shooting death of Carl White. The pastors had met privately Saturday and decided to call for the resignation.
White, 54, the pastor of the Apostolic Temple Church of Pacoima, was shot in the back of the head at his Chatsworth home, allegedly during a dispute with Dimenno and Singer over a minor traffic accident.
Court Commissioner Gerald T. Richardson scheduled a preliminary hearing for the two men for Sept. 11 in San Fernando Municipal Court.
Singer, 18, a pre-business major at Cal State Northridge, and Dimenno, 19, who has been accepted at UC Santa Barbara on a scholarship, were arrested on July 31.
Prosecutors said the low bail was set because police and prosecutors thought that Singer and Dimenno had no prior criminal records. Both men lived with their parents and were considered unlikely to flee or endanger the public, officials said.
The bail was revoked three days later, after investigators learned that the two men had been arrested earlier for carrying a silencer-equipped pistol in a city park and might have been involved in credit card fraud.
Lyles accused Webb of having violated district attorney's office policy by recommending the low bail for the suspects. Murder suspects are typically held without bail, officials said.
District attorney's officials later admitted that it was an error to set the bail so low, but denied charges of racism.
Webb refused to comment on the call for his resignation, but Deputy Dist. Atty. Kenneth Barshop, who is prosecuting Singer and Dimenno, denied that the bail decision was based on racism.
"The idea and concept of race had nothing to do with it," Barshop said.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, said Webb did not know the race of the victim when he set bail for Singer and Dimenno.
"As I have said previously, there was a mistake made in the matter of bail in the case. It was something that was rectified in a matter of hours, and we've said all we're going to say on this. There's nothing else to be said," Gibbons said.
Investigators allege that Dimenno was involved in a minor traffic accident with White on the night of July 27. The next day, Dimenno and Singer went to White's house to try and persuade him not to file an insurance claim and when White refused, he was shot by Singer, prosecutors say.
The two men were arrested several days later when they allegedly tried to use White's credit card to purchase new tires and rims for a car.