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Essential California: Mass shooters often share a history of domestic violence

A photograph of shooting victim Sergio Harris sits among flowers at a memorial in Sacramento
A photograph of shooting victim Sergio Harris sits among flowers at a memorial in Sacramento. Six people were killed and many others were injured in the shooting that occurred April, 3, 2022.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
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Good morning and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. This is Gale Holland, homelessness and poverty reporter for the Los Angeles Times, filling in for the esteemed Justin Ray, from my bedroom office overlooking Echo Park canyon.

The investigation of the mass shooting in downtown Sacramento’s nightlife district is still underway, but the two brothers, Dandrae and Smiley Martin, arrested on firearms charges in connection, share backgrounds with gunmen in other bloodbaths: a history of domestic violence, Los Angeles Times columnist Anita Chabria writes.

In 7 of 10 mass shootings, the attacker (let’s be real, usually a man, Chabria notes) either had a history of domestic violence, or targeted someone he had a relationship with, the new Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions reported. Lisa Geller, a researcher who has studied the link for years, said she wouldn’t be surprised if all the shooters in the Sacramento attack (police think there may be at least five) were found to have domestic violence histories.

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The problem, Geller says, is that the courts don’t take domestic violence cases seriously. Case in point: Dandrae Martin was given probation in a plea deal after being charged with nine counts for an assault in a Phoenix hotel. The allegations included hitting a woman “all over her body,” attempting to choke her twice and urinating on her in front of the couple’s 1-month-old and 2-year-old children.

The case — as is not uncommon, Chabria says — overlapped with sex trafficking: Martin beat the woman to force her to prostitute herself through ads he had set up on the now-closed internet site Backpage. The plea deal was approved, even though the attack was in violation of a restraining order from a California court, Chabria wrote.

Dandrae’s brother Smiley Martin also was accused of assaulting a woman whom he’d previously been accused of pimping, and according to a detective’s testimony, beat her until her face was so bloody a witness couldn’t see her eyes.

Chabria acknowledges that domestic violence cases are tough; Smiley was recorded in his jail cell dictating testimony to the woman, who denied injuries on the witness stand.

In the end, the two brothers ended up serving substantial sentences because of previous or subsequent crimes. Chabria points out that Dandrae’s sweet deal had nothing to do with sentencing reforms or liberal California prosecutors such as Chesa Boudin or George Gascón. The crime happened in Maricopa County, Arizona, a conservative jurisdiction once home to right-wing firebrand sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Smiley Martin also is awaiting a $7,500 settlement check from Sacramento County in connection with alleged law enforcement wrongdoing. Martin sued the county saying a guard allowed rival gang members to attack him, then threatened him when he filed a complaint. The county said the decision to settle was strictly economic.

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Chabria says we need to move away from the “he said, she said” trope that has trivialized domestic violence.

“Whether it be a liberal state or a conservative one, we are soft on this crime,” Chabria wrote.

(Read the story: “Both Sacramento shooting suspects had a history of domestic violence. It’s a warning sign” in the Los Angeles Times.)

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.

CRIME AND COURTS

17 gangs have sent out gang members to rob L.A.’s wealthiest, police say. The victims are robbed of diamond-studded watches and designer handbags soon after they leave luxury boutiques and hotels, ritzy restaurants and trendy nightclubs where the gangs are scouting for targets, the LAPD says. Los Angeles Times

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N.Y. subway shootings could intensify fears of violence on L.A.’s Metro. While Los Angeles Metro has been spared a mass shooting, violent crimes, including aggravated assaults and rapes, on the system’s buses, trains and subways jumped 36% last year. Sandra Shells, 70, an emergency room nurse and avid transit user, lost her life in January after an unprovoked attack by a homeless man near a bus stop by Union Station. In response, L.A. transit authorities have been struggling to clear trains of homeless people who seek refuge in the system’s stations and on trains. Los Angeles Times

Innocence cases: 1,849 lost years. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 161 people wrongly charged or convicted of crimes including murder were exonerated in 2021. “There is no longer a debate about the prevalence of wrongful convictions,” said the registry’s annual report released Tuesday. “They are not unicorns.” “Official misconduct” contributed to 70% of the cases, the report said. The Crime Report

HOUSING AND GOVERNMENT

Landlords in S.F. forced to bargain with tenant unions. San Francisco’s “Right to Organize” ordinance, the first of its kind in the nation, requires landlords to recognize tenant associations in their buildings, attend meetings with them up to four times a year and bargain with tenant unions, or face rent deductions. Hundreds of new tenant unions have been formed during the pandemic to push for building improvements and eviction delays. Charley Goss, manager of government and community affairs at the San Francisco Apartment Assn., a landlord trade group, told the Wall Street Journal that calls to forgive unpaid rent were not “productive.” The ordinance took effect Monday. Capital & Main Wall Street Journal

HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Teen overdoses more than doubled. Drug use by teens is down, but because of the deadly risk of narcotics in circulation, including fentanyl and other synthetic opioids and benzodiazepines, deaths are spiking, according to Joseph Friedman, a UCLA addiction researcher and lead author of a new study. Los Angeles Times

It could happen: Californians could shrink water usage by 30%. An Oakland water think tank says it can be done by replacing green lawns, leaky pipes and inefficient appliances, among other strategies. Los Angeles Times

Whee! No masks. Vaccination cards, COVID-19 testing or masking are not required for the Coachella Festival opening Friday … or for Stagecoach Festival April 29, despite Easter break warnings because of rising cases. Desert Sun

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Watch out! Rare fanged fish washes up on California shores. The lancetfish found onshore in Drake’s Bay at Point Reyes National Seashore had a gaping fanged jaw, is cannibalistic, a hermaphrodite and has no scales, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. The fish, which is generally discovered swimming in deep waters, was 3 to 4 feet long, but the species can grow up to 7 feet. The man who found this one put it back in the sea. Santa Rosa Press Democrat

TECH AND BUSINESS

Adorable puppy picture swindle. Google has taken a man to court over an alleged online puppy photo scam. The tech giant says cute puppy pictures (are there any other kind?) gulled people into sending hundreds of dollars internationally for dogs that never arrived. The alleged deception skyrocketed during the outbreak and represented 35% of online fraud last year. Mercury News

Iced tea bonanza. How is AriZona iced tea still 99 cents? Don Vultaggio, the 70-year-old owner of the venerable beverage and snack company, says that he “takes a haircut” to keep customers happy and giant 23-ounce cans moving, Sam Dean reports. Los Angeles Times

CALIFORNIA CULTURE

Bye-bye surly toll booth operators in the Bay. Wave goodbye to S.F.’s iconic toll booths on bridges including the Golden Gate and Bay spans. The crossings and their charges are going to a FastTrak electronic sensor model so the booths will be carted off — at a cost of $77 million. San Francisco Chronicle

Share your love life with us. Send us your love story in 300 words or less and we may feature it in a future article. Los Angeles Times

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CALIFORNIA ALMANAC

Los Angeles: Sunny and 69 . San Diego: Sunny and 67. San Francisco: Mostly sunny, 58, chance of rain growing through the day. San Jose: Patchy fog, then sunny and 61 . Fresno: Sunny and 66. Sacramento: Mostly sunny and 63.

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AND FINALLY

Today’s California memory comes from Jason Howe:

“One of my mom’s most distinct memories of her childhood was a morning her 4th-grade teacher made her entire class stand up and face one of her classmates at Rio Vista Elementary in Toluca Lake. ‘Class, today we have to say goodbye to our friend Roy,’ the teacher, Mrs. Rook, told them. She explained that even though he was as American as the other children, he was being sent away because his family’s origin was Japanese. Mrs. Rook made the class salute him before he left and said, ‘This is a terrible thing our government is doing and I don’t want you ever to forget this.’ My mom didn’t.”

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.

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