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Veteran Alameda County prosecutors depart as new DA pushes progressive overhaul

Pamela Price, the newly elected Alameda County District Attorney, works with her staffer Otis Bruce in a renovating office space in Oakland on Feb. 28, 2023. | Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Delonzo Logwood appeared beside his lawyer in Alameda County Superior Court last week for a sentencing hearing on a plea deal the new district attorney had offered him in his triple murder case. 

But the prosecutor who’d worked on Logwood’s case for almost eight years was nowhere to be found. 

That’s because she had resigned days before and says was asked not to attend. 

“That’s pretty unusual for a prosecutor to resign in the middle of the case,” Logwood’s attorney, Linda Fullerton, said after the judge shot down the plea deal, which would have reduced the murder charges to manslaughter and put Logwood behind bars for 15 years, down from the life sentence he originally faced.

That missing prosecutor was Stacie Pettigrew, who is one of five veteran prosecutors who have resigned. In addition, six have been put on leave and one was fired since District Attorney Pamela Price took office in January, according to the union representing prosecutors. 

Price campaigned on a 10-point plan that promised police and prosecutorial accountability, decreasing the number of youth offenders, creating effective reentry programs and reducing negative outcomes based on race.  

The DA’s office has remained silent on the personnel matters. Price’s defenders say complaints over staffing changes may be sincere, but come from attorneys who are so steeped in the practices of a broken status quo that they can’t imagine a different approach to criminal justice. 

Price’s opponents contend the loss of experienced staff will make Alameda County less safe and harm crime victims. 

“The citizens of Alameda County should care that dedicated public servants that are responsible for public safety are leaving,” said Matt Finnegan, who heads the union representing county prosecutors. 

In addition to the resignations, terminations and imposed leave, Finnegan said many of the 140 staff attorneys have been transferred from cases and units they worked in for years, which has caused disruption in the office. In that same time, at least 13 new attorneys have been hired.

Pettigrew, who had been with the DA’s office for more than two decades, wasn’t the only prosecutor to quit last week. Jill Nerone, who has worked for the DA’s office for more than three decades, also decided to leave, saying in a letter to Price that she was “resigning because I no longer feel able to adequately and ethically protect the rights of victims under your administration.”

On March 20, the union, which Finnegan said was formed out of fear Price would be elected, filed unfair labor practices charges with the state against the DA over the imposition of forced leave. 

Price’s first months in office have been the focus of national attention, with some people questioning whether another progressive DA like Chesa Boudin from the liberal Bay Area will succeed on a similar platform of criminal justice reform as worries about public safety and crime increase. Boudin, who was elected in San Francisco in 2019, was recalled by voters in 2022.

Price has said she expected blowback from staff who are unaccustomed to working with an outsider with very different experiences than is usually the case for DAs. 

“My view is that some people will decide that they are prepared to go in that direction and they’ll figure out how to make that happen, how they can commit themselves to the new vision. Everyone will understand what the standard is. If someone chooses not to follow that direction or is not willing to adopt the new standards, then those persons will need to be looking to go somewhere else,” she told KQED

Price, who is the first Black woman elected to serve as DA in Alameda County, ran and won on a mantle of reform after incumbent Nancy O’Malley declined to seek reelection. Price, who has a law degree from UC Berkeley, began her career as a criminal defense attorney in San Francisco but soon transitioned to private practice, focusing mainly on civil rights and employment law.  

Once in the DA’s office, she moved quickly to sideline a number of prosecutors, putting six on leave, Finnegan said. She’s since hired a number of former prosecutors who worked under Boudin in San Francisco.

Price has moved to shake up the office in other ways aside from the staffing changes and some controversial plea deals like Logwood’s. She has mandated leniency on sentencing and created a unit to investigate police violence—two examples that parallel actions taken by Boudin. 

Her approach to managing the office, according to Christine Soto DeBerry, head of the state’s progressive Prosecutors’ Alliance, is an attempt to solve the county’s issues, not simply fall back on a failed paradigm of punishment that does not make anyone safer. 

For seasoned prosecutors, that change can be hard to understand, she said. 

“We are clear that the approach we have taken up until the past five years has not worked,” Debarry said. “Shouldn’t the leaders like DA price be in desperate pursuit of solutions to harm rather than sticking with the failing status quo?”

Logwood’s case, meanwhile, is set to return to court April 5, when his trial date will be set. Which prosecutor will be assigned to the case remains to be seen.

Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at