A new round of controversy has begun in a high-profile case surrounding a toddler’s death as the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office finally decided on which criminal charges to pursue.
Jasper Wu, a 23-month-old boy, was shot and killed on an Oakland freeway in November 2021 amid alleged gang activities. In December 2022, three suspects—Johnny Jackson, Trevor Green and Ivory Bivins—were arrested in connection with Wu’s death.
After the arrests, then-Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley charged the three defendants with murder and a long list of additional enhancement and “special circumstances,” additions that would take away their eligibility for parole if convicted.
However, Alameda County has a new district attorney, the progressive-leaning attorney Pamela Price, who ran and won on a platform of criminal-justice reform. Over the past few months, some Asian American community members have expressed concerns and spoken out about Price’s review of the case, fearing that she might pursue lesser charges instead.
In May, the judge dismissed murder charges against Jackson. This week, Price decided to continue charging Green and Bivins with murder and gang-related enhancements, but they will not face the “special circumstances,” which included shooting from a car and intentionally killing as an active street gang member.
“We will continue to hold these men accountable for these serious charges that will likely land them behind bars for the rest of their lives," Price said in a statement.
While her decision to drop the special circumstances may sound like a legal technicality, some observers considered it a key reversal of her predecessor’s charges. If convicted, the suspects face possible life sentences, but they will be eligible for parole.
The National Asian Pacific Islander Prosecutors Association plans to draft a letter protesting Price's remarks about putting the suspects in jail for life, because her charging decision actually allows eligibility for parole.
Alex Adams, the president of the association's Northern California chapter, slammed Price’s comment as misleading.
“It’s certainly inaccurate and not transparent,” Adams said.
The association had previously issued a letter condemning Price's words to the Bay Area's Chinese American community.
On Thursday, Jackson, who was cleared from the murder charges, pleaded guilty in court to the charge of possession of a firearm. His sentencing is expected soon.
The two other men, Green and Bivins, have plea hearings scheduled for next month. They are expected to plead not guilty, and the case will likely head to trial.
Green’s attorney, Laurie Mont, spoke with reporters outside of the Alameda County courthouse in Oakland and said that law enforcement caught the wrong guy. She said she will fight the charges as well as the gang-related enhancement.
Mont praised Price’s decision to remove the “special circumstances,” even as she called the remaining charges too harsh.
“I think that was the right call,” she said. “Even without the special circumstances, the charges are extremely serious and carry decades of time.”
For his part, Bivins’ attorney criticized Price’s pursuit of enhancement as politically motivated, according to the Mercury News.
Jasper Wu’s family, who have since relocated outside of California, are closely watching the progress of the case.
Family attorney Norbert Chu told The Standard Thursday that the Wus are aware of this latest decision and are still processing and analyzing the new information. They are waiting for updates from Thursday’s hearing, too.
Their general position on the case, Chu added, has remained the same. They are asking the prosecutors to seek the maximum punishment for the suspects left in the case.
Thursday’s hearing was a brief arraignment after the long preliminary examination finished in May, and the next court date will be July 25.
Han Li can be reached at email@example.com