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Defense lawyer in UCI fraternity death case accuses DA Spitzer of racial bias

The attorney for a Black former UC Irvine student facing jail for allegedly supplying the bottle of whiskey that killed a fraternity pledge has accused District Attorney Todd Spitzer of racial bias, citing comments made by Spitzer in a separate double-murder case.

Deputy Public Defender Amber Poston, representing 23-year-old Zavier Larenz Brown, is seeking a court order requiring the District Attorney’s Office to turn over any materials showing racial bias by Spitzer.

In her motion, Poston pointed to Spitzer’s comments and actions in the case of Jamon Buggs, a Black man charged in the Newport Beach murders of a White woman and White man. Spitzer said during an internal meeting that Black men sometimes date White women to “enhance their status.” He also reversed an earlier decision to seek the death penalty against Buggs, a move that Spitzer’s detractors allege was made to “cover up” his comments.

Poston wrote that those disclosures “have illuminated racism and racial bias by district attorney Spitzer.”

The Brown case is the first of what some predict will be many court challenges stemming from Spitzer’s comments.

Spitzer: ‘Exploitation’

In response, Spitzer labeled Poston’s motion “exploitation and opportunism.”

“Not only did I fight for justice for a college student who should have never died, I felt so strongly about this issue that I fought for legislation to make furnishing alcohol to a minor resulting in great bodily injury be a felony instead of a misdemeanor,” Spitzer said. “Playing the race card in a desperate attempt to avoid accountability is offensive. An innocent boy died because of the defendant.”

Most of the five defendants in the alcohol poisoning of 18-year-old Noah Domingo, all members of the suspended Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at UC Irvine, were given a plea deal by the court granting them community service in lieu of jail time.

Brown, however, was ordered by Judge John Adams to face misdemeanor charges of furnishing alcohol to a minor causing great bodily injury or death and allowing a party or gathering where underage drinking is permitted. Brown is the only defendant charged with supplying alcohol resulting in serious injury or death.

‘Egregious behavior’

During a hearing in November, Spitzer made a court appearance to argue that Brown’s alleged actions — giving Domingo a 750-milliliter bottle of Jack Daniels and encouraging him to drink it all — were too serious to qualify for court diversion.

“Young men and women drinking at universities, to the point of excessive intoxication, has resulted in incredible tragedies,” Spitzer said in the Newport Beach courtroom.

Judge Adams agreed. “This was egregious behavior, and it was entirely preventable,” he said.

Domingo died Jan. 11, 2019, at an off-campus party celebrating his acceptance to Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Brown was Domingo’s SAE “big brother” and one of the members on the lease of the house where the party was held.

Prosecutors allege that downing a bottle of hard liquor was part of the ritual for new pledges.

In court documents, prosecutors alleged Brown text-messaged a photo of the Jack Daniels bottle to Domingo the night of the party. In further text messages, Brown told others that night, referring to Domingo, “I’ll keep him alive.”

Case for diversion

Poston, in court filings, argued Brown did not have a criminal record and should be granted diversion and sent to a program for alcohol and drug addiction rather than face criminal charges for his friend’s death. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

However, Adams noted that as Domingo’s “big brother,” Brown should have taken care of him. Perhaps, Adams said, Domingo felt pressured to drink the whiskey so he wouldn’t disappoint Brown.

Source: Orange County Register

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