SAN BERNARDINO — A top gang prosecutor at the center of a political firestorm over a series of offensive social media posts has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of an administrative investigation.
At a news conference Monday, District Attorney Mike Ramos said he was “offended” by Michael Selyems comments on Facebook and Instagram, and ordered an internal investigation after his office received a complaint on June 28.
“The San Bernardino County District Attorneys Office does not condone hate, discrimination or incitement of violence,” Ramos said during the news conference at the District Attorneys Office. “Our community and the entire criminal justice system depends on having a fair, ethical, and unbiased prosecutor. We must insist on that — an unbiased prosecutor.”
At the conclusion of the internal probe, disciplinary action will be considered, including possible termination, Ramos said. Meanwhile, Selyems pending cases have been reassigned to other prosecutors.
Among Selyems inappropriate online posts include an argument he had with someone over the police shooting of a civilian. In it, he wrote, “That s—bag got exactly what he deserved. … You reap what you sow. And by the way go fyourself you liberal s—bag.”
Selyem also targeted outspoken U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, former first lady Michelle Obama, and Mexican immigrants.
Of Waters, Selyem said: “Being a loud-mouthed (expletive) in the ghetto you would think someone would have shot this bitch by now …” He also posted a doctored picture of Michelle Obama holding a sign saying, “Trump grabbed my penis.”
“I was offended by the comments, not just as the district attorney but as a prosecutor, and I think further, as the district attorney, I was really concerned with comments regarding officer-involved shootings,” Ramos said. He said such comments affect “the ability for us to ensure the integrity of this office and making sure the public knows that we are doing these cases and investigating these cases in an unbiased fashion.”
Ramos news conference preceded one held outside his office by Los Angeles civil rights activist Najee Ali, who said his organization, Project Islamic Hope, would be filing a formal complaint against Selyem with the state Bar Association demanding he be disbarred.
“He does not deserve to be serving in any shape, form or fashion in law enforcement at all,” Ali said.
He said Selyems actions have stirred reaction among minorities across the nation, which he has fielded on his organizations website.
“This man has proven by his words that he does not have the integrity, the character or the morals to be in that job and working as a D.A.,” Ali said. “We dont trust him. Nobody can trust him anymore because his true feelings came out by what he said publicly, not just one time, but several times. He used language that was disparaging, inappropriate and just wrong.”
If Selyem isnt fired, Ali said he and others will “take to the streets” in protest.
“We have the power, the proven ability to organize successfully and mobilize people, and this issue has united everybody,” he said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson also weighed in Monday, tweeting: “San Bernardino Senior Prosecutor Michael Selyem sounds like a thug and should be fired for calling (Waters) the c-word, and speculating on social media why she has not been shot. Preposterous, racist and dangerous.”
Terrance Stone, CEO of Young Visionaries in San Bernardino, said Selyem must be dealt with “swiftly.”
“We cannot have this type of mentality in our D.A.s office,” Stone said.
San Bernardino County Public Defender G. Christopher Gardner said attorneys in their office are now representing about 10 defendants being prosecuted by Selyem, including the high-profile case of Alonzo Smith.
Smith has been charged with, among other things, murder, elder abuse and dissuading a witness for punching off-duty sheriffs Deputy Larry Falce so hard in the face last New Years Eve that Falce, 70, died from the injuries days later. The incident stemmed from a road rage incident at Kendall Drive and University Parkway in San Bernardino.
Prosecutors painted Smith, who was unaware Falce was a deputy when the incident occurred, as a career criminal with gang ties recently released from prison, and had served time for various offenses including robbery and selling marijuana.
“I do believe that the case was massively overfiled,” Gardner said.
Selyem requested bail of $1.9 million for Smith.
“We instructed our lawyers handling those cases that if they chose to file motions to recuse him on those cases, we would support that 100 percent if they felt that was what was in their clients best interest,” Gardner said. “As far as reviewing other cases, past cases with Mr. Selyem, we are going to be talking to our deputies who have handled cases with him, and obviously I would assume well be receiving phone calls to look into back cases that have been dealt with by Mr. Selyem.”
“Up until this latest issue came to fruition, Mr. Selyem was not someone who we ever heard complaints about as being a biased or an unfair prosecutor,” Gardner said. “But, obviously these kinds of statements certainly concern us a great deal, and Im sure that if people believe this kind of stuff in their heart, they shouldnt have the power or ability to prosecute people.”
Ramos also said his office has received no prior complaints about Selyem. “We have had no indication of Mr. Selyem having any type of bias regarding his cases,” he said.
The prosecutors posts, first reported by the Southern California News Group, became national news over the weekend, garnering wide condemnation. “I expect professional prosecutors to have more maturity than a 7th grader, and more class than a high school dropout,” said one reader.
Others defended Selyems right to express himself.
“Why is it OK for Maxine Walters to spew derogatory and hateful statements with no outcry or removal of her from office, but OK to denounce and remove Selyem?” asked reader Audrey Walker in an email. “Dont agree with his postings but it appears the liberal media has once again protected the left.”
A Twitter hashtag, #FireSelyem, popped up after the original SCNG report on Friday, July 6, and has garnered thousands of tweets, retweets and comments as of Monday.
Many objected to their taxpayer dollars continuing to pay Selyems salary. Others worried about what impact he may have had on the justice system.
“San Bernardino County has large community of Blacks and Latinos,” said a tweet by Jacqualine Ebule, a San Bernardino County resident who works for the Riverside County Department of Mental Health. “His racist and disgusting behavior puts all of his past and current prosecutions in jeopardy! You cant be fair and impartial when youre a bigoted racist!”
Another hashtag, #IStandWithSelyem,” had one post as of Monday afternoon.
Civil rights activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, said in a statement Monday that “the public call for violence to a federal official is a serious crime.”
“In this volatile climate, such a threat poses a grave danger to Waters,” Hutchinson said. “The shooting of an Arizona congresswoman and the recent physical confrontations with government officials in public places underscore that grave threat. … The U.S. Attorney must take action against Selyem.”
Hutchinson said he delivered a formal request for the prosecution of Selyem to Nicola T. Hanna, U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California, on Monday morning. Such threats constitute a felony punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a fine, he said.
Pedro Cala, a Los Angeles accountant who was aghast at Selyems posts and forwarded them to public officials and the Southern California News Group, said in a telephone interview Monday that Selyems suspension was a “positive step in the right direction, but it is just the first step.”
“By any measure, even if he tried every case that came across his purview with impartiality and utmost fairness, the appearance of impropriety makes it impossible for outside observers to say that his biases did not seep into his work,” Cala said.
“There is a reason that our legal system incarcerates more people than the rest of the industrialized world,” Cala continued, noting that those prosecuted by Selyems gang unit are largely black and Latino. “Mr. Selyem has contributed to that, rightly or wrongly. … I am not a lawyer, but I can see and sense unfairness here. Mr. Selyem has made a mockery of the oath he took to uphold the law. He has dishonored his office, and himself.”
Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-San Bernardino, tweeted Monday: “We cannot allow racism and bigotry to have a place in our society, especially not in our government. The comments made by Deputy District Attorney Michael Selyem are unacceptable, and he should be fired immediately.”
Ramos said he had received “thousands of emails from across America” since the Southern California News Group broke the story. He said Selyems pending and past cases now face the possibility of being challenged in court by defendants alleging discrimination and/or racial bias. He said his office has a conviction review unit that can field complaints from defendants with such allegations and review their cases.
“I am taking this very seriously. This is a very serious matter,” Ramos said. “Its deeply concerning to me.”