Civil rights attorneys cheer, police feel under attack as Bay Area DA's scale back on resisting arrest charges

Christian Madrigal arrived from Fremont in a spit mask to Santa Rita Jail. June 10, 2019

The Contra Costa District Attorney will now require prosecutors to review body-camera footage and ask permission from a supervisor before they can find a resisting arrest charge, in a move that is criticized by some law enforcement members but was cheered by civil rights attorneys.

The policy shift was first reported by the East Bay Times, which obtained an internal memo stating as much. 

“The updated charging policy for our office reflects a need to have policies in place to ensure any charging decision is made with all available evidence," DA Diana Becton said in a statement to KTVU. "Oftentimes we review cases where we need to obtain the video and audio interactions between a law enforcement officer and an individual. Ensuring that any charging decision made with all the evidence, including bodycam footage, is necessary for us to ethically bring charges and ensure the community trusts the criminal justice system and that our decisions are fair and impartial.”

Resisting arrest is generally considered a misdemeanor, and the resisting arrest punishment for a misdemeanor offense consists of up to one year in county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine. And it is a common criminal charge that police recommend when a suspect does not obey all their commands.

Shawn Welch, a Contra Costa Sheriff’s sergeant and president of the agency’s police union, told the East Bay Times that the move essentially protects those who attack law enforcement officers.

“No matter your profession, if you are a victim of a crime you deserve justice,” Welch told the East Bay Times.  “(Becton) is extremely biased against law enforcement and should step down or attend procedural justice training.”

When Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen last month announced a similar move, including the fact that his office wouldn't prosecute standalone resisting arrest charges, he drew the ire of the San Jose Police Officers Association.

"Jeff Rosen has just issued an open invitation to every drunk driver, criminal and violent gang member to resist arrest, impede investigations and openly challenge every police officer in our county,” San Jose Police Union President Paul Kelly said in a statement. “While the rest of the country is working to de-escalate dangerous interactions between police and the community, Jeff Rosen is purposely escalating confrontations that will only lead to increased uses of force and injuries or worse to police officers.” 

San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin was the first Bay Area prosecutor to make such a move in June, as well as mandate that his office track the data on when the charge is actually filed and against whom. 

Prosecutors emphasize that it's not that they won't file charges in this area; they just need video proof that it occurred as well as a supervisor's sign-off. 

To Adante Pointer, an Oakland civil rights attorney, the decision to scale back on resisting arrest charges is "a long time coming and frankly overdue."

"The resisting arrest is a 'contempt of cop charge,' a signal to any other law enforcement that they have a green light to treat you however they feel and pile on charges," Pointer said. "It's a Scarlet letter. Everyone knows it's open season on you."

Pointer represents the family of Christian Madrigal of Fremont, who was suffering from a psychotic break induced by mushrooms. When he was taken to the Fremont police station in June 2019, he didn't obey all the officers' commands and was slapped with a resisting arrest charge.

Fremont police then took the 20-year-old to Santa Rita Jail, whereupon arriving there, deputies are heard on body camera video discussing his resisting arrest charge and bracing themselves for a fight. 

Deputies and a now-fired Lt. Craig Cedergren ended up chaining Madrigal to a cell door in jail, a violation of policy. Madrigal ended up hanging himself on the chains and he died five days after being brought to Santa Rita. 

Pointer notes that the resisting arrest charge is one key factor in how Madrigal was treated and how he ended up dead. 

"To law enforcement, that charge proves to them that you're someone who needs to be dealt with in a harmful and punitive way," Pointer said. "And it can follow you for life."

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez